|The Trade Unions
The years between 1859 and 1861 marked an important phase in British working-class life in the coming of age of the trade union movement. This was precipitated by the builders’ strike which aroused wide public attention and was responsible for bringing the union leader Robert Applegarth to the fore. Lushington was drawn into active support of the trade union movement through his involvement first with the Christian Socialists and then Working Men’s College. He was called to the bar in 1857 and soon found that he was able to use put his legal skills to good use in this particular cause.47 Both Vernon and Godfrey Lushington were enlisted into helping the Unions by Frederic Harrison, who had also chosen the law for his career. Sidney and Beatrice Webb wrote about “the talented young barristers and literary men, who from this time forward, became the trusted legal experts and political advisors of the Trade Union Movement.”48
In August 1861 Lushington wrote to H.G. Seeley, “The Builders Strike has been a great interest to my brother & me, lately. You have seen perhaps his letters in the Times (signed by him, Hughes & Ludlow)… We are wholly for the men, we want to preserve for them their hours of leisure, the master’s real aim is to increase the hours of work, & a deformed economic science says Work, work – what do I care for leisure & human enjoyment.”49 This strike resulted from a labour demand for a nine hour day. The workmen had totally failed to make clear their objection to the Hour System, or even to obtain a hearing for their case. They needed legal expertise and found this freely provided by the Lushingtons, Harrison and others who were willing to take up their cause. The letters were signed by a mixture of Christian Socialists and Positivists thereby demonstrating how these two vastly differing philosophies could find common expression in a matter of social concern. As a result of this episode the Lushington brothers, together with Harrison, were invited to sit on a sub-committee set up by the newly formed National Society for the Promotion of Social Science to examine trade union activities.50 The Positivists were joined on this committee by the Christian Socialists Thomas Hughes and J.M. Ludlow.
The group expressed a particular interest in the “New Model Unions” of the skilled workers. Robert Applegarth, one of the new breed of union leaders, was friendly with Ludlow and kept him supplied with material for articles and speeches in which Ludlow put the case for organised labour. A radically minded Liberal, Applegarth was at the centre of all the political and industrial issues of the 1860s. His main activity towards the end of that decade was to do with the legal status of trade unions. Through their active support of Applegarth they hoped to win middle-class Radicals, men like W.E. Foster, who was already friendly with the Christian Socialists.51 A lesser known and more technical contribution by Ludlow and the others was in the field of protective legislation. Although this work on behalf of the trade unions successfully brought Christian Socialists and Positivists together, there were tensions created both by differences of opinion concerning tactics and by the fact that the two groups were “proselytising for rival faiths”.52 Ludlow, whose dislike of Comte has already been noted, was alternatively pleased and frustrated in his dealings with the Positivists. He regretted their negative side. Of course they took no interest in co-operatives, whether producer or consumer. Neither did they place much store in democracy, seeing nothing wrong in the divisions of labour into employers and workers. The Positivists were, Ludlow concluded, good men who were trying to construct a moral doctrine upon scientific principles, with the result that their so called “religion”, in the final analysis, was cold. It did not suit Ludlow, but then nothing much did, and he remained in the shelter of the comfortably vague Anglican Church, calling himself a dissenter within the Church.
