|1801.||Born in Grosvenor Square, London, April 28.|
|1811.||His father succeeds to the earldom. He himself becomes Lord Ashley.|
|1819-22.||Christ Church, Oxford.|
|1826.||M.P. for Woodstock.|
|1828.||Commissioner of India Board of Control.|
|1829.||Chairman of Commission for Lunatic Asylums.|
|1830.||Marries Emily, daughter of fifth Earl Cowper.|
|1832.||Takes up the cause of the Ten Hours Bill or Factory Act.|
|1833.||M.P. for Dorset.|
|1836.||Founds Church Pastoral Aid Society.|
|1839.||Founds Indigent Blind Visiting Society.|
|1840.||Takes up cause of Boy Chimney-sweepers.|
|1842.||Mines and Collieries Bill carried.|
|1843.||Joins the Ragged School movement.|
|1847.||Ten Hours Bill finally carried.|
|1847.||M.P. for Bath.|
|1848.||Public Health Act. Chairman of Board of Health.|
|1851.||President of British and Foreign Bible Society.|
|1851.||Succeeds to the earldom.|
|1855.||Lord Palmerston twice offers him a seat in the Cabinet.|
|1872.||Death of Lady Shaftesbury.|
|1884.||Receives the Freedom of the City of London.|
|1885.||Dies at Folkestone, October 1.|
The word ‘Philanthropist’ has suffered the same fate as many other words in our language. It has become hackneyed and corrupted; it has taken a professional taint; it has almost become a byword. We are apt to think of the philanthropist as an excitable, contentious creature, at the mercy of every fad, an ultra-radical in politics, craving for notoriety, filled with self-confidence, and meddling with other people’s business. Anthony Ashley Cooper, the greatest philanthropist of the nineteenth century, was of a different type. By temper he was strongly conservative. He always loved best to be among his own family; he was fond of his home, fond of the old associations of his house. To come out into public life, to take his place in Parliament or on the platform, to be mixed up in the wrangling of politics was naturally distasteful to him. It continually needed a strong effort for him to overcome this distaste and to act up to his sense of duty. It is only when we remember this that we can do justice to his lifelong activity, and to the high principles which bore him up through so many efforts and so many disappointments. For himself he would submit to injustice and be still: for his fellow countrymen and for his religion he would renew the battle to the last day of his life.
His childhood was not happy. His parents had little sympathy with children, his father being absorbed in the cares of public life, his mother given up to society pleasures. He had three sisters older than himself, but no brother or companion, and he was left largely to himself. At the age of seven he went to a preparatory school, where he was made miserable by the many abuses which flourished there; and it was not till he went to Harrow at the age of twelve that he began to enjoy life. He had few of the indulgences which we associate with the early days of those who are born heirs to high position. But, thus thrown back on himself, the boy nurtured strong attachments, for the old housekeeper who first showed him tenderness at home, for the school where he had learnt to be happy, and for the Dorset home, which was to be throughout his life the pole-star of his affections. The village of Wimborne St. Giles lies some eight miles north of Wimborne, in Dorset, on the edge of Cranborne Forest, one of the most beautiful and unspoiled regions in the south of England, which ‘as late as 1818 contained twelve thousand deer and as many as six lodges, each of which had its walk and its ranger’. Here he wandered freely in his holidays for many years, giving as yet little promise of an exceptional career; here you may find in outlying cottages those who still treasure his memory and keep his biography among the few books that adorn their shelves.
From Harrow, Lord Ashley went at the age of sixteen to read for two years with a clergyman in Derbyshire; in 1819 he went to Christ Church, Oxford, and three years later succeeded in taking a first class in classics. He had good abilities and a great power of concentration. These were to bear fruit one day in the gathering of statistics, in the marshalling of evidence, and in the presentation of a case which needed the most lucid and most laborious advocacy.
