Dawson Collection

Jewellery Quarter Research Trust Volume I DAWSON Copyright Notice

CENSUS Year Reference Details 1841 H.O. 107/682/3 Marylebone, St Pancras. 1851 H.O. 107/2049 Edgbaston, Birmingham. 1861 R.G. 9/2114 Brook House, Catshill, Bromsgrove. 1871 R.G. 10/3077 Kings Norton, Birmingham. 1881 1891 1901

DOCUMENTS Number Reference 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

PUBLICATIONS Number Reference Details 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

George Dawson MA 1821 - 1876 An early image

GEORGE DAWSON Born in London, 1821. Came to Birmingham, 1844. Died, 1876. By A. W. W. Dale I It is a true instinct—if I may venture to say so —that has led those who arranged for this course of lectures to set us to speak about men rather than movements or events; for it is men who make the City or the State, not laws, not institutions. Men make the convictions that the laws express, and without men to work them, the best of institutions is but an engine without the power that moves it. You have asked me to speak to you about one of those who helped to make this city what itis, and I will try to tell you what I can of George Dawson; what kind of man he was, what kind of work he did, and what of aim, ideal, example and inspiration, he has left to those who come after him. How clearly, how vividly, he stands out in memory! The mass of iron-grey hair heavily streaked with white, nearly covering his ears, quite covering his broad, low forehead; bushy eyebrows nearly straight, and beneath them dark brown eyes that twinkled and flashed and blazed and melted; the nose straight or nearly so; the mouth partly hidden by a straggling beard, firm, but not so firm that it could not curve with scorn or quiver with emotion. The face was lined and seamed—the face of a man who had known many sorrows, who had carried his own burden of care, and the burden of others also. His voice, when he spoke to you, was full and deep and rather husky—the

voice of a man who had struggled and suffered, who had known disappointment and defeat in the service of great causes and in the pursuit of noble ideals. There was a note of scorn in it at times, a note of pity initial ways. The man himself of middle height, broad and sturdy, slow in the movements of the body, swift in the movements of the head. And, lastly—one of the little things—almost always a velvet coat, or at least a velvet waistcoat, with a necktie that was any colour but white. In short, a man thoroughly unclerical, unprofessional, unusual, altogether unlike ordinary men. If you saw him in a crowd, you would have marked him out; if you had heard him speak, you would have watched him and waited for him to speak again. In other words, a man with strong, attractive—one might say magnetic —power. Such was George Dawson in the later years of his life. But he was a young --nan when he came to Birmingham, and he came with the fire and freshness of youth. All that need be said about the history of his life can be put into a few sentences: the life itself was neither eventful nor long. II He was born in London on February 24, 1821, in one of those obscure streets that converge on Brunswick Square. London, no doubt, is an overrated place; but Birmingham, after all, owes something to it, for London gave Birmingham three, at least, of the men who, in recent times, have done most to shape its life and thought George Dawson, Joseph Chamberlain, and a third whose name I need not mention.

George Dawson's father, Jonathan Dawson, conducted what was then known as " a high-class academy "—we should call it a good private school, —and for more than thirty years he prospered in his calling. He was a Baptist, a man of simple faith and simple life. It was natural that the son should be brought up in his father's school, and he remained there till he was sixteen. It was natural, too, that he should be drawn into the Baptist ministry, for seventy years ago there were few other callings open to the son of a Nonconformist who loved books and all that books stand for. So, Oxford and Cambridge being closed to him as a Nonconformist, Dawson went North, entered the University of Aberdeen, and then, a year later, transferred himself to Glasgow where he spent three years, 1838-41, graduating with honours at the close of his course. Then, for the best part of two years, he served in his father's school as an assistant master "usher" they would have called it then. During that time he preached occasionally in various Baptist meeting-houses, and among others in a little chapel at Rickmansworth, in Hertfordshire. In 1843 he was invited to become its pastor, and accepted the invitation. He was never ordained to the ministry, and he never took any systematic course in theology as a preparation for it two facts worth remembering, for the second, at any rate, throws some light on his later history. At Rickmansworth he spent only a few months, for on August 4, 1844, he preached his first sermon in Mount Zion Chapel, Graham Street, afterwards to be associated with the work and memory of Charles Vince, the best-beloved, perhaps, of

