What I gave I have.”

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At this time, Mr. Moore seems to have made special efforts for the spiritual improvement of the young men and women in his employment in London, and to have retained the services of the Rev. Thomas Richardson as chaplain. And then, as was natural, his thoughts reverted to his native county of Cumberland, for which already he had done so much, and for which he felt inclined to do much more on his becoming the purchaser of the Whitehall estate, very near the parish of Mealsgate, in which he was born.

Mr. Moore was a great beggar as well as a great giver. With his friends he was often very abrupt. When he entered their offices they knew what he was about—they saw it in his face. “What is it now, Mr. Moore?” “Well, I am p. 163on a begging expedition.” “Oh, I knew that very well. What is it?” “It’s for the Royal Free Hospital, an hospital free to all without any letters of recommendation; I want twenty guineas.” “It is a large sum.” “Well, it is the sum I have set down for you to give; you must help me. Look sharp!” The cheque was got, and away he started on a fresh expedition. Sometimes, however, he met with rebuff after rebuff from men rolling in wealth, who had never given a farthing to a charitable institution. This sickened him for the day. However, he would say, “I must not be discouraged. I am doing Christ’s work.” In another way Mr. Moore was specially helpful. He was the constant resort of young men wanting situations. If he could not provide for them in his own warehouse, he endeavoured to find situations for them among his friends. He took no end of trouble about this business. After his young friends had obtained situations he continued to look after them. He took down their names and addresses in a special red book kept for the purpose, and repeatedly asked them to dine with him on Sunday afternoons. He usually requested that they should go to some church or chapel in the evening. In his diary are repeatedly such entries as the following; “Dined twenty-two of the boys that I had got situations for, besides the people that were staying in the house. I never forget that I had none to invite me to their homes when I first came to London.” How much good such kindness did it is impossible to tell; for the want of it many a young man in the City goes to the bad.

Let me, in this chapter, give the first place to Samuel Plimsoll, a man who, if he made money, spent it nobly, and deserved the peerage far more than many who have been elected to that honour—at any rate, from the time the Earl of Beaconsfield became Premier. He was down very low in the social scale, and it is thus he writes of his noble poverty and of his companions in misfortune, in that appeal on behalf of our seamen, which stirred up the community as with the voice of a trumpet, and actually forced parliament to legislate. “I don’t wish,” he writes, “to disparage the rich; but I think it may reasonably be doubted whether these qualities are so fully developed in them” (he had been writing of the honesty, of the strong aversion to idleness, of the generosity to one another in Men who are not supposed to be mercenary often make a great deal of money. Most of our artists rose from very humble beginnings. Turner was the son of a hair-dresser. Wilkie was desperately poor; so was Barry; and William Etty, that great colourist, was the son of a baker in York—was bound apprentice, wholly against his will, to a printer in Hull; but he released himself from the shackles of so uncongenial a pursuit. He was greatly self-taught, for the help he derived for a hundred guineas, as a private pupil of Sir Thomas Lawrence, seems rather to have baffled him with despair; yet he became the most surprising and effective flesh-painter of his age. The nude style of his figures has often been a topic of remark with a certain order of critics. Etty himself was wont to say, “‘To the pure in heart, all things are pure.’ My aim in all my great pictures has been to paint some great moral on the heart.” He lived, in 1849, to find all his great works—130 pictures—in the great room of the Society of Arts: he died that year. By the universal acclamation of artists he is regarded as our English Titian, and some claim for him a still higher place, for his canvases have not only the wonderful colour of that master, but the splendour of Paul Veronese. He died in his beloved and native city of York; and the poor baker’s boy, by his industry and genius, had become the master of a considerable fortune.

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Actors and actresses also have made much money. Amongst the money-making men may emphatically be placed David Garrick, who was fond of money, and careful about it to the last. Some of our earlier circus people seem to have made much money.—Batty was reputed to have died worth half a million.—Ducrow gave himself extraordinary airs. When p. 168the Master Cutler and Town Council of Sheffield paid Ducrow a visit, with the principal manufacturers and their families, Ducrow sent word that he only waited on crowned heads, and not upon a set of dirty knife-grinders.—Philip Astley was born in 1742, at Newcastle-under-Lyme, where his father carried on the business of a cabinet-maker. He received little or no education, and after working a few years with his father, enlisted in a cavalry regiment. His imposing appearance, being over six feet in height, with the proportions of a Hercules, and the voice of a Stentor, attracted attention to him; and his capture of a standard at the battle of Emsdorff made him one of the celebrities of his regiment. While serving in the army, he learned some feats of horsemanship from an itinerant equestrian named Johnson, perhaps the man under whose management Price introduced equestrian performances at Sadler’s Wells, and often exhibited them for the amusement of his comrades. On his discharge from the army, he was presented by General Elliot with a horse, and thereupon he bought another in Smithfield, and commenced those open-air performances in Lambeth which have already been noticed.