He came down from Oxford in 1822, but did not go into Parliament till 1826, and for the intervening years there is little to chronicle. In those days it was usual enough for a young nobleman to take up politics when he was barely of age, but Lord Ashley needed some other motive than the custom of the day. It is characteristic of his whole life that he responded to a call when there was a need, but was never in a hurry to put himself forward or to aim at high position. We have a few of his own notes from this time which show the extent of his reading, and still more, the depth of his reflections. As with Milton, who spent over five years at Cambridge and then five more in study and retirement at Horton, the long years of self-education were profitable and left their mark on his life. His first strong religious impulse he himself dates back to his school-days at Harrow, when (as is now recorded in a mural tablet on the spot) in walking up the street one day he was shocked by the indignities of a pauper funeral. The drunken bearers, staggering up the hill and swearing over the coffin, so appalled him that the sight remained branded on his memory and he determined to devote his life to the service of the poor. But one such shock would have achieved little, if the decision had not been strengthened by years of thought and resolution. His tendency to self-criticism is seen in the entry in his diary for April, 1826 (his twenty-fifth birthday). He blames himself for indulging in dreams and for having performed so little; but he himself admits that the visions were all of a noble character, and we know what abundant fruit they produced in the sixty years of active effort which were to follow. The man who a year later could write sincerely in his diary, ‘Immortality has ceased to be a longing with me. I desire to be useful in my generation,’ had been little harmed by a few years of dreaming dreams, and had little need to be afraid of having made a false start in life.
When he entered the House of Commons as member for Woodstock in 1826, Lord Ashley had strong Conservative instincts, a fervid belief in the British constitution, and an unbounded admiration for the Duke of Wellington, whose Peninsula victories had fired his enthusiasm at Harrow. It was to his wing of the Conservative party that Ashley attached himself; and it was the duke who, succeeding to the premiership on the premature death of Canning, gave him his first office, a post on the India Board of Control. The East India Company with its board of directors (abolished in 1858) still ruled India, but was since 1778 subject in many ways to the control of the British Parliament, and the board to which Lord Ashley now belonged exercised some of the functions since committed to the Secretary of State for India. He set himself conscientiously to study the interests of India, but over the work of his department he had little chance of winning distinction. In fact his first prominent speech was on the Reform of Lunatic Asylums, not an easy subject for a new member to handle. He was diffident in manner and almost inaudible. Without the kindly encouragement of friends he might have despaired of future success; but his sincerity in the cause was worth more than many a brilliant speech. The Bill was carried, a new board was constituted, and of this Lord Ashley became chairman in 1829, and continued to hold the office till his death fifty-six years later. This was the first of the burdens that he took upon himself without thought of reward, and so is worthy of special mention, though it never won the fame of his factory legislation. But it shows the character of the man, how ready he was to step into a post which meant work without remuneration, drudgery without fame, prejudice and opposition from all whose interests were concerned in maintaining the abuses of the past.
It was this spirit which led him in 1836 to take up the Church Pastoral Aid Society,15 in 1839 to found the Indigent Blind Visiting Society, in 1840 to champion the cause of chimney-sweeps, and in all these cases to continue his support for fifty years or more. We are accustomed to-day to ‘presidents’ and ‘patrons’ and a whole broadsheet of complimentary titles, to which noblemen give their names and often give little else. Lord Ashley understood such an office differently. He was regular in attendance at meetings, generous in giving money, unflinching in his advocacy of the cause. We shall see this more fully in dealing with the two most famous crusades associated with his name.