all the Birmingham ministers of his time. When the office-bearers of the church asked Dawson on what terms he would come, his reply was characteristic; “cheese for the first year," he said, " afterwards what I am worth." He was not the man to drive a bargain, and he had faith enough in himself and his powers to feel sure that when a church —an intelligent church—had found what he had to give them, they would be eager to offer what he would have been slow to ask. In the ministry, at any rate—the ministry of all churches—the man who covets money is not the man who gets it. And then trouble came. The Graham Street church had trust deeds; the trust deeds contained a creed; and Dawson soon found himself in revolt against the creed that he was bound to teach. You will not expect me to enter into read and the theological differences that arose. The substance of them may be stated briefly. The creed of the church laid stress on the salvation of man by our Lord's death; Dawson laid stress on the salvation of man by our Lord's life. The church thought of Him as the divine Mediator; Dawson thought of Him as the divine Example. That I as rough and ready statement of facts, but you may take it as fairly accurate. As a rule, theological differences, when they arise, produce more heat than light, and controversy is apt to bring out the baser and meaner side of the best of men; for, unfortunately, it is true that all gentlemen are not Christians, and, still more unfortunately, that all Christians are not gentlemen. But this case was an

exception, and both those who stood by the church and those who stood by the minister parted, at the end of 1845, without rancour and without malice, which did honour to both sides alike. His friends—and he had made many in less than eighteen months—were determined not to let him go. They joined together to build a new chapel for him under conditions that should ensure perfect freedom, and in August, 1847, the Church of the Saviour was opened, based on these principles; that no pledge should be required of minister or congregation; that no form of theological belief should be implied by membership; that difference of creed should be no bar to union in practical Christian work. In that church George Dawson carried on his work for nearly thirty years. How the principles worked out in practice, and to what extent his pastoral work was lasting, I do not attempt to inquire. It is enough to know this —that he drew round him hundreds and thousands of men and women who would have found no religious home elsewhere; and that from his teaching they gained such strength, and such hope, and such repose of heart as they needed, and such hold as might be on the things that belong to eternity and not to time. And now he settled down to the work of his life—his religious work in the church, as preacher and pastor, his intellectual work as a lecturer and teacher, his public work as a citizen and a patriot. It will be convenient to deal separately with these three fields or provinces of service. But you must allow me to handle them broadly rather than in detail, leaving much to be filled in by yourselves.

III First, let me speak of his work in the pulpit and the church. If I were to pass it by in silence it would be a sorry compliment to you; for it would suggest unwillingness to listen to opinions that you may not share; it would be a dishonour to him; for it would degrade the work in which he manifested his finest powers to a secondary and subordinate place. And so I shall make bold to speak freely, but, I hope, with no lack of sympathy or of charity. It must be remembered that Dawson was not a trained theologian. He had never been put through a course of systematic theology. It may be doubted if he ever constructed for himself a definite system of belief. He cared more for spirit than for substance—more for feeling than for form. He would have sympathized with the words of a great German divine who denounced the exhibition of what was known as the Holy Coat of Treves "The Founder of the Christian religion bequeathed to His apostles and disciples —not His coat, but His spirit. His coat belongs to the executioner." Dawson was less unorthodox than many people imagined. But against tradition—the tradition that benumbs and petrifies—he was ever in revolt. His first impression on the public mind, when he began his ministry, was made by attacking Evangelism—the traditional, though not' perhaps, the real faith. Far be it from me to disparage or to underrate what the Evangelical Revival had done for the spiritual life of the nation in earlier days. It flooded the world with a new

ardour of devotion. It transfigured and transformed the souls of men with the passion that inspired the faith of the early Church. When the Wesleys and Whitefield went through the kingdom with the Gospel that had come to them, the divine grave, open in the ages of faith and sealed in the ages of doubt, was open once more; and the churches which they quickened recovered the strong and simple faith of the Church of the Resurrection. But the divine fire died down. The revelation that had inspired one generation became the orthodox tradition of the next. What once had been a living faith degenerated, in part if not altogether, into a thing of words, phrases, conventions. Dawson saw the surface, though he did not see the heart; and he hated and despised what he saw. He struck for reality—for reality in every part of life; for reality in religion, which is the crown of life. He knew that no generation can thrive merely on the religious experience of those who have gone before; that to keep the soul strong and sound, a man must get his spiritual food day by day. So was it with the manna which the children of Israel gathered in the wilderness, " the corn of heaven," as the Psalmist calls it " when man did eat angels' food." It was of the day, and for the day; if kept to the morrow, it " bred worms and stank." That is a law, an abiding law, of the spiritual life. Dawson's revolt against the Evangelical tradition was due not to any want of faith, but to his conviction that religion, if it is to be of any avail, must be intimate, spontaneous, natural, and direct. And this should be reckoned to him for righteousness.

