Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

which had so long looked down on fraud, cruelty, oppression, and avarice. Thanks to George Thompson, these words are becoming more and more familiar in that temple of Mammon.

When the Corn-Law struggle was approaching its crisis, Mr. T. yielded to the solicitations of the League to again advocate its cause before the country. He had been an agent of the League previous to going to India, and his peculiar eloquence contributed essentially to the rapid change of public opinion during the years 1841-2. In the last year of the CornLaw contest, he fought shoulder to shoulder with Cobden, Villiers, Bright, and Wilson, and no Free Trade chief carried over that triumphant field a brighter blade or a stouter shield than he.

As a testimonial of their regard for his many services in the cause of civil and religious liberty, the Lord Provost and Magistrates of Edinburgh presented him, in June, 1846, with the freedom of their venerable city. A higher honor awaited him. At the general election in 1847, Mr. Thompson was returned to the House of Commons for the Tower Hamlets, by the largest majority, over a popular opponent, obtained by any member of the new House.

In addition to the reforms already mentioned, he is the advocate of Universal Suffrage, of a dissolution of the union of Church and State, of Free Education, of Retrenchment in all departments of the Government. In a word, he is a radical democrat.

I have already spoken of his powers as an orator. is not of the firstly, secondly, thirdly sort—a didactic, pulpit sort of logic--but a sort in which all the numerals are combined, and confounded, and sent home with the accelerated momentum of geometrical progression. His rhetoric is not so systematic as Campbell's, nor so stiff as Blair's, but leaps spontaneously from a fruitful mind, from an observation of men and things active and broad, from a sympathy with the grand in nature, and the beautiful in art. He attacks an opponent with a general pell-mell of argument, fact, appeal, sarcasm,

His logic

and wit, not the more easily repelled because this onset of “ all arms” is not arrayed according to the precise rules of art, but comes from unexpected quarters, and in unanticipated forms. He deals seriously with the great facts of his subject, and specially addresses himself to the higher parts of man's naturethe reason, the conscience, the affections. Yet can he gambol in playful humor, throwing the galling arrow of sarcasm, scattering the jet d'eau of wit, or with a stroke of his crayon, drawing the ludicrous caricature, imitating to the life any peculiarity in the tone or manner of his antagonist-gliding from grave to gay,

from lively to severe, with charming grace. His speeches might be set down merely as rare specimens of elocution or declamation, but for one peculiarity. They deal largely with the facts, the details of the case in hand.

He reads up on every topic he discusses. His stores of facts are relieved of all dryness or repulsion in the presentation, by the panoramic style in which he marshals them before the eye, all clad in the garb furnished forth by a rich elocution and lively fancy.

Here lies his strength; for a single apposite fact outweighs, with the mass of men, a whole volume of abstract reasoning or florid declamation. His story charms like a well-acted tragedy or well-written novel.

If India shall ever enjoy a Government which protects its rights and promotes its prosperity, its happy millions will pronounce no name with more grateful accents than that of their early friend and advocate, George Thompson.

[ocr errors][ocr errors]


Cheap Postage - Rowland Hill-His Plan Proposed in 1837-Compari

son of the Old and New Systems-Joshua Leavitt-Money-Orders, Stamps, aud Envelopes—The Free Delivery-London District Post -Mr. Hume-Unjust Treatment of Mr. Hill by the GovernmentThe National Testimonial.

A SKETCH of recent British Reforms, even as imperfect as that I am attempting, would be defective without some notice of one of the greatest blessings of the age--CHEAP Postage. Not only Britain, but Europe and America, (for they have in some degree partaken of its benefits,) are indebted to Mr. Rowland Hill for this measure of human improvement and enjoyment. There are two aspects for contemplating this reform. The one, to go into heroics on its vast social, political, commercial, and moral advantages; the other, to go into tables of figures. The former may be called the poetic, the latter, the mathematical, view. I shall avoid both of these extremes.

The high rates of British postage, down to 1840, and which were adjusted much on the same scale as ours, were a dead weight on correspondence. For thirty years previous to that time, the gross receipts of the post-office had remained nearly stationary. Thus, the amount of correspondence by mail continued about the same during a period in which the population of the country increased fifty per cent., commerce and wealth in a nearly equal proportion, and knowledge among the masses, and the facilities of transmission, to even a larger degree. These facts arrested the attention of many minds. But the sagacious Rowland Hill probed to causes and devised remedies. He published his scheme for postal reform in 1837. Its outlines were these. The controlling idea of the post-office establishment should be, the convenience of the people, and not Governmental revenue. It was extortionate for the Government to tax as much for carrying a letter from London to Edinburgh, as a merchant charged for transporting a barrel of flour. The chief labor being expended in making up, opening, and delivering mails, therefore the fact, whether a letter was carried one mile or one hundred miles made comparatively little difference in the expenditures of the department. The number of pieces of which a letter was composed should not regulate the rate of postage, but weight should control. As much postage was lost on letters which were never called for, therefore there should be a distinction between prepaid letters and others; and in large towns there should be a free distribution of prepaid letters, by postmen. There should be no privileged class, with permission to use the post-office free of charge. Guided by these principles, Mr. Hill recommended a uniform rate of postage for all distances—a postage of a penny per half ounce, on letters, if prepaid, irrespective of the number of pieces, and two pence if not paid till delivered, the rate increasing as the weight advanced—a free delivery of prepaid letters in large towns—total abolition of the franking privilege. His scheme embraced great improvements in other respects, such as envelopes, stamps, post-office money-orders, &c. He also insisted, that the increase in the number of letters under his scheme would be sufficient in a few years to carry the net income as high as under the old system.

Now, all this seems very simple and plain—so simple and plain, that those who hourly enjoy its benefits never think of the times when it absorbed a day's wages of a poor Irish laborer in London to send a letter to his wife in Cork, informing her that he was well, and hoped these few lines would find her enjoying the same blessing-when a commercial house in Liverpool paid a yearly tax to the post-office sufficient to discharge the salaries of its clerks—when an editor, happening to be absent from the metropolis, wrote his leaders, to avoid triple postage, on very thin folio post, with very close lines, to the great disgust and vexation of compositors and proof readerswhen love letters and money letters were peered into by gossiping and rascally postmasters, to see whether they were double—when a manufacturer, who could send a ream of paper a hundred miles for six pence if it went in the coach box, must pay a shilling per sheet if it went in the coach bag --when a luckless neighbor, about to take a journey of business or pleasure, must conceal his departure to the last moment, or be laden with a portmanteau full of letters, to save postage”-when-but there is no end to the absurdities, annoyances, and extortions of the old system. And who thanks the genius and perseverance of Rowland Hill for exposing and exploding this relic of the times of the Stuarts, and introducing a reform worthy of the noon of steamers, railways, and electric telegraphs ? It is so simple! Columbus is almost as sure of immortality for teaching a bevy of courtly buffoons how to make an egg stand on end, as for giving a new world to Ferdinand and Isabella. It looked very simple-especially after it was done. So did the discovery of the magnetic needle and the new world. It is the capacity which conceives how simple things, which produce great results, can be done, that is entitled to be called genius. He is both a genius and a practical man who can first conceive and then execute. And such a man is Rowland Hill.

His pamphlet, of 1837, soon attracted the attention of the nation. The next year, several hundred petitions in favor of his plan were presented to Parliamenta select committee was appointed to collect facts—a hundred witnesses were examined --and a report, embodying a great variety of important information, was published, filling three volumes of the Parliamentary papers. After much deliberation, his scheme, having

« ZurückWeiter »