LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Passages of a Working Life during Half a Century
Chapter XIII

Contents Vol. I
Prelude 1
Prelude 2
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Contents Vol. II
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Note to Chapter XV
Contents Vol. III
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Note to Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Note to Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
‣ Chapter XIII
Note to Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Index of Persons
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THE narrative of my publishing enterprises was, in Chapter VIII., brought up to 1855; with the exception of the two most important works of my later years, the “English Cyclopædia” and the “Popular History of England.” In these undertakings I had a proprietary interest, although, as I stated in the Preface to the present book, “I had to become more a writer and an editor than a publisher.” I have reserved a brief account of these works until I should arrive, in the natural sequence of these ‘Passages,’ at the periods of their completion. The eight years that were occupied by the superintendence of the Cyclopædia—during seven of which I was also occupied in writing the History—bring me to the termination of the Half Century of my Working Life.

One of the most interesting novels of Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton is entitled “What will he do with it?” When, in 1848, after the completion of the “Penny Cyclopædia,” I had parted with the stock and stereotype plates, the copyright remained in my hands. It had cost a large sum of money; of its literary value no one doubted; but its commercial value remained to be tested. “What will he do with it?” said the Trade. I turned it to account in an
abridgment entitled the “National Cyclopædia.” In this the original work was melted down to one-fourth of its dimensions. It was a useful book, but it was far from satisfying the requirements of those who sought in a Cyclopædia to supply the place of a small library. From this “National Cyclopædia” of too scanty dimensions, I turned my attention towards producing one of larger proportions even than the original work. The “Imperial Cyclopædia,” of which a Prospectus was largely circulated, was proposed to be divided into eight or ten great compartments, each of which was to be prefaced by a treatise by some eminent writer. It would have been a large undertaking, but I had assurances of support from persons of influence, encouraging enough, but not sufficiently numerous to lead me onward to a great risk. Some of the letters of these supporters are before me. One of them is so characteristic of a nobleman who had an hereditary love of science, and a natural devotion to literature, that I may be pardoned the egotism of its insertion.
Lord Ellesmere writes to me on the 19th of June, 1850:—“I shall direct my bookseller to furnish the volumes as they come out, as I look upon your professional labours as among the best exertions of the day for fighting the devil and all his works.” Lord Ellesmere’s cordial letter to me was his answer to my proposal to publish by subscription. This plan, by which authors and publishers took hostages against evil fortune, was in general use during the first half of the eighteenth century. Like most other human things it was subject to abuse; but it was founded upon a true estimate of the peculiar risks of publishing. It is manifest that, if a certain number of persons unite
in agreement to purchase a book which is about to be printed, the author may be at ease with regard to the issue of the enterprise; and the subscribers ought to receive what they want, at a lower cost than when risk enters into price. For more than half a century nearly all the great books were published by subscription; and the highest in literature felt no degradation in themselves canvassing with their subscription receipts. The plan which, upon the face of it, was a just one for all parties—a fair exchange between seller and buyer—came in process of time to be regarded with suspicion. The practice of soliciting subscriptions which, in
Pope, and Steele, and Johnson, and fifty other eminent authors, was legitimate and honourable, was in the next century either treated with cold neglect, or regarded with the same suspicion as the devices of the begging-letter writer. I quickly found out my mistake, and united myself with a publishing house who had the means of largely circulating a serial work throughout the kingdom.

I have devoted two Chapters of my second volume to the history of the “Penny Cyclopædia.” I have there described the labours of the various Contributors, and have recorded some characteristic traits of the eminent persons who were associated in this work. It was completed in 1844. In the nine years that elapsed between that period and the commencement of the “English Cyclopæia,” knowledge of all kinds had been accumulating at a rate of marvellous rapidity. The geographical descriptions, for example, of the “Penny Cyclopædia,” had stopped short of the wonderful development of the Australian colonies. The new Cyclopædia was arranged in four divisions,
Geography, Natural History, Biography, Arts and Sciences. The two first of these Divisions were proceeding at the same time, and were each completed in two years and a half. What a store of new materials had been gathering together, for the use of the Geographer and the Naturalist, that required to be set forth in the remodelled Cyclopædia! These two Divisions were succeeded by that of Biography. If no other additions had been required than the introduction of names of living persons, the new literary labour would have been of no small amount—sufficient indeed to form a separate book, not so large but essentially as complete as the ‘Biographie des Contemporains.’ This Biographical Division, in six volumes, was completed in 1858. The Division of Arts and Sciences included a great amount of miscellaneous subjects, not capable of being introduced into the more precise arrangement of the three previous departments. It was completed in eight volumes in 1861. In my Introduction to the eighth volume, I said—“it has been produced the last in the series, that nothing of new invention and discovery in Science—nothing of progressive improvement in the Arts—might be omitted.”