There was another line of cleavage. It would be rash to assert that the earlier Evangelicals held that religion had nothing to do with conduct; but the tendency of the school, among its later adherents, was to lay stress on the negative, rather than on the positive side of the principle. If a man did not dance, did not play cards or billiards, did not go to the theatre, did not read plays or novels, he was accounted a religious man. If he did any of these things, he was set down as a worldly man. Dawson made short work of these artificial distinctions and of the ingenious compromises that grew out of them. To his mind, what a man did was far more important than what he abstained from doing. '' What doest thou more? " is the question that we have to answer—not " What doest thou less? " of prohibition—the law "Thou shalt not"—inits minutest details, and yet be far from the kingdom of heaven; for true unworldliness is not of the letter, but of the spirit. He would have accepted, without reserve, the definition of unworldliness that some of you may have read elsewhere; " Unworldliness does not consist in the most rigid and conscientious observance of any external rules of conduct, but in the spirit and temper, and in the habit of living created by the vision of God, by constant fellowship with Him, by a personal and vivid experience of the greatness of the Christian redemption, and by the settled purpose to do the will of God always, in all things, and at all times." That was the substance of Dawson's own teaching A man might obey the law from the very first. But when he began his ministry, the men and women who had been

trained to walk in the old ways were not ready to grasp the new truth. There was another element in Dawson's preaching that should not be overlooked—the vigour and the force with which he dwelt upon the everyday duties of life. One who heard him often in his early days used to recall Dawson's freedom and freshness in dealing with the common faults and failings of common people. Religion, as Dawson understood it, was concerned, not with a bit of a man's life, but with the whole of it. There are seven days in the week, and not one; and Dawson's sermons were not for Sunday alone, but for weekdays as well. Hugh Latimer did not shrink from plainness of speech in the pulpit, neither did he. He would talk to his congregation about scales and about yard measures, about tea and sugar, about adulterated mustard, and about butter half of which was fat, about stock-taking and long credit, about dressing shop windows, about all the details of the doings of a scoundrel who had been tried a day or two before for his transactions in connexion with a fraudulent stock company, about dress and jewellery, about dinners and evening parties, about all the follies and sins and vanities of the day. He spoke of the facts of life as they were; of the world as it was, and not as some people would have liked it to be, with half the grim facts of experience suppressed and ignored. For if life is to be made sound and straight, we must know the moral and physical laws by which life

Is governed. We must know the law and understand the law if we are to obey the law; and it is only in obedience that we find our safety and our strength. His preaching was effective because it was in touch with realities, and because he was real himself. And the inner secret of his power was this—if I may borrow a sentence from my old friend, Mr. G. J. Johnson—that Dawson ** was not a preaching man, but a man preaching." Or, to put the truth in another way, he preached not " as a dying man to dying men," —that was the old idea of preaching—but as a living man to living men who found life no simple or easy matter. Preaching of that type was a new thing at that time. Since then, others have learnt the secret; and I venture to say that in two such books as The Ten Commandments and The Laws of Christ for Common Life, you will find the fruit and the flower of the seed that George Dawson had sown. Some people then held that, a sermon, to deserve the name, should deal only with such themes and mysteries as Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate Fixed fate, free-will, foreknowledge absolute. They held that to bring the business of the week into the stillness of the sanctuary was to profane the temple. And others resented such preaching from baser motives. There was an American minister who went down into the Southern States after the war, and for obvious reasons set himself to preach a good deal about morality. He began to expound the Ten Commandments. When he had reached the fourth or fifth, a deputation came to him from the congregation. They thanked him for all that he had done, and expressed their deep personal esteem for

him; but they asked him whether he would mind preaching his sermons on the rest of the Commandments at the week evening service, when only the devout were present, instead of on the Sunday when saints and sinners were mixed; "for," said they, "we think Religion never was designed To make our pleasures less." There were some in Birmingham who might have said the same; there were others who, if they had said what they thought, would have altered a word in the old lines; Religion never was designed To make our profits less. To such as these his preaching was unwelcome. But the mass of the people heard him gladly; for he spoke to them as one who knew their difficulties, their temptations, and their struggles; and he had a gospel to give them by which they could live. —All men are grateful for that. IV Let me next speak of Dawson's work as a teacher and lecturer. However, opinion may differ as to the effect of his preaching, there can be little difference as to his unrivalled power to awaken and enlighten. I say this, not forgetting the fact that on three separate occasions he became the editor of a daily newspaper —the Mercury in 1848, the Daily Free Press in 1855, and the Morning News in 1871. But it may be said in extenuation that these lapses were brief and at long intervals, and that the newspapers which he edited soon came to confusion, if not to liquidation. No one—not even the most thorough-