Ten years after the London builders’ strike, the American author of A Positivist Primer praised his English brethren for their participation in the Parliamentary Commission set up to enquire into the working of the unions. He singled out Harrison in particular stating that “Workingmen of a future generation will canonize [him] for what he done for the labouring class of England.”53 Royden Harrison later wrote, “In so far as a small society of intellectuals can ever be credited with great changes, the credit for the legal emancipation of Trade Unionism belongs to them [the Positivists]… Although the Positivists reiterated their faith in moral rather than in political remedies, they were far ahead of their contemporaries in their attitudes towards State Regulations of economic activity.”54
“Cousin V” and the Manchester Cotton Operatives
In 1862 Lushington’s concern for the plight of the working classes led him and his brother into a very practical demonstration by assisting the novelist Elizabeth Gaskell in her relief work for the cotton operatives of Manchester and the surrounding area. The American civil war had resulted in cutting off supplies of raw cotton on which the local dominant industry, the means of livelihood for a great number of people, almost entirely depended. A relief fund was set up but the stringent rules made to control the fund led to rioting in Manchester and other cities. Godfrey Lushington and Frederic Harrison were sent to investigate while Vernon Lushington undertook to collect funds in London which he sent on to Mrs Gaskell for distribution in Manchester. It is more than likely that Lushington was behind the relief fund that was set up at the Working Men’s College.55
A series of eight letters, believed to have been written between 1862 and 1865, from Mrs Gaskell to Lushington has survived and been published in the collected letters of Mrs Gaskell. These letters reveal the strong friendship which developed between Mrs Gaskell and him whom she called “Cousin V”, indicating her preference for him over Godfrey, who was just “Mr G.L.” 56 The relationship between Mrs Gaskell and the Lushingtons was undoubtedly helped by a close tie between their families which appears to have started in the previous generation. 57 In a letter to his daughter Alice, written on 20 June 1862, Stephen Lushington reported that Vernon was giving a breakfast that morning at which Mrs Gaskell was to be present. In 1865 Mrs Gaskell introduced Lushington to Alfred Waterhouse the architect of the new Assize Courts in Manchester who then took them both on a tour of the new buildings.”58 When Waterhouse told them that he intended to have the motto “Thou shalt not bear false witness” on the wall of the building, Lushington suggested as an alternative “The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” and this was taken up by Waterhouse. The relationship with the Gaskell family continued after Elizabeth’s death in 1865 and Lushington continued to visit her husband and daughters. Eventually he introduced his own daughters to the Gaskell girls, thereby taking the friendship into the next generation.59
Lushington and Waterhouse were brought together again in 1864. In that year there were a series of strikes in the building industry in Manchester. Waterhouse became involved in it through his work as the architect of the new County Gaol in Manchester and was asked by the builders to mediate on their behalf. Lushington asked Waterhouse for a written account of the events and his lengthy and detailed reply was published as a small booklet the following year.60 This account reveals how Lushington himself got involved by travelling to Liverpool to hear the men’s’ grievances. The builders had turned against Waterhouse accusing him of allowing shoddy workmanship. The builders were able to influence the contractors and Waterhouse found it impossible to obtain further commissions in Manchester. In concluding the letter Waterhouse wrote to Lushington:
I have not, however, ventured to trouble you with this long story, simply as one of the most unjustifiable hardship inflicted on myself, but because I conceive it may have a certain importance in the history of the Trades’ Unions … Co-operation now-a-days, is in the ascendant. It is of the last importance that its enormous resources should be directed to legitimate ends. What men individually would hesitate to do, many men acting together seem to feel no shame in doing; but all those who wish well to Trade Unions should desire them to avoid proceedings damaging their own interests as those which the Manchester Union of Bricklayers has seen fit to adopt against.61
This letter, and the events it recounted, highlighted the problems in the development of the Trade Union movement. These were problems of which Lushington would have been only too aware with his desire to help in areas of social injustice clashing with the ideologies of Positivism which did not believe in co-operatives or democracy.
Charles Booth was a wealthy ship owner whose monumental work The Life and Labours of the People of London became a model for the Fabian tracts. His work was also used by a man who shared his surname namely William Booth of the Salvation Army in his book In Darkest London published in 1890. It was through the work of the London Positivists that Charles Booth became aware of the plight of the poor of London and felt challenged to take up their cause.62 It is quite likely that Lushington first met Booth in Liverpool where he spent a good deal of time as a barrister on the Northern Circuit in the 1860s. It was there that Lushington met several other leading ship owners and industrialists who were collectors of works of art from the Pre-Raphaelite school. Additionally Booth was related to several Positivists such as the Cromptons and Edward Beesly. In 1871 Booth married Mary Catherine Macaulay, a niece of Lord Macaulay.
Booth lost his faith following the publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.63 He was, like Lushington, a radical Liberal but his experience of electioneering in Toxteth in the 1860s left him with a lifelong distaste for organised democratic politics. Booth found himself drawn towards Positivism and although he never felt able to join the Church of Humanity, the systematic and practical study of social organisation offered by the Positivists inspired him for work in that field. The Lushington archive reveals the close friendship that existed between Lushington and Booth and their respective families. Susan Lushington’s diary records the Booths and their daughter staying with the Lushingtons at Pyports in November 1892. Lushington with his own deep passion for social justice must have seen Booth as a kindred spirit and, in his usual manner, no doubt offered interest and support in the work which Booth undertook – a further example of Lushington’s ability to bring about social change through influence.