In the conduct of this work I adopted two principles; first that not an article, not a page, not a line, should be reprinted without revision; secondly, that every new Contributor should be so reliable in his talents and his acquirements, that his articles might be safely adopted without undergoing that superintendence which the Useful Knowledge Society professed to undertake for the “Penny Cyclopædia,” and which was often very judiciously exerted. Noticing the Contributors to the earlier work, when I
was writing these “Passages” in 1863, I was looking back twenty years. There was a sort of historical interest attached to many of these names, and I could speak of them unreservedly and without any invidious distinction. It is not so with the Contributors to a work which was only completed three years before the time when I am now writing. My own duties in the conduct of the work involved little more than a general superintendence. In the Preface to the Natural History Division I acknowledge my obligations to
Dr. Edwin Lankester, who had brought the original articles into a more systematic shape; who had removed much that was obsolete; and who, having access to the opinions, and securing the assistance, of the best living authorities, had neglected no new materials that were at that time available. I had further, at the close of the work, to thank my fellow-labourers during many years—Mr. A. Ramsay and Mr. J. Thorne—for the active and intelligent share they had taken in its management, by which the regularity of publication, and the correctness of the text, had been mainly secured.

I might probably have been induced to say more of the plan and conduct of this book—which, without arrogance, I may call a great book,—had I not been able to refer for further details to one of the most learned and interesting articles that ever appeared in a critical work—“The History of Cyclopædias,” in the “Quarterly Review” for April, 1863. Of the commendation of this writer I have just cause to be proud, for it is founded upon an acquaintance, little less than extraordinary, with the Cyclopædias of all countries and languages, of far-removed or of recent times. I am satisfied that he speaks from an honest
conviction alone, when he says—“the ‘
English Cyclopædia’ is a work that as a whole has no superior and very few equals of its kind; that, taken by itself, supplies the place of a small library; and, used in a large library, is found to present many points of information that are sought in vain in any other cyclopædia in the English language.” The “Quarterly Review” is chiefly addressed to those who have leisure and abundant means; but there is another class to whom the “English Cyclopædia” is strongly recommended as a book for those who labour with their hands, and have little time for systematic study. In the “Working Men’s College Magazine” for November, 1861, there is an article signed V. Lushington, for which I have abstained from offering my thanks, for I feel that to express personal gratitude to a critic is to imply that other considerations than those of truth and justice may have suggested his praise. I cannot probably, however, better conclude my notice of a work which has brought me abundant honour, than by giving an eloquent passage from this notice. It will be seen that Mr. Lushington is not one of those who think it necessary to write down to the comprehension of working men:—“Perhaps the first sensation of the reader on opening these massive volumes will be one of bewilderment, and unwillingness to traverse any such mountain of knowledge. But on better consideration he will feel two things; first, that kind of reverence which the spectacle of any great human labour cannot but call forth; and secondly, that this (or indeed any) Cyclopædia is a witness to the inexhaustible interest of reality and simple truth. He will see that it is in fact a record of a thousand thousand conquests over
thick night, won in many generations by far-reaching industry, and patient intelligence, in many cases even—say the discovery of America—by downright unmistakeable valour: and so gazing on these columns, there may come flashing through his mind something of the exultation with which a people greets a victorious army returning homeward. At least he cannot but observe how the age in which we live is assiduously minding and doing her business; everywhere extending and consolidating positive knowledge; with honest sober eyes scrutinising the past of human history, studying the starry heavens, the solid earth, and all living things, tracking everywhere the dominion of stedfast laws, then recording what is found, for ourselves and for those who come after. A Cyclopædia witnesses that all these things are being done.”