Though these growing labours began early to occupy his time, we find the record of his life diversified by other claims and other interests. In 1830 he married Emily, daughter of Lord Cowper, who bore him several children, and who shared all his interests with the fullest sympathy; and henceforth his greatest joys and his deepest sorrows were always associated with his family life. At home his first hobby was astronomy. At the age of twenty-eight he was ardently devoted to it and would spend all his leisure on it for weeks together, till graver duties absorbed his time. But he was no recluse, and all through his life he found pleasure in the society of his friends and in paying them visits in their homes. Many of his early visits were paid to the Iron Duke at Strathfieldsaye; in later life no one entertained him more often than Lord Palmerston, with whom he was connected by marriage. He was the friend and often the guest of Queen Victoria, and in his twenty-eighth year he is even found as a guest at the festive board of George IV. ‘Such a round of laughing and pleasure I never enjoyed: if there be a hospitable gentleman on earth it is His Majesty.’ And at all times he was ready to mix freely and on terms of social equality with all who shared his sympathies, dukes and dustmen, Cabinet ministers and costermongers.
In the holiday season he delighted to travel. In his journals he sets down the impressions which he felt among the pictures and churches of Italy, and in the mountains of Germany and Switzerland; he loves to record the friendliness of the greetings which he met among the peasantry of various lands. When he talked to them no one could fail to see that he was genuinely interested in them, that he wanted to know their joys and their sorrows, and to enrich his own knowledge by anything that the humblest could tell him. Still more did he delight in Scotland, where he had many friends. He was of the generation immediately under the spell of the ‘Wizard of the North’, and the whole country was seen through a veil of romantic and historical association. There he went nearly every year, to Edinburgh, to Roslin, to Inveraray, to the Trossachs, and to a hundred other places — and if his heart was stirred with the glories of the past, his eye was quick to ‘catch the manners living as they rise’. As he commented caustically at Rome on ‘the church lighted up and decorated like a ball-room — the bishop with a stout train of canons, listening to the music precisely like an opera’, so at Newbattle he criticizes the coldness of the kirk, ‘all is silent save the minister, who discharges the whole ceremony and labours under the weight of his own tautologies’. His bringing up had been in the Anglican church; he was devoted to her liturgy, her congregational worship, her moderation and simplicity combined with reverence and warmth. Although these travels were but interludes in his busy life, they show that it was not for want of other tastes and interests of his own that his life was dedicated to laborious service. He was very human himself, and there were few aspects of humanity which did not attract him.
With his father relations were very difficult. As his interest in social questions grew, his attention was naturally turned on the poor nearest to his own doors, the agricultural labourers of Dorset. Even in those days of low wages Dorset was a notorious example quoted on many a Radical platform: the wages of the farm labourers were frequently as low as seven shillings a week, and the conditions in which they had often to bring up a large family of children were deplorable. If Lord Ashley had not himself felt the shame of their poverty, their bad housing and their other hardships, there were plenty of opponents ready to force them on his notice in revenge for his having exposed their own sores. He was made responsible for abuses which he could not remedy. While his father, a resolute Tory of the old type, still lived, the son was unable to stir. He sedulously tried to avoid all bitterness; but he could not, when publicly challenged, avoid stating his own views about fair wages and fair conditions of living, and his father took offence. For years it was impossible for the son to come under his father’s roof. When the old earl died in 1851, his son lost no time in proving his sincerity as a reformer; but meanwhile he had to go into the fray against the manufacturers with his arms tied behind his back and submit to taunts which he little deserved. That he could carry on this struggle for so many years, without embittering the issues, and without open exposure of the family quarrel, shows the strength of character which he had gained by years of religious discipline and self-control.
Politics proper played but a small part in his career. The politicians found early that he was not of the ‘available’ type — that he would not lend himself to party policy or compromise on any matter which seemed to him of national interest. Such political posts as were offered to him were largely held out as a bait to silence him, and to prevent his bringing forward embarrassing measures which might split the party. Ashley himself found how much easier it was for him to follow a single course when he was an independent member. Reluctantly in 1834 he accepted a post at the Board of Admiralty and worked earnestly in his department; but this ministry only lasted for one year, and he never held office again, though he was often pressed to do so. He was attached to Wellington; but for Peel, now become the Tory leader, he had little love. The two men were very dissimilar in character; and though at times Ashley had friendly communications with Peel, yet in his diary Ashley often complains bitterly of his want of enthusiasm, of what he regarded as Peel’s opportunism and subservience to party policy. The one had an instinct for what was practical and knew exactly how far he could combine interests to carry a measure; the other was all on fire for the cause and ready to push it forward against all obstacles, at all costs. Ashley, it is true, had to work through Parliament to attain his chief ends, and many a bitter moment he had to endure in striving towards the goal. But if he was not an adroit or successful politician, he gradually, as the struggle went on, by earnestness and force of character, made for himself in the House a place apart, a place of rare dignity and influence; and with the force of public opinion behind him he was able to triumph over ministers and parties.
