Saturday, 28 February 2009

Medieval sources: an introduction

There are significant difficulties in defining the different types of historical writing from the medieval period[1]. There are also major problems in defining ‘history’ in the medieval context. Medieval historical writings contain emphases and biases that would be unacceptable for historians today. In fact, as the work of Alexander of Telese shows, today’s clear distinction between propaganda and history was something that did not really concern medieval historians who saw history as having a specific contemporary ‘purpose’. Medieval writings were, as William of Apulia’s Gesta Roberti Guiscardi clearly demonstrated, highly ‘selective’ in character. While this may well be a characteristic of all historical writing (in essence no historical writing would be possible without it), there is no pretence of disguising the specific purpose for which the work was written. Medieval historical writing was designed to inform its audiences but often to inform them of a specific political or religious agenda. What we would call distorting the truth, is seen by medieval historians as getting across or ‘spinning’ their particular message. Purpose is at the heart of understanding medieval texts.

History was not a profession in the medieval period.  It required no specialist training, nor did it provide career pathways.  It was distinct from other forms of literature and what distinguished it was its claim to be presenting the truth.  There are significant difficulties in defining the different types of historical writing from the medieval period.[1]  When is a chronicle not a chronicle but an annal?  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is a case in point: called a chronicle but clearly a set of annals.  What is the difference between an annal and a chronicle?  Is it simply a case of the way in which each was produced, the one written rather like an annual diary often by different writers, the other as a coherent piece of history in which the author adduces causation to events?  Is the one a work of ‘history’ and the other a means through which history may be written?  Yet, these questions, important though they undoubtedly are, do not resolve the problems with the different genres.  If the difficulty of defining in any precise way what chronicles, annals, lives and deeds actually were is incapable of satisfactory resolution, perhaps historians need to look at their purpose, the agendas that lay behind these historical writings.[2]  Chris Given-Wilson suggests the following questions need to be addressed in the preface of his book:

· Why did chroniclers record the events of either the past or the present?

· What purposes did they think the writing of history ought to serve, whether short-, medium- or long-term?

· How did they decide what to include and what to omit?

· How did they set about the task of amassing evidence and what criteria did they use to evaluate it?

· Why were they so interested in prophecy, portents and other preternatural phenomena?

· How did they conceive of time and space?

· What was the most appropriate form for the presentation of their work and why?

· What ‘message’ did they hope that their readers (or hearers) would take from their work?

· To what extent were they free to express their own views rather than being constrained by political or religious pressures?

· To what use or uses might their chronicles be put and how did that affect what they wrote and how they wrote them?

· How did memories congeal into history and what was history for?

When reading a collection of medieval sources, it is easy to be seduced by crisp, clear translations and confident presentation, and forget what every historian who has dealt first-hand with medieval documents knows.  Often, modern editions and translations are based not upon original documents, but on later copies which may have been deliberately altered or inadvertently corrupted.  When the text is dubious or incomprehensible, modern versions try to make sense of it, but often gloss over the difficulties.  Sometimes, multiple copies exist that differ in detail or even in broad strokes.  These differences are usually smoothed over in modern translations or editions, where the variants are relegated to footnotes.

For the next few months I intend to include some translated and footnoted sources on my blog that relate to the Normans.  In some cases, as for example, with the Life of Louis VI, they deal with issues other than the Normans while others, such as William of Apulia and Geoffrey Malaterra deal specifically with the diasporic nature of Norman expansion in the eleventh century.


[1] On the problem of defining medieval texts see Guenée, Bernard, ‘Histoire, Annales, Chroniques: Essai sur les genres historiques au moyen age’, Annales, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations, vol. iv, (1973), pp. 997-1016, reprinted in his Politique et Historie au moyen-age: recueil d’articles sur l’histoire politique et l’historiographie médiévale (1956-1981), Paris, 1981, pp. 279-298.

[2] On this issue see Given-Wilson, Chris, Chronicles: The Writing of History in Medieval England, (Hambledon), 2004.  Though the book focuses on the period after 1200, it contains much that is relevant to the tenth and eleventh centuries,

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Popular Literature

Ian Haywood

The Revolution in Popular Literature: Print, Politics and the People, 1790-1860

(Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Cambridge University Press), 2009

332pp., £22.99 paper, ISBN 978-0-521-10349-7

Originally published in 2004 and justly well received and now available in paperback, this study examines the evolution of popular literature in Britain in the Romantic and Victorian periods. The key to understanding popular literature is the clash between radical and reactionary politics and the need of both to win the support of the ‘common reader’. The result was the use of print culture to try to influence the newly literate groups in society. The critical problem was what should people be encouraged to read and the difficulty in ensuring that this was the case once that decision had been made. The problem with a literate society is that people will choose to read what they want to read not just what the authorities would like them to read. In that respect, radical politics from the 1790s played a decisive role in the transformation of popular literature from the plebeian literature of the 1790s through to the mass-circulation fiction and newspapers of the 1840s. Divided this three sections, Ian Haywood has concentrated on the importance of the 1790s, the two decades after the end of the French Wars in 1815 and the literature associated with Chartism. If knowledge is power, then popular literacy and popular literature were the means through which power could be achieved or, in the case of loyalist writers, retained, something Hannah More recognised. Whether literature produced for a political audience or politics embellished by writers for a literary audience, the important of popular literature to the development of popular culture was and remains important.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Chartism and Poetry

Mike Sanders

The Poetry of Chartism: Aesthetics, Politics, History

(Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, Cambridge University Press), 2009

300pp., £50 hard, ISBN 978-0-521-89918-5

Literature played a central role in the political as well as the cultural development of Chartism. [1] Most Chartist newspapers included literary contributions and the Northern Star featured an arts page containing original and reprinted poetry, serialised fiction and book reviews. Poetry was particularly well regarded by Chartists for its own sake and as a sign of civilised values and literature was part of the discussion within the movement on a range of domestic and international political issues. It was what Thomas Cooper saw as a ‘literature of your own’ that alone was sufficient to represent the Chartist cause. [2] This was literature in the public sphere and contrasted with middle-class attitudes to poetry and fiction that were more private and individually reflective and aesthetic rather than overtly collective and political. However, literature was not simply a vehicle for articulating political ideas but was also an important means of remembrance. Poems could be recited or sung and easily memorised, plays could be performed and stories could be read to audiences. They commemorated the actions of Chartists as a means of articulating a heroic past and a positive future.

Mike Sanders has produced an important study of the Northern Star’s poetry column with a complete list of all the poems published. Between 1839 and 1852, over a thousand poems written by more than 350 poets were published in the newspaper. Given the massive circulation of the Northern Star, these poems were among the most widely read or listened to poems in the nineteenth century perhaps the clearest expression of the populist and collective culture of Chartism and its supporters. The importance of Chartist poetry has long been recognised and is explored in an excellent chapter on Chartist poetry and literary history. The core of the work is the three chapters that explore the nature and importance of poetry at the three climactic points in the Chartist movement in 1839, 1842 and 1848. This is achieved by examining the ideological afterlife of the Newport rising, memory and nostalgia in the year of the mass strikes and ‘the future-hastening storm’ of 1848, the year of the European revolutions. Through his detailed analysis of the Northern Star, we now have a clearer idea of why reading and writing poetry played such a central role in Chartism’s struggles for fundamental democratic rights.

This volume must now be recognised as the leading study of Chartist poetry available to historians. Its subtle linkage of literature, aesthetics and history provides a clear contextual setting for examining the written word and makes one realise why Plato contended that poetry could be harmful.


[1] Scheckner, Peter, (ed.), An Anthology of Chartist Poetry: Poetry of the British Working Class, 1830s-1850s, (Associated University Presses), 1989, pp. 15-58, Journès, Hugues, Une Littérature Révolutionnaire en Grande-Bretagne: La Poésie Chartiste, Paris, 1991, and Haywood Ian, (ed.), The Literature of Struggle: An Anthology of Chartist Fiction, (Scolar Press), 1995, pp. 1-25, provide a good summary of the significance of literature in the Chartist movement.

[2] Cooper’s Journal, Vol. 1, (9), 2 March 1850.

