Linda Colley

  • Richard Cobden: A Victorian Outsider by Wendy Hinde
    Yale, 379 pp, £14.95, April 1987, ISBN 0 300 03880 1
  • Richard Cobden: Independent Radical by Nicholas Edsall
    Harvard, 479 pp, £23.95, February 1987, ISBN 0 674 76879 5

Richard Cobden is not a man for all seasons, but his life, career and values have been interpreted in widely different ways at different times. When he died in 1865, he was mourned by many as a secular saint. The majority remembered his leadership of one of the most triumphantly successful pressure groups in British history, the Anti-Corn Law League; and a minority honoured his uncompromising and frequently unpopular opposition to war: ‘seldom has hero rested, stained by so superb a fault.’ A special train was laid on from London to take the great and the good to his funeral; William Gladstone helped to carry his coffin; statues were raised by public subscription; and the London and provincial presses enshrined his memory in laudatory poems and improving books for the young. But it was not to last.

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