“The Lights of Liberalism”
In 1886 Matthew Arnold observed that despite his warning given some fifteen years earlier to his “young literary and intellectual friends, the lights of Liberalism, not to be rushing into the arena of politics themselves” this was exactly what many of them had done and with very little result. Arnold could almost be mistaken for a Positivist when he argued that they should “work inwardly upon the predominant force in our politics – the great middle class - and to cure its spirit.”64 By chance Arnold and Lushington became neighbours and friends when they both chose to live in the Surrey village of Cobham, some twenty miles from London. The diaries of Lushington’s daughter, Susan, reveal that the two families were often in each other’s houses. Despite his loss of traditional belief, Arnold continued to attend services at Cobham church. Regrettably nothing has survived of what passed between Arnold and Lushington, but it is difficult to believe that their conversation did not touch upon the question of religious belief and, despite Arnold’s rejection of Positivism, he cannot but have admired Lushington, who had rejected the path of politics and chosen to “work inwardly” to cure the spirit of the “great middle class” through his adoption of the Religion of Humanity with its central doctrine of altruism.65
Comte believed in the principle of the subordination of politics to morality. For the English Positivists political activity meant exerting their influence where possible both by the spoken or written word and in the 1860s and 70s they expressed their views on national and international affairs in a number of areas as well as their opposition to imperialism and the British Empire. Earlier, in 1856 and 1857, Congreve had argued for the return of Gibraltar and the British withdrawal from India. In 1872, prompted by a speech made by Disraeli on sanitation, the Positivists drew up their own programme of reforms. This included an eight-hour working day, working class housing, free education, and public transport, parks, and libraries. However, as Vogeler points out, “it was an example of Positivism’s utopianism, because these concerns were to come about through a growing concern for Humanity” and not through political agencies.66
In the area of international concern there were three particular episodes in which Lushington took an active role and it is appropriate to include them in this chapter on altruism since they demonstrate his concern for humanity on the wider scene. Following Comte’s strictures concerning political activity, Lushington believed that “Society is much more than Government, immeasurably more, change in the form of Government does not make new Society.”67 Society was best changed not by onslaughts from the outside but by gentle persuasion and emerging new ideas. Lushington graphically explained this - “What brings the old leaves off the Trees every year? Rain, frost, tempest? Yes- but more than these the thrust of the new shoots.”68 It would be by influence that change would come about and Lushington sought to influence the decision makers by writing letters and expressing his views in appropriate circles.
The Governor Eyre Controversy
Before turning to the three situations on which we do have Lushington’s views, and in which he took action, there is another further episode which requires consideration. This is Governor Eyre Controversy of 1865. It was an event which brought the British attitude to the black population of the West Indies into sharp focus and one in which Lushington would have taken a keen interest especially after his support for Thomas Carlyle’s extreme views on this subject in the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine in 1856.
The episode concerned Governor Eyre of Jamaica and his attempt to forestall what he believed would be a bloody insurrection. The man he considered to be a ring leader was hanged and hundreds of blacks were murdered and flogged. Eyre’s actions received the support of Carlyle, Dickens, Kingsley, Tennyson, Ruskin and Froude. However Frederic Harrison severely condemned what he considered to be Eyre’s excessive brutal action and, as a member of the Jamaica Committee, he worked under J.S. Mill’s leadership to bring Eyre to trial. A Royal Commission investigating the case praised Eyre’s ‘promptitude and vigour’ while conceding that the penalties he had imposed were excessive. Behind Mill were to be found many of those involved in the anti-slavery campaign such as the Buxtons and Stephens who were close friends of the Lushingtons. Others supporting Mill were Darwin, Huxley, Herbert Spencer, A.V. Dicey and Thomas Hughes. This was the circle in which Lushington moved and where he had, perhaps with the exception of Huxley, developed strong friendships. There is no record of Lushington’s views on this incident but it is unlikely that he would not have supported the Committee, thereby distancing himself from his earlier support for Carlyle. The Positivists were opposed to what they considered “expensive, pre-emptive, and hypocritical foreign policy.”69
But the Positivists were not just concerned about the events in the West Indies. They also believed that the way in which the episode had been handled could create a serious precedent for events nearer home such as the agitation for Home Rule in Ireland and the struggle for Parliamentary reform and the widening of the franchise. In addition there were other areas of international concern in which Lushington and his fellow positivists made clear their views.