Sources: Peel in death

Lord Hatherton writing at the time of Peel’s death in 1850

Peel always seemed to me the most faultless of Ministers. The steadiness of his application and his facility of research, acquired from habit and good memory, were quite wonderful; he always appeared to me to do everything with great ease. He seemed to me not to have a particle of vanity or of undue ambition about him, but a constant of love of truth and desire to give it the victory. Naturally he did not appear to me good-tempered, but his temperament was not hasty, and his feelings were held under wonderful control. His friends, and even his most intimate colleagues, all complained that they could never learn his mind; yet at table or in the society of those he liked, or in a country ride or walk, he seemed unreserved and cordial, and at such times the good sense of his remarks and the liveliness of his anecdotes were very charming. He frequently carried the House away with him, but it was by his greater knowledge of his subject, and his superior power in handling facts, and by the moral character of his sentiments.

The death of Sir Robert Peel

The following report of Peel’s death was published in The Lamp, a Catholic newspaper, in July 1850

Sir Robert Peel is dead! A great instrument in the hand of Divine Providence has ceased to operate in mundane affairs! His task has been fully performed. He has been called to render an account of his stewardship, and in our heart’s core we wish that he may have been found acceptable in the unveiled presence of his JUDGE! It is not our object to follow in the track of the mere politicians of the day, who view his exit from this earthly scene as an event big with misfortune or fertile in blessings, as party feelings or personal bias may prompt them to prognosticate. Neither our judgment nor our hopes are limited to so narrow a range. True, our best sympathies for the last twenty years towards the man, and still shall they cling tenaciously to his memory; nor could any one more sincerely condole with the bereaved and deeply afflicted family of the great departed statesman; but we must confess we do not, like many others, hold his sudden call from among us, as an irreparable national loss. The designs of divine providence, though impervious to human intellect, must be wise and perfect - to us, to every thinking mind, they must be all-in-all, and we would sooner mistrust our own existence, than doubt for a moment that other fit agencies await the summons, to carry out and complete the great work or regeneration so well and nobly begun; by the late and deservedly lamented Sir Robert Peel.

Beyond comparison the most remarkable and distinguished English statesman of the age, it would appear he was called into existence to shiver the theories, and dash, by his extraordinary career, the prejudices, the hopes, the wishes, and the unsound principles of the millions who had staked their earthly welfare upon the power of genius and the subtle exercise of the human intellect. Starting into political life under the auspices of the proud old Tory Faction, he became at once their most able instrument, their cherished and favoured protégé. Endowed, however, with a mind capable of gathering and storing up practical wisdom, another name for expediency, he soon perceived that his haughty patrons secretly looked down on the young aspiring Commoner; but he was prudent, he had a noble card to play, and he was not slow in learning the true value of what the old school called constitutional principles. In the honesty of his heart he despised their hackneyed and used-up absurdities; He found himself trammelled, however, by the extensive influence and powerful interests of those whose index he had become, and who deemed him to be the best expositor of their sordid wishes and over-weening pretensions. Acting with that caution and moderation which were two great ingredients of his character, he closely watched the progress of events, drew knowledge from facts, waited his opportunity, and gradually converted his early masters into the unresisting slaves of his own proud will. On the altar of his loved country he immolated the Tory Faction, and gathered round his own name the grateful respect and admiration of that great body from which himself had sprung, the middle classes of Englishmen. Thus, under the direction of an over ruling providence, did he assume the championship of the men and the principles that in early life he had been brought forward to crush and annihilate.

While secretary in Ireland, he had the misfortune to earn the applause, almost the adoration of the Orangemen. It was because he came forward the bitter opponent of Catholics and Catholicism. This was a great error on his part, a defect in the statesman, a crime in the governor, a sin against a crushed people. But time and opportunity were vouchsafed to correct it, and he did not permit the occasion to slip. Under his tyranny the Catholic people began to learn their own importance. O’Connell concentrated their powers, the association sprung into existence, grew rapidly into gigantic strength, and, finally assumed a position, from which the united efforts of religious bigotry and political intolerance failed to dislodge them. Sir Robert quailed before this new creation, this offspring of a mind mightier than his own; accordingly, he reconsidered his position, drew wisdom from facts, and casting all former prejudices aside, he gracefully bent to necessity and became the reluctant benefactor of the Church of God. Strange destiny his, if aught which God marks by a special interposition may be called strange. Singular that he was made not only the scourge of early party, but the champion of those whom he formerly despised and oppressed! but so it was. His great merit as a statesman was, that when he knew himself to be right, he proceeded in his course with fearlessness and candour. What he did, he did not do by halves; with the grace of sincerity he made his recantations and concessions; and in the case of emancipation, without hankering after or attempting to impose silly and insulting securities, &c., he admitted the Catholics freely into the temple of the constitution. The drag being thus removed from the wheel, Catholicity has since rolled forward with such an accelerating motion, as neither he nor his fellow labourers, nor his opponents, nor those whose condition he sought to ameliorate, had ever dreamed of. Two men alone perhaps possessed correct anticipations of the results. O’Connell, in the vivid picturings of faith, beheld the conquests which the untrammelled Church was destined to achieve. Lord Eldon, in the depression of despair, saw through his tears, as through an inverted lens, that ‘the sun of England’s glory had set for ever,’ and in his narrow view he was indeed prophetic. In Protestant ascendancy his bigoted soul had concentrated England’s glory, and with the emancipation act, that sun did truly set never to rise again!

Peel a ‘working class hero’

Obituary article on Sir Robert Peel in Chambers’ Papers for the People, volume iv, a cheap popular periodical aiming at a mass circulation.

He fell from official power into the arms of the people, whose enthusiastic plaudits accompanied him, on the evening of his resignation of office, to his residence in Whitehall Gardens. The spontaneous feeling of gratitude and respect which prompted those plaudits has since widened, strengthened, deepened, and will become more and more vivid and intense as the moral grandeur of his motives - the unselfish, self-sacrificing spirit which dictated his public conduct - pierce through, and consume in the clear and brilliant light of that truth and justice which, we are assured by an illustrious authority, has ever inspired his acts, the calumnious misrepresentations so unsparingly heaped upon him. By his humbler countrymen, that testimony to the moral worth of the departed statesman was not waited for, nor needed. They felt instinctively that he must be pure and single minded, as he was intellectually vigorous and great; for what had he, raised aloft upon the bucklers of a powerful and wealthy party, to gain by stooping from that dazzling height, to raise tip the humble and lowly from the mire into which ignorant and partial legislation had so long trampled them.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Sources: Peel the man

These extracts give contemporary descriptions of Sir Robert Peel: his appearance and habits

In person he was tall and well formed. His figure, slender rather than robust, made at that time no approach to corpulence. He was active, given to athletic sports; a good walker; fond of shooting, and a good shot...At twenty-one he was attentive to his dress, and dressed well and fashionably... It was still the fashion to wear powder in the hair at a dinner or evening party; and this fashion, which concealed the sandy colour of his hair, and suited his complexion, became him well.

Sir Lawrence Peel A Sketch of the Life and Character of Sir Robert Peel, London, 1860

Sir Robert was tall and well-made, except in his legs, and the defect of those only was that they were too thin, and that, as they tapered much towards the ancle [sic], they seemed too small for the upper man. From some peculiar formation he walked like a woman, - to use a common phrase, he ‘sidled’ along. [The tones of his voice] were more peculiar than those of any voice I ever heard, either on or off the stage. It combined all the softness and persuasiveness of a woman’s with the strength and sonorousness of a man’s.

Captain H. Martin A Personal Sketch of the late Lamented Sir Robert Peel, Hamburg, 1850

He seems self-assured that he is of importance [in the House of Commons]. As he enters at the green door below the bar, and the members, of whatever party, instinctively make way for him, he looks at no one, recognises no one, receives salutation from no one. He seems neither to know nor to be known by any member present. He moves straight on, gliding along the floor like something unreal, with steps half-sidling, on what O’Connell called his two left legs, as though he were preparing for the stately minuet. The broad, full frame tending, of late, to portliness, and looking still more full in the ample vest and long broad-skirted frock-coat seems almost a weight to its supports: an apprehensive man might fear that the sidling step would weaken into a slight stagger. An air of formality and pre-occupation is on the face. The countenance, though handsome and of fine mould, looks broad, flat, not open and traitless. An habitual suppression of feeling has left it without marked features. A complacent gravity alternates with an austere coldness. Or, the brows are elevated with a haughtiness not natural to him; and a strange contradictory smile, sometimes nearly humorous, sometimes almost self condemning, plays with a slight convulsive motion, as though not quite under control. Arrived at his place, he exchanges no recognitions with his immediate colleagues, but sits apart, his body prone upon his crossed legs, his hat down upon his ears, his face stretched forward in anxious attention or agitated with nervous twitches, while his right hand, the two fore-fingers forked, strokes slowly down the nose, or plays unconsciously with his seals, or the keys of his despatch-boxes, which lie before him on the speaker’s table.

