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Cobden
Cobden
149

position to tix his interest in the actualities of the present, and though he was always a reader, and always very ready to admire men whose chances of scholarship and science had been better than his own, he knew that he must look for the knowledge that his purposes made necessary, in the newspapers, in blue-books, in Hansard's reports, and perhaps, above all, in frequent and industrious travel. In 1835 he made his first rapid visit to the United States (June-August), and in the autumn of the next year he went for six months (October 1836-April 1837) to Constantinople, Greece, Egypt, and the western shores of Asia Minor.

A To the same time belong the two remarkable pamphlets in which he practically opened his public career : 'England, Ireland, and America' (1835), and 'Russia' (1836), 'by a Manchester Manufacturer.' He had already tried his hand in print in letters on economic subjects, which had been published in the 'Manchester Examiner,' and had attracted considerable attention by their firmness of thought and clearness of expression. He exhibited the same qualities still more conspicuously in the two pamphlets. Briefly stated, the argument is as follows : America must at no distant date enter into serious competition with our products ; in this competition we shall be heavily handicapped, first by protection, secondly by the load of taxation and debt incurred in needless intervention in continental wars. From these propositions he drew what, if they were true, was the irresistible inference, that the sound policy for Great Britain lay in the direction of free trade and non-intervention Ireland constituted another national danger, hardly less formidable than the debt or the tariff, and was another reason why we should attend more steadfastly to our own affairs. In the second pamphlet the writer shows that the case of Russia, on which David TJrquhart was then successfully endeavouring to kindle alarmist opinion, is no exception to his principle as stated above, and that we were not called upon to interfere by arms between Russia and Turkey, either for the sake of European law and the balance of power, or for the security of British interests. The doctrine which he thus preached at the beginning of his public life, was the substance of his policy and object of his urgent exhortations down to its close.

At the general election which followed the accession of Queen Victoria, Cobden was the defeated candidate forStockport, polling 418 votes out of a total poll of less than nine hundred, in a constituency which to-day has upwards of nine thousand voters on the register. His defeat did not for an instant damp his concern in public affairs. He was keenly interested in what was then the comparatively obscure field of national education, and he took an active part in the municipal work of Manchester, which had received its charter of incorporation in 1838. In the same year he went for a month's tour to Germany, where he thus early perceived the future political effects of the new Zollverein.

It was now that Cobden joined the great movement with which his name will always be inseparably associated. In 1836 the philosophic radicals, including Grote, Molesworth, Hume, and Roebuck, had formed an association for repealing the duties on corn. But they did not catch the public ear, and nothing had come of it. In October 1838 seven Manchester merchants met to form a new association, which very speedily grew to be the famous Anti-Cornlaw League. The agitation went on until the session of 1846, and its history contains Cobden's biography for the eight years during which the movement lasted. He threw himself into it with unsparing devotion, and though any history of the league would be fatally incomplete which should omit the names of Villiers, Bright, Ashworth, George Wilson, and other fellow-workers as zealous as himself, yet it was Cobden who speedily came to take the foremost place in connection with the subject in the popular mind. He was energetic, bold, and fertile in counsel ; he developed singular gifts for organisation on an immense scale ; and he showed himself the greatest master that has ever appeared in English public life of the art of bringing home the force of difficult demonstrations to simple and untrained minds. In 1841 he was elected for Stockport. The whigs had gone to the country with the cry of a moderate fixed duty, but they had forfeited the confidence of the nation alike in their sincerity and their capacity. When the new parliament met, Sir Robert Peel carried an amendment on the address by a majority of ninety-one, and in a few days found himself at the head of that powerful administration, 'which contained not only able tories like Lord Lyndhurst, but able seceders from the whigs like Lord Stanley and 'Sir James Graham ; which commanded an immense majority in both houses ; which was led by a chief of consummate sagacity ; and which was at last slowly broken to pieces by the work of Cobden and the league.' Cobden early made his mark in parliamentary debate, confining himself almost exclusively to his own subject. He was fluent without being voluble ; direct and pointed without strained or studious search ; above all, he had