MR. GEORGE ODGER.
,THE death, on Sunday morning last, of Mr. George Odger makes a sensible gap in the ranks of contemporary English Democracy. The prolonged and painful illness which preceded his death had been the means of withdrawing him from his prominent part in the more recent movements of the day, but he worked so long and so zealously in the interests of his class, that there is little danger of his name being soon forgotten.
It is in this connection, and not with regard to the impression which he may, or may not, have made upon the political fortunes of his generation, that the life of George Odger will be mostpro- fitably studied. Born in very humble circumstances, with no great natural gifts except a sound intelligence and indomitable will, he succeeded in making his name a household word. Mr. Odger was not so fond of studying books as of studying men, and to this fact may be attributed much of his popularity and success with audiences of his own order. He carried his study of individuals to a study of aggregations, and it was a fact recognised by his fellow-workers that none of them could manage a troublesome or dangerous meeting half so well as be could. Given intelligence, practice in oratory will make perfect, as in other things, and as a result of his incessant attendance at
public meetings, Mr. Odger, although entirely destitute of the literary faculty, became a thoroughly argumentative and highly effective public speaker. His mind was as narrow as his sympathies were wide, but according to his lights he was honest, straightforward, and singularly unselfish. To say he was a self- made man would be a dubious compliment, for except in the affection of his friends and the esteem of his own class, he died as he had lived, in the same humble circumstances in which he was born. This fact will, doubtless, be regarded by working-men as one honourable to George Odger ; and in these days of universal self-seeking, there is, perhaps, something to be said from that point of view. But there is a point beyond which unselfishness becomes improvidence, and remembering that Mr. Odger died in poverty at the age of fifty-seven, we are not sure that that point was not reached in his case. It seems, indeed, that Mr. (Riga's needs and services were substantially recognised by his fellows shortly before his death, but when we remember that other working-men leaders, who had neither his honesty nor ability., had not to wait so long for some such recognition, we cannot but regret that the national testimonial to Mr. Odger should have been postponed until it could only alleviate the miseries of the close of a life which, had it been rendered earlier, it might have prolonged.
Although Mr. Odger was best known to the country as a working-class politician, it was in his capacity of Trades-union leader that he rendered most service to his fellows. The Trades Unionists of England, it is well known, are divided amongst themselves on the question of political action. Some contend that their Unions ought not to interfere in matters of State, while others argue that it is only by political action that the labour- ing classes can permanently improve their economical position. It was to this latter section that George Odger belonged, and it found in him, if not a profound exponent of its rights, at least a faithful and fearless leader. With all his Radicalism, he was at heart a real Conservative, and never proposed to throw any- thing down until he had, or fancied he had, something better to put in its place. The breadth of -the political platform of the Secularist party had for Mr. Odger sufficient charm to bring him more than once into strange company, but at the same time, he had but little sympathy with the distinctive tenets of either the positivists or negationists. The position occupied by Mr. Odger in the regard of his own countrymen secured for him the appointment to the Presidency of the Inter- national Working-Men's Association, when that society was first started in London, in 1864. He had, it is true, very little to do with the direction of the movement, but the German and French leading spirits deemed it advisable to give it an English figure- head, and Mr. Odger was, by common consent, acknowledged to be the best man for the purpose. Shortly after its formation, the society abolished the office of President, but Mr. Odger con- tinued a member of its General Council until 1871. In March of that year the Commune broke out in Paris, and in May it was quenched in its own blood. Thereupon the General Council issued a manifesto, defending the men of March 18, and de- nouncing those of September 4. This was too much for Mr. Odger, who, in conjunction with Mr. Lueraft, then also a mem- ber of the Council, protested and resigned. This spirit of modera- tion and forbearance Mr. Odger carried into most of the actions of his life. When the question was one of means, he was always opposed to extreme measures, but with respect to the end in view and the principles involved, he was incapable of compromise.
Mr. Odger was singulszly unfortunate in all his efforts—and they were not few—to enter the House of Commons. Usually a man of cheerful temperament and not given to useless repining, he was always very sore about the treatment, which, as he alleged, he received from Whig placemen and agents of the Reform Club. His friendship with Sir Charles Dilke was always very real, and highly honourable to both parties, but that did not prevent Mr. Odger from complaining very frequently and very bitterly about the manner in which he was "arbitrated out of Chelsea" in 1868. Later on, at Stafford (which constituency Mr. Odger used to boast he had won for its present labour representative), he con- sidered that he was afflicted with the damaging friendship of the then Liberal Whip, Mr. Glyn. But most of all did Mr. Odger complain of the tactics adopted by the wire-pullers at the Reform Club on the occasion when he first contested Southwark. The great majority of the Liberals in that borough were pledged to vote for Mr. Odger, but the Whigs, Mr. Odger said, rather than allow a working-man to enter the House of Commons, put up Sir Sydney Waterlow, to draw off some of his voters, and so secured the election of the Conservative candidate, Colonel Beresford.
How far these numerous complaints were well founded we will not pretend to say—most of them probably were, and one, the attack on Mr. Glyn, certainly was the result of feeling ulcerated by disappointment--we only know that Mr. Odger was never weary of repeating them.
It would be gross exaggeration to speak of Mr. Odger as a great man, and those who knew him best would be, perhaps, the least disposed so to call him. At the same time, we must admit that he did much to improve the economical condition of his class, and we believe that his loss will be felt more keenly now that he is gone, than any one would have supposed who only knew how iunperfectly his services were recognised while he was yet with them.