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By the early summer of 1837 the agitation in favour of the postal reform was in full movement, and in the midst of it the old king, William IV., died. His youthful successor was speedily deluged with petitions in favour of penny postage. One of the first acts of her first Parliament was to appoint the select Committee for which Mr Wallace had asked—“To enquire into the present rates and mode of charging postage, with a view to such a reduction thereof as may be made without injury to the revenue; and for this purpose to examine especially into the mode recommended for charging and collecting postage in a pamphlet published by Mr Rowland Hill.” Of this Committee, which did so much to help forward the postal reform, the doughty Member for Greenock was, of course, chosen as Chairman. The Committee sat for sixty-three days; and in addition to the postal officials and those of the Board of Stamps and Taxes (Inland Revenue), examined Rowland Hill and over eighty other witnesses of various occupations and from different parts of the country.

The story of their arduous labours is told at great [Pg 120] length in Dr Birkbeck Hill's edition of my father's Autobiography. There is therefore no need to elaborate it here. The evidence told heavily against the existing postal system—whose anomalies, absurdities, and gross injustice have been described in the first chapter of this work—and, with corresponding force, demonstrated the necessity for its reform.[89]

It might have been supposed that the Committee's careful and elaborate examination of Rowland Hill's plan, supported as it was by an unanswerable array of facts, would have sufficed to ensure its adoption. “He had yet to learn the vast amount of vis inertia existing in some Government Departments. The minds of those who sit in high places are sometimes wonderfully and fearfully made, and 'outsiders,' as he was destined to find, must be prepared to knock long and loudly at the outer door before they can obtain much attention.”[90]

That the Post Office authorities would oppose the plan was a foregone conclusion. They fought against it in the strenuous fashion known metaphorically as “tooth and nail.” The Postmaster-General of the day—he who said that “of all the wild and [Pg 121] visionary schemes which he had ever heard or read of it was the most extraordinary”[91] —gave it as his opinion that if twelve times the number of letters were carried, the expenses of conveyance would become twelve times heavier—a strange argument for an educated man to use. He also declared that with increase of correspondence the walls of the Post Office would burst—a premonition which, not unnaturally, provoked Rowland Hill into asking whether the size of the building should be regulated by the amount of correspondence, or the amount of correspondence by the size of the building.

The Secretary to the Post Office, Colonel Maberly, was apparently free from the dread of the possible effect of increased correspondence which exercised the minds of other post officials besides the Postmaster-General. The Secretary told the Committee he was sure that even if no charge were made people would not write more frequently than they did under the existing system; and he predicted that the public would object to prepayment. He approved of a uniform rate, but apparently in theory only, as he added that he thought it quite impracticable. He doubted whether letter-smuggling—to which practice Mr Peacock, Solicitor to the Post Office, and other officials made allusion as an evil on a very large scale—would be much affected by the proposed reduction of postage, since “it cannot be reduced to that price that smugglers will not compete with the Post Office at an immense profit.” He pronounced the scheme to be “fallacious, preposterous, [Pg 122] utterly unsupported by facts, and resting entirely on assumption”; prophesied its certain failure, if adopted, and said the revenue would not recover for forty or fifty years.[92]

Some of the officials made the rather humiliating confession that they should not know how to deal with the multitude of letters likely to follow a change of system, and a “breakdown” was so frequently predicted, that it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the wish was father to the thought. The dread expressed of this increase of correspondence is, in the light of these later days, unaccountable. “Has any one,” pertinently asked my father, “ever heard of a commercial company afraid of an expected growth in its business?”

It was maintained that a fivefold increase of letters would necessitate a fivefold number of mail-coaches, and Rowland Hill was accused of having omitted this “fact” in his calculations. The objection was absurd. The coaches were by no means fully laden, many having very little to carry, and the chargeable letters, as we have seen, formed only a small portion of the entire mail. Twenty-four coaches left London every evening, each bearing its share of that small portion; but had the whole of it been conveyed in one coach, its bulk would not have displaced a single passenger.

