Fawcett, Henry (DNB00)

FAWCETT, HENRY (1833–1884), statesman, born at Salisbury 26 Aug. 1833, was the son of William Fawcett, born at Kirkby Lonsdale, Westmoreland, 31 March 1793 (d. 5 July 1887), by his wife, Mary Cooper (d. 10 Feb. 1889). In 1815 William Fawcett settled at Salisbury, where he carried on business as a draper. He was mayor of the town in 1832, a keen supporter of the Reform Bill, and in later years of the Anti-Cornlaw League. In 1841 he took a farm at Longford, near Salisbury, upon which he lived for some years subsequent to 1851. Fawcett learnt his letters at a dame school. About 1841 he was sent to a school at Alderbury, near Salisbury, kept by a Mr. Sopp. On 3 Aug. 1847 he entered Queenwood College, which had been just opened as an agricultural school by George Edmondson [q. v.], who was endeavouring to introduce an improved system of education. Fawcett learnt some chemistry and surveying, and was encouraged to write English essays upon economical and other questions. He was sent to King's College School, London, at the beginning of 1849, lodging with Dr. Major, the head-master, and afterwards with a Mr. Fearon, an office-keeper in Somerset House. A boyish interest in politics was encouraged by Fearon's talk, and probably by visits to the gallery of the House of Commons. He had outgrown his strength and did not especially distinguish himself in the school. He won a few prizes, however, and Dr. Hamilton, the dean of Salisbury, to whom Mr. William Fawcett had shown some of his son's mathematical papers, strongly recommended a Cambridge career. Fawcett accordingly entered Peterhouse, beginning residence in October 1852. In October 1853 he migrated to Trinity Hall, where there appeared to be a better chance of obtaining a fellowship. He graduated B.A. in January 1856, when he was seventh in the mathematical tripos. His success was due rather to general intellectual vigour than to special mathematical aptitude. He became strongly attached to his private tutor, William Hopkins, for many years the leading mathematical teacher at Cambridge. He had many friends, the most intimate of whom were followers of J. S. Mill and much given to discussing economical and political questions. He took an active part in debates at the Union, maintaining the principles to which he adhered through life. His childish desire for a political career was thus stimulated and confirmed; and, though skilful in games of chance and a powerful athlete, he never allowed his amusements to interfere with his serious studies. He was elected to a fellowship at Trinity Hall at Christmas 1856. He hoped to enter parliament by a successful career at the bar. An old family friend, Mr. Squarey, who had become an eminent solicitor at Liverpool, had promised to support him. He entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn on 26 Oct. 1854, and in November 1856 he settled in London to begin his studies. His eyes now showed symptoms of weakness, and he was ordered to give them a complete rest. He spent a few weeks at Paris in 1857, and devoted some of his enforced leisure to extending his knowledge of political and social questions. On 17 Sept. 1858 he was shooting upon Harnham Hill, near Longford, with his father and brother. His father, whose sight suffered from incipient cataract, fired hastily, and a few pellets from his gun entered Fawcett's eyes, blinding him instantaneously. Hopes of partial recovery remained for a year, when the failure of an operation showed that his blindness must be total and permanent. Fawcett bore the calamity with superlative courage. A temporary depression of spirits was cast off on his receiving a manly letter of encouragement from his old tutor Hopkins, and thenceforth he never complained.

