COBDEN FOR ENGLAND ?—OR ST. GEORGE ?
Emus Mr. Cobden is not a real representation of the Englishman, or the Englishman has thoroughly altered, not only in his habits, but in his nature. It is important, just now, to be clear respecting the question, though it is a mere personality ; because by many people Mr. Cobden is regarded as a witness, and we ought to know the relation of the witness to that which he witnesseth ; also be- cause there is an impression that the party which is the most push- ing dealer in the political market contemplates a partnership with Mr. Cobden. Opportunely enough, he has laid himself out for in- spection, this week, at the Marylebone Anti-Militia meeting. Ever since his exaltation by the good fortune of happening to remain at the head of the Anti-Corn-law movement, Mr. Cobden has exhibited a mania for meddling with military matters : he be- gan it with his project of financial reform ; he believes that he has had some success ; he is now improving the opportunity afforded by the agitation of Mr. Nicholay, Mr. Charles Gilpin, and gentlemen of that connexion, against any Militia Bill ; and it is the kind of argument which Mr. Cobden uses that will be serviceable to us in getting an insight into his mind as a statesman and a native of this country. We do not say as an Englishman, because the very question is, whether his disposition is typical or exceptional.
It is characteristic of the Englishman to sympathize with bravery, especially when successful ; to be obstinate in admiration when admiration has once set in ; and not to put ill constructions, still less degrading constructions, on the open conduct of men long respected. The Duke of Wellington is just now the object of such generous sentiments. Mr. Cobden does not share them—evidently does not feel them so much as to know what they are. He speaks• of the Duke's age in conjunction with an allusion to "females and children" ! He ascribes the Duke's steadfast anxiety on the subject of our national defence to " a childlike tremour and alarm," which is " constantly spreading from the Horse Guards." The notion that the gentlemen at the Horse Guards are afraid is amusing ; but it is the only interpretation which Mr. Cobden can find for anxiety to keep our coasts inviolate. We have no hesitation in deciding at once that such an impression is not the representative of English feeling, bat the very reverse of English feeling. Mr. Cobden accepts, without qualification, as "perfect," Mr. Anderson's project of a Marine Militia composed of our commercial steamers. Now, a marine force is totally incompatible with the notion of a militia, for obvious reasons. Any man can fight, and can acquire some sort of skill at it with comparative ease ; but it requires long training to acquire nautical habits ; the apparatus for nautical action is cumbersome and costly, and is constructed for special purposes. A. militia at sea is exactly the converse idea of the " Horse Marines." The commendations which Mr. Cobden bestows upon it tell with equal force upon the plan and upon the critic. "These," he says, "are not vessels that can afterwards be used aggressively,"—and if not afterwards, how could they be used aggressively at all, or how used in fighting non-aggressively ? " If ten or fifteen thousand ragamuffins think of landing on your shores, adopt the plan of Mr. Anderson; which"—will repulse the invaders, is it ?—not at all, but which, says Mr. Cobden, " supplies a most graceful EXCUSE to the Government for withdrawing their Militia Bill.' "The plan will not tend to demoralize your young men "—whose mothers ought to know when they are out. So that "if you want more defences, call out your Sea Militia." We know only one parallel to this ready presumption of preparedness and efficiency, and it is the demand of Billy Taylor's " true love." " Straight she called for swords and pistols—
Brought they vos at her command, And she fell on shooting Billy Taylor Vith his lady in his hand.'
But Louis Napoleon is no Billy Taylor, false to his love and
fatally chastised. Having formerly pointed out the reliance that Great Britain might have in the " honour " of French Generals and their forbearance, Mr. Cobden now discovers all the virtues of the inscrutable in Louis Napoleon and the mystic vote of the Seven Millions. "Different countries," he says, "have different views of what constitutes freedom,"—whence we infer that he con- jecturally, descries a sort of freedom in the subjection of the thirty- eight millions of French ! At all events, "it shows there is some- thing I am not a competent judge of; and I treat the existing state of things with respect, as I cannot understand it" ! How respect- ful, then, should he be to " the existing state of things " in mili- tary and nautical affairs ! Let us ask, however, if Mr. Cobden's view of sailorly requirements and qualities—if his respect for ty- ranny and subserviency, merely because they are unintelligible— are conditions of mind that exemplify the English character?
He reduces everything to the test of " pounds, shillings, and
pence "; he estimates the cost of national protection by the value of the thing protected, and tells us that the 15,000,0001. spent yearly in naval and military matters exceeds the aggregate rental of the four metropolitan counties, or the aggregate rental of manu- facturing Lancashire and Yorkshire. What then ? A commentator ascribes to disingenuousness, the omission to note distinctively the proportion that ought to be set off as expenditure on account of our foreign dependencies and stations ; but we remember that Mr. Cobden has before alluded to them, and in the most slighting man- ner. We ascribe the omission to his tendency to look at no more than one side of a question at once, especially if that be the com- mercial side. And even if the expenditure were all for England, what then ? Is property all that is worth defending ? Should we grudge whatever is necessary to defend our hearths, our wives and families, our honour ? In truth, as Mr. Cobden does not sympathize with the maintenance of our position abroad, so neitherdoes he believe in invasions: he who prophesied unbroken peace just before the out- break of 1848, still trusts to French self-interest and French honour as the safeguard of England ! In that view, he is extravagantly un- reasonable to sanction any expenditure at all for military or naval purposes : let us abolish Militia, Army, Navy, Ordnance, all, and keep the money in our pockets—that should be Mr. Cobden's view. The more so, as confessedly we have not got that effective defence for which we have paid so largely : don't try to get it, he would seem to Bay ha go without, and save the cash.
But, taking him as he stands in his own words, is his estimate of all things by the rule of money the English view ?. No; and it is a mistake to suppose that the man who avows it, with all his ability, either represents the English head or has any real hold on the English heart. The mistaken estimate of Mr. Cobden's true position arises from an impression which is not improbable—that he represents the English trading class : but it is only a part even of that, and only a small part ; for there are ruddy cheeks, still, and stout hearts, behind many an English counter.