[Pg 123]

Colonel (afterwards General) Colby,[93] indeed, told the Committee that his attention was first drawn to the desirability of cheapening postage while travelling all over the kingdom, when he had “observed that the mails and carriages which contained the letters formed a very stupendous machinery for the conveyance of a very small weight; that, in fact, if the correspondence had been doubled, trebled, or quadrupled, it could not have affected the expense of conveyance.”[94]

To determine this question of the weight of the mails, the Committee caused a return to be made in the case of the coaches leaving London. The average was found to be only 463 lbs.—a little over a quarter of the weight which, according to Post Official estimates, a mail-coach would be capable of carrying.[95]

In the chapter on the old system we have seen the straits to which the poor were reduced when having to “take up” a letter which had come from distant relative or friend. Yet how eager was this class to enjoy the privilege possessed by those [Pg 124] better off than themselves, was shown during the examination of Mr Emery, Deputy-Lieutenant for Somerset, and a Commissioner of Taxes, when he told the Committee that the poor people near Bristol had signed a petition for the reduction of postage, and that he “never saw greater enthusiasm.” Testimony to a similar effect abounds in the Committee's Reports.

That some, at least, of the public were not so alarmed at the prospect of prepayment as were the officials generally, is seen by the evidence of several witnesses who advised that it should be made compulsory. The public were also quick to appreciate the advantage of payment by stamps instead of money. Sir (then Mr) William Brown of Liverpool, said he had seen the demoralising effect arising from entrusting young men with money to pay for postage, which, under the existing arrangement, his house [of business] was frequently obliged to do. His view was corroborated by other witnesses.[96]

Mr Samuel Jones Loyd (afterwards Lord Overstone) greatly regretted “that the post was ever taken as a field for taxation, and should be very glad to find that, consistently with the general interests of the revenue, which the Government has to watch over, they can effect any reduction in the total amount so received, or any reduction in the charges without diminishing the total amount.”[97]

Lord Ashburton was of much the same opinion.

Rowland Hill himself dissented from the view [Pg 125] generally—and indeed still—held that so long as the Department as a whole thrives, its funds may justly be applied to maintain special services which do not repay their own costs. On the contrary, he thought that every division of the service should be at least self-supporting, though he allowed that, for the sake of simplicity, extensions might be made where there was no immediate expectation of absolute profit. All beyond this he regarded as contrary to the true principles of free trade—of the “Liberation of Intercourse,” to use the later-day, and in this case more appropriate, phrase. Whenever, therefore, the nett revenue from the Post Office is too high for the interests of the public, the surplus, he maintained, should be applied to the multiplication of facilities in those districts in which, through the extent of their correspondence, such revenue is produced.[98]

Most of the Post Office chiefs examined by the Committee viewed with disfavour the proposal to “tax” letters by weight. An experiment had been made at the Office from which it was inferred that a greater number could be taxed in a given time on the plan in use than by charging them in proportion to the weight of each letter. The test, however, was of little value because the weighing had not been made by the proposed half-ounce, but by the quarter-ounce scale; and, further, because it was already the custom to put nearly every letter into the balance unless its weight was palpable to the hand.[99]

While some of the officials objected to uniformity [Pg 126] of rate as “unfair in principle,” others thought well of it on the score that uniformity “would very much facilitate all the operations of the Post Office.”[100]

But, admissions apart, the hostility to the plan was, on the part of the Post Office, unmistakable. This opposition rendered Rowland Hill's work all the harder. “My own examination,” he says, “occupied a considerable portion of six days, my task being not only to state and enforce my own views, but to reply to objections raised by such of the Post Office authorities as were against the proposed reform. This list comprised—with the exception of Mr Peacock, the Solicitor—all the highest officials in the chief office; and, however unfortunate their opposition, and however galling I felt it at the time, I must admit on retrospect that, passing over the question of means employed, their resistance to my bold innovation was very natural. Its adoption must have been dreaded by men of routine, as involving, or seeming to involve, a total derangement of proceeding—an overthrow of established order; while the immediate loss of revenue—inevitable from the manner in which alone the change could then be introduced (all gradual or limited reform having by that time been condemned by the public voice)—a loss, moreover, greatly exaggerated in the minds of those who could not, of did not, see the means direct and indirect of its recuperation, must naturally have alarmed the appointed guardians of this branch of the national income.”[101]