Fawcett returned to Cambridge, where he occupied rooms in Trinity Hall, and which became his headquarters for some years. Here he soon became well known and popular with all classes in the university. At Trinity Hall he took the principal part in obtaining the new statutes, finally passed in 1859, which embodied the views of the reformers of the day, especially in the limitation of the tenure of fellowships and the abolition of the restriction of celibacy. He studied political economy, both in books and by frequent intercourse with leading economists and with practical men such as the Rochdale pioneers. He attracted notice by some able economical papers read at the British Association at Aberdeen in September 1859 and elsewhere. In 1861 he became a member of the Political Economy Club. His reputation was raised by the publication, in the beginning of 1863, of his ‘Manual of Political Economy.’ In the following summer he became a candidate for the professorship of political economy, founded, with a salary of 300l. a year, by a grace of the senate of 29 Oct. 1863. He received testimonials from many leading economists. His radical opinions and his blindness were grounds of strong objection in some quarters, but he was elected 27 Nov. 1863, receiving 90 votes against 80 for Mr. J. B. Mayor of St. John's College, 19 for Mr. Leonard Courtney, and 14 for Mr. Henry Dunning Macleod. He lectured regularly until his death, and he took pains to discuss interesting topics of the day, and generally attracted full classes. The professorship necessitated an annual residence of eighteen weeks at Cambridge. It would entitle him to hold his fellowship for life, without being bound to celibacy, if re-elected under the new statutes. In 1866 he became engaged to Millicent, daughter of Newson Garrett of Aldeburgh, Suffolk. He resigned his fellowship at Christmas 1866, and was immediately re-elected. He was married on 23 April 1867. His wife was in entire sympathy with his principles, shared his intellectual and political labours, and was a main source of most of the happiness and success of his later life. Upon his marriage Fawcett took a house at 42 Bessborough Gardens, whence in 1874 he moved to 51 The Lawn, Lambeth. In the last year he also took a house at 18 Brookside, Cambridge. He lived in London during the parliamentary session, residing at Cambridge for his lectures, and spending his summers in visits to his family at Salisbury and trips to Scotland and once to Switzerland. Fawcett's political ambition had not slackened. At the Bradford meeting of the Social Science Association in 1859 he read a paper on ‘Proportional Representation,’ and became known to Mr. Hare, the chief expositor of the scheme. Through Mr. Hare he became known to J. S. Mill, to whom he was afterwards warmly attached, both as a personal friend and as a political disciple. Two other friends of Mill, W. T. Thornton [q. v.] and J. E. Cairnes [q. v.], became intimate with Fawcett about the same time. Cairnes and Mr. Leonard Courtney were afterwards his closest political allies. In 1860 he published pamphlets advocating Mr. Hare's scheme and criticising Lord John Russell's measure of reform. Mill encouraged his political ambition, and in November 1860, with singular audacity, he proposed himself as a candidate for the borough of Southwark, vacant by the death of Sir Charles Napier. He brought a letter from Brougham, who had seen him at the Social Science Association. He was otherwise utterly unknown to the constituency, but he speedily won the enthusiastic support of the popular voters by energetic speeches at public meetings. Crowds came from all parts of London to hear the blind orator; but he ultimately had to retire upon the appearance of Mr. (now Sir) A. H. Layard as the government candidate. Fawcett's fame spread. His name became known among politicians. He had been much interested in Cornish mining, and had shown such an aptitude for speculative adventure that his friends held that he would have made his fortune. He now gave up all speculation in order to devote himself exclusively to politics. He stood for Cambridge in February 1863, but was beaten by a small majority, owing to a split in the liberal party. In February 1864 he stood for Brighton. His blindness was still considered to be a fatal disqualification by many persons, and the party was divided by three candidates. At a disorderly meeting held to consider their claims, Fawcett succeeded in obtaining a hearing, and told his own story with a simple eloquence which completely fascinated his hearers. The other candidates, however, persevered, and the result was the election of a conservative by 1,663 votes to 1,468 for Fawcett, while nearly 1,000 were given to other liberals. Fawcett was afterwards accepted as the liberal candidate, and on 12 July 1865 was elected, along with Mr. White, as member for Brighton in the new parliament.

In his first parliament Fawcett became known as a vigorous, though still subordinate, member of the radical party. In that capacity he took a strong part in the strategy by which the Reform Bill of 1867 was finally carried. He was more prominent in advocating the abolition of religious tests at the universities; and he supported various measures of social reform, especially the extension of the factory acts to the agricultural labourers, whom he knew intimately and for whom he always felt the keenest sympathy.