The Franco Prussian War
Five years after the Eyre Controversy France declared war on Prussia. France had viewed with apprehension the increasing unification of the German-states led by the Chancellor Otto von Bismarck and when the throne of Spain was offered to a Prussian prince, France protested successfully but went on to make further demands which Prussia refused. Bismarck published the Ems dispatch which inflamed French feeling and led to the outbreak of hostilities. Inevitably, and because of their respect for Comte and their close association with the French positivists, the English positivists’ sympathies lay with the French.
In August 1870 Lushington wrote to his wife, “How wondrously interesting is each fresh Report of the War News – I have certainly never felt the like. So mighty & so rapid the changes, & all so near too. Those who remember the year 1848 may have something of the same feeling, but I was a boy then, in the Indian Seas.” Godfrey Lushington was in Switzerland at this time and was thinking of returning via Paris. Concerned for his brother’s safety, Vernon had written to him warning him not to enter Paris, “No one wd. take him for a French man; & ergo, the Paris Mob will say, ergo he is a Prussian.” Lushington chose to visit Richard Congreve to discuss the war. Congreve was “just bringing out a short pamphlet” on the war. A few days later Lushington paid another visit to Congreve taking with him Richard Litchfield. There they “discussed France, Prussia, England & all manner of things with him & his female disciples. Litchfield held his own as usual – not to be put down by any High Priest whatsoever.” On the 26 August Lushington wrote to his wife from London, “All day long one’s thoughts are of the War, & of the tremendous destinies of the French People. I read all the Papers & have ordered the Journal de Debats for the next 3 months, that I may see with my own eyes something of what they are saying in Paris.”70 The following day Lushington “walked to Chelsea & called on Rossetti & Carlyle, but found neither. Rossetti was out, & the old sage, chuckling I suppose at Prussian Victories, was in Scotland.”
Although the English Positivists generally supported France, Lushington, ever the peacemaker, wrote to his wife after the Battle of Sedan: “The more I think of it, the more tremendous in import seems this event. I cannot look upon it quite with the eyes of my Positivist Friends, but I trust it may be the commencement of a more pacific era than Europe has known.” 71
Lushington again expressed his earnest desire for peace when he wrote to his wife on the 7 September, “I am not without hope that the War may be coming to an end. Such evidently was the wish & hope of the King of Prussia & Bismarck, - after Sedan Battle, for they tried to negotiate with the Emperor. I see signs of it also in Paris. In the leading article of the Temps, in the address of the Working Men’s Association, & (if that can be credited) the actual overtures by Jules Favre. Should France give up her standing army, what a blessing to her & to Europe. But is that possible? And will not Bismarck require money indemnity & Strasburg, & will France consent to this? All seems impossible & yet not so. Earnestly I hope for peace.”72 This seems a far cry from Lushington’s bullish approach to war with Russia in the Crimea some twenty years earlier.