[Pg 127]

Some members even of the Committee were opposed to essential features of the reform, so that it barely escaped, if not actual wreckage, serious maiming at their hands. “The divisions on the two most important of the divisions submitted to the Committee,” wrote Rowland Hill, “and, indeed, the ultimate result of their deliberations, show that the efforts that had been made had all been needed.”[102]

A resolution moved by Mr Warburton recommending the establishment of a uniform rate of inland postage between one post town and another resulted in a tie, and was only carried by the casting vote of the chairman, Mr Wallace. Mr Warburton further moving that in view of “any large reduction being made in the rates of inland postage, it would be expedient to adopt a uniform rate of one penny per half-ounce without regard to distance,” the motion was rejected by six to three, the “aye” stalwarts being the mover, and Messrs Raikes Currie[103] and M. J. O'Connell. Then Mr Warburton, still manfully striving, moved to recommend a uniform rate of three halfpence: the motion being again lost. The following day Mr Warburton returned to the charge, and urged the adoption of a twopenny uniform rate, rising by a penny for each additional half-ounce. This motion was not directly negatived like its predecessors, but was met by an amendment which was tantamount to a negative. Again the votes were equal; and again the motion was carried by the casting vote of the chairman.

[Pg 128]

The rejected amendment was moved by Mr Thomson, who proposed that a draft report originating with Lord Seymour should be adopted, the chief recommendations of which were the maintenance of the charge by distance, such rate to vary from 1d. (for under 15 miles) to 1s. (for above 200 miles), or of some similar scale. Had the Seymour amendment been adopted, “not only the recommendations for uniformity and decided reduction of postage would have been set aside, but also those for increased facilities, for the general use of stamps, and for charge by weight instead of by the number of enclosures.”[104] In fact, the old postal system would have been simply scotched, not killed—and very mildly scotched, many of its worst features being retained. Yet this amendment would have gone forth as the recommendation of the Committee but for the casting vote of Mr Wallace.

It is but fair to Lord Seymour to say that, however “erroneous in its reasonings on many points,” the amendment yet contained passages justifying the reformer's views, “particularly as regards the evils which high rates of postage brought upon the poor, the vast extent of illicit conveyance, the evils of the frank system, and even many of the advantages of a uniform charge.” Had the recommendations in the Seymour Report been prepared “two years before, almost every one of them would have been received as a grace; but it was now too late, their sum total being altogether too slight to make any approach [Pg 129] towards satisfying the expectations which had subsequently arisen.”[105]

The adoption of a twopenny rate was not only contrary to Rowland Hill's plan, but actually rendered “strict uniformity impracticable, since reservation would have to be made in favour of the local penny rates then in existence which could not be raised without exciting overpowering dissatisfaction.”[106]

“Seldom, I believe, has any committee worked harder,” wrote my father, in after years. “Mr Wallace's exertions were unsparing, his toil incessant, and his zeal unflagging.” The Times spoke but the truth when in its issue of 31st May 1839, it said that the Post Office Inquiry was “one conducted with more honesty and more industry than any ever brought before a Committee of the House of Commons.”[107]

Yet how near it came to destroying the reform outright.