After a time he built a rude circus upon a piece of ground near Westminster Bridge, which had been used as a timber-yard, being the site of the theatre which has been known by his name for nearly a century. Only the seats were roofed over, the ring in which he performed being open to the air. One of his horses, which he had taught to perform a variety of tricks, he soon began to exhibit, at an earlier period of each day, in a large room in Piccadilly, where the entertainment was eked out with conjuring and ombres Chinoises—a kind of shadow pantomine.

Having saved some money out of these performances, Astley erected his amphitheatre. At the same time he had to contend with a fierce competition from what was then the Royal Circus, which afterwards was called the Surrey Theatre. Astley’s, however, soon became the popular place of amusement, and as such was visited and described by Horace Walpole. The fame of the place received a further illustration in the remark of Dr. Johnson, who, speaking of the popularity of certain preachers, and the ease with which they get a crowd to hear them, said, “Were Astley to preach a sermon standing on his head, or on a horse’s back, he would collect a p. 169multitude to hear him, but no wise man would say he had made a better sermon for that.”

Let us now turn to a master of homely English—a man whose name was, at one time, in every one’s mouth, and an author, whose books, at one time, every one read. His moral works excel in descriptive power. In politics his savage personalities encircle sarcasm; his faculty for inventing national nick-names, and mastery of a Saxon style of inimitable raciness, have given his writings historical reputation. He has never been equalled among political writers in his capacity of explaining what he understood. He was the first journalist who called attention to the condition of the working classes, I mean William Cobbett.

William Cobbett was born at Farnham, in Surrey, in 1776. His father was a very poor farmer, who knew enough to teach his boys to read, and had enough of intellectual originality to think that the triumph of Washington in the American War of Independence was just. William began as a mere child to do something towards earning his own livelihood, and took great delight in the flowers which, while weeding in great folks’ gardens, he saw. When eleven years old, he heard some one speak of the splendid flowers in the Royal Gardens at Kew. Without a word of announcement, and with sixpence-halfpenny in his pocket, he set off to seek employment in that irresistible Paradise. When he reached Richmond his funds were reduced to threepence, and he was very hungry. In a shop-window, however, he saw the “Tale of a Tub,” price threepence. Mind triumphed over body; he bought the tale; and sat under a hay-stack reading it till he fell asleep. He was delighted beyond measure with the piece, and continued to read and re-read it for many years. The circumstance was not of happy omen. Swift’s terrible tale we should pronounce to be as well-fitted to sap the moral and religious principles of a lad as any book in the English language; and lack of moral principle was the fatal defect of Cobbett throughout life.

He found employment at Kew, and no doubt gloated over the floral splendours which he had come to see; but he returned to Farnham, and grew up in his father’s house. He made an appointment one day to meet some young friends and accompany them to Guildford Fair; but coming upon the high road as the London coach was passing in full career, p. 170he made up his mind on the spur of the moment to start for London. He arrived at the foot of Ludgate Hill with half-a-crown in his pocket. An honest hop-seller, who knew his father, took him by the hand, and he found work as an Attorney’s clerk. He speaks with unlimited abhorrence of the roguery he witnessed and the misery he endured in this place. “No part of my life,” he says, “has been totally unattended with pleasure except the eight or nine months I passed in Gray’s Inn. The office—for so the dungeon was called where I wrote—was so dark that on cloudy days we were obliged to burn candles. I worked like a galley-slave from five in the morning till eight or nine at night, and sometimes all night long. * * * When I think of the saids and so forths, and the counts of tautology that I scribbled over—when I think of those sheets of seventy-two words, and those lines of two inches apart—my brain turns. Gracious Heaven! if I am doomed to be wretched, bury me beneath Iceland snows, and let me feed on blubber; stretch me under the burning Line, and deny me Thy propitious dews; nay, if it be Thy will, suffocate me with the infected and pestilential air of a democratic club-room; but save me, save me from the desk of an attorney!” Anything seemed better than this. William, acting again on the spur of the moment, enlisted. For more than a year he did duty at Chatham. Here he mastered grammar—an acquisition which he always regarded as the basis of his fortunes. He read also in a circulating library, swallowing enormous quantities of useful or useless knowledge, and laying it up in a memory of great tenacity. His father meanwhile was treated by him with heartless neglect. The old man had been offended by his running away, and appears to have made no effort to release him from the bondage of the attorney’s office. When he enlisted, however, his father relented, and wrote saying that the last hay-rick or pocket of hops at Farnham would be sold off to buy his discharge. But William vouchsafed no reply.