It was in 1832 that he first had his attention drawn to the conditions of labour in factories. He never claimed to be the pioneer of the movement, but he was early in the field. The inventions of the latter part of the eighteenth century had transformed the north of England. The demand for labour had given rise to appalling abuses, especially in the matter of child labour. From London workhouses and elsewhere children were poured into the labour market, and by the ‘Apprentice System’ were bound to serve their masters for long periods and for long hours together. A pretence of voluntary contract was kept up, but fraud and deception were rife in the system and its results were tragic. Mrs. Browning’s famous poem, ‘The Cry of the Children,’ gives a more vivid picture of the children’s sufferings than many pages of prose. At the same time we have plenty of first-hand evidence from the great towns of the misery which went along with the wonderful development of national wealth. Speaking in 1873 Lord Shaftesbury said, ‘Well can I recollect in the earlier periods of the Factory movement waiting at the factory gates to see the children come out, and a set of dejected cadaverous creatures they were. In Bradford especially the proofs of long and cruel toil were most remarkable. The cripples and distorted forms might be numbered by hundreds perhaps by thousands. A friend of mine collected together a vast number for me; the sight was most piteous, the deformities incredible.’ And an eye-witness in Bolton reports in 1792: ‘Anything like the squalid misery, the slow, mouldering, putrefying death by which the weak and feeble are perishing here, it never befell my eyes to behold, nor my imagination to conceive.’ Some measures of relief were carried by the elder Sir Robert Peel, himself a cotton-spinner; but public opinion was slow to move and was not roused till 1830, when Mr. Sadler,16 member for Newark, led the first fight for a ‘Ten Hours Bill’. When Sadler was unseated in 1832, Lord Ashley offered his help, and so embarked on the greatest of his works performed in the public service. He had the support of a few of the noblest men in England, including Robert Southey and Charles Dickens; but he had against him the vast body of well-to-do people in the country, and inside Parliament many of the most progressive and influential politicians. The factory owners were inspired at once by interest and conviction; the political economy of the day taught them that all restrictions on labour were harmful to the progress of industry and to the prosperity of the country, while the figures in their ledgers taught them what was the most economical method of running their own mills.
Already it was clear that Lord Ashley was no mere sentimentalist out for a momentary sensation. At all times he gave the credit for starting the work to Sadler and his associates; and from the outset he urged his followers to fix on a limited measure first, to concentrate attention on the work of children and young persons, and to avoid general questions involving conflicts between capital and labour. Also he took endless pains to acquaint himself at first hand with the facts. ‘In factories,’ he said afterwards, ‘I examined the mills, the machinery, the homes, and saw the workers and their work in all its details. In collieries I went down into the pits. In London I went into lodging-houses and thieves’ haunts, and every filthy place. It gave me a power I could not otherwise have had.’ And this was years before ‘slumming’ became fashionable and figured in the pages of Punch; it was no distraction caught up for a week or a month, but a labour of fifty years! We have an account of him as he appeared at this period of his life: ‘above the medium height, about 5 feet 6 inches, with a slender and extremely graceful figure . . . curling dark hair in thick masses, fine brow, features delicately cut, the nose perhaps a trifle too prominent, . . . light blue eyes deeply set with projecting eyelids, his mouth small and compressed.’ His whole face and appearance seems to have had a sculpturesque effect and to have suggested the calm and composure of marble. But under this marble exterior there was burning a flame of sympathy for the poor, a fire of indignation against the system which oppressed them.
