Picture of Henry Broadhurst

Henry Broadhurst


places mentioned

Introduction, by August Birrell, K.C.

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INTRODUCTION




WHY Mr. Broadhurst, who has been both a stonemason and an Under-Secretary of State, should pitch upon me, who have never been either, or done him any kind of injury, to write a wholly unnecessary and therefore impertinent Introduction to his sturdy Memoirs, would be beyond my power of guessing, had I not often noticed the absurd timidity of men who have reaped to the full all the advantages of what is called an "imperfect" or "irregular" education when they find themselves engaged in what they conceive to be a literary enterprise. As this timidity is often their only one, we may be thankful for it. Yet it is absurd enough.

Here is Mr. Broadhurst, who stands foursquare to all the winds that blow, who has earned his own living ever since he was twelve years old, who got married at nineteen, who knows all the mysteries of the forge and has wrought in stone, who has faced with ready wit and determined aspect every kind of audience, big, little, and respectable, friendly, false, and furious, in almost every town in Great Britain, who has defended his character from calumnious assaults, frontal, side, and secret, who has drafted reports, framed resolutions, considered amendments, and made play with statistics, who has piloted Bills through all their stages in the House of Commons, who has spoken on innumerable occasions in that difficult Assembly, both from the front benches and the back, above the gangway and below it, who has been greeted with every kind of cheer, not excepting the ironical, who has known both failure and success, what it is to win and what to lose an election, to be in and out of Parliament?and yet when it comes to the making of a little book, this hero of a hundred fights, this tanned veteran, is as shy as a girl at her first dinner party, trembles at the task he has undertaken, and claims the aid of the first literary gentleman he encounters in the lobby.

Hazlitt has written a famous essay "On the Shyness of Scholars"; an essay might be written "On the Shyness of Stonemasons when they commence Author." It is a shyness perhaps not difficult to account for. To a man who has learnt a regular trade, anything outside it seems difficult. To despise the amateur is a sound, healthy note of the skilled hand who has been taught, peradventure with many kicks, both to learn and to mind his own business.

So (after what rebuffs in other quarters I never cared to inquire), in what he took to be his necessities, Mr. Broadhurst turned to me. It was in vain that I assured him he needed no assistance either in the preparation or revision of his own Memoirs. I le persisted that he did, and told me so often that, though he could build a house, or the best parts of one, he could not write a book, and depicted with so much stormy eloquence the pitfalls and gins and snares that beset (so he imagined) his path, that could not but place my poor services and hackneyed experience at his disposal. I promised to do this, and a promise is a promise when made in the lobby of the House of Commons, even though its performance may make you ridiculous.

Of course, when it came to the point, my stipulated services (save this Introduction) were not really required. When Mr. Broadhurst left off bemoaning, his "imperfect" or "irregular" education, and sat himself down to put his Memoirs together, he found himself at no great disadvantage after all, and in a space of time that would have brought no discredit upon the nimblest-witted writer Fleet Street ever bred, produced a manuscript which could hardly have required less correction and revision had it the work of the most hardened of living biographers.

It is ungrateful to complain, as some may be heard doing, of the multiplication of Memoirs; for of all the books that get themselves written in these bad days, Memoirs are the most likely to contain something worth reading, the least likely to be altogether futile. The place where a man was born, the origins and occupations of his parents, the kind of education he managed to get, his friends and contemporaries, the circumstances in which he first went out into the world, and how he fared there.none of these things can fait to be interesting. It is not Life that is dull.

Mr. Broadhurst, for example, tells us in his first paragraph that he was born at Littlemore, near Oxford. What can be more delightfully unexpected than Littlemore? and in 1840! During all Dr. Newman solemn years of retirement, when such strange visitants, reserved for fates so varied as J. A. Froude and Mark Pattison and the repulsed Manning, cattle tapping at his door, the village lanes resounded with the merry cries of the future Parliamentary Secretary of the Trades-Union Congress, a body which records a movement certainly no less significant than the one inseparably associated with the name of the great Cardinal of Rome.