Anon. Sir Robert Peel as Statesman and Orator, London, 1846

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Peel: Changing historiography

Peel’s reputation in political and intellectual circles declined quite rapidly after his death in 1850. In part, this was a mark of the success of his free trade policies that remained the basis of government policy for the remainder of the century and it is easy to lose sight of just how significant Peel’s achievement actually was. In 1841, Britain was a country still wedded to protectionism; by 1846 it look forward to free trade. For Peel’s early historians, he comes across as an overly cautious administrator with a limited intellect and whose ideas evolved at roughly the same rate as the average person (Walter Bagehot) or as a half-hearted Liberal who spent his life pursuing modest measures of reform from within a party obviously unsuited to the task (Justin McCarthy and J.R. Thursfield).

Since the 1920s, Peel has been subject to some degree of rehabilitation beginning with the work of Anna Ramsey and George Kitson Clark and culminating in the two volume biography by Norman Gash published in 1961 and 1972. Gash sees Peel as a pragmatic administrator and an instinctively consensual politician whose great achievement was to establish the principles of the modern Conservatism. Peel’s career took on greater historical significance with the demise of the Liberal party and the impressive record of the Conservatives as the dominant political party in the twentieth century. For Gash, the Tamworth Manifesto was the key document in the evolution of Conservative ideas with its emphasis that his party must accept the need for gradual change to become a viable party of government and occupy the middle ground in politics. He argues that Peel helped the Conservatives extend the social basis of their support by appealing to urban middle class voters as well as landowners and farmers. Even the Conservative part, which repudiated his leadership in 1846, was soon forced to learn that there was no alternative but to adopt Peelite approaches to politics. Gash concluded that the period between 1830 and 1850 in British history was justifiable known as the ‘Age of Peel’.

This assessment of Peel has been called into question by a number of historians approaching the subject from different positions. Peel’s allegedly pragmatic style of administration, for example, does not fit well with his resolutely anti-reformist stance that he took on many major issues early in his career. The granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829 came after a decade in which Peel had been one of the leading critics of such a policy. He opposed the 1832 Reform Act to the end; resisted the extension of religious equality to cover Jews in 1830 and, while he never explicitly opposed the abolition of slavery, his speeches in the 1820s and 1830s did nothing but place obstacles in the way of decisive action. Any claim that Peel was a consistent supporter of reform therefore rests on his record at the Home Office in the 1820s. Gash presents his efforts of consolidate the criminal law, abolishing many capital offences in the process as evidence of Peel’s humanitarian concerns. In 1974, however, Derek Beales demonstrated that Peel’s rationalisation of statutes had only limited effects and that credit was really due to the Whig ministers who continued the reforms in the 1830s. Gatrell[1] argued that Peel has no right to be regarded as a humanitarian Home Secretary and that his instinct was to resist appeals for clemency and allow the law to take its course.

It is difficult to accept that before 1832 Peel was a great reformer. However, it could be argued that the true test of Peel’s credentials comes with an examination of his career after 1832. Gash may be right in arguing that Peel tried to persuade the Conservative party to be more adaptable but it is less clear that he succeeded in transforming his party. Robert Stewart and Ian Newbould[2] have both shown that, despite Peel’s advocacy, the Conservative party was little changed by 1841. It remained the party of the English counties and smaller boroughs in the 1841 election, an event that was dominated in Conservative seats by agricultural protectionism. Peel certainly promoted constructive reforms after 1841 but he did so with the declining support of his own MPs.

The most important revision of Gash’s view of Peel has come from Boyd Hilton in a seminal article published in 1979[3]. Hilton does not see Peel as a pragmatist who sought the middle ground in politics, but as a rigid and doctrinaire leader who was unwilling to compromise on his views. His analysis focuses mainly on Peel’s thinking on economic policy arguing that it betrayed signs of his training as a mathematician at Oxford. Hilton maintains that Peel’s intellect was readily susceptible to the charms of a system and once convinced of the theoretical correctness of a proposition, it was necessary for him to fit everything else into the model. The problem was that Peel had an insufficiently flexible or creative intellect to adjust the model when the ‘facts’ did not fit. He suggests that Peel was probably converted to the principle of Corn Law repeal by the end of the 1820s and his doctrinaire adherence to laissez-faire principles meant that in the 1840s an opportunity was missed for the government to establish regulatory control over the railway network. So Hilton concludes that Peel’s legacy was not to modern Conservatism but that he could properly be seen as the originator of Gladstonian Liberalism and certainly the ‘moral energy’ created by his supreme sacrifice in 1846 was eventually transfused into the Liberal political tradition.

Peel’s stature as a Great Statesman may have been reduced to some degree by recent historical writing. In part, this historiographical reaction against Peel is a consequence of the attention currently being given to the Whig governments of the 1830s and 1840s. We can no longer treat them as dismissively as Gash did. This should not, however, undervalue his political achievements. Peel did establish a system of fiscal and commercial policy that endured for almost a century. Perhaps even more importantly, he compelled the whole of the British ruling elite, Liberals and Conservatives, to be responsive to the needs of the growing urban population and this influence was vital in terms of establishing social stability. Peel’s influence lay across the political system and he may be said to have lad for foundation for the mid-Victorian ‘age of equipoise’ if only because this depended on the endorsement of his free trade policies across the political spectrum.


[1] V. A. C. Gatrell, ‘Mercy and Mr. Peel’, The hanging tree: execution and the English people, 1770–1868, Oxford University Press, 1994, chapter 21.

[2] I.D.C. Newbould ‘Sir Robert Peel and the Conservative Party, 1832-1841: a Study in Failure?’ English Historical Review, volume xcviii, (1983), pages 529-557.

[3] Boyd Hilton ‘Peel: a re-appraisal’, Historical Journal, volume 22, (1979), pages 585–614.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Peel’s Reputation

Many contemporaries regarded Peel as having sacrificed his own career for the sake of the nation. Subsequent historians have reinforced this image. For Norman Gash he was the founder of modern Conservatism and the architect of the stability of the 1850s. His government is seen as one of the most able of the century. Yet he betrayed his party twice, in 1829 and 1846. He was unable to change the attitudes of his own party in the 1830s. He lacked political sensitivity particularly towards those who did not have his lofty vision. He was hardly a pragmatic politician but one bound by the principles of political economy he has adopted in the 1820s and his belief in the importance of expertise led to arrogance and intolerance towards those who saw politics simply in terms of power. His career may not have been ‘a study in failure’ as Ian Newbould suggested of his leadership of the Conservative Party in the 1830s but it was hardly one of innovation. Bagehot was correct when he suggested that Peel had ‘the powers of a first-rate man and the creed of a second-rate man’. His grasp of administrative detail was without equal but his legislative record contained little that may be regarded as original. His success was in adapting existing institutions, of accommodation to change; his failure was political, an inability to persuade his own party of the changing political environment created in 1832.

Reputation

The Peelite wing of the Conservative Party was gradually absorbed, between 1846 and 1859, into the Liberal Party. In his budget speeches of 1853-4 and 1860-66 Gladstone spoke of continuing and completing the free-trade policies of Sir Robert Peel. Within the family, Peel’s second son, Frederick, entered parliament as a Liberal in 1849; his eldest son, the third Sir Robert, who succeeded to the representation of Tamworth, served for four years as Irish secretary in Palmerston’s Liberal ministry of 1859–65; and his youngest son, Arthur Wellesley, began his political career as Liberal member for Warwick in 1865. It has therefore sometimes been suggested that Peel had all along been in the wrong party. But this is to ignore the fact that Peel himself, with his background, perceived no contradiction between manufacturing interests and Tory principles. To portray him as a Liberal manqué overlooks his abhorrence of Whig principles and his contempt for the Whigs’ levity and carelessness in government. It overlooks, too, the extent to which Peel’s supporters did not so much choose to be Liberal as have Liberalism thrust upon them.