In 1854 I was instigated by an article in “The Times” seriously to contemplate the task of writing a general history of England. Lord John Russell had delivered an address at Bristol on the study of history, and the leading journal took up the subject of the noble speaker’s complaint “that we have no other history of England than Hume’s”—that “when a young man of eighteen asks for a history of England, there is no resource but to give him Hume.” I had published “The Pictorial History of England” some years before—in many respects a valuable history, but one whose limits had gone far beyond what, as its projector, I had originally contemplated. I altogether rejected the idea of making an abridgment of that history. Many materials for a History of the People had been collected by me
without any immediate object of publication. The remarks of “
The Times” led me to depart from my original design of writing a Domestic History of England apart from its Public History. Upon a more extended plan, I would endeavour to trace through our long continued annals the essential connection between our political history and our social. To accomplish this, I would not keep the People in the background, as in many histories, and I would call my work “The Popular History of England.”

For more than a year I was gradually preparing for my task, and was ready to begin the printing at the end of 1855. It was to be published in monthly parts. My publishers desiring that the first part should contain an introduction, setting forth the objects of a new history of England, I was induced to explain my motives for undertaking it, with a sincerity which perhaps may be deemed imprudent. It may be as imprudent for the historian as for the statesman to make any general profession of principles at the onset of his career. The succession of events in either case might modify his past convictions. But I have no reason to depart in letter or spirit from what I wrote: “The People, if I understand the term rightly, means the Commons of these realms, and not any distinct class or section of the population. Ninety years ago, Goldsmith called the ‘middle order of mankind’ the ‘People,’ and those below them the ‘Rabble.’ We have outlived all this. A century of thought and action has widened and deepened the foundations of the State. This People, then, want to find, in the history of their country, something more than a series of annals, either of policy or war. In connection with a faithful
narrative of public affairs, they want to learn their own history—how they have grown out of slavery, out of feudal wrong, out of regal despotism,—into constitutional liberty, and the position of the greatest estate of the realm.”

In the summer of 1858 I had completed four volumes of my history, reaching the period of the Revolution of 1688. In the postscript to the fourth volume I endeavoured to illustrate the principle, so well defined by my friend Mr. Samuel Lucas in a Lecture on Social Progress, that the history of every nation “has been in the main sequential”—that each of its phases has been “the consequence of some prior phase, and the natural prelude of that which succeeded it.” I pointed out that the early history of the Anglican Church was to be traced in all the subsequent elements of our ecclesiastical condition; that upon the Roman and Saxon civilization were founded many of the principles of government which still preserved their vitality; that the Norman despotism was absorbed by the Anglo-Saxon freedom; and that the recognition of the equal rights of all men before the Law was the only mode by which feudality could maintain itself. “From the deposition of Richard the Second to the abdication of James the Second, every act of national resistance was accomplished by the union of classes, and was founded upon some principle of legal right for which there was legal precedent. Out of the traditional and almost instinctive assertion of the popular privileges, have come new developments of particular reforms, each adapted to its own age, but all springing out of that historical experience which we recognise as Constitutional.”


In November, 1862, I completed the book upon which I had been employed unremittingly for a seventh part of my working life. I then stated in a postscript that, with the exception of three chapters on the Fine Arts, “The Popular History” had been wholly written by myself. Being the production of one mind, I trusted that the due proportions of the narrative, from the first chapter to the last, had been maintained. I again set forth the principles which had enabled me to carry it through with a consistent purpose. “Feeling my responsibilities to be increased by the fact that my duty was to impart knowledge and not to battle for opinions, my desire has been to cherish that love of liberty which is best founded upon a sufficient acquaintance with its gradual development and final establishment amongst us; to look with a tolerant judgment even upon those who have sought to govern securely by governing absolutely; to trace with calmness the efforts of those who have imperilled our national independence by foreign assault or domestic treason, but never to forget that a just love of country is consistent with historical truth; to carry forward, as far as within the power of one who has watched joyfully and hopefully the great changes of a generation, that spirit of improvement, which has been more extensively and permanently called forth in the times of which this concluding volume treats than in the whole previous period from the Revolution of 1688.”