going of his admirers—would claim for him that he was a great editor. But no one who heard him would deny his charm as a lecturer. Charles Kingsley, who had little love for Nonconformists, and even less knowledge of them, described Dawson as "the greatest talker in England" Mr. Johnson, whom I have already quoted, said that " talking came to him as easily as breathing." He was a talker, not an orator. He attempted no sustained intensity or elaboration of utterance —not even the elaboration that achieves simplicity. In speaking, whether in the pulpit or on the platform, he spoke as he might have spoken to half a dozen friends gathered round the fireside. The style was easy, natural, intimate, unstudied, and direct. The tone varied, and so did the mood. He might slip from indignation to pathos, or from humour to disdain, in swift succession; but he never shouted and he never stormed. It was talk—talk at its best; it was not declamation. And the talk was never hazy, but always clear. Some men think in a fog and speak in a fog, and the fog soon spreads from the man who speaks to the men who listen. For if you are to have any chance of making yourself understood by others, the first condition of success is that you should understand yourself. Now Dawson always understood what he wished to say at the time when he said it; and those who heard him —if they were persons of ordinary intelligence understood it too. What he thought, what he said, this week might be different from what he would think and from what he would say next week; for his estimates and judgments varied with his moods, and though his

balance was not an unjust balance, the scale that sank down heavily to-day might kick the beam to-morrow. It was sometimes difficult to reconcile what he was saying with what he had said before—partly, no doubt, because he was content to say one thing at a time, without much heed of qualifications and conditions; but there was never any difficulty in following what he said while he was saying it. For he had learnt one thing that some men never learn— the relation of the speaker to the listener. What was said of John Bradford, the old Puritan preacher, might have been said with equal truth of George Dawson. Bradford, we are told, " was a master of speech, but he had learned not to speak what he could speak, but what his hearers could hear. He knew that clearness of speech was the excellency of speech; and therefore resolved like a good orator to speak beneath himself rather than above his audience." Aim low if you mean to hit your mark; that is the speaker's first law. Dawson commenced to lecture, in 1845, and he went on lecturing to the very end of his life. It would be an exaggeration to say that like Bacon he took all knowledge for his province; but there were few subjects in literature or in life that he did not touch. I spare you a catalogue in detail, though I could take up several minutes with the list. When I say that he ranged from Calvin at one end to Benvenuto Cellini at the other, from Rousseau to Beau Brummel, from Tennyson to Voltaire, from " Ill-used men " to " Church decoration," from the music of Mendelssohn to the pictures of Holman Hunt, you can

form some idea of the ground that he covered; and if there was a great movement stirring the hearts and the hopes of men, or a great event that seemed likely to become a landmark in history, Dawson had his say about it. He went up and down the country with his lectures, and his voice was heard in every city throughout the land. In those days when books and magazines and newspapers were far fewer and less accessible to ordinary people than they are to-day, his coming was an event, and he quickened the minds of those who heard him in little country towns with a force that lasted and leavened long after he had gone away. He taught people, not of set purpose, but by suggestion, what to read and how to read; and he took them to the great books that are best worth reading. For a great book not only teaches and inspires, it reveals. At the heart of every great book is a man; and the book reveals the man who wrote it to the man who reads it. It also reveals the man who reads it to himself. And the harvest of a great book is not only what we find in it, but what it helps us to find in ourselves, Dawson was the most skilful of interpreters, in showing men what to look for and where to find it. When he died the Spectator described him as the most famous intellectual " middle-man " of his day. If it spoke without any deliberate contempt, it certainly spoke with a certain air of patronage, such as we are accustomed to expect in a newspaper that has always had a Moses of its own to go up into the mount on every Thursday afternoon and to bring back with him the infallible oracles of heaven for Saturday's ** leader." But to be a " middleman " even in literature and philosophy—is no

reproach. The man who can make plain to the many the thought of the one, who can enable them to hear, each in his own tongue, the words of wonder (which are the works of wonder) such a man, to fulfil his mission, must be endued with a double gift of insight, wisdom, and sympathy. For he must be able to think and feel, and speak, not in one world, but in two. He must be akin to genius, the genius of the poets, prophets and sages of our race, on the one hand, and akin to poor commonplace humanity on the other. And he must be able to express the mind and the emotion of the immortals in the bare and broken speech that belongs to the creatures of a day. That was what Dawson did for thousands of unlettered men and women. And as they listened their eyes were opened to the glory of the world; Hesperus with the host of heaven came. And all creation widened on their view. There is another service that Dawson rendered in broadening thought and sympathy to which I must refer in passing. When he began his public work, the average Englishman, still under the influence of the reaction that followed the French Revolution and the wars of Napoleon, knew little, and cared less, about the movements for liberty and enlightenment in other lands. He believed that freedom was good for Britons, and that " Britons never should be slaves." But as for other nations "the nations not so blest as we "—he was not quite sure that they were fit for freedom, or that they could be trusted to use freedom if they got it.