The chief significance of this Memoir is derived from the fact that hitherto in England we have had but few politicians who have found their way to the Treasury Bench from a poor man's cottage. There is a considerable sameness in the early histories of even Under-Secretaries of State. They are apt to come from the same places and to display a tedious similarity of characteristic. Sometimes reports reach the outer world of an Eton dinner, where Prime Ministers past, present, and future sit cheek by jowl, Bishops jest agreeably with Field-Marshals, Governors-General of India and Canada exchange confidences of a kind never likely to be published by the indiscreetest of widows, Secretaries of State, old Parliamentary hacks, palm off upon Ambassadors, past-masters in the art of polite inattention, narratives to which the House of Commons has long learnt to turn its deafest ear, and all alike gaze with boyish rapture upon each other's, garters, stars, and ribbons. At the given signal they rise in their places, clink their glasses, and cry as one man, "Floreat Etona!" How hard they strive to believe that they owe it all to Eton. It is an affecting scene, even when read about in a copyright report. Gratitude to an ancient foundation of learning, be it school or college, is always pleasing, and for my part I greatly prefer Johnson's filial regard for Pembroke to Gibbon's contempt for Magdalen; though if it were a question of rational basis, it could hardly be disputed that the historian had more reason for his contempt than the moralist fir his affection.

But in the matter of the Eton dinner, those who stand outside in the raw air, blowing down their fingers to keep them warm, would scarcely be doing justice to whatever education they have picked up elsewhere if they did not take occasion to point out that perhaps the majority of these well-decorated guests owe their careers and their pleasant (if they are pleasant) places in the sun, not to their old school, famous as she is, but to the fact that they belong (nor are they to be blamed for doing so) to the classes of society front ranks of which the occupants of such offices and posts as theirs have been of necessity selected.

Mr. Broadhurst has done something to break this monotony. He was not at Eton nor at Christ Church, though his acquaintance with the latter seat of instruction was at one time extensive, peculiar, and lofty (see p. 8). This imparts zest and novelty to the pages of the Memoir.

Mr. Broadhurst's entirely honest account of his early education will hardly excite the approbation of that solemn body the National Union of Teachers, who see all things in the desk and the primer. In the frankness of his aversion to his studies, his aloofness from his masters, his unfeigned delight in bidding them a long farewell at the scandalous age of twelve, his passion, still strong in hint, for the open air, and for all such sports and pastimes as are open in "Merry England to the sons of the cottager, the youthful Broadhurst would have made, had his lot Item different, a first-rate public school boy. But, indeed, of Englishmen it may he said generally that they are all woven strangely of the same piece. "Were I not a game-preserver, I must have been a poacher," said the old squire, in tones of sorrowful conviction. In most of our Toryism there is a strong dash of the Radical, and most of our Radicals are well-bottomed in Conservatism. The task of our poor teachers is indeed stupendous.

Of the animated and useful part Mr. Broadhurst has played for thirty years in what are called Labour questions, a brief, modest, and somewhat too impersonal account will be found in the following pages. He was fortunate in the hour of his birth, and has been able to see the law as to workmen.s combination.s, conspiracy, and employers liability placed upon a firm, just, and, on the whole, rational basis. Seldom has such rapid progress been made so peacefully in matters so dangerously charged and stuffed to the mouth with class prejudice and angry passions. If there are any fine gentlemen left who sneer at the extension of the suffrage and "Beales, M.A.," and are not yet alive to the probable horrors the gift of the vote averted, their attention may he called to the questions they will find considered in this Memoir.

Mr. Broadhurst has most usefully devoted a generous and well-informed page to the position, often hard, always dangerous, of the Labour Member in the House of Commons. Here he has his hand on the very pulse of the machine. In that direction lies the future of representative institutions in England. The path is not yet clearly defined, it cannot be seen climbing the distant hills—obviously it must traverse a difficult and confused tract of country; but that it will lead to a place of honour and safety it were cowardice to doubt; and it is as a forerunner that Mr. Broadhurst will be best remembered, and his Memoir, frank and good-tempered.

Henry Broadhurst, Henry Broadhurst, M.P.: the story of his life from a stonemason's bench to the Treasury Bench (London: Hutchinson & Co., 1901)

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