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Welsh History Review


Vol. 14, nos. 1-4 1988-89

Richard Cobden, a Victorian outsider. Book review.

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century. If the contents of the diaries suggest a preoccupation with a world that was
passing, some entries at least chronicle developments which before long would
transform the society and institutions with which Bird was familiar. Entries relating
to the assizes, to church vestry meetings, to rents, the militia, and to the hazards of
travel by road lie cheek by jowl with references to the Glamorganshire Canal (of such
importance to Merthyr and the iron industry), to the ironmasters and canal
proprietors, and to Edward Martin's mineral survey of 1799. What criteria
determined Bird's selection of material is not explicit but, given his relationship to
the marquess, Bird must inevitably have highlighted those matters which his master
would have found useful, instructive and entertaining, and which would emphasize
the clerk's protection and furtherance of his master's interests.
Although a substantial part of the volume is taken up a with a transcript of the
diaries, Hilary Thomas has put us in her debt by providing a lengthy introduction
which not only deals with Bird's career but also sets that career firmly in the context
of local political, social and economic developments. The value of the volume is
further enhanced by notes to the text of the diaries and by brief biographical notes of
those individuals who figure regularly or prominently in Bird's observations.
Contemporary paintings and engravings are sensibly employed to provide the book
with a good range of illustrations. In short, this volume is a valuable complement, for
the years which it covers, to John Davies's definitive work, Cardiff and the
Marquesses of Bute.
RICHARD COBDEN, A VICTORIAN OUTSIDER. By Wendy Hinde. Yale University Press,
1987. Pp. 367. £ 14.95.
A biographer of Cobden has to decide whether to treat the repeal of the Corn Laws
as the climax or the half-way point. Within a few pages the reader knows that
Dr. Hinde has chosen the more challenging solution. She sets a cracking pace.
Cobden is born in Sussex on page 1, educated in Yorkshire on page 2, and taken into
his uncle's warehouse in London on page 3: by page 8 he is heading for Manchester
in order to set up in business on his own, and the Corn Laws are repealed on page
168, half-way through the text.
Now this is interesting because Dr. Hinde is much more sympathetic to the
League's campaign to open the ports than she is to Cobden's subsequent career, when
he considered the 'struggle against armaments to be the real free trade battle'. She
agrees with Cobden that the landowners were selfish and obstructive, and has little
difficulty in accepting her subject's resort to the language of class war and the threat
of civil disobedience. But she is much less receptive to Cobden's vision of a
harmonious universe, in which the contests of commerce would have been substituted
for the arbitrament of war. Her way round the difficulty is to present League-Cobden
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