But Dawson believed with his whole heart that freedom was good for all, and not only for English men. He was the first man in Birmingham to study and to understand foreign politics, and to raise a genuine interest in the affairs of Hungary, Italy and France. He welcomed Kossuth, the great Hungarian leader; he was the friend of Mazzini, and of Garibaldi, who together helped to make the free and united Italy of to-day. His heart went out to the men in France who led the ineffective revolution of 1848; and to those who withstood the tyranny and the corruption that were avenged at Sedan. He was a patriot; but there was nothing parochial in his patriotism; he gave others something of his own broad outlook. And a man's convictions and enthusiasms are fullest, deepest and strongest, when they are fed, not from the narrow range of personal, or local, or even national experience, but from the wide watershed of the world. V And now, in the last place, I pass on to speak of the debt that this city owes, as a city, to Dawson's work and teaching. It is the hardest part of my task, because there is so much to say, and also because it involves some knowledge of municipal history. But if you will bear with me for a few minutes more, I shall do my best to put the case briefly before you. Dawson came to Birmingham in 1844. Five years before, in 1839, the borough had received its charter of incorporation. But the validity of the charter was contested. The overseers refused to levy a borough rate. And it was not until August, 1842, that the charter of

incorporation was finally confirmed by statute. Even then, power was still divided between the borough council and other local authorities; for there were four sets of commissioners who exercised control in different parts of the town for various purposes; and it was not till 1851 that the powers hitherto vested in those separate bodies were consolidated and transferred to the town council, establishing it as the sole governing authority for municipal purposes. The conflict had been long and severe. The reformers, when they had won their victory, were worn out and exhausted. They had neither spirit nor strength left to initiate a new and vigorous policy and to enter upon a fresh campaign to carry such a policy into effect. They were content, for the moment, to encamp upon the ground that they had won. The Town Council itself had little energy or enthusiasm. It was not without men of character and ability; but they had no definite aim, and no bond of union. Their policy—if it can be called a policy—was to move slowly, and to do as little as they could. Those of you who have read the report on the state of the town drawn up by Mr. Rawlinson for the Board of Health in 1849, will know how much there was to do. Even in the better parts of the town the sanitary conditions were disgraceful. In Hagley Road and in Bristol Road house drains discharged into the open gutters of the street. In George Street—as it was then called—the sewage of the houses ran into the canal. Many houses in the same district drew their water supply from wells that were

separated only by a few feet from a cesspool or a midden. And in the less prosperous parts of the borough the state of affairs was even worse. Duddeston and Nechells had a surveyor of their own. They paid him £-^0 a year. He described himself as a " universal genius, "though, as he said, " he never had no instruction," and " never could see that there was any art in laying down sewers." He did not know how to use a spirit-level, and took his levels with three sticks. Even in the centre of the town the streets were mean and sordid, badly paved, and badly lighted. Two gas companies supplied the town, but on such terms that prices were not lowered by competition. Further out, row upon row of grimy dwarf houses extended in all directions; and behind the streets lay two thousand close courts, each approached by a narrow passage and doorway—for the most part without pavement or drainage, as indecent within as they were unwholesome. The burial grounds attached to the churches and chapels of the town were full to overflowing. Wells contaminated by the filth that was left to soak into the soil supplied two-thirds of the population. A water company supplied the remaining third on two days in the week. Disease was rife, and the death-rate high. Whole districts in the heart of the town were abandoned to vice and to crime. That is a dark picture, is it not? Dark, but not overcoloured; every line in it is confirmed by bluebooks, reports and records; if you will examine the evidence for yourselves, you will agree that I have exaggerated nothing. Birmingham in those days was nothing better than an overgrown and ill-governed village.

