22 JUNE 1867, Page 19


Da. LONSDALE is just the man to have undertaken this task. He is a clever writer and a well informed one, and he is gossippy, garrulous, and prejudiced besides. To write a county history or a county biography a man should be gossippy, garrulous, and prejudiced. If he is not prejudiced he will not sympathize with his subject, will not see with his eyes, hear with his oars, and magnify things properly. He will think great events, such as the marriage of John Smith, who owns two parishes, to Annabelle Brown, heiress of the Browns, of 1470, who got those Abbey lands at the Sequestration, quite little events ; will see blemishes in the characters of his heroes, and be altogether too reasonable, didactic, and dry. If he is not gossippy he will omit half the most interest- ing facts, those which tend to the illustration of life and manners ; and if he is not garrulous, he will never be able to fill out all the required quantity of space. Dr. Lonsdale possesses all three qualities in perfection, and a great many higher ones besides, and his life of J. C. Curwen is a proof of their usefulness in his self- imposed task. The life will be read with genuine pleasure by ten thousand firesides outside Cumberland, because it is told at length with all details, because the author hates the Lowthers in a pro- perly unreasonable manner—it is a Cumberland specialty to hate Lowthers and fear Lowthers as none but Cumberland men and women can do—and loves his subject so much that he does not hesitate to admit that he was father in the literal sense to half a township. " When," says Dr. Lonsdale, " Curwen was addressing a large meeting of the industrial classes of Working- ton, and wished them to benefit by his counsel, he concluded an emphatic appeal by saying,—' Have I not always done my best for you ? have I not been like a father to you all for years ?" Aye,' cried out a woman of effrontery, aye, thou's rest, Squire—thou's fadder to nearly hawf o' t' town !" Why should not he be ? thinks Dr. Lonsdale, who would be as decorous about anybody else as an average Englishman, but who worships his subject till he can hardly tell right from wrong, greatly to his readers' ad- vantage, for a less prejudiced biographer would have quietly sup- pressed the old woman's speech and the jocularity it caused, and so have concealed half the Squire, and the characteristic which of all others best recalls his times.

This John Christian Curwen was really a notable, and in his way as a philanthropic, patriotic, proud, coarse-minded, old Pagan, a worthy specimen of the old North country squire, the sort of man who thought Providence had created earth pretty much for him, but who acknowledged as the condition of his possessions that he was to be the protector and leader of his people. He was a great agri- culturist and bold economist, who staked his vast popularity on an idea in which he saw good to his country, a clear and disinter- ested thinker on politics, and a county Hampden, brave, honest, and persevering. He could have had a most easy and plea- sant life by joining the Lowthers, or by merely moderat- ing their excessive tyranny — the " bad Earl," as people called him, the man who robbed Wordsworth, really was as bad as any ancient feudal chief—and Curwen fought him daringly, stood up against his prestige, defied his miners, out-manoeuvred,

• Cumberland Worilaes. Dy H. Louoislo, 11.D. L'udon : Boudoir.

out-fought, and out-slanged him heroically. It took a man in those days,—say from 1763 to 1800,—to fight a place like Carlisle against a family like the Lowthers, powerful, unscrupulous, and intensely local, and Curwen fought them like a man. Three times did Sir John Lowther actually forge a new constituency for Carlisle, getting himself or an instrument elected Mayor, and admitting batches of illegal voters; and three times did Mr. Curwen, at fright- ful expense, defeat his projects and upset the election on peti- tion. So powerful, however, was his enemy, that the House was compelled to pass a special resolution to restrain his injustice, and hardly succeeded even then. On the last occasion Sir John Lowther tried to carry the election by physical force, and attempted, as Dr. Lonsdale thinks, to kill his opponent, but he had met his match. Curwen, the bold, big squire, of older race than the Lowthers, and far better liked, had the inestimable advantage the want of which has always fettered his opponents in Cumberland. He knew the people he lived among. Perfectly aware of his reputation for gallantry,—Dr. Lonsdale does not say this,—and of his consequent popularity, he quietly carried a bright child, just as likely his own as not, with him on his chairing expedition, enlisted all the women, and cowed the miners collected to bludgeon him and his party :—

" Had Curwen not been aware of their threatened ruffianism he would have been sacrificed in the streets ; as it was, he owed his life to the noble defence of his phalanxed friends, and in part to his own ingenuity. In spite of the pavement being torn up, and the stones used as missiles against him and his party, and wounding not a few, he would not be baulked of his chairing,' so fell upon the happy expedient of carrying a freeman's son in his arms—a boy whose chubby cheeks and laughing innocence, bedecked in white and blue, and contrasting with the tall form and daring of Curwen, touched all hearts. 'Bless the bonny boy!' echoed from every feminine voice in window and balcony, and was taken up with lusty vigour by the noisier women who thronged the streets. Curwen, seeing that he had enlisted the protection of the sex who always had a warm side towards him, felt quite at home upon his blue platform ; and bowing with his usual happy carriage, and now and then pointing to the youthful blossom,' dangling its own blue ribbons with joy, conveyed by his expressive features a thousand thanks to the people, and with a graciousness that flattered and overcame all. Even the savagery of the yellow roughs' was quelled and calmed for the hour."