In November 1868 he was re-elected for Brighton. He became conspicuous by his severe criticisms of the liberal government. He held that they did not carry out with unflinching consistency the policy which they were pledged to support. He gradually became so far alienated from the party that the government whips ceased to sent him the usual notices. The abolition of university tests was finally carried in 1871, with reservations and after attempted compromises which Fawcett strongly condemned. He protested against the concessions to the Irish landlords which smoothed the passage of the act for disestablishing the church of Ireland in 1869. He complained of the provisions of Mr. W. E. Forster's Education Bill in 1870 as falling short of the principle of universal compulsion. He separated himself also from the Birmingham league, who seemed to him to be attaching excessive importance to a ‘miserable religious squabble.’ In after years he actively supported the various educational measures in which his views have been virtually embodied. In 1871 he protested against the royal warrant by which Mr. Gladstone brought about the abolition of purchase in the army. In 1872 he vainly attempted to add to the Ballot Bill a provision which he had much at heart for throwing the official expenses of parliamentary elections upon the rates. He had been long endeavouring, in concert with Cairnes, to throw open the fellowships of Trinity College, Dublin, to members of all creeds. In 1873 Mr. Gladstone proposed his scheme for dealing with the whole question of university education in Ireland. Fawcett condemned the measure as favouring denominational instead of united education. The bill was thrown out upon the second reading by 287 to 284; and the defeat, to which Fawcett had mainly contributed, was a fatal blow to Mr. Gladstone's ministry. Fawcett's measure for throwing open Trinity College was afterwards passed. He had offended many of his supporters by his attacks on the government; and additional offence was given by the discovery that he belonged to a ‘Republican Club’ at Cambridge. The name suggested a revolutionary tendency, from which he was quite free, though he had strong republican sympathies. He was defeated in the next election for Brighton (5 Feb. 1874), two conservatives being returned. The loss of his seat caused a very general expression of regret, showing that his independence had earned the respect of the country, and on 24 April following he was elected for Hackney, the votes being Holms 10,905, Fawcett 10,476, and Gill (conservative) 8,994.

His share in two movements, in both of which he had to struggle against the prejudices of indolent ‘officialism,’ had greatly contributed to his position. He had long been interested in the question of preserving commons, in the interests both of public recreation and the welfare of the agricultural poor. An annual enclosure bill had always passed as a matter of course. The bill for 1869 threatened Wisley and other commons. Fawcett insisted upon a discussion. After several attempts to pass the bill quietly, which were defeated by his vigilance, a committee was finally granted to consider the whole question. He succeeded in obtaining an inversion of the presumption that such bills should be passed without careful scrutiny. He became a leading member of the Commons Preservation Society. He took a prominent part in the measures by which Epping Forest was saved from enclosure, in preventing intended operations which would have ruined the beauty of the New Forest, and in carrying later bills by which the rights of commoners and the public have been more adequately protected. He intervened successfully to secure many threatened spaces from enclosure. His sympathy for the poor and his love of the natural beauty, no longer perceptible to himself, were equally strong incentives.

He had from an early period taken a keen interest in India. He first took a public part in such questions by protesting, almost alone, against a proposal to charge the expenses of a ball given to the sultan at the India office (July 1867) against the Indian revenues. His chivalrous sympathy with a population unable to make its voice heard by its rulers led him to devote unstinted energy to Indian questions. The sneers of officials, and prophecies, falsified by the result, that his constituents would resent such an application of his time, failed to discourage him. He obtained the appointment of committees upon Indian finance which sat in 1871–3 and in 1874. The thoroughness of his study of the question was shown in his elaborate examination of witnesses and in speeches upon the Indian budgets in 1872 and 1873, which astonished his hearers by a command of complex figures, apparently undiminished by his blindness. He insisted especially upon the poverty of the Indian population, the inadequate protection of native interests, and the frequent extravagance and blundering of official management. His correspondence with natives and Anglo-Indians became very large; and he received many expressions of gratitude from individuals and official bodies, while scrupulously avoiding any advocacy which might throw doubts upon his perfect independence. He became popularly known as the ‘Member for India.’ When he lost his seat for Brighton a sum was raised by an Indian subscription towards the expenses of a future election. He continued his activity during the parliament of 1874–80, and served on a committee upon Indian public works in 1878. Its report in 1879 sanctioned most of the principles for which he had contended. Three essays, published in the ‘Nineteenth Century’ in 1879, summed up his views and met with a general approval surprising even to himself. During the parliament of 1874–1880 Fawcett had become reconciled to his party. His geniality had won affection, as his independence had gained respect. He heartily sympathised with the opposition to the policy of the Beaconsfield administration. On 19 Sept. 1876 he presided over a great meeting at Exeter Hall, on occasion of the Bulgarian atrocities. He endeavoured in the following session to stimulate his leaders to take a more decided line of action in pursuance of the policy then advocated. In 1878 he protested against the step of bringing Indian troops to Malta and proposed a motion (in December) condemning the proposal for charging the Indian revenues with the chief expense. He joined the Afghan committee at the same period, and co-operated with Lord Lawrence and others in trying to rouse public opinion against the war in Afghanistan. He thus took an important part in the final attack upon the Beaconsfield government.