There was work enough for the most ardent of municipal reformers. But Dawson's vision passed beyond the limits of conventional reform. To him a city meant something besides the policeman and the scavenger; it had larger and higher functions than to maintain public order and to provide for the public health. For a city, as he conceived it, was a society, established by the divine will, as the family, the State, and the Church are established, for common life and common purpose and common action. It was not a bundle of individuals not '* a mere aggregation of individual bipeds," as Coleridge puts it, but an organism with definite functions to discharge; functions that grow in range and in importance as the city rises from its humble beginnings, and advances in power and dignity and fame. This truth was one that he held and set forth and maintained throughout his public life. In the noble address that he delivered at the opening of the Reference Library in 1866 he said only what he had often said before. That library, as he viewed it (I give you his own words), " was the first-fruits of a clear understanding that a great town exists to discharge towards the people of that town the duties that a great nation exists to discharge towards the people of that nation; THE NEW CIVIC IDEAL That a town exists here by the grace of God; that a great town is a solemn organism through which should flow, and in which should be shaped, all the highest, loftiest, and truest ends of man's intellectual and moral nature."

" Not by bread alone "—we all know that. Man does not live by bread alone, nor by law alone, nor by politics alone. And when we have done all that we can for his comfort, his health, his security, and for the health, comfort and safety of those who are dear to him, we have touched only one side of his nature, have not ministered to all his wants, have not given him all that he has a right to claim; mind and spirit have needs of their own as well as the body; and those needs must be satisfied. This means that the city which is a city must have its parks as well as its prisons, its art gallery as well as its asylum, its books and its libraries as well as its baths and washhouses, its schools as well as its sewers; that it must think of beauty and of dignity no less than of order and of health. Such was the task that Birmingham had before it when Dawson first set himself to preach the new municipal gospel; some of it obvious, even then, and some of it at that time a dim and distant ideal. You know in what wonderful ways it has been put into practice. You can estimate for yourselves how much Birmingham owes to Dawson for his share in the achievement. Let me indicate—it is all that I can do—the lines on which he worked. In the first place, he stoutly maintained that the principle of individual freedom must be supplemented by the principle of collective responsibility, and that the policy of " let-alone,'' at that time the dominant idea, was bad for the city and bad for the state. The voluntary system, he was convinced, has its limits. Public duties are not to be left to private enterprise. In the administration of

justice, private enterprise degenerates into Lynch law. In other cases private enterprise means that men shirk their share of burdens that belong to all, and leave the whole burden on the shoulders of a few. If a man will not do his duty by love, ** then," said Dawson, " make him do it by law." To "the fat, double-chinned prosperous people who have no public spirit in them, and who take all they can get from their country, and give nothing for it," the ratecollector and the tax-gatherer are ministers of grace. Interference with the liberty of the subject? That is why he liked it. He rejoiced to see that kind of liberty—liberty to shirk pubic duty—curtailed. " Bondage is better than liberty," said he, " if liberty means the shirking of duty, the neglecting of other people, and simply the getting all you can out of your country, and putting it into your own pocket and giving none." In the second place, he laid stress upon the duty of personal service. If a man had leisure, if he had wealth, if he had been trained in the management of affairs, those advantages, those privileges, carried with them duties to correspond. If a man had the ability to serve the town in public work, he was bound to serve. For the city need sits best men; and if the best men hang back and hold aloof, then the business of the city will not be done as it should be. Inferior men are not the men to lead. *' Never send a man into the Council," said Dawson, *'whom you would not like to be Mayor." If a man is not fit to lead, the interests of the city are not safe in his hands. Thirdly, he insisted that the business of the town should be transacted not only with honesty but with dignity. Those of you who are old enough to remember how and

where public affairs were discussed and settled in earlier days will understand how necessary it was to drive that principle into men's minds. I have told the story of the Woodman else I where; but to some of you it may be new, and I shall venture to tell it again. Even after the old system had begun to pass away, it was still the custom of certain prominent members of the Council to meet at the Woodman, a well-known tavern in the town, and to discuss the Council business in a kind of informal caucus. There was nothing against the house. It was not a drunken Woodman, or a dissolute Woodman; but it was a beery and a gin-and water Woodman. The habit was, to say the least, undignified, and it was keenly resented by the men of the new school. Direct protest would have done more harm than good; but at last an opportunity for protest came. It was at the time when the country rose in arms to support Mr. Plimsoll's demand that the Government should take action against unseaworthy ships. A town's meeting was held in the Town Hall, presided over by the Mayor. Mr. Vince—who always fought smiling—was one of the speakers. He reminded the meeting that the sailor's whole life was bounded by his ship. It was his home and his prison, his free library and his art gallery. "And if, Mr. Mayor," he continued, "he wants to spend an hour in the parlour of the Woodman, the ship must be his Woodman too." The Mayor of the day was understood to be one of the most regular frequenters of the tavern, and the thrust was received with a tumult of laughter. Then suddenly the laughter stopped; the audience saw the reproof that the jest veiled, and with one impulse they began to applaud steadily—I might say solemnly, and they

