This gave him an opportunity of reading, and having obtained access to a set of the ‘Encyclopaedia Britannica,’ he read the volumes through from A to Z, partly by day, but chiefly at night. He afterwards put himself to a trade, was diligent, and succeeded in it. Now he has ships sailing on almost every sea, and holds commercial relations with nearly every country on the globe.
Among like men of the same class may be ranked the late Richard Cobden, whose start in life was equally humble. The son of a small farmer at Midhurst in Sussex, he was sent at an early age to London and employed as a boy in a warehouse in the City. He was diligent, well conducted, and eager for information. His master, a man of the old school, warned him against too much reading; but the boy went on in his own course, storing his mind with the wealth found in books.
He was promoted from one position of trust to another—became a traveller for his house—secured a large connection, and eventually started in business as a calico printer at Manchester.
Taking an interest in public questions, more especially in popular education, his attention was gradually drawn to the subject of the Corn Laws, to the repeal of which he may be said to have devoted his fortune and his life. It may be mentioned as a curious fact that the first speech he delivered in public was a total failure.
But he had great perseverance, application, and energy; and with persistency and practice, he became at length one of the most persuasive and effective of public speakers, extorting the disinterested eulogy of even Sir Robert Peel himself. M. Drouyn de Lhuys, the French Ambassador, has eloquently said of Mr. Cobden, that he was “a living proof of what merit, perseverance, and labour can accomplish; one of the most complete examples of those men who, sprung from the humblest ranks of society, raise themselves to the highest rank in public estimation by the effect of their own worth and of their personal services; finally, one of the rarest examples of the solid qualities inherent in the English character.”