On 31 March 1880 he was at the head of the poll for Hackney with 18,366 votes; Mr. Holms receiving 16,614, and Mr. Bartley 8,708. Fawcett received some 1,500 conservative votes. He became postmaster-general in Mr. Gladstone's government. A seat in the cabinet was withheld partly on account of the difficulties due to his blindness. His official position prevented him from criticising the government, while he had no voice in its measures. He probably had little sympathy for some of them, especially the Egyptian expedition, and he rather accepted than approved the Irish Land Bill. He was, it may be noticed, utterly opposed to Home Rule.

He now devoted himself almost exclusively to administrative measures, and applied himself to them with an energy which probably injured his health. The most conspicuous measure adopted under his rule was the establishment of the parcels post in 1882; but he carried out many other measures involving much care and labour with a happy superiority to the prejudices of ‘officialism.’ He introduced with great success a system of postal orders, already devised under his predecessor, Lord John Manners. He made arrangements for the introduction of cheap telegrams and for granting terms to telephone companies, which were finally completed by his successor (Mr. Shaw Lefevre). He introduced schemes for facilitating savings, especially the ‘stamp slip deposits,’ which led to a great increase in the investments through the post-office savings banks. He circulated over a million copies of a pamphlet called ‘Aids to Thrift,’ explaining the advantages offered. One of his last measures was a plan which gave greater facility for the purchase of annuities and insurances. A great number of new banks was opened during his tenure of office, and the number of depositors during the last three years increased by nearly a million. Fawcett spared no pains in obtaining information, arranging details, and conferring with his subordinates. He improved their position, and took especial satisfaction in extending the employment of women. It was said that he erred from an excess of conscientiousness and perhaps of good nature. But his interest in the efficiency of his office and the welfare of the persons employed won the gratitude of those chiefly concerned, and gave him extraordinary popularity in the country. Fawcett's connection with Cambridge remained unaffected. In 1877 an election took place for the mastership of Trinity Hall, when the votes of the electors were equally divided between Fawcett and Mr. Henry Latham, who had for thirty years been tutor of the college. After several adjournments both candidates retired in favour of Sir Henry J. S. Maine, who was unanimously elected. At the end of November 1882 Fawcett had an attack of diphtheria and typhoid fever. For many days he was in imminent danger, and received extraordinary marks of sympathy from all classes. An apparently complete recovery concealed a permanent shock to his constitution. He caught cold at the end of October 1884, and died at Cambridge, after a short illness, 6 Nov. following. He was buried at Trumpington 10 Nov., in presence of a great crowd of friends, colleagues, and representatives of various public bodies. His wife and his only child, Philippa, born 1868, survive him.