continued to applaud for several minutes. The hour of judgment had come for the Woodman, and all that the Woodman stood for. That night the town set up a new standard of dignity for its public men. I shall not try to follow the course of the movement. It began, as all such movements do, in the dream of solitary and silent hours. Then it made its way into the minds of a few men of kindred spirit. And the dream became an ideal and the ideal grew into a conviction; and conviction flamed into enthusiasm; and enthusiasm took shape in policy, and passed from the study and the club to the platform and the pulpit, and swept through the wards of the city, and fired men's minds and kindled their hearts, until the ideal that had once been a dream had become a reality. Those years in which the new gospel began to spread and to prevail— those glorious hours of crowded strife—can we ever forget them? Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive; But to be young was very heaven. Other men had their part in the work. Others did more to apply principles in practice. But Dawson came first. He led the way where others followed. And for myself, I hold in highest honour the man who is first to see when a great reform is needed, and first to point out how reformmay be effected. Others may flock round the standard he has raised; others may devise methods and details of policy; others may inscribe the new law in the statute-book; we are debtors to all of them. But we owe most to the man who first believed— and taught others to believe—that reform was possible. Such is the debt that this city owes to

George Dawson for what it has achieved in perfecting and purifying its municipal life, and for the nobler ideals and aims of civic duty that it has followed with steady purpose and unfaltering faith. VI And now that I have spoken of the man and his work, let me ask you how you are acknowledging, how you are repaying the debt that you owe him? Is the old spirit still alive in this place? May a man still say the thing he will, and be sure of a hearing, even if he confronts alone the prejudice and passion of the hour? Are your best men still ready to spend themselves in the service of the city? And when the best offer for service, do you accept the offer that they make? When you have chosen your leaders, do you give them your hearts with your votes? And do you stand by them staunchly and loyally, through good repute and through evil, through water and through fire? Are there still among you some men, many men, who care little for the things that concern the pocket, and much for the things that concern the mind and the spirit? Have you a few men still who dream dreams and see visions, and who uplift the lives of others by their loftier ideals? Are your hearts tender for the armies of the homeless and unfed, for those who are out of the way, and for those who are ready to perish? Are you eager, in a spirit of divine compassion, to seek and to save? If this be so if the silent voices of the dead " are the voices that you heed and obey, then George Dawson's work abides, and he has served not only the

generation for which he laboured until he fell on sleep, but generations untold that are yet to be.

MATTHEW KEY ‘Through the Gains of Industry we promote Art’: George Dawson’s Civic Gospel and the architecture of the Improvement Scheme. This essay explores two artefacts from late Victorian Birmingham; a period in which the city went through remarkable transformation, culminating in one commentator describing it as ‘the best governed in the world’. The artefacts include George Dawson’s speech on the inauguration of Birmingham Reference Library (1866) and a drawing of Birmingham in 1886 by H.W. Brewer. These artefacts reveal how Unitarian preaching on civic morality was used to justify the hegemonic entrepreneurial politics of civic government during the period. However, what has been traditionally portrayed as a symbiosis of humanitarian progressivism, civic pride and business acumen, had less altruistic undertones. I hope that Corporations generally will become much more expensive than they have been – not expensive in the sense of wasting money, but that there will be such nobleness and liberality amongst the people of our towns and cities as will lead them to give their Corporations power to expend more money on those things which, as public opinion advances, are found to be essential to the health and comfort and improvement of our people. John Bright in a speech at Birmingham (January 1864) It is doubtful that even John Bright, the legendary radical and Liberal statesman, was aware of the magnitude of change that the Civic Gospel, whose tenets he had alluded to in the above public address of the 26th January 1864, would have