The following month Lushington wrote to his wife, “What an utter inconsistency is War with out modern civilisation. Here I have subscribed to the great Fund to succour the sick & wounded & the result, or one of the results is, I am helping the Germans to prosecute a siege which I condemn & detest.”73 This same month Lushington visited Congreve whose “notion appears to be that France is really gathering herself for a great effort which will be quite successful in the end, howsoever many disasters intervene. She must have time - as the Northerners in the recent Civil War in America.”74
The Dreyfus Affair
Nearly twenty five years after the Franco-Prussian war, Lushington was drawn into another issue of national and international concern – the Dreyfus Affair. This episode concerned the conviction for treason of a French Officer in 1894. Dreyfus, a wealthy Alsatian Jew, was court-martialled for allegedly passing secret French documents to the Germans. The matter flared up again in 1896 and became a matter of public debate when evidence came to light that Dreyfus had been wrongly convicted. The issue was taken up by the French writer Emile Zola, who published an open letter which contained accusations of both the judges and the French government. Zola was tried for libel and sentenced to jail but escaped to England. By this time the case had become a major political issue drawing comment from outside France. Even Queen Victoria felt obliged to write to her Prime Minister Lord Salisbury in 1899, “I am too horrified for words at this monstrous horrible sentence against the poor martyr Dreyfus. If only all Europe would express its horror and indignation.”75
On 13 October 1898 The Times published a long letter to the editor – the longest letter it has ever carried – from Vernon’s brother (by then Sir) Godfrey Lushington in which he analysed the case disposing of all the evidence against Dreyfus.76 Beesly took the matter up in the Positivist Review and Swinny spoke from the platform at Newton Hall. All considered Dreyfus as a victim of a conspiracy by the military. Lushington of course took a close interest in the case and, on 12 September 1899, wrote to his daughter Susan, “Tomorrow Zola will open fire with his great guns. It will be deeply interesting. How I wish I understood French law & knew what the French Government could do. They have a fearful responsibility upon them.” The following day he wrote again to Susan, “I spent the morning reading the papers – I may say drinking the blood of my enemies. Never since the day of Hildebran has there been such a banning – Wrath & contempt have poured in from all the corners of the earth. I am against the Boycott for several reasons, especially because there have been & are such excellent Frenchmen. I intend to sign the Daily Chronicle’s address to Mme. Dreyfus. It expressed what I most wanted to say, & gives as little offence as may be. A day of reckoning will come for the scoundrels.
Meanwhile France can no longer plead ignorance. If the people do not stir in all legitimate ways, they will become sharers in the crime”.77 Five days later he wrote to Susan, “Dreyfus’s Release is a great step forward.” Lushington continued to write to Susan about the Dreyfus affair over the next few days but then, on 23 September 1899, he added “But now Trans Vaal is on us, & I fear War.”
“This Trans Vaal business”
The final area of international concern on which we have Lushington’s views is the South African or Boer War. Admittedly opposition to this war came from a wide-ranging circle of intellectuals, not all of whom were necessarily Positivists. However, Lushington’s views consistently reflected a view on imperialism and empire that the London Positivist Committee had been promoting for some years.78 Harrison set out this view in an article in The Positivist Review. His opening words were, “As I write there seems a serious danger that our country may be dragged into a war as iniquitous and as pregnant with evil as any waged within this century.”79 Lushington was strongly opposed to the war in South Africa and, like many others, he laid the blame for the problems squarely with Cecil Rhodes. He wrote to his daughter Susan, “So far as I understand it, I think it is a shameful business – a plan to pick a quarrel with Kruger & annex his country and Rhodes seems to be at the bottom of it all.” Just a few days later he wrote, “I can’t understand how Chamberlain & Milnes, much less Salisbury & the Duke of Devonshire, can suffer his (Rhodes’) yoke.” On the 16 February 1900 Lushington wrote to his daughter Susan, “Today has come the news ‘Kimberley relieved by France.’ I feel a pang of disappointment: I shd. like Rhodes to have been caught by the Boers. That happy catastrophe will never happen, I fear.”80 One fierce opponent of the war was Lushington’s friend, the liberal politician L.T. Hobhouse. In an undated letter Lushington wrote that he had dined at Merton College as the guest of Hobhouse. “It was a pleasant little party, but I could not get much talk with good Hobhouse himself, as I had to talk to the Warden &c.” However we are to walk together on Sunday afternoon, if all be well.”81
The foundations which Carlyle and Comte had laid in Lushington’s life in the mid-1850s underpinned a constructive, altruistic, care for humanity that formed the core of his being. Choosing not to enter the political arena, Lushington followed what Arnold had called the need to “work inwardly upon the predominant force in our politics – the great middle class - and to cure its spirit.” But this cure of the spirit was not just to be found in matters related to national and international affairs it was also to be found in Lushington’s particular passion for the arts – painting, literature and music and it is his contribution to this world in the second half of the nineteenth century that will be considered next.