This exposition of the views with which I commenced and concluded “The Popular History” may appear to be set forth with undue formality. I think my reasons for so doing will be attributed to something better than the egotism of authorship. If the
course of my narrative through four thousand pages had been inconsistent with these declarations—if it had been conducted in a spirit opposed to the best authorities on our constitutional history—I should have deserved to be judged out of my own mouth. In a review of a reviewer who appears to consider my history as the embodiment of all the dangerous principles of democracy, I find this passage in “
The Times” of November 1, 1864:—“Mr. Kebbel does really allege with much justice that the fundamental error of Mr. Knight’s history, is the theory according to which the people of this country are represented as having been from the beginning divided into two hostile armies, the one seeking to defend or to augment, the other to diminish or destroy, a mass of oppressive and tyrannous privileges and customs. The proofs that Mr. Knight maintains this heresy, and that it is a heresy, we do not enter into.” That I have not maintained this heresy without very important modifications, I fearlessly assert. That I have been one of those who have told the people “of the grandeur of resistance,” without telling them “something of the grandeur of obedience,” I utterly deny. But I cannot admit that it is a “fundamental error” to represent the people as long divided into the maintainers and the opposers of “oppressive and tyrannous privileges and customs.” If in this particular I am a heretic, let me, in some measure, defend myself by the example of other heretics.

The early years of the Conquest provide ample evidence of Norman oppression and Saxon resistance. Whether the oppressions were those of the king or of his military chieftains, their consequence was insurrection. William went on from mildness to
ferocity, from a show of justice to the most lawless exercise of power. “It is a fearful and disgusting history. It would be humiliating to feel that the people from whom we are sprung did not turn and rend ‘this very stark man and very savage’—this man ‘stark beyond all bounds to those who withsaid his will,’—did we not know that no oppression could ultimately subdue this long-suffering race, and that the instruments of their partial subjection were, in little more than a century, united with them in building up a system of government which should, at every new storm of tyranny, become stronger and more defiant.”* One of the greatest of English orators has described the barons of the reign of
John. Lord Chatham, in his speech of 1770, in the case of John Wilkes, said:—“It is to your ancestors, my Lords, it is to the English Barons that we are indebted for the Laws and Constitution we possess. Their virtues were rude and uncultivated, but they were great and sincere. Their understandings were as little polished as their manners, but they had hearts to distinguish right from wrong; they had heads to distinguish truth from falsehood; they understood the rights of humanity, and they had spirit to maintain them.” The historian of our Constitutional history says:—“From this era a new soul was infused into the people of England.” During the six hundred and fifty years which have elapsed since the day of Runnemede, they have carried on the battle for liberty in the same practical and temperate spirit which animated the mailed knights who won the Great Charter. In “the grandeur

* “Popular History of England,” Vol. I. p. 191.

of resistance” they have not lost sight of “the grandeur of obedience.” Over and over again they have been “divided into two hostile armies.” But reconcilement has gradually come out of disunion; and for why? Resistance has almost invariably proceeded from the necessity of the case. There may be essential differences of opinion as to the force of that necessity, whether the two leading examples of resistance—the Great Rebellion and the Revolution—be considered. But I apprehend—now that the doctrine of passive obedience has ceased to be advocated, even by those who consider a Popular History dangerous—that it will be generally acknowledged that “the peculiarity of the British Constitution is this—that its only professed object is the general good, and its only foundation the general will. Hence the people have a right, acknowledged from time immemorial, fortified by a pile of statutes, and authenticated by a revolution that speaks louder than them all, to see whether abuses have been committed, and whether their properties and their liberties have been attended to as they ought to be.”* This is the resistance of modern times. Of the elder spirit
Burke says:—“It has a pedigree and illustrating ancestors. It has its bearings and its ensigns armorial. It has its gallery of portraits, its monumental inscriptions, its records, evidences, and titles.” When we enter upon the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the pedigree may be somewhat blurred and mildewed; the ancestors may look as impossible to be imitated in their actions as in their costumes; the gallery of portraits may be little