In 1833 some progress was made. Lord Althorp, the Whig leader in the Commons, under pressure from Lord Ashley, carried a bill dealing indeed with some of the worst abuses in factories, but applying only to some of the great textile industries. That it still left much to be done can be seen from studying the details of the measure. Children under eleven years of age were not to work more than nine hours a day, and young persons under nineteen not more than twelve hours a day. Adults might still work all day and half the night if the temptation of misery at home and extra wages to be earned was too strong for them. It seems difficult now to believe that this was a great step forward, yet for the moment Ashley found that he could do no more and must accept what the politicians gave him. In 1840, however, he started a fresh campaign on behalf of children not employed in these factories, who were not included in the Act of 1833, and who, not being concentrated in the great centres of industry, escaped the attention of the general public. He obtained a Royal Commission to investigate mines and other works, and to report upon their condition. The Blue Book was published in 1842 and created a sensation unparalleled of its kind. Men read with horror the stories of the mines, of children employed underground for twelve or fourteen hours a day, crouching in low passages, monotonously opening and shutting the trap-doors as the trollies passed to and fro. Alone each child sat in pitchy darkness, unable to stir for more than a few paces, unable to sleep for fear of punishment with the strap in case of neglect, and often surrounded with vermin. Women were employed crawling on hands and knees along these passages, stripped to the waist, stooping under the low roofs, and even so chafing and wounding their backs, as they hauled the coal along the underground rails, or carrying in baskets on their backs, up steps and ladders, loads which varied in weight from a half to one and a half hundredweights. The physical health, the mental education, and the moral character of these poor creatures suffered equally under such a system; and well might those responsible for the existence of such abuses fear to let the Report be published. But copies of it first reached members of Parliament, then the public at large learnt the burden of the tale, and Lord Ashley might now hope for enough support from outside to break down the opposition in the House of Commons and the delays of parliamentary procedure.
‘The Mines and Collieries Bill’ was brought in before the impression could fade, and on June 7, 1842, Ashley made one of the greatest of his speeches and drove home powerfully the effect of the Report. His mastery of facts was clear enough to satisfy the most dispassionate politician; his sincerity disarmed Richard Cobden, the champion of the Lancashire manufacturers and brought about a reconciliation between them; his eloquence stirred the hearts of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, and drew from the latter words of glowing admiration and promises of support. In August the bill finally passed the House of Lords, and a second great blow had been struck. Practices which were poisoning at the source the lives of the younger generation were forbidden by law; above all, it was expressly laid down that, after a few years, no woman or girl should be employed in mines at all. The influence which such a law had on the family life in the mining districts was incalculable; the women were rescued from servitude in the mines and restored to their natural place at home.
There was still much to do. In 1844 the factory question was again brought to the front by the demands of the working classes, and again Ashley was ready to champion their cause, and to propose that the working day should now be limited to eight hours for children, and to ten hours for grown men. In Parliament there was long and weary fighting over the details. The Tory Government did not wish to oppose the bill directly. Neither party had really faced the question or made up its mind. Expediency rather than justice was in the minds of the official politicians.
Such a straightforward champion as Lord Ashley was a source of embarrassment to these gentlemen, to be met by evasion rather than direct opposition. The radical John Bright, a strong opponent of State interference and equally straightforward in his methods, made a personal attack on Lord Ashley. He referred to the Dorset labourers, as if Ashley was indifferent to abuses nearer home, and left no one in doubt of his opinions. At the same time, Sir James Graham, the Home Secretary, did all in his power to defeat Ashley’s bill by bringing forward alternative proposals, which he knew would be unacceptable to the workers. In face of such opposition most men would have given way. Ashley, who had been a consistent Tory all his life, was bitterly aggrieved at the treatment which his bill met with from his official leaders. He persevered in his efforts, relying on support from outside; but in Parliament the Government triumphed to the extent of defeating the Ten Hours Bill in March 1844 and again in April 1846. Still, the small majority (ten) by which this last division was decided showed in which direction the current was flowing, and when a few months later the Tories were ousted from office, the Whigs took up the bill officially, and in June 1847 Lord Ashley, though himself out of Parliament for the moment, had the satisfaction of seeing the bill become the law of the land.