The third and concluding Report of the proceedings of this memorable Committee was entrusted for revision to the competent hands of Mr Warburton, who made of it a model Blue Book. “On all important points,” wrote Rowland Hill, “it gave to my statements and conclusions the sanction of its powerful authority. Nevertheless, as the Committee had determined on the recommendation of a twopenny rate, the Report had to be framed in at least formal [Pg 130] accordance with this fact; though both Mr Wallace, in whose name it went to the Committee, and Mr Warburton, its author, were strongly in favour of the penny rate. A careful perusal of the document, however, will show that, though the twopenny rate is formally recommended, the penny rate is the one really suggested for adoption. In this sense it was understood by the public; and, to my knowledge, it was wished that it should be so understood.”[108]

Outside the official circle, opinion, though mainly favourable, was still a good deal divided; and the dismal prophecies which always precede the passing into law of any great reform had by no means ceased [Pg 131] to be heard. It is therefore not altogether surprising that even so clear-sighted a man as Sydney Smith—whose wisdom is too seldom remembered by those who think of him only as a wit—should have laughed at “this nonsense of a penny post.” But when the “nonsense” had had three years of trial he wrote to its author, uninvited, a letter of generous appreciation.

Miss Martineau, as an able journalist and political economist, gave valuable assistance to the postal reform. To read her statesmanlike letters to my father, even after the lapse of over half a century, is indeed a “liberal education.” In these, when writing of the old system, she employed several notable phrases, of which, perhaps, one of the finest was that describing the barrier raised by heavy postal rates between severed relatives as “the infliction which makes the listening parent deaf and the full-hearted daughter dumb.” In a letter, written shortly before penny postage became a reality, to him whom in her Autobiography she calls “the most signal social benefactor of our time,” she told how “we are all putting up our letter-boxes on our hall doors with great glee.” In the same letter she described the joy of the many poor “who can at last write to one another as if they were all M.P.s!” As if they were all M.P.s! What [Pg 132] a comment, what a, may be, unconsciously satirical reflection on the previous state of things![109]

The great O'Connell gave to the postal reform the aid of his powerful influence both within and without Parliament. He was a friend of Matthew Davenport Hill, and at an early stage of the agitation assured my uncle of his hearty appreciation of the plan. O'Connell himself would have proposed the Parliamentary Committee on Postage, of which, as we have seen, one of his sons was made a member, had not Mr Wallace already taken the initiative; and, later, when the Bill was before the House, four of the O'Connells, headed by their chieftain, went into the “Ayes” lobby, together with other members from the Green Isle. The proposed reform naturally and strongly appealed to the sympathies of the inhabitants of the poorer of the two islands. In May 1839, on the [Pg 133] occasion of a public deputation to the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, to urge adoption of the reform, O'Connell spoke in moving terms of its necessity. One passage of his speech recalls the remark made, many years after, by Gladstone when, at the final interview between himself and a later Irish leader, the aged statesman, in answer to a question put by the historian of “Our Own Times,” said that, in his opinion, O'Connell's principal characteristic was “a passion of philanthropy.”[110] “My poor countrymen,” said O'Connell in 1839, “do not smuggle [letters], for the high postage works a total prohibition to them. They are too poor to find out secondary conveyances; and if you shut the Post Office to them, which you do now, you shut out warm hearts and generous affections from home, kindred, and friends.”[111]

Hume, one of the great economists, a member of [Pg 134] that “Manchester School” which the shallow wits of the present time deride, and present at this deputation, was a man who never advocated any course likely to be improvident. Yet, undismayed by possible loss of revenue, he gave the postal reform his heartiest support;[112] while Mr Moffatt, bolder still, volunteered, should the Government shrink from the undertaking, to start a City Company to work the Post Office, meanwhile guaranteeing to the State the same annual income that it was accustomed to receive.

Mr Warburton, who headed the deputation, said, with telling emphasis, that the proposed reform was a measure which a Liberal party had a just right to expect from a Liberal Administration. The deputation, a very important one, numbering, among others, 150 Members of Parliament, was unmistakably in earnest, and the Government hesitated no longer. Mr Warburton's hint was perfectly well understood; and Lord Melbourne's reply was cautious but favourable.[113]

Some three weeks later Mr Warburton wrote to tell my father that “penny postage is to be granted.”[114] Three days later still, Mr Warburton wrote again that the very date was now settled on which public announcement of that fact would be made. A few [Pg 135] days later still, Mr Warburton rose in the House to ask the Home Secretary, Lord John Russell, whether the Government intended to proceed with a twopenny or a penny rate. Lord John replied that the Government would propose a resolution in favour of a uniform penny postage.

