Open main menu


COOKE, GEORGE WINGROVE (1814–1865), man of letters, eldest son of T. H. Cooke of Bristol, a Devonshire man by descent, was born at Bristol in 1814. He received an early training in legal studies under Mr. Amos at London University, and was called to the bar of the Middle Temple in January 1835. He was at the same time completing his classical education at Jesus College, Oxford, where he took his degree of B.A. in 1834. His life was from first to last marked by severe toil. Even while an undergraduate he compiled his ‘Memoirs of Lord Bolingbroke,’ which was published in 1835, and reissued, when ‘revised and corrected by the author,’ in 1836. It was cleverly written, but the circumstances under which it was produced were not favourable to the research which the subject demanded, and a life of Bolingbroke is still a desideratum in the English language. Cooke's work being the evident composition of a whig was vehemently denounced by Croker in the pages of the ‘Quarterly Review,’ and was defended with equal earnestness by its political rivals. Emboldened by the success of this labour he plunged deeper into the history of the last two centuries, and composed a ‘History of Party from the Rise of the Whig and Tory factions to the passing of the Reform Bill’ (1836–7), which is still worthy of being consulted by the political student, and arranged and edited from the materials collected by Kippis, Martyn, and others, a ‘Life of the first Earl Shaftesbury.’ For many years after Cooke's settlement in London he was largely employed under the tithe commutation commission in defining the principles and supervising the mechanism for the composition of tithes, and under that kindred body the enclosure commission. These years were marked by the preparation and publication of a number of legal treatises. The first was entitled ‘Criminal Trials in England; their Defects and Remedies,’ and then followed, 2. ‘A Treatise on Law of Defamation,’ 1844. 3. ‘Act for the Enclosure of Commons. With a Treatise on the Law of Rights of Commons,’ 1846, the fourth edition of which appeared in 1864. 4. ‘Letter to Lord Denman on the Enactments conferring Jurisdiction upon Commissions to try Legal Rights,’ 1849. 5. ‘Treatise on the Law and Practice of Agricultural Tenancies,’ 1850, new edition in 1882. 6. ‘Treatise on the Law and Practice of Copyhold Enfranchisement,’ 1853, which was frequently reissued in later years. 7. ‘The Law of Hustings and Poll Booths,’ 1857. These were the products of his busier hours, but he turned even his holidays to advantage by publishing the narratives of his long vacation rambles. Most of these appeared without his name, but in 1855 he visited the Crimea, and on his return to his own country vividly described what he had seen in a volume entitled ‘Inside Sebastopol,’ 1856. The managers of the ‘Times’ newspaper, to which he had long been a frequent contributor, despatched him to China as the special correspondent on the outbreak of the Chinese war in 1857, and his letters to that paper, narrating the progress of the English expedition and the details of life among the Chinese, were incorporated in a volume in 1858. It enjoyed great popularity, and passed through numerous editions, the fifth appearing in 1861. One of his holiday travels took him to Algiers, where he inquired into the intentions of the French, and speculated as to their prospects of colonisation. The results of his investigations appeared in a series of elaborate and instructive letters in the ‘Times,’ which were in 1860 collected and published under the title of ‘Conquest and Colonisation in North Africa.’ Cooke was anxious to figure in parliamentary life, but his efforts to enter St. Stephen's were unsuccessful. He stood for Colchester in the liberal interest in 1850, and for Marylebone in 1861, but in neither case was he successful. His labours under the copyhold commission were rewarded in 1862 by his appointment, without any solicitation on his own part, to a commissionership in that department, and the choice was supported by public opinion and justified by success. He attended to his duties with unremitting zeal, but his protracted exertions had told upon his constitution. On 17 June 1865 he was unable to proceed to his office, and on the morning of 18 June he died from heart disease at his house in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea. Cooke was a facile composer, rarely correcting or retouching what he had written, and the illustrations which he wove into his narrative were often extremely happy. He possessed many gifts, and among them that of inexhaustible energy.

[Times, 20 June 1865, p. 7; Men of the Time, 1862; Gent. Mag. August 1865, p. 256.]

W. P. C.