upon citizens of Birmingham. The history of Birmingham in the ensuing years of Joseph Chamberlain’s mayoralty (1873-6) is considered almost universally in the literature as one of ‘municipal revolution’; within these three years the ‘Town [had been] parked, paved, assized, marketed, gas-and-watered and improved’.1 Chamberlain’s civic achievements transformed Birmingham, famously leading an American writer Julien Ralph to describe it as ‘the best-governed city in the world’.2 But what basis did Ralph have for his description? More than fifty corporations had municipalised gas before Birmingham, even its largest provincial rival Manchester had achieved this feat as early as 1817, and an even greater number of taken control of their water supplies.3 However, even if Birmingham was not the first to implement a municipalising agenda, it was the first to attribute a philosophical voice to such proceedings; elevating such policies ‘above sheer pragmatism and invest[ing] the dull business... with a profoundly ethical dimension’.4 When Chamberlain’s mayoralty was over, and he entered national politics, he often reflected upon his civic achievements and implored his colleagues that ‘increased responsibilities bring with them a higher sense of the dignity and importance of municipal work’.5 Yet this sense of ‘altruistic’ or ‘enlightened’ responsibility was learned not from Chamberlain’s political contemporaries, initially as a Liberal politician and later as a Unionist, but from the strong tradition of religious dissent which was uniquely prevalent within the society of Birmingham.6 The examination of two artefacts, George Dawson’s speech on the inauguration of Birmingham Reference Library (1866) and the architecture of Joseph Chamberlain’s Improvement Scheme, as seen in a drawing of 1886 by H.W. Brewer for the Graphic magazine, enables us to understand the genesis of such ideas. Furthermore, the artefacts explain how the moral lessons and improving tenets associated with the Civic Gospel soon came to be used to justify and legitimise the increasingly entrepreneurial enterprises of civic reformers of the Chamberlain period.

To understand the culture of municipal politics in the Birmingham of the late Victorian period it is necessary to examine the preaching of George Dawson, the intellectual driving-force of the ‘Civic Gospel’ and its most recognised proponent. Dawson, who had received a secular and unorthodox education from Aberdeen and Glasgow universities, settled at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1844. He was initially regarded with scepticism from fellow Baptist ministers because of his divergent theology. They particularly viewed the emphasis he placed on the liberty of creed, and the ensuing theological constraints this placed upon his own adherence to the evangelical ‘scheme of salvation’, with deep suspicion. Dawson took his chance to break with Mount Zion completely in 1847 and, having become one of the most popular preachers in the area, his sermons adopting a more conversational tone than the ponderous rhetoric employed by his peers, established his own church: The Church of Saviour.7 It was from his ‘preacher’s platform’, in place of a pulpit, that Dawson ‘inculcated great principles... needful to the people’s wellbeing’ amongst his diverse and large audiences.8 In his first sermon, ‘The Demands of the Age on the Church’,9 Dawson set out his belief in the value of churchmen engaging with the world rather than retreating into narrow and quixotic theological debate. To Dawson, the value of an individual’s confessional life lay not in a developed understanding of the esoteric complexities of theology but instead should be ‘judged by its effects on practical conduct’.10 The importance therefore placed on social interventionism and practical idealism was in contrast to those evangelicals who, Dawson considered, ‘became perverted and enfeebled about what constituted ‘worldliness’ when they should have been involved in matters of importance to the world’.11 Dawson consistently preached to his congregation an exalted vision of municipal government which empowered councillors and citizens to do God’s work in elevating the populace. However, salvation would not merely be achieved by the meeting of the physiological needs of the people but through an emphasis on a

heightened cultural and spiritual education for all. Furthermore, he identified that there had been a long-standing decay of public virtue throughout Britain, by which he meant there was a decline in ‘that spirit which makes a man prefer, before his own prosperity and wellbeing, that of the town or country to which he belongs’.12 Though, as a minister, Dawson was debarred from serving on Town Councils, he was committed to encouraging others to employ themselves in this manner. His influence on local governance and the elevation of the populace soon became evident. Remarkably, for 31 of its first 33 years of its establishment, the chairmanship of the Free Library Committee of the Town Council fell to a member of Dawson’s congregation.13 Dawson divined the vital importance of recruiting ‘the able, the talented and the prosperous to the Town Council and its committee’,14 seeing that effective management by successful businessmen, many of whom attended his sermons, would ‘channel entrepreneurial methods into municipal projects, to the benefit of all’.15 Dawson’s belief clearly came to fruition, more than fifty-five percent of Birmingham’s sixty-four councillors, between 1860 and 1891, were businessmen and a strong majority identified as nonconformists; undoubtedly many would have come into contact with Dawson, who had quickly become the primary figure in the confessional life of dissenting Birmingham.16 Perhaps the most famous of Dawson’s orations was that given at the establishment of the Reference Library in Birmingham. The Reference Library (1865), aside from Hansom and Welch’s Town Hall (1832),17 was one of the few significant municipal projects of early Victorian Birmingham. The library was built by Edward Middleton