Historians have often professed to see continuity between the Conservatism of the Tamworth manifesto and the Conservatism of subsequent generations. Certainly, a deferential attitude to crown, church, and aristocracy may be said to link Peel with Lord Salisbury and even with Stanley Baldwin. But Salisbury still referred to Peel as the man who had betrayed his party twice, and other Conservative leaders who conceded that one of Peel’s two changes of course might have been a principled one did not agree which one. Catholic emancipation ceased, after a generation, to be an emotive issue, but protection and free trade continued, as Balfour and Baldwin found, to divide the Conservative Party. Far into the twentieth century, the party related more easily to the pragmatism and balance of the 1842 budget than it did to the capitulation of 1846. Peel, who dominated the parliamentary debates of his age, found no assured resting place among succeeding generations of Conservatives.

In the Dictionary of National Biography, Peel’s grandson G. V. Peel wrote that in an age of revolutions Peel alone had had ‘the foresight and the strength to form a conservative party, resting not on force or corruption, but on administrative capacity and the more stable portion of the public will’. Certainly Peel re-educated the party after the debacle of 1831-2, and returned it to power in 1841. The case is strong, but the question then remains, why did Peel, in 1845-6, follow a course which led to the destruction of the party he himself had made? Peel explained that his ‘earnest wish’, during his tenure of power, had been ‘to impress the people of this country with a belief that the legislature was animated with a sincere desire to frame its legislation upon the principles of equity and justice’[1]. Peel wrote to Aberdeen on 19th August 1847 that when he perceived that ‘it was impossible to reconcile the repeal of the Corn Laws by me with the keeping together of the Conservative party’, he had ‘no hesitation in sacrificing the subordinate object’. Here, he was not to be disappointed and he rose in the affections of the people in proportion as he lost the favour of his party. While members of one sectional interest, Tory landowners, draped their prints of Peel with crêpe or turned them to the wall and those of another, at the heart of the Anglican university establishment, made sure that Peel’s portrait never hung in his college dining hall, the nation’s fortuitous passage through the year of revolutions, 1848, showed that thoughts of the dissolution of our institutions were indeed being lost, as Peel had hoped they would be, amid the enjoyment of prosperity. Two years later, when Peel died, 400,000 working men contributed 1d each to a memorial fund, used to buy books for working men’s clubs and libraries.

Peel’s Speeches were published in four volumes in 1853, an imperfect edition but one that has never been replaced. Peel’s Memoirs, covering the three episodes he was most sensitive about, Catholic emancipation, the acceptance of the king’s commission to form a ministry in 1834-5, and the disintegration of the Conservative Party during the corn law crisis in 1845-6 were published by Philip Stanhope (Lord Mahon) and Edward Cardwell in 1856–7. But plans for an ‘official’ biography hung fire. Peel’s intimate, J. W. Croker, was the obvious choice. But he died in 1857 with nothing accomplished and the commission passed first to Goldwin Smith and then to Edward Cardwell, both of whom gave up. In 1891-9, C. S. Parker published three volumes of extracts from Peel’s papers that allowed Peel and his correspondents to speak for themselves, but offered little interpretation or evaluation. In the meantime various lives appeared: at least a dozen in the half century between 1850 and 1900. These were all based upon the readily available sources, and none was more authoritative than the article in the Dictionary of National Biography. No more could, perhaps, have been said, until Peel’s papers were deposited in the British Museum in 1922. Even then many years passed before the first full-length case for the consistency of Peel’s actions, the purity of his motives, and the scale of his achievement was at last made in Norman Gash’s two-volume biography (1961, 1972), a portrait so favourable that it has already led to less flattering revisions especially by Boyd Hilton and V. A. C. Gatrell.


[1] Norman Gash, Sir Robert Peel, 2nd edition, 1986, page 590.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Sources: Crisis of 1845-1846: 5

Extract from Peel’s final ministerial speech in the House of Commons, June 1846

After the repeal of the Corn Laws, Peel‘s government was defeated in a vote on a Coercion Act for Ireland. Peel resigned because of this. The extract below is part of his resignation speech

‘Sir, I now close the observations which it has been my duty to address to the House, thanking them sincerely for the favour with which they have listened to me in performing this last act of my official career. Within a few hours, probably, that power which I have held for a period of five years will be surrendered into the hands of another - without repining - without complaint on my part - with a more lively recollection of the support and confidence I have received during several years, than of the opposition which during a recent period I have encountered.

In relinquishing power, I shall leave a name, severely censured I fear by many who, on public grounds, deeply regret the severance of party ties - deeply regret that severance, not from interested or personal motives, but from the firm conviction that fidelity to party engagements - the existence and maintenance of a great party - constitutes a powerful instrument of government: I shall surrender power severely censured also, by others who, from no interested motive, adhere to the principle of protection, considering the maintenance of it to be essential to the welfare and interests of the country: I shall leave a name execrated by every monopolist who, from less honourable motives, clamours for protection because it conduces to his own individual benefit; but it may be that I shall leave a name sometimes remembered with expressions of good will in the abodes of those whose lot it is to labour, and to earn their daily bread by the sweat of their brow, when they shall recruit their exhausted strength with abundant and untaxed food, the sweeter because it is no longer leavened by a sense of injustice.’

Disraeli’s assessment of Peel

Benjamin Disraeli made his political name because of his vitriolic attacks on Sir Robert Peel and there was no love lost between the two men. In this extract, Disraeli draws attention to what he saw as Peel’s failings. Disraeli also said that Peel was the ‘burglar of others’ intellect’, trading ‘on the ideas and intelligence of others’ and that his political life was ‘one great appropriation clause‘.

‘Nature had combined in Sir Robert Peel many admirable parts. In him a physical frame incapable of fatigue was united with an understanding equally vigorous and flexible. He was gifted with the faculty of method in the highest degree; and with great powers of application which were sustained by a prodigious memory; while he could communicate his acquisitions with clear and fluent elocution.

Such a man, under any circumstances and in any sphere of life, would probably have become remarkable. Ordained from his youth to be busied with the affairs of a great empire, such a man, after long years of observation, practice, and perpetual discipline would have become what Sir Robert Peel was in the latter portion of his life, a transcendent administrator of public business and a matchless master of debate in a popular assembly.

Thus gifted and thus accomplished, Sir Robert Peel had a great deficiency; he was without imagination. Wanting imagination, he wanted prescience. No-one was more sagacious when dealing with the circumstances before him; no one penetrated the present with more acuteness and accuracy. His judgement was faultless provided he had not to deal with the future. Thus it happened through his long career, that while he always was looked upon as the most prudent and safest of leaders, he ever, after a protracted display of admirable tactics, concluded his campaigns by surrendering at discretion. He was so adroit that he could prolong resistance even beyond its term, but so little foreseeing that often in the very triumph of his manoeuvres he found himself in an untenable position. And so it came to pass that Roman Catholic emancipation, parliamentary reform, and the abrogation of our commercial system, were all carried in haste or in passion and without conditions or mitigatory arrangements.

Sir Robert Peel had a peculiarity which is perhaps natural with men of very great talents who have not the creative faculty; he had a dangerous sympathy with the creations of others. Instead of being cold and wary, as was commonly supposed, he was impulsive and even inclined to rashness...

Sir Robert Peel had a bad manner of which he was sensible; he was by nature very shy, but forced early in life into eminent positions, he had formed an artificial manner, haughtily stiff or exuberantly bland, of which, generally speaking, he could not divest himself. There were, however, occasions when he did succeed in this, and on these, usually when he was alone with an individual whom he wished to please, his manner was not only unaffectedly cordial, but he could even charm...

For so clever a man he was deficient in the knowledge of human nature. The prosperous routine of his youth was not favourable to the development of this faculty. It was never his lot to struggle; although forty years in Parliament, it is remarkable that Sir Robert Peel never represented a popular constituency or stood a contested election.’