In 1882 Fawcett was created doctor of political economy by the university of Würzburg. In 1882 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1884 a corresponding member of the Institute of France. The university of Glasgow gave him the honorary degree of LL.D. in 1883, and in the same year elected him lord rector. The delivery of the customary address was prevented by his death. Many honours were paid to his memory. A national subscription provided a monument in Westminster Abbey (by Mr. Gilbert, A.R.A.). From the same fund a scholarship tenable by the blind of both sexes was founded at Cambridge, and a sum paid towards providing a playground at the Royal Normal College for the Blind at Norwood. A statue has been erected in the market-place at Salisbury; a portrait painted by Mr. Herkomer was presented to Cambridge by subscription of members of the university; and a drinking-fountain, commemorative of his services to the rights of women, has been erected on the Thames Embankment. Memorials have also been placed in Salisbury Cathedral, &c., and at Trumpington Church.

The only portraits, except numerous photographs taken during life, were by Mr. Ford Madox Browne (including Mrs. Fawcett), in possession of Sir C. W. Dilke, a chalk drawing, and two oil-paintings by Mr. Harold Rathbone, taken in 1884, and a bust by Mr. Pinker, sculptor of the statue at Salisbury.

Fawcett's writings display a keen and powerful, if rather narrow, intellect. He adhered through life to the radicalism of J. S. Mill; he was a staunch free-trader in economic questions, an earnest supporter of co-operation, but strongly opposed to socialism, and a strenuous advocate of the political and social equality of the sexes. His animating principle was a desire to raise the position of the poor. He objected to all such interference as would weaken their independence or energy, and, though generally favourable on this account to the laissez-faire principle, disavowed it when, as in the case of the Factory Acts, he held that interference could protect without enervating. The kindheartedness displayed in the chivalrous spirit of his public life was equally manifest in his strong domestic affections, and in the wide circle of friendships which he cultivated with singular fidelity and thoughtfulness. He was the simplest and most genial of companions, equally at ease with men of all ranks, and especially attached to the friends of his boyhood and youth. The recognition of his high qualities was quickened by his gallant bearing under his blindness. He acted throughout on the principle, which he always inculcated upon his fellow-sufferers, that a blind man should as far as possible act and be treated like a seeing man. He kept up the recreations to which he had been devoted. He was a sturdy pedestrian, and a very powerful skater, skating fifty or sixty miles a day at the end of his life. He was very fond of riding in later years, showing astonishing nerve, and even joining in a gallop with the harriers on Newmarket Heath. His favourite sport was fishing, and he showed remarkable skill, as well as unflagging interest, in this amusement, both in the salmon rivers of the north and the trout streams of Hampshire. He remembered the paths which he had known, and loved those in which he could enjoy scenery through the eyes of his companions. He possessed great muscular power, was six feet three inches in height, and enjoyed perfect health until his illness in 1882. His most determined opponents loved and trusted him, and no one ever doubted his absolute honesty of purpose.

His works are:

  1. ‘Mr. Hare's Reform Bill, simplified and explained,’ 1860.
  2. ‘The Leading Clauses of a New Reform Bill,’ 1860.
  3. ‘Manual of Political Economy,’ 1863 (new editions to 1883, each considerably modified).
  4. ‘The Economic Position of the British Labourer,’ 1865 (lectures of 1864).
  5. ‘Pauperism: its Causes and Remedies,’ 1871 (lectures of 1870).
  6. ‘Essays and Lectures on Social and Political Subjects,’ 1872 (six by Fawcett and eight by Mrs. Fawcett).
  7. ‘Speeches on some Current Political Questions,’ 1873.
  8. ‘Free Trade and Protection,’ 1878 (lectures of 1877, six editions to 1885).
  9. ‘Indian Finance,’ 1880 (three articles from the ‘Nineteenth Century’).
  10. ‘State Socialism and the Nationalisation of the Land,’ 1883 (separate publication of a chapter from the sixth edition of the ‘Manual’).
  11. ‘Labour and Wages,’ 1884 (reprint of five chapters from the same).

Besides these Fawcett contributed various articles to ‘Macmillan's Magazine,’ the ‘Fortnightly Review,’ and other periodicals, a list of which is given in the ‘Life.’

[Life of Henry Fawcett, by Leslie Stephen, 1885.]

L. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.121
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
252 ii 45-46 Fawcett, Henry: for Henry Edmundson read George Edmundson
254 i 28 for 1862 read 1863
30 for 1863 read 1864