There was great rejoicing in the manufacturing districts, and Lord Ashley was the hero of the day. The working classes had no direct representative in Parliament in those days: without his constant efforts neither party would have given a fair hearing to their cause. He had argued with politicians without giving away principles; he had stirred the industrial districts without rousing class hatred; he had been defeated time after time without giving up the struggle. Much has been added since then to the laws restricting the conditions of labour till, in the often quoted words of Lord Morley, the biographer of Cobden, we have ‘a complete, minute, and voluminous code for the protection of labour . . . an immense host of inspectors, certifying surgeons and other authorities whose business it is to “speed and post o’er land and ocean” in restless guardianship of every kind of labour’. But these were the heroic days of the struggle for factory legislation, and also of the struggle for cheap food for the people. Reviewing these great events many years later the Duke of Argyll said, ‘During that period two great discoveries have been made in the science of Government: the one is the immense advantage of abolishing restrictions on trade, the other is the absolute necessity of imposing restrictions on labour’. While Sir Robert Peel might with some justice contest with Cobden the honour of establishing the first principle, few will challenge Lord Ashley’s right to the honour of securing the second.
Of the many religious and political causes which he undertook during and after this time, of the Zionist movement to repatriate the Jews, of the establishing of a Protestant bishopric at Jerusalem, of his attacks on the war with Sind and the opium trade with China, of his championship of the Nestorian Christians against the Turk, of his leadership of the great Bible Society, there is not space to speak. The mere list gives an idea of the width of his interests and the warmth of his sympathy.
Some of these questions were highly contentious; and Lord Ashley, who was a fervent Evangelical, was less than fair to churchmen of other schools. To Dr. Pusey himself he could write a kindly and courteous letter; but on the platform, or in correspondence with friends, he could denounce ‘Puseyites’ in the roundest terms. One cannot expect that a man of his character will avoid all mistakes. It was a time when feeling ran high on religious questions, and he was a declared partisan; but at least we may say that the public good, judged from the highest point, was his objective; there was no room for self-seeking in his heart. Nor did this wide extension of his activity mean neglect of his earlier crusades. On the contrary, he continued to work for the good of the classes to whom his Factory Bills had been so beneficial. Not content with prohibiting what was harmful, he went on to positive measures of good; restriction of hours was followed by sanitation, and this again by education, and by this he was led to what was perhaps the second most famous work of his life.
In 1843 his attention had already been drawn to the question of educating the neglected children, and he was making acquaintance at first hand with the work of the Ragged Schools, at that time few in number and poorly supported. He visited repeatedly the Field Lane School, in a district near Holborn notoriously frequented by the criminal classes, and soon the cause, at which he was to work unsparingly for forty years, began to move forward. He went among the poor with no thought of condescension. Simple as he was by nature, he possessed in perfection the art of speaking to children, and he was soon full of practical schemes for helping them. Sanitary reform was not neglected in his zeal for religion, and emigration was to be promoted as well as better housing at home; for, till the material conditions of life were improved, he knew that it was idle to hope for much moral reform. ‘Plain living and high thinking’ is an excellent ideal for those whose circumstances put them out of reach of anxiety over daily bread; it is a difficult gospel to preach to those who are living in destitution and misery.
The character of his work soon won confidence even in the most unlikely quarters. In June 1848 he received a round-robin signed by forty of the most notorious thieves in London, asking him to come and meet them in person at a place appointed; and on his going there he found a mob of nearly four hundred men, all living by dishonesty and crime, who listened readily and even eagerly to his brotherly words.