Benjamin Disraeli Lord George Bentinck , 1852

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Sources: Crisis of 1845-1846: 4

Disraeli’s attack on Peel: 15th May 1846: contemporary comment

Last week the debate in the House of Commons came to a close at last, wound up by a speech of Disraeli‘s, very clever, in which he hacked and mangled Peel with the most unsparing severity, and positively tortured his victim. It was a miserable and degrading spectacle. The whole mass of the Protectionists cheered him with vociferous delight, making the roof ring again, and when Peel spoke, they screamed and hooted at him in the most brutal manner. When he vindicated himself, and talked of honour and conscience, they assailed him with shouts of derision and gestures of contempt... . They hunt him like a fox, and they are eager to run him down and kill him in the open, and they are full of exultation at thinking they have nearly accomplished this object.

Charles Greville The Greville Memoirs, Longmans, Green, 1885, 21st May 1846

The Duke of Wellington’s speech on the repeal of the Corn Laws: 28th May 1846

Hansard, 3rd series, volume LXXXVI, columns 1401-5

The Conservatives, under Sir Robert Peel, had won the election of 1841 on a platform of maintaining the Corn Laws. Within months, Peel was making adjustments to the protectionist system in place in Britain and by the end of 1845 had proposed to repeal the Corn Laws. Peel relied heavily on the Duke of Wellington to ensure that the Tory Lords supported the legislation proposed in the House of Commons.

My Lords, I cannot allow this question for the second reading of this Bill to be put to your Lordships, without addressing to you a few words on the vote you are about to give. I am aware, my Lords, that I address you on this occasion under many disadvantages. I address your Lordships under the disadvantage of appearing here, as a Minister of the Crown, to press this measure upon your adoption, knowing at the same time how disagreeable it is to many of you with whom I have constantly acted in political life, with whom I have long lived in intimacy and friendship with the utmost satisfaction to myself - on whose good opinion I have ever relied, and, I am happy to say, whose good opinion it has been my fortune hitherto to have enjoyed in no small degree. My Lords, I have already in this House adverted to the circumstances which gave rise to this measure. My Lords, in the month of December last, I felt myself bound, by my duty to my Sovereign, not to withhold my assistance from the Government - not to decline to resume my seat in Her Majesty’s Councils - not to refuse to give my assistance to the Government of my right hon. Friend [Sir Robert Peel] - knowing as I did, at the time, that my right hon. Friend could not do otherwise than propose to Parliament a measure of this description - nay, more, my Lords, this very measure - for this is the very measure which my right hon. Friend stated to the Cabinet prior to their resignation in the month I have referred to. My Lords, it is not necessary that I should say more upon that subject. I am aware that I address your Lordships at present with all your prejudices against me for having adopted the course I then took - a course which, however little I may be able to justify it to your Lordships, I considered myself bound to take, and which, if it was to be again adopted tomorrow, I should take again. I am in Her Majesty’s service - bound to Her Majesty and to the Sovereigns of this country by considerations of gratitude of which it is not necessary that I should say more to your Lordships. It may be true, my Lords, and it is true, that in such circumstances I ought to have no relation with party, and that party ought not to rely upon me. Be it so, my Lords - be it so, if you think proper: I have stated to you the motives on which I have acted - I am satisfied with those motives myself - and I should be exceedingly concerned if any dissatisfaction respecting them remained in the mind of any of your Lordships. I am aware that I have never had any claim to the confidence which you have all reposed in me for a considerable number of years. Circumstances have given it to me; in some cases the confidence of the Crown, and, in other, the zeal with which I have endeavoured to serve your Lordships, to promote your Lordships’ views, and my desire to facilitate your business in this House; and I shall lament the breaking up of that confidence in public life. But, my Lords, I will not omit, even on this night - probably the last on which I shall ever venture to address to you any advice again - I will not omit to give you my councel with respect to the vote you ought to give on this occasion. My noble Friend [Lord Stanley], whose absence on this occasion I much lament, urged you, and in the strongest manner, to vote against this measure; and he told you, in terms which I cannot attempt to imitate, that it was your duty to step in and protect the people of this country from rash and inconsiderate measures passed by the other House of Parliament, and which, in his opinion, were inconsistent with the views and opinions of the people themselves. My Lords, there is no doubt whatever that it is your duty to consider all the measures which are brought before you, and that it is your right to vote in regard to those measures as you think proper; and, most particularly, it is your duty to vote against those that appear to be rash and inconsiderate; but, my Lords, I beg leave to point out to your Lordships that it is also your duty to consider well the consequences of any vote you give on any subject - to consider well the situation in which you place this House - nay, my Lords, that it is the duty of every one of you to place himself in the situation of this House, to ponder well the consequences of his vote and all the circumstances attending it, and the situation I repeat, in which this House would be placed it it should adopt the vote which he himself is about to give. This, indeed, has been the line of conduct pursued by this House before. I myself once prevailed upon this House to vote for a measure on which it had pronounced positive opinions by former votes [Catholic Emancipation in 1829]; and persuaded it subsequently to take a course different from that which it had pursued on previous occasions, upon the same subject. My Lords, I now ask you to look a little at the measure in respect of which you are going to give your votes this night - to look at the way in which it comes before you, and to consider the consequences likely to follow your rejection - if you do reject it - of this Bill. This measure, my Lords, was recommended by the Speech from the Throne, and it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons, consisting of more than half the Members of that House. But my noble Friend said that that vote is inconsistent with the original vote given by the same House of Commons on this same question, and inconsistent with the supposed views of the constituents by whom they were elected. But, my Lords, I think that is not a subject which this House can take into its consideration - for, first, we can have no accurate knowledge of the fact; and, secondly, whether it be the fact or not, this we know, that it is the House of Commons from which this Bill comes to us. We know by the Votes that it has been passed by a majority of the House of Commons; we know that it is recommended by the Crown; and we know that, if we should reject this Bill, it is a Bill which has been agreed to by the other two branches of the Legislature; and that the House of Lords stands alone in rejecting this measure. Now that, my Lords, is a situation in which I beg to remind your Lordships, I have frequently stated you ought not to stand; it is a position in which you cannot stand, because you are entirely powerless; without the House of Commons and the Crown, the House of Lords can do nothing. You have vast influence on public opinion; you may have great confidence in your own principles; but without the Crown or the House of Commons you can do nothing - till the connexion with the Crown and the House of Commons is revived, there is an end of the functions of the House of Lords. But I will take your Lordships a step further, and let you see what will be the immediate consequences of rejecting this Bill. It appears very clear, that whatever may be the result of this Bill in this House, the object I had in view in resuming my seat in Her Majesty’s Councils will not be attained. I conclude that another Government will be formed; but whether another government is formed or not, let me ask, do your Lordships suppose that you will not have this very same measure brought before you by the next Administration which can be formed? And do your Lordships mean to reject the measure a second time? Do you mean the country to go on in the discussion of this measure two or three months longer? But the object of the noble Duke and of the noble Lords who have addressed the House against this Bill is, that Parliament should be dissolved - that the country should have the opportunity of considering the question, and of returning other representatives; and that it may be seen whether or not the new House of Commons would agree to this measure or not. Now, really if your Lordships have so much confidence, as you appear to have, in the result of other elections, and in the exercise of public opinion on this question, I think that you might venture to rely upon elections which must occur, according to the common course of law, in the course of a twelvemonth from this time; and that you might leave it to the Parliament thus elected to consider the course which it will take on the expiration of the term of the Bill now before you; for that Bill is to last only till the year 1849. I think your Lordships might trust to that Parliament to take the matter into consideration at that time, without interfering with the prerogative of the Crown, by compelling the Queen to dissolve Parliament as the immediate consequence of the rejection of the present measure. Your Lordships, therefore, have now the option of immediately accepting this Bill, reserving it to another parliament to pass or reject it again, if again the question should be brought forward, or of rejecting the Bill now, and obtaining a fresh election, of which you are so desirous: your Lordships have that choice - you may reject the Bill now, or you may appeal again to the new Parliament to confirm or reject it, at the time when its operation will cease, in the year 1849.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Sources: Crisis of 1845-1846: 3

Peel’s Speech on Repeal of the Corn Laws, 15th May 1846

In the early 1830s, Peel had been well-known for his opposition to the repeal of the Corn Laws and in 1841 had promised not to repeal the legislation. During the course of his second ministry (1841-6) he changed his mind and by December 1845 was considering repealing the Corn Laws. In the speech from which these extracts are taken, Peel justified his change of mind.