By Mr Warburton's advice, Rowland Hill was present when this announcement was made, and deep was the gratification he felt.

Still somewhat fearful lest the Government should hesitate to adopt prepayment and the postage stamps—details of vital necessity to the success of the plan—its author, about this time and at the request of the Mercantile Committee, drew up a paper, which they published and widely circulated, entitled “On the Collection of Postage by Means of Stamps.”

In the Upper House, Lord Radnor, a little later, repeated Mr Warburton's question; and Lord Melbourne replied that the Chancellor of the Exchequer would shortly bring the matter forward.

My father drew up yet another paper, entitled “Facts and Estimates as to the Increase of Letters,” which was also printed by the Mercantile Committee, and a copy sent to every member of Parliament in the hope that its perusal might secure support of the measure when introduced to the Commons.

On 5th July, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Spring Rice, brought in his Budget, the adoption of uniform penny postage being proposed in it.

During the debate, Rowland Hill sat underneath the gallery, but when the division came on he had, of course, to withdraw. The two door-keepers [Pg 136] however, who took a lively interest in the progress of affairs, and were zealous friends to the reform, advised its author to keep within hail; and at intervals one or other of them gave a hurried whisper through the grating in the door. “All right!” “Going on capitally!” “Sure of a majority!” came in succession; and when the anxious listener was laughingly informed that Colonel Sibthorpe—a Tory of Tories, and at one time beloved of Punch's caricaturists—had gone into the “Ayes” lobby, the cause indeed seemed won. In a House of only 328 members there were 215 “ayes,” and 113 “noes,” being a majority of 102, or nearly 2 to 1.

But the House of Lords had still to be reckoned with; and towards it the untiring Mercantile Committee next directed its attention. Some of its members were formed into a deputation to interview the more influential peers, the Duke of Wellington for one.[115] [Pg 137] Mr Moffatt thereupon put himself into communication with the old soldier, and received from him a characteristic and crushing reply. “F. M. the Duke [Pg 138] of Wellington presents his compliments to Mr Moffatt. The Duke does not fill any political office. He is not in the habit of discussing public affairs in private, and he declines to receive the visits of deputations or individuals for the purpose of such discussions,” etc.

Nothing daunted, Rowland Hill resolved to try direct appeal, and wrote to the Duke, setting forth briefly “a few facts in support of the Bill,” etc. No answer was received, but the letter had a scarcely looked-for effect.

The second reading of the Bill in the Commons took place on the 22nd July, Mr Goulburn, Sir Robert Inglis, and Sir Robert Peel attacked the measure; and Mr Baring, Lord Seymour, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Wallace, and Mr Warburton defended it. The House did not divide. The Bill was read a third time on 29th July, and passed.

My paternal grandfather was in the House on the occasion, and was probably the happiest and proudest man there, the author of the plan not even excepted.

A few days later, my father, through Lord Duncannon,[116] received a summons to confer with Lord Melbourne at the latter's house the following Sunday. Lord Duncannon was present at the [Pg 139] interview; and the three soon went to work in the most friendly fashion.

The subject in hand having, after a while, been thoroughly mastered, Lord Melbourne began to walk up and down the room, his lips moving as if rehearsing his speech for the House of Lords, but uttering no word. While thus employed, a servant entered, and made an all but inaudible announcement to his master. “Show him into the other room,” said Lord Melbourne; and presently passed through the folding doors into the adjoining apartment. A hum of conversation at once began, one of the voices rising at last to angry tones, and the postal reformer's name being once audibly pronounced by the irate speaker. “It is Lord Lichfield,” quietly observed Lord Duncannon. Gradually, peace seemed to be restored; the visitor departed, and Lord Melbourne, re-entering, said: “Lichfield has been here. Why a man cannot talk of penny postage without getting into a passion passes my understanding.”