* Curran’s Speech in behalf of Rowan.

better than imaginary. Their successors come nearer to our common life. The hostile armies are differently constituted. The serf no longer exists; the burgher fights by the side of the noble; the artisan is coming forward to assert his equal rights before the Law. The battle against oppression is no longer to be fought in tented fields. It is the battle of public opinion, which, in the cause of justice and right, will ever be victorious. I should become tedious if I were to linger over the earlier times when Public Opinion was, as yet, the Hercules in the cradle. If I have committed a “fundamental error” in my alleged representations of society as divided into two hostile armies, I have at least endeavoured in treating of the past, to keep steadily in view its certain influence upon the future. “I have tried to evolve the conviction that through many long and painful struggles, we have been constantly tending towards a complete union of monarchical institutions with the largest amount of freedom, whether of associated action, of public discussion, or of private conduct. In describing the religious contests of four centuries, I have striven to show how, amidst all their evils, the spirit of Protestantism has been invariably allied with the progress of liberal institutions and national independence; but, at the same time, I have not forgotten that the principle of toleration is the one great good that has been slowly working its way, as the passions and prejudices of Churches and sects have yielded to the universal right of liberty of conscience.”* The steady influence of that Public Opinion, which has prevented resistance becoming anarchy, and obedience conducting to slavery, has

* “Popular History,” Vol. IV. Postscript, p. 455.

grown from age to age with the material as well as the moral development of our country. In forming the plan of my history, I set out upon the principle that there was an inseparable connection between our political and our social history. “When there is prosperous industry and fireside comfort, then, it may be assumed, there is good government. When labour is oppressed and homes are wretched, then, however powerful may be authority, and arms however triumphant, there is ‘something rotten in the State.’”*

In passing onward to the second great division of our country’s history, I thus concluded the first half of my narrative. “In 1689, the Constitution was established through the principle of Resistance, not upon any new theories, but upon fundamental laws, many of which were of an older date than that of the oldest oak which stood upon English ground. For this reason, it has never again been necessary to call in the principle of Resistance. A time would come, when the government of England, being so essentially a Parliamentary government, the struggles of Parties would have more regard to the possession of power than to the interests of the nation. But it was the essential consequence of these very strifes of Party, that, whatever the influence of oligarchs or demagogues, a controlling public opinion was constantly growing and strengthening.”†

The Popular History of England” to the period of the Revolution embraced a class of subjects that was once considered extraneous to history—the progress of manufactures and commerce—the developments of literature and the arts—the aspects of

* “Popular History,” Vol. I. Introduction.

Ibid., Vol. IV. p. 449.

manners and of common life. The same principle was constantly kept in view in the succeeding four volumes, which brought up the history to 1849—an epoch marked by the final extinction of the Corn Laws. This large class of subjects, so essentially connected with our civil, military, and religious annals, was treated by me, “not in set dissertations under distinct heads, separated from the course of events by long intervals, but in frequent notices, either in special chapters at periods marked by characteristics of progress, or occurring as incidental illustrations of the political narrative.” The experience of the present generation may be sufficient to trace the connection between the progress of good government, following the gradual discomfiture of corrupt or ignorant government, and the progress of industry, art, and letters, maintaining and carrying forward the power and influence of political improvement.