My belief is, that in seeking the re-enactment of the existing law after its suspension, you would have had to contend with greater difficulties than you anticipate. I think you could have continued this law for a short time longer; but I believe that the interval of its maintenance would have been but short, and that there would have been during the period of its continuance, a desperate conflict between different classes of society, that your arguments in favour of it would have been weak; that you might have had no alternative, had the cycle of unfavourable harvest returned - and who can give an assurance that they would not? - but to concede an alteration of this law under circumstances infinitely less favourable than the present to a final settlement of the question. ...

It was the foresight of these consequences - it was the belief that you were about to enter into a bitter and, ultimately, an unsuccessful struggle, that has induced me to think that for the benefit of all classes, for the benefit of the agricultural class itself, it was desirable to come to a permanent and equitable settlement of this question. These are the motives on which I acted.

I do not rest my support of this bill merely upon the temporary ground of scarcity in Ireland, but I believe that scarcity left no alternative to us but to undertake the consideration of this question; and I think that a permanent adjustment of the question is not only imperative, but the best policy for all concerned. ... Now, all of you admit that the real question at issue is the improvement of the social and moral condition of the masses of the population; we wish to elevate in the gradation of society that great class which gains its support by manual labour. The mere interests of the landlords [and] occupying tenants, important as they are, are subordinate to the great question - what is calculated to increase the comforts, to improve the condition, and elevate the social character of the millions who subsist by manual labour, whether they are engaged in manufactures or in agriculture?

My earnest wish has been, during my tenure of power, to impress the people of this country with a belief that the legislature was animated by a sincere desire to frame its legislation upon the principles of equity and justice. I have a strong belief that the greatest object which we or any other government can contemplate would be to elevate the social condition of that class of the people with whom we are brought into no direct relationship by the exercise of the elective franchise. I wish to convince them that our object has been so to apportion taxation, that we shall relieve industry and labour from any undue burden, and transfer it, so far as is consistent with the public good, to those who are better enabled to bear it.’

From Speeches of Sir Robert Peel, 1853, volume 4, pages 698-96

Disraeli’s speech on the third reading of the Bill for the Repeal of the Corn Laws: 15th May 1846

