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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
John Bright (1811–1889)
Critical and Biographical Introduction
 
JOHN BRIGHT was the modern representative of the ancient Tribunes of the people or Demagogues (in the original and perfectly honorable sense); and a full comparison of his work and position with those of the Cleons or the Gracchi would almost be an outline of the respective peoples, polities, and problems. He was a higher type of man and politician than Cleon,—largely because the English aristocracy is not an unpatriotic and unprincipled clique like the Athenian, ready to use any weapon from murder down or to make their country a province of a foreign empire rather than give up their class monopoly of power; but like his prototype he was a democrat by nature as well as profession, the welfare of the common people at once his passion and his political livelihood, full of faith that popular instincts are both morally right and intellectually sound, and all his own instincts and most of his labors antagonistic to those of the aristocracy. It is a phase of the same fact to say that he also represented the active force of religious feeling in politics, as opposed to pure secular statesmanship.  1
  The son of a Quaker manufacturer of Rochdale, England, and born near that place November 16th, 1811, he began his public career when a mere boy as a stirring and effective temperance orator, his ready eloquence and intense earnestness prevailing over an ungraceful manner and a bad delivery; he wrought all his life for popular education and for the widest extension of the franchise; and being a Quaker and a member of the Peace Society, he opposed all war on principle, fighting the Crimean War bitterly, and leaving the Gladstone Cabinet in 1882 on account of the bombardment of Alexandria. He was retired from the service of the public for some time on account of his opposition to the Crimean War; but Mr. Gladstone, who differed from him on this point, calls it the action of his life most worthy of honor. He was perhaps the most warlike opponent of war ever high in public life; the pugnacious and aggressive agitator, pouring out floods of fiery oratory to the effect that nobody ought to fight anybody, was a curious paradox.  2
  He was by far the most influential English friend of the North in the Civil War, and the magic of his eloquence and his name was a force of perhaps decisive potency in keeping the working classes on the same side; so that mass meetings of unemployed laborers with half-starving families resolved that they would rather starve altogether than help to perpetuate slavery in America. He shares with Richard Cobden the credit of having obtained free trade for England: Bright’s thrilling oratory was second only to Cobden’s organizing power in winning the victory, and both had the immense weight of manufacturers opposing their own class. That he opposed the game laws and favored electoral reform is a matter of course.  3
  Mr. Bright entered on an active political career in 1839, when he joined the Anti-Corn-Law League. He first became a member of Parliament in 1843, and illustrates a most valuable feature of English political practice. When a change of feeling in one place prevented his re-election, he selected another which was glad to honor itself by having a great man represent it, so that the country was not robbed of a statesman by a village faction; and there being no spoils system, he did not have to waste his time in office-jobbing to keep his seat. He sat first for Durham, then for Manchester, and finally for Birmingham, remaining in public life over forty years; and never had to make a “deal” or get any one an office in all that period.  4
  He was in Mr. Gladstone’s Cabinet from 1868 to 1870, and again from 1873 to 1882. On the Home Rule question the two old friends and long co-workers divided; Mr. Bright, with more than half the oldest and sincerest friends of liberty and haters of oppression in England, holding the step to be political suicide for the British Empire.  5
  As an orator, Mr. Bright stood in a sense alone. He was direct and logical; he carefully collected and massed his facts, and used strong, homely Saxon English, and short crisp words; he was a master of telling epigram whose force lay in its truth as much as in its humor. Several volumes of his speeches have been published: ‘On Public Affairs’; ‘On Parliamentary Reform’; ‘On Questions of Public Policy’; ‘On the American Question,’ etc. His life has been written by Gilchrist, Smith, Robertson, and others. He died March 27th, 1889.  6
 
 
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