The moment the child had passed, the miners began wrecking, and the citizens were at last obliged to turn out armed, and thrash them out of the town. The confidence which Curwen thus won he used well, pleading the cause of the Cumberland labourer, or rather peasant, with a vehemence the squires have since his time forgotten to use. He appeared in the House one day in full peasant costume, with a " gwordie " or peasant loaf of uneatable bread under one arm and a cheese under the other, and bade the Members taste the food their tyranny had left to his people; he carried the abolition of the salt tax—the most oppressive impost but one ever levied in England, so oppressive that cows died of want of salt—and at a later period risked and lost his hold over his people by supporting the Free Trade which he had the brain to see would so greatly improve their lot. Though essentially an English country gentleman, that is, a man to whom democracy is almost inconceivable, he stood up with haughty daring against every attempt ou liberty, and amid the excitement of 1795, when men were maddened by the French Revolution, resisted Pitt's Bill against seditious meetings in memorable words. " The direct and visible aim of the Bill," he said, " was to strip the subject of his most valuable privilege,—that of speaking his mind on every matter relating to the public ; therein consisted, in fact, the very essence, not only of English, but all real liberty." He brought in a Bill himself to put down bribery at elections, which was defeated mainly by Wyndham's cynical argument, that the people sought to receive bribes much more vehemently than anybody sought to give them ; and was one of the earliest advocates of Reform. In the midst of his political labours he was a great agriculturist, studied chemistry, travelled in Scotland to inspect well cultivated farms, and founded the Agricultural Society at Workington, which effected so much for Northern agriculture. He introduced new breeds of cattle, tried bone manures, and taught Coke of Norfolk—Norfolk men will please abuse Dr. Lonsdale, and not this writer—half he knew about turnips and stock-breeding. Mr. Coke was one of his steadiest friends, and the following little story, which is quite new to us, and which Dr. Lonsdale drops en passant in his garrulous way, opens a chink through which we get an odd glimpse of the ways and manners of England of that day :—

"It has been stated that Mr. Coke accompanied Mr. Curwen to the Speaker's chair on his taking his seat in the House of Commons, and it is not improbable that Mr. Curwen had the largest share in startling 'the House ' from its senatorial propriety on an occasion memorable to Holkham. Mr. Coke, though an old batchelor ' was wishful to see his nephew marry a very pretty girl, or, if you will, a lady of high personal

attractions ; but as the nephew was slow buckle to,' Mr. Coke got impatient, and married the lady—the daughter of Earl Albemarle:—.. himself. Lady Mary's first accouchement of a son and heir Wiest announced to him in the House of Commons; and the fact becoming known, such was his popularity, that the House rose and gave three cheers for 'Lady Mary's and the boy's lack !' "

The House was in fact a family party, and "$ cheer for Lady- Mary " no more struck anybody as absurd than Maria Theresa's outburst in the theatre, " Fritz has gotten a boy," struck the Vien- nese. Some of Curwen's improvements, such as the introduction of shorthorns and bone manure, succeeded wonderfully; others, such as the importation of merinos, failed ; but in all he encountered a resistance from his farmers which only his personal popularity could have overcome. This story is too good to be omitted, but it is, we suspect, as an agricultural story, apocryphal. What became of that manure ?— "A new manure was manufactured in London of excreta and earth, so as to constitute a dry mass or powder ; Mr. Curwen, always ready to adopt and test a new fertilizer, had a quantity of this metropolitan guano brought down to the Schoose; but so strongly did it affect the noses of the labourers that he could hardly get it sown. The crops. raised by this nasty stuff' astonished the farmer, and created as much talk as guano itself did thirty years later. It most have been of the potency of this manure that Mr. Curwen spoke when he told a body of farmers that a pinch of it, or what could be put in a waistcoat pocket, would be sufficient to make a wheat crop successful ; and which_ elicited from a blunt farmer, nothing loth to chaff 'the Squire,' this remark, Aye, mebby sae, Mr. Curwen ; but then yen might put yen's crop into t'other pocket."

Mr. Curwen had a real care for the poor, and a clear intelligence to aid him in displaying it. He established a Savings Bank, six- " Friendly Societies " for Workington, and wonder of wonders ! two great schools. He had even a strong sympathy with Ireland, visited the country and wrote a book about it, the main points of- which are absolutely identical with the most advanced thoughts of to-day. All this while he was keeping hounds, leading the hunt in gorgeous costume, making love to all the women he met—he turned one election that way, and his wife worshipped him all the while—fighting for tithe commutation, for the abolition of the tax on salt, of the surcharges on occasional servants, and of the tax- on farmhouses, and for all manner of practical reforms, most of which he succeeded in carrying. Dr. Lonsdale tells a story of a sur- charge of the former kind which seems nowadays almost too good- to be true, but to which men who have kept their grandfathers' accounts undestroyed could furnish many a parallel. It is from a speech by Mr. Curwen :- "He then quoted with happy effect (as showing up the folly and great hardship of surcharges) the case of the poor woman with a fruit. tree growing at the end of her cottage for many years, her affection for it, and her having a gardener to prone it, for which pruning she paid him sixpence, and then being informed of by a spiteful neighbour, she was surcharged for employing an occasional gardener,' and part of her goods were actually sold to pay for the surcharge."

So he lived till eighty, the leading figure of his county, a wise, philanthropic, landed gentleman, with one great fault, but a nature which in spite of it made him beloved by all that was good in the society around him, a man who could hunt and write, farm• and invent, breed shorthorns and guide members of the House of Commons, rough and sometimes coarse in speech, but with a fund of genuine humour, and, with all his roughness, a gravely sweet kindliness which seems to have operated often like a charm. It is a curious illustration of his charm of manner that utterly frank- spoken as he was, and living in the age he did, he seems never to have fought a duel. Peace be with his memory ! He was a grand though faulty gentleman of a past-away school, and he has found, almost by accident as it were, an admirable biographer.