The following day, 5th August, the Prime Minister, in a long speech, moved the second reading of the Penny Postage Bill in the Upper House.

The Postmaster-General supported the measure, but did not conceal his distrust of it from a financial point of view.

To Lord Brougham's speech allusion has already been made.[117]

[Pg 140]

The Duke of Wellington did not believe that reduced rates of postage would encourage the soldiers on foreign or colonial service to write home oftener than before;[118] and in the earlier part of his speech drew so doleful a picture of the state of our national finances and of the danger likely to [Pg 141]accrue to them through the lowering of any duty, that the anxious listener—who, by Lord Melbourne's wish, was in the House—seated on the steps of the throne, feared he was about to witness the slaughter of the scheme for which he and others had worked so strenuously. But Lord Duncannon, observing the downcast countenance, came up and kindly whispered: “Don't be alarmed; he is not going to oppose us.”

Nor did he; for, after alluding to the evils of high postal rates, the Duke went on to say that, in his opinion, the plan most likely to remedy these was that known as Mr Rowland Hill's. “Therefore,” he concluded, “I shall, although with great reluctance, vote for the Bill, and I earnestly recommend you to do the same.”[119]

The Bill passed.[120] It received the Royal assent on the 17th August; and at once Mr Wallace wrote to congratulate Mrs Hill on the success of her husband's efforts, “a success to which your unremitting exertions have greatly contributed.”

Mr Wallace's tribute was well deserved. My mother was a devoted wife, a true helpmate, therein resembling the late Lady Salisbury, Mrs Gladstone, Lady Campbell-Bannerman, and many lesser known women. During the long postal reform agitation, her buoyant hopefulness and abiding faith in her husband's plan never failed to cheer and encourage him to persevere. Years after, when their children [Pg 142] were old enough to understand the position, their father would tell them how much he owed to her, and bade them never to forget the debt. She was, moreover, a pattern scribe, sitting, hour after hour, untiring, unshirking, giving her opinion when asked for it, and in a handwriting both legible and beautifully formed, covering page after page with the sentences he dictated. More than one pamphlet, his journal, and letters innumerable were thus written by her; and she also helped in the arduous preparation for his examination before the Commissioners of Post Office Inquiry in 1837, the select Committee on Postage of 1838, and the still later Committee of 1843. Years of useful work did she thus devote to the reform, and many a time was she seated already busy at her task when the first hour of the long day's vigil struck four. From her own lips little was ever heard of this; but what other members of the family thought of it is shown by the remark made by an old kinswoman of my father. Some one having spoken in her presence of her cousin as “the father of penny postage,” she emphatically exclaimed: “Then I know who was its mother!”

The free-traders naturally hailed the postal reform with enthusiasm. It was an economic measure entirely after their own hearts, being, like their own effort for emancipation, directed against monopoly and class favouritism. Moreover, it gave an immense impetus to their crusade, since it enabled the League's literature to be disseminated with an ease and to an extent which, under the old system, would have been impossible. Thus one reform helps on another. [Pg 143] “The men of the League are your devoted servants,” wrote Cobden in one of his cheery letters. “Colonel Thompson,[121] Bright, and I have blessed you not a few times in the course of our agitating tour.”

Cobden was one of the earliest and heartiest of Rowland Hill's supporters. He thought so highly of “Post Office Reform” that he urgently advised its republication in a cheaper form, offering to defray half the cost.[122] Of the plan, when it had been some time established, he wrote that “it is a terrible engine for upsetting monopoly and corruption: witness our League operations, the spawn of your penny postage.”