Several of them came forward in turn and made candid avowal of their respective difficulties and vices, and of the conditions of their lives. He found that they were tired of their own way of life, and were ready to make a fresh start; and in the course of the next few months he was able, thanks to the generosity of a rich friend, to arrange for the majority of them to emigrate to another country or to find new openings away from their old haunts.
But, apart from such special occasions, the work of the schools went steadily forward. In seven years, more than a hundred such schools were opened, and Lord Shaftesbury was unfailing in his attendance whenever he could help forward the cause. His advice to the managers to ‘keep the schools in the mire and the gutter’ sounds curious; but he was afraid that, as they throve, boys of more prosperous classes would come in and drive out those for whom they were specially founded. ‘So long’, he said, ‘as the mire and gutter exist, so long as this class exists, you must keep the school adapted to their wants, their feelings, their tastes and their level.’ And any of us familiar with the novels of Charles Dickens and Walter Besant will know that such boys still existed unprovided for in large numbers in 1850 and for many years after.
Thus the years went by. He succeeded to the earldom on his father’s death in 1851. His heart was wrung by the early deaths of two of his children and by the loss of his wife in 1872. In his home he had his full share of the joys and sorrows of life, but his interest in his work never failed. If new tasks were taken up, it was not at the expense of the old; the fresh demand on his unwearied energies was met with the same spirit. At an advanced age he opened a new and attractive chapter in his life by his friendly meetings with the London costermongers. He gave prizes for the best-kept donkey, he attended the judging in person, he received in return a present of a donkey which was long cherished at Wimborne St. Giles. It is impossible to deal fully with his life in each decade; one page from his journal for 1882 shows what he could still do at the age of eighty-one, and will be the best proof of his persistence in well-doing. He began the day with a visit to Greenhithe to inspect the training ships for poor boys, at midday he came back to Grosvenor Square to attend a committee meeting of the Bible Society at his home, he then went to a public banquet in honour of his godson, and he finished with a concert at Buckingham Palace, thus keeping up his friendly relations with all classes in the realm. To the very last, in his eighty-fifth year, he continued to attend a few meetings and to visit the scenes of his former labours; and on October 1, 1885, full of years and full of honours, he died quietly at Folkestone, where he had gone for the sake of his health.
In this sketch attention has been drawn to his labours rather than to his honours. He might have had plenty of the latter if he had wished. He received the Freedom of the City of London and of other great towns. Twice he was offered the Garter, and he only accepted the second offer on Lord Palmerston’s urgent request that he should treat it as a tribute to the importance of social work. Three times he was offered a seat in the Cabinet, but he refused each time, because official position would fetter his special work. He kept aloof from party politics, and was only roused when great principles were at stake. Few of the leading politicians satisfied him. Peel seemed too cautious, Gladstone too subtle, Disraeli too insincere. It was the simplicity and kindliness of his relative Palmerston that won his heart, rather than confidence in his policy at home or abroad. The House of Commons suited him better than the colder atmosphere of the House of Lords; but in neither did he rise to speak without diffidence and fear. It is a great testimony to the force of his conviction that he won as many successes in Parliament as he did. But the means through which he effected his chief work were committees, platform meetings, and above all personal visits to scenes of distress.
The nation would gladly have given him the last tribute of burial in Westminster Abbey, but he had expressed a clear wish to be laid among his own people at Wimborne St. Giles, and the funeral was as simple as he had wished it to be. His name in London is rather incongruously associated with a fountain in Piccadilly Circus, and with a street full of theatres, made by the clearing of the slums where he had worked: the intention was good, the result is unfortunate. More truly than in any sculpture or buildings his memorial is to be found in the altered lives of thousands of his fellow citizens, in the happy looks of the children, and in the pleasant homes and healthy workshops which have transformed the face of industrial England.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:50