Hansard, 3rd series, volume LXXXVI, columns 665-679

I say, then, assuming, as I have given you reason to assume, that the price of wheat, when this system is established, ranges in England at 35s. per quarter, and other grain in proportion, this is not a question of rent, but it is a question of displacing the labour of England that produces corn, in order, on an extensive and even universal scale, to permit the entrance into this country of foreign corn produced by foreign labour. Will that displaced labour find new employment? The Secretary of State says, that England is no longer an agricultural country; and the right hon. Gentleman, when reminded by the noble Lord the Member for Gloucestershire [Hon. Grantley Berkeley], of his words, said, ‘No, I did not say that; but I said that England was no longer exclusively an agricultural country.’ Why, Sir, the commerce of England is not a creation of yesterday: it is more ancient than that of any other existing country. This is a novel assumption in the part of the Government to tell us that England has hitherto been a strictly agricultural country, and that now there is a change, and that it is passing into a commercial and manufacturing country. I doubt whether, in the first place, England is a greater commercial country now than she has been at other periods of her history. I do not mean to say that she has not now more commercial transactions, but that with reference to her population, and the population of the world, her commerce is not now greater than at other periods of her history; for example, when she had her great Levantine trade, when the riches of the world collected in the Mediterranean, when she had her great Turkey merchants, her flourishing Antilles, and her profitable, though in some degree surreptitious, trade with the Spanish main. But then it is also said that England has become a great manufacturing country. I believe, Sir, if you look to the general distribution of labour in England, you will find she may be less of a manufacturing country now than she has been. Well, I give you my argument; answer it if you can. I say, looking to the employment of the people, manufacturing industry was more scattered over the country a hundred years ago than it is now. Hon. Gentlemen have laid hold of a word uttered in the heat of speaking. I say manufacturing industry was more dispersed over the country then than now - there were more counties in which manufactures flourished then than at the present moment. For instance, in the west of England, manufactures were more flourishing, and your woollen manufacture bore a greater ratio in importance to the industrial skill of Europe 300 years ago than it does to the aggregate industry of Europe at the present moment. That manufacture might not have been absolutely more important; but as a development of the national industry, it bore a greater relative importance to the industry of Europe then than at the present moment. You had then considerable manufactures in various counties - manufactures a hundred years ago which are now obsolete, or but partially pursued. You have no doubt now a gigantic development of manufacturing skill in a particular county, which has been a great source of public wealth, a development of which Englishmen should be justly proud. But, generally speaking, it is confined to one county; and now Ministers tell us we must change our whole system, because, forsooth, England has ceased to be an agricultural country, and has become a commercial and manufacturing one. That is to say, that we must change our whole system in favour of one particular county. Sir, that is an extremely dangerous principle to introduce. I have heard of a repeal of the Union, but we may live to hear of a revival of the Heptarchy, if Her Majesty’s Ministers pursue this policy; if those portions of the country which are agricultural, or suffering under the remains of an old obsolete manufacturing population, are to be told that we must change our whole system because one county where there is a peculiar development of one branch of industry demands it. But what are the resources of this kind of industry to employ and support the people, supposing the great depression in agricultural produce occur which is feared - that this great revolution, as it has appropriately been called, takes place - that we cease to be an agricultural people - what are the resources that would furnish employment to two-thirds of the subverted agricultural population - in fact, from 3,500,000 to 4,000,000 of the people? Assume that the workshop of the world principle is carried into effect - assume that the attempt is made to maintain your system, both financial and domestic, on the resources of the cotton trade - assume that, in spite of hostile tariffs, that already gigantic industry is doubled - a bold assumption, even if there be no further improvements in machinery, further reducing the necessity of manual labour - you would only find increased employment for 300,000 of your population. Perhaps mechanical invention may reduce the number half, and those only women and children. What must be the consequence? I think we have pretty good grounds for anticipating social misery and political disaster. But, then, I am told, immense things are to be done for the agriculturist by the application of capital and skill. Let us test the soundness of this doctrine. When a man lends his capital, he looks to the security he is to have, and to what is to pay the interest. Is the complexion of these measures such as to render men more ready to lend money on landed estates? The mortgagee, when he advances money on land, looks to the margin in the shape of rent for his security. Will any man rise and maintain that the tendency of these measures is to increase that margin? But you are not only diminishing the opportunity of obtaining loans upon your own estates, but you are creating for capital an investment which will be more profitable for it in the estates of the foreigner. Look at the relations in which you will place the foreign merchant with his London correspondent. He has no longer to fear the capricious effects of the sliding-scale: he has got a certain market; he goes to his London banker with an increased security for an advance; he obtains his loan with ease; he makes his advances to the country dealers on the Continent as he makes his advance of English capital now in the foreign wool trade, before the clip and the great fairs; and thus, while you diminish the security of the landed proprietor, you are offering to the English capitalist a better and securer investment. But then you tell us of the aid to be had by the agriculturist from skill. It is not easy to argue on a phrase so indefinite as skill; but I think I can show you that the English agriculturist is far more advanced, in respect to skill, than even the English manufacturer. I don’t mean to say that there are not English farmers who might cultivate their lands better and with more economy than they do; but the same may surely be said, in their respective pursuits, of many a manufacturer and many a miner, but what I mean to say is, that an English farmer produces more effectively and wastes less - is more industrious and more intelligent than the manufacturer. I will prove this by the evidence of a member of the Anti-Corn-Law League - Mr. Greg. Mr. Greg says, that the competition is so severe that he almost doubts the possibility of the English Manufacturer long maintaining that competition with the Continental or American manufacturer, who approach them nearer every day in the completeness of their fabrics and the economy of their productions. But no such thing can be said of the English agriculturist, who, I have shown you, can produce much more per bushel than the French, Russian, or American agriculturist. So much, then, for the argument with respect to skill. There is one argument, or rather appeal, which I know has influenced opinion out of this House, and also within it. You bring before us the condition of the English peasant. It is too often a miserable condition. My hon, Friend the Member for Shaftesbury [R. B. Sheridan] has gained, and deserves, great credit for investigating the condition of the Dorsetshire labourer. He has introduced it into this discussion. Now, the condition of the Dorsetshire labourer is one of the reasons which induce me to support this law. It is very easy to say that the condition of the agricultural labourer, when compared with the general state of our civilization, is a miserable and depressed one, and that protection has produced it. If I cannot offer you reasons which may induce you to believe that protection has had nothing to do with it, I shall be perfectly ready to go to-night into the same lobby with Her Majesty’s Ministers. I asked you the other night, if protection has produced the Dorsetshire labourer at 7s. per week, how is it that protection has produced the Lincolnshire labourer with double that sum? I do not say that is an argument. It is a suggestive question, which I will endeavour to follow up. Mr. Huskisson made an observation, in conversation with an acquaintance of mine, which has always struck me very forcibly. When Mr. Huskisson first settled in Sussex, his attention was naturally drawn to the extraordinary state of pauperism in that country; and after giving the subject all the meditation of his acute mind, he said that he traced it to the fact, that Sussex had formerly been the seat of a great iron trade, and that agriculture had never been able to absorb the manufacturing population. Now, apply that principle to the western counties, and don’t you think it will throw some light upon their condition? They also have been the seats of manufactures - many of them obsolete, and many of them now only partially pursued. There, too, you will find that the manufacturing population has never been absorbed by the agricultural - that is, agriculture does not bear its ratio in its means of support to the amount of the population which it has to sustain, but which it did not create. And now go to Lincolnshire. I will rest our case on Lincolnshire. It is a new county; it is a protected county. Lincolnshire is to agriculture what Lancashire is to manufactures. The population there is produced by land and supported by land, in the same manner that the population of Lancashire has been produced and is supported by manufactures. Let us picture to ourselves for a moment that celebrated tower that looks over that city, which my gallant Friend and his ancestors have represented since the time of the last Stuart. Let us picture him for a moment placing the arch-fiend of political economy in that befitting niche, and calling his attention to the surrounding landscape. To the north, extending to the Humber, an endless tract of wolds, rescued from the rabbits, once covered with furse and whins, and now with exuberant crops of grain: to the south, stretching for miles, is what was once Lincoln Heath, where in the memory of living men there used to be a lighthouse for the traveller, and which, even in the recollection of the middle aged, was let to the warrener at 2s. 6d. an acre, now one of the best-farmed and most productive corn districts in the kingdom. Then turning from the wolds and the heaths eastward, reaching to the sea, - he might behold a region of fens, the small ones drained by the steam-engine, with the East and West and Wildmere Fens, once more than half of the year under water, now cleared by large canals, and bearing magnificent wheats and oats; with the great Witham and Black Sluice drainage districts, one extending over 60,000 and the other 90,000 acres, admirably reclaimed and drained, and bearing and creating and well sustaining a large and industrious and thriving population. And all under the faith of Protective Acts of Parliament. I am told that it is the contiguity of manufactures that makes Lincolnshire so prosperous. But, Sir, the frontiers of Wilts are nearer that great manufacturing district of which Birmingham is the centre, than those of Lincolnshire are to Lancashire. Now, see what Lincolnshire has produced under protection. There you see the protective system fairly tested. But when you find the labourers in the western counties wretched and miserable, do not say that protection has been the cause of it, when protection is, perhaps, the reason why they exist at all; but see if you cannot find other causes for their poverty and means to counteract it. I must say, that nothing astonished me more than when the noble Lord the Member for Falkirk [Lord Dalmeny] asked the farmers in Newark market, ‘ What has protection done for you?’ Why, that market is supplied with the wheat of Lincoln Heath, the intrinsic poverty of whose soil is only sustained by the annual application of artificial manures, but which produces the finest corn in the kingdom. What has protection done for them? Why, if protection had never existed, Lincolnshire might still have been a wild wold, a barren heath, a plashy marsh. There are one or two points to which I could have wished to call the attention of the House, but which time will only permit me to glance at. I will not presume to discuss them. But you cannot decide this question without looking to your Colonies. I am not one of those who think it the inevitable lot of the people of Canada to become annexed to the United States. Canada has all the elements of a great and independent country, and is destined, I sometimes believe, to be the Russia of the new world. The hon. and learned Member for Bath [JA Roebuck] in answering the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Lynn [Lord Brooke] last night, treated our commerce with Canada very lightly, rather as a smuggling traffic than legitimate commerce. That is an argument for keeping the Canadas. I have no desire to see a smuggling trade if we can have any other. But I will ask the gentlemen of Manchester to consider what may become of the trans-Atlantic market for their manufactures, if the whole of that continent belong to one Power? But I must not dwell on the Colonies, and I shall scarcely touch the case of Ireland. It is too terrible, especially if there be truth in the opinion of the noble Lord, whose conversion has been so much a matter of congratulation, to the Government, that their measure must be fatal to small farmers, Why, Ireland is a nation of small farmers. There was, however, one observation made with respect to Ireland by the hon. Member for Stockport [Richard Cobden] which, considering the effect it had, I cannot help noticing. The hon. Gentleman says, ‘Ireland an argument in favour of the Corn Laws! Of all countries in the world I never should have supposed that Ireland would have been brought forward in support of the Corn Laws.’ That is a saucy and gallant sally; but is it an argument? what does it prove? The population is reduced to the lowest sources of subsistence. Admitted; but how do they gain even their potatoes except by cultivating the soil, and by producing that wheat and those oats which they send to England? I should be very glad if that wheat and those oats, remained in Ireland; but I ask, what will be the state of Ireland, if the effect of this measure on your markets be such as I have assumed? You say that capital will flow into the country, and manufactures will be established. What length of time will elapse before these manufactures are established? Perhaps before that time the iron trade will revive in Sussex, or we shall see the drooping energies of the Dorsetshire labourer revived by his receiving the same wages as are paid at Rochdale and Stockport. Believing that this measure would be fatal to our agricultural interests - believing that its tendency is to sap the elements and springs of our manufacturing prosperity - believing that in a merely financial point of view it will occasion a new distribution of the precious metals, which must induce the utmost social suffering in every class, I am obliged to ask myself, if the measure be so perilous, why is it produced? Sir, I need not ask what so many Gentlemen both in and out of this House have already asked, what was there in the circumstances of this country to authorize the change? If we are only a commercial and manufacturing people, all must admit that commerce was thriving and that manufactures flourished. Agriculture was also content; and even had it been suffering and depressed, - what does it signify, since England has ceased to be an agricultural country? Obliged, then, to discover some cause for this social revolution, I find that a body of men have risen in this country eminent for their eloquence, distinguished for their energy, but more distinguished in my humble opinion, for their energy and their eloquence than for their knowledge of human nature, or for the extent of their political information. Sir, I am not one of those who, here or elsewhere, in public or in private, have spoken with that disrespect which some have done of that great commercial confederation which now exercises so great an influence in this country. Though I disapprove of their doctrine - though I believe from the bottom of my heart that their practice will eventually be as pernicious to the manufacturing interest as to the agricultural interests of this country, still I admire men of abilities who, convinced of a great truth, and proud of their energies, band themselves together for the purpose of supporting it, and come forward, devoting their lives to what they consider to be a great cause. Sir, this country can only exist by free discussion. If it is once supposed that opinions are to be put down by any other means, then, whatever may be our political forms, liberty vanishes. If we think the opinions of the Anti-Corn-Law League are dangerous - if we think their system is founded on error, and must lead to confusion - it is open in a free country like England for men who hold opposite views to resist them with the same earnestness, by all legitimate means - by the same active organization, and by all the intellectual power they command. But what happens in this country? A body of gentlemen, able and adroit men, come forward, and profess contrary doctrines to those of these new economists. They place themselves at the head of that great popular party who are adverse to the new ideas, and, professing their opinions, they climb and clamber into power by having accepted, or rather by having eagerly sought the trust. It follows that the body whom they represent, trusting in their leaders, not unnaturally slumber at their posts. They conclude that their opinions are represented in the State. It was not for us, or the millions out of the House, to come forward and organize a power, in order to meet the hostile movements of the hon. Member for Stockport. No, we trusted to others - to one who by accepting, or rather by seizing that post, obtained the greatest place in the country, and at this moment governs England. Well, Sir, what happens? The right hon. Gentleman, the First Minister, told his Friends that he had given them very significant hints of the change of his opinions. He said that even last year, Lord Grey had found him out, and he was surprised that we could have been so long deluded. Sir, none of the observations of the right hon. Gentleman applied to me. More than a year ago I rose in my place and said, that it appeared to me that protection was in about the same state as Protestantism was in 1828. I remember my Friends were very indignant with me for that assertion, but they have since been so kind as to observe that instead of being a calumny it was only a prophecy. But I am bound to say, from personal experience, that, with the very humble exception to which I have referred, I think the right hon. Baronet may congratulate himself on his complete success in having entirely deceived his party, for even the noble Lord, the Member for Lynn, himself, in a moment of frank conversation, assured me that he had not till the very last moment the slightest doubt of the right hon. Gentleman. The noble Lord, I suppose, like many others, thought that the right hon. Gentleman was, to use a very favourite phrase on these benches in 1842, ‘only making the best bargain’ for the party. I want to know what Gentlemen think of their best bargain now? Suddenly, absolute as was the confidence in the right hon. Gentleman, the announcement was made that there was to be another change; that that was to occur under his auspices, which, only a few months before, he had aptly described as a ‘social revolution. ‘ And how was that announcement made? Were hon. Gentlemen called together, or had the influential Members of either House any intimation given to them of the nature of it? No, Sir. It was announced through the columns of a journal which is always careful never to insert important information except on the highest authority. Conceive the effect of that announcement on foreign countries, and on foreign Ministers. I can bear witness to it. I happened to be absent from England at the time, and I know of great potentates sending for English ambassadors, and demanding an explanation; and of English ambassadors waiting on great potentates, and officially declaring that there was not the slightest truth in the announcement. And all this time, too, Members of the Government - I have some of them in my eye - were calling on other newspapers devoted to the Government, and instructing them to announce that the whole was an ‘infamous fabrication’. How ingenuous was the conduct of Her Majesty’s Government - or of that Minister who formed the omnipotent minority of the Cabinet, I leave the House to decide. But was it not strange that, after so much agitation, after all these schemes, after all these Machiavellian manoeuvres, when the Minister at last met the House and his party, he acted as if we had deserted him, instead of his having left us? Who can forget those tones? Who can forget that indignant glance?

