The great reforms which England then needed were: the reform of the constitutional system, the reform of the criminal code, the abolition of abuses in the Court of Chancery, the reform of the financial system, the reconstruction of the poor laws, and the removal of all the obstacles which interfered with the spread of popular education and the free expression of political opinion. There were many great reformers, both inside and outside the House of Commons, who had long been labouring hard in the best way they could for the remedy of the national grievances. At the head of the political reformers of this class the name of Lord Brougham must be undoubtedly placed. The fame of Lord Brougham has somewhat faded of late years. Perhaps Brougham lived rather too long for his fame. Those of us who can still remember him have a memory rather of the eccentricities and extravagances of his later years which sometimes put away from recollection the thought of those brighter and more distant days when Brougham stood forth as the foremost, the fearless, the indomitable, and the incorruptible champion of every great measure of reform which the needs of the country demanded. Brougham was undoubtedly a man of genius - no other word could properly describe him. Despite an almost repulsive appearance, despite his ungainly and fantastic gestures and his exuberance of language and of utterance, he was undoubtedly a great orator. A vehement, passionate nature carried him away in debate, sometimes beyond the ordinary rules of decorum and even of decency. This kind of passion grew and grew upon him, until at a later period of his career his friends began to dread that it might develop into an actual mental malady.
But, whatever his defects, it is certain that he was not surpassed, and hardly equalled, by any man in his best days for the services which he rendered to the cause of reform. He was thoroughgoing in his denunciation of the slavery system, of the existing criminal code, of the financial abuses, and of the evils in the Court of Chancery. Another great reformer, especially as regarded the slave system and the criminal code, was Sir Samuel Romilly, whose family name has since become the synonym for the purest order of philanthropical reformer. Some of the men whose names we chiefly associate of later years with the cause of political reform, such men as Charles Earl Grey and Lord John Russell, had not come yet quite to the front. Sir Francis Burdett, a man of property and station, was for a time a great political reformer, and was for a time idolised by all popular reformers outside Parliament. Nor must we omit from a list of those who then championed political reforms the name of the gallant Lord Cochrane, afterwards the Earl of Dundonald, the last of England's great sea-kings, before the days of steam and iron armour and heavy metalled guns. No man ever served his country more faithfully than Cochrane, and his reward was a charge of fraudulent conspiracy, an unsatisfactory trial, and a cruel degradation. He had given as much trouble to the French during the great war as any naval commander short of Nelson himself. He sat in the House of Commons as member for Westminster in companionship with Sir Francis Burdett, and a more staunch and resolute popular reformer never lived. It is well to know that the injustice of Cochrane's conviction was recognised in the reign of William IV., by whom he was restored to his rank in the navy.
It remained for the present Sovereign to give him back all the honours and dignities which he had earned so well, and of which he had been so undeservedly deprived, partly, as the popular belief went, through the hatred of the Regent and his Court. Among the conspicuous reformers of those early days may be mentioned one who at the time acquired a sort of fame as "Orator Hunt." Hunt was a demagogue in the genuine sense of the word, and had the advantage, almost indispensable to a demagogue, of a thrilling and tremendous voice. Hunt organised and presided over all manner of meetings, out of doors and indoors, to champion the popular doctrines of democracy. He was elected to the House of Commons later on, and sat there for some years; but he did not maintain there his reputation as an orator. He did not, to use a familiar phrase, "go down" with the House of Commons. That House has a merciless way of pricking a bubble reputation; and it has had, for many generations, at all events, the credit of being impartial in its estimate of the merits of a speech. Hunt was a failure in the House; but he made a certain mark on the political history of his day, and his name is even still remembered by those who are fond of tracking out the progress of the reform movement in England. Another man - a very different kind of man - whose name well deserves to be remembered among the best philanthropists and reformers of that time, was Samuel Whitbread. Whitbread was a man thoroughly unselfish, a man of the highest character and the noblest aims. His descendant, another Samuel Whitbread, well worthy of the name, has but lately retired from parliamentary life, and will always be remembered in the history of the House of Commons.
Lord Brougham. (1779-1868 )
These were the more prominent among the advanced Liberals of the time. Let us now see who were the leading opponents of reform. First of all came George III., who, while he had senses enough left to take any part in the rule of the State, was an unteachable and indomitable opponent of every movement which made for political progress. Next, perhaps, in constitutional dignity came John Scott, Lord Eldon, for many years Lord Chancellor of England. Lord Eldon was a man of very high ability, a lawyer of unsurpassed keenness and profundity, a man of unselfish character, where prejudice and passion did not obtain the mastery over his reason and over his moral nature. It is much to be doubted whether the whole English-speaking race could just now produce alive such a specimen of Toryism as Lord Eldon was then. The one main purpose of Eldon's life seemed to be to keep the political constitution of England exactly as it was without the slightest change. He was actually steeped and soaked in the belief about the wisdom of our ancestors. To Lord Eldon's mind, it would seem that our ancestors were a race of divinely inspired beings who, like the sovereign, could do no wrong, and whose laws it was out of the power of mortal man to improve. It probably did not occur to him to think that a day might dawn when, supposing the reformers to work their will with the constitution, the policy of those dreaded reformers might come to be regarded as the wisdom of our ancestors by some future Lord Eldon. No doubt, if any such idea had ever intruded upon his mind, he would have driven it away as a sacrilegious and a Satanically inspired thought. No man, it was humorously said, ever could be so wise as Lord Thurlow, a former Tory Chancellor, looked. Certainly no man could ever be so wise and so virtuous as Lord Eldon believed himself to be.