When Sir Robert Peel—more enlightened or more independent in 1846 than in 1839 and later—repealed the Corn Tax, Cobden again wrote to Rowland Hill. “The League,” he said, “will be virtually dissolved by the passing of Peel's measure. I shall feel like an emancipated negro—having fulfilled my seven years' apprenticeship to an agitation which has known no respite. I feel that you have done not a little to strike the fetters from my limbs, for without the penny postage we might have had more years of agitation and anxiety.”[123]

[Pg 144]

The Post Office, as we have seen, had hitherto existed chiefly for the benefit of the aristocratic and moneyed classes—those of the latter, at least, who were Members of Parliament, then rich men only—the general public having to pay dearly for the privilege of using the Department for conveyance of their correspondence. But with the advent of the new system, the Post Office straightway became the paid servant—and a far more faithful and efficient one than it is sometimes given credit for being—of the entire nation, since upon every man, woman, and child in the United Kingdom were henceforth conferred equal rights to postal intercourse.

Strange to say, the passing of the Penny Postage Bill had, to some extent, depended upon the successful making of a bargain. In April 1839 Lord Melbourne's Government brought in what was known as the Jamaica Bill, which proposed to suspend for five years that Colony's Constitution. The measure was strenuously opposed by the Conservatives led by Peel and by some of the Liberals. On the second reading of the Bill, the Government escaped defeat by the narrow majority of five, and at once resigned. Peel was sent for by the Queen, but, owing to the famous “Bedchamber Difficulty,” failed to form a Ministry. Lord Melbourne returned to office, and the Radical members agreed to give his Administration their support on condition that penny postage should be granted. “Thus,” says my brother, “one [Pg 145] of the greatest social reforms ever introduced was actually given as a bribe by a tottering Government to secure political support.”[124] A party move not altogether without precedent.

When the new postal system became a legalised institution both Mr Wallace and Mr Warburton, independently of one another, wrote to Lord Melbourne, and urged him to give Rowland Hill a position in which he would be enabled to work out his plan. Of Mr Wallace's letter my father said that it was but a specimen of that tried friend's general course. “He makes no reference to his own valuable labours, but only urges claim for me.” Mr Warburton's letter was equally generous and self-oblivious.

Lord Melbourne turned no deaf ear to these appeals. In the autumn of 1839 the reformer was appointed for a term of two years—afterwards extended to three—to the Treasury to superintend the working of his plan. Obviously, his proper place, and that to which the public expected him to be raised, was the Post Office; but the hostile element there was probably too formidable to be withstood. The new Chancellor of the Exchequer—Mr Spring Rice had gone to the Upper House as Lord Monteagle—was Mr (afterwards Sir) Francis Baring, whom Rowland Hill found an able, zealous, high-minded chief, and whose friendship he valued to the last.

Of what can only be correctly described as the fanatical opposition of the Post Office authorities to the reform, it is easy, and customary, to point the [Pg 146] finger of scorn or of derision. This is unjust. Honourable men occupying responsible positions as heads of an important branch of the Civil Service, and bound, therefore, to safeguard what they believe to be its truest interests, have a difficult task to carry out when they are confronted with the forcible acceptance of an untried scheme in whose soundness they have little or no faith. That the policy the postal officials pursued was a mistaken one time has abundantly proved; but if their opposition argued lack of understanding, they merely acted as the generality of men similarly situated would have done. Even Rowland Hill, who, as an outsider, battered so long at the official gates, was wont to confess, when, later, he found shelter within the citadel they defended, that he was not a little apt to feel towards other outsiders a hostility similar to that which his old enemies had felt towards him. The sentiment is not inspired by the oft-alleged tendency to somnolence that comes of the well-upholstered official armchair and assured salary, but from the heart-weariness born of the daily importunity of persons who deluge a long-suffering Department with crude and impracticable suggestions, or with complaints that have little or no foundation.[125]

[Pg 147]

By the time the postal reform had come to be an established institution, not a few former adversaries loyally aided the reformer to carry out its details, by their action tacitly confessing, even when they made no verbal acknowledgment, that their earlier attitude had been a mistake. Now that all are dead their opposition may rightly be regarded with the tenderness that is, or should be, always extended to the partisans of a lost cause.

A great deal of the opposition was, however, far from honest, and unfortunately had very mischievous effects. On this subject something will be said in the course of the ensuing chapter.

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