The proportions of those chapters of my Popular History of England which have reference to the national Industry and the progress of the Arts, as compared with the chapters on our Civil, Military, and Religious History, scarcely warrant me in accepting the title which has been conferred upon me,—that of “The Boswell of Birmingham.” It is a very pretty piece of alliteration, and has the true ring of that small wit which goes a good way towards the making of a periodical critic of the insolent order. In the four first volumes, which bring the history down to the Revolution, one-tenth only of the whole matter is occupied with the subjects of Commerce and Manufactures, of Science and Art, of Literature, of the Condition of the People. In the second half of the work about one-fifth of the whole text is
devoted to these subjects. Of the eight volumes, comprising four thousand pages, an amount equal to one volume is devoted to these various manifestations of the progress of a people. Such details were once considered extraneous to history proper; and even now, some who think, or affect to think, that history should confine itself to the concerns of Courts and Cabinets, regard them as vulgar. Such, especially, is their opinion about Commerce and Manufactures. Modern statesmanship has a different creed. It has been compelled to guide its course of political action by a broad view of the social condition of the entire population, rather than by the interests or prejudices of a party or a class. Never in our own country, and to a certain extent in other countries, had the claims of industry—not upon patronage, not upon protection, not upon bounties, but simply to be left free to work out its own good—been more regarded in the highest places, as the one great foundation of national prosperity. The slightest glance at the early history of England will show that with the prosperity of industry, and that security of property, which was necessary for its more general distribution, gradually came internal tranquillity, in spite of disputed successions and constant attempts to put the neck of one class under the heel of another. The “hostile armies” were, in every succeeding generation, becoming reduced in numbers, and more and more open to the reconciliation of their conflicting pretensions. As the mediaeval castles gradually became mansions; as the privileges of a caste were put away, like “unscoured armour hung by the wall;” as there grew, out of feudal exclusiveness, an aristocracy not alien to the commonalty; the yeoman, the merchant,
the artisan, and last of all the peasant, came to be regarded as integral portions of the state. Then, and not till then, was society secure in the established reign of law and order. Then, and not till then, could those who did not labour with their hands sit secure in their homes, even should an occasional demagogue attempt to re-kindle the lights and fires of the fourteenth century to the tune of—
“When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then the gentleman?”

I might run over every era of our modern history to show how, with the development of Industry and the accumulation of Wealth, those who have been seeking “to diminish or destroy oppressive and tyrannous privileges and customs” have been constrained to employ other weapons than physical force. There was a time when “resistance was an ordinary remedy for political distempers—a remedy which was always at hand, and which, though doubtless sharp at the moment, produced no deep or lasting ill effects.” The historian marks the difference of our own times; when “resistance must be regarded as a cure more desperate than almost any malady that can afflict the state.” But there is something better than the sword, if occasion should arise for uttering again the ancient demand for “redress of grievances;” and Macaulay shows us the alternative: “As we cannot, without the risk of evils from which the imagination recoils, employ physical force as a check on misgovernment, it is evidently our wisdom to keep all the constitutional checks on misgovernment in the highest state of efficiency; to watch
with jealousy the first beginnings of encroachment, and never to suffer irregularities, even when harmless in themselves, to pass unchallenged.”* The old army of resistance has become a Constabulary Force, equipped only with the staff that is the symbol of Law and Order.

Here, strictly speaking, terminates the narrative of my labour and my observation during half a century. This Chapter records the principal employment of my time, to the end of 1862. I regard the chief part of that occupation, during seven years, as having been to me a source of happiness. Removed, in a great degree, from commercial labours and anxieties, that continuous direction of my mind to a subject so interesting and engrossing as a General History of England, had a tranquillizing influence; and prepared me to look back upon my past career with something like a philosophical estimate of its good and evil fortune.

Until the Septuagenarian shall hear “kind Nature’s signal to retreat.” Rest and Retrospection properly succeed the excitements of “a Working Life.” The task of writing these “Passages” has been at once Rest and Retrospection. It has involved no laborious research; it has compelled no violent suppression of natural egotism to forbear speaking of personal matters that could have no interest for others; it has demanded little more than an accurate memory of former events, and a candid and charitable estimate of my contemporaries. Taken altogether, this also has been a pleasurable task;

* Macaulay, “History of England,” 1st. ed., Vol. I., p. 36.

and, to compare small things with great, the “sober melancholy” which
Gibbon felt when he wrote “the last lines of the last page” of his immortal History, comes over me, as I contemplate taking a final leave “of an old and agreeable companion.” Let me postpone this parting, for a little while, by adopting the device of some of our earlier poets, to enable them to linger in the home of “pleasant thought” before they quitted it for ever.