‘Vectabor humeris tunc ego inimicis eques; meacque terra cedet insolentiae;’[1]

which means to say, ‘I, a protectionist Minister, mean to govern England by the aid of the Anti-Com-Law League. And, as for the country Gentlemen, why, I snap my fingers in their face.’ Yet even then the right hon. Gentleman had no cause to complain of his party. It is very true that, on a subsequent occasion, 240 Gentlemen recorded their sense of his conduct. But then he might have remembered the considerable section of converts that he obtained even in the last hour. Why, what a compliment to a Minister - not only to vote for him, but to vote for him against your opinions, and in favour of opinions which he had always drilled you to distrust. That was a scene, I believe, unprecedented in the House of Commons. Indeed, I recollect nothing equal to it, unless it be the conversion of the Saxons by Charlemagne, which is the only historical incident that bears any parallel to that illustrious occasion. Ranged on the banks of the Rhine, the Saxons determined to resist any further movement on the part of the great Caesar; but when the Emperor appeared, instead of conquering he converted them. How were they converted? in battalions - the old chronicler informs us they were converted in battalions, and baptized in platoons. It was utterly impossible to bring these individuals from a state of reprobation to a state of grace with a celerity sufficiently quick. When I saw the hundred and twelve fall into rank and file, I was irresistibly reminded of that memorable incident on the banks of the Rhine. And now, Sir, I must say, in vindication of the right hon. Gentleman, that I think great injustice has been done to him throughout these debates. A perhaps justifiable mis-conception has universally prevailed. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman has been accused of foregone treachery - of long meditated deception - of a desire unworthy of a great statesman, even if an unprincipled one - of always having intended to abandon the opinions by professing which he rose to power. Sir, I entirely acquit the right hon. Gentleman of any such intention. I do it for this reason: that when I examine the career of this Minister, which has now filled a great space in the Parliamentary history of this country, I find that for between thirty and forty years, from the days of Mr. Horner to the days of the hon. Member for Stockport, that right hon. Gentleman has traded on the ideas and intelligence of others. His life has been one great appropriation clause. He is a burglar of others’ intellect. Search the Index of Beatson, from the days of the Conqueror to the termination of the last reign, there is no statesman who has committed political petty larceny on so great a scale. I believe, therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman undertook our cause on either side of the House, that he was perfectly sincere in his advocacy; but as, in the course of discussion, the conventionalisms which he received from us crumbled away in his grasp, feeling no creative power to sustain him with new arguments, feeling no spontaneous sentiments to force upon him conviction, the right hon. Gentleman, reduced at last to defending the noblest cause, one based on the most high and solemn Principles, upon the ‘burdens peculiar to agriculture’ - the right hon. Gentleman, faithful to the law of his nature, imbibed the new doctrines, the more vigorous, bustling, popular and progressive doctrines, as he had imbibed the doctrines of Mr. Horner - as he had imbibed the doctrines of every leading man in this country, for thirty or forty years, with the exception of the doctrine of Parliamentary reform, which the Whigs very wisely led the country upon, and did not allow to grow sufficiently mature to fall into the month of the right hon. Gentleman. Sir, the right hon. Gentleman tells us, that he does not feel humiliated. Sir, it is impossible for any one to know what are the feelings of another. Feeling depends upon temperament; it depends upon the idiosyncrasy of the individual; it depends upon the organization of the animal that feels. But this I will tell the right hon. Gentleman, that though he may not feel humiliated, his country ought to feel humiliated. Is it so pleasing to the self-complacency of a great nation, is it so grateful to the pride of England, that one who, from the position he has contrived to occupy, must rank as her foremost citizen, is one of whom it may be said, as Dean Swift said of another Minister, that ‘he is a Gentleman who has the perpetual misfortune to be mistaken!’[2] And, Sir, even now, in this last scene of the drama, when the party whom he unintentionally betrayed is to be unintentionally annihilated - even now, in this the last scene, the right hon. Gentleman, faithful to the law of his being, is going to pass a project which, I believe it is a matter of notoriety, is not of his own invention. It is one which may have been modified, but which I believe has been offered to another Government, and by that Government has been wisely rejected. Why, Sir, these are matters of general notoriety. After the day that the right hon. Gentleman made his first exposition of his scheme, a gentleman well known in this House, and learned in all the political secrets behind the scenes, met me, and said, ‘ Well, what do you think of your chief’s plan?’ Not knowing exactly what to say; but, taking up a phrase which has been much used in the House, I observed, ‘Well, I suppose it’s a ‘great and comprehensive’ plan.’ ‘Oh!’ he replied, ‘we know all about it! It was offered to us! It is not his plan; it’s Popkins’s plan!’ And is England to be governed by ‘Popkins’s plan?’ Will he go with it to that ancient and famous England that once was governed by statesmen - by Burleighs and by Walpoles; by a Chatham and a Canning - will he go to it with this fantastic scheming of some presumptuous Pedant? I won’t believe it. I have that confidence in the common sense, I will say the common spirit of our countrymen, that I believe they will not long endure this huckstering tyranny of the Treasury Bench - these political pedlars that bought their Party in the cheapest market, and sold us in the dearest. I know, Sir, that there are many who believe that the time is gone by when one can appeal to those high and honest impulses that were once the mainstay and the main element of the English character. I know, Sir, that we appeal to a people debauched by public gambling, stimulated and encouraged by an inefficient and short-sighted Minister. I know that the public mind is polluted with economic fancies; a depraved desire that the rich may become richer without the interference of industry and toil. I know, Sir, that all confidence in public men is lost. But, Sir, I have faith in the primitive and enduring elements of the English character. It may be vain now, in the midnight of their intoxication, to tell them that there will be an awakening of bitterness; it may be idle now, in the spring-tide of their economic frenzy, to warn them that there may be an ebb of trouble. But the dark and inevitable hour will arrive. Then, when their spirit is softened by misfortune, they will recur to those principles that made England great, and which, in our belief, can alone keep England great. Then, too, perchance they may remember, not with unkindness, those who, betrayed and deserted, were neither ashamed nor afraid to struggle for the ‘good old cause’ - the cause with which are associated principles the most popular, sentiments the most entirely nation - the cause of labour - the cause of the people - the cause of England.’


[1] ‘Like a knight I will mount your unbroken back; the world will give way before my arrogant ride’ Horace Epodes, XVII

[2] Gulliver’s Travels, III, Glubbdubdrib.