Cobbett’s regiment was ordered to Canada, and he accompanied it to St. John’s, New Brunswick. Here his conduct as a soldier was exemplary. His talent and activity made him conspicuous, and he became sergeant-major, raised, though he was still but about twenty, over the heads of thirty sergeants. In 1791 the regiment returned to England, and he procured p. 171his discharge “in consideration of his good behaviour, and the services he had rendered his regiment.” Then occurred one of the most strange and ambiguous episodes in his life. He lodged charges of pecuniary defalcation against four of his late officers. A day was appointed for their trial by court-martial. The functionaries met, the accused were present, all was ready for commencement, when it transpired that Cobbett was missing. As he was the accuser, the trial was adjourned to a stated day in order that an opportunity might be afforded him to appear. The court again met; he was again absent; the accused officers, accordingly, were acquitted. They made some show of a wish to proceed against Cobbett, and what looks very like a feint of arresting him in his refuge at Farnham. But the upshot was that he escaped to France, and passed from France, when the revolutionary atmosphere became too hot for him, to America. Mr. Watson very properly devotes a good deal of attention to these circumstances, and we are bound to say that we agree with him in thinking that Cobbett was bribed with a good round sum to suppress his charges. It was, of course, an act of flagrant and base dishonesty; but there is nothing in Cobbett’s life to prove that he shrank from dishonesty, or was superior to temptation. He was a most affectionate husband and father, and many of his advices to young men and to the poor are excellent. His talent was of a coarse kind, but very great. His activity and indomitable spirit deserve all admiration. He boasted, probably with truth, that he had never passed an idle day.

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Cobbett first distinguished himself in America by publishing a fierce pamphlet against Priestley. He was soon a noted political writer, taking the side of ultra-Toryism, and denouncing with furious emphasis all that savoured of Radicalism or Republicanism. His talent was indubitable; and as vehement and able rhetoric on the Church-and-King side was then in demand, he attracted attention. On returning to England, he was welcomed by the authorities as an out-and-out Tory, and became the most violent, uncompromising, and popular of writers on the ministerial side. It is worthy of recollection that William Cobbett had his windows broken by the mob for the vehemence of his anti-popular utterances. According to his own account he met Pitt at dinner in Mr. Windham’s house; and the fact is not impossible, so highly p. 172did ministers at that time prize the aid of any one who could fight for them against the patriots.

By what steps it is needless to trace, Cobbett gradually sidled round, and left the cause of the king for that of the mob. His circumstances became embarrassed, and he fled to America, leaving behind him debts to the value of upwards of £33,000. He resided at Long Island, near New York, and continued to edit his Register. In a few years the irrepressible giant—he stood six foot two, with shoulders and chest and girth to match—returned to England. He had once denounced Tom Paine as a miscreant whom no words could blacken. He now brought Tom Paine’s bones with him, bent upon having a grand monument built over them in England. In this instance he signally misunderstood his countrymen. The dead man’s bones were laughed at, and declared to be those of an old nigger. Cobbett proposed to sell 20,000 hair-rings at a sovereign a-piece, with some of Paine’s hair in each; and he was reminded that when Paine died he was almost bald. Cobbett had at last to shuffle the bones underground, no one knows where. His own eloquence and sarcasm made him popular, and procured him a seat in parliament. He was now the fiercest of democrats. He assailed Protestantism and detested ministers of religion. His quackery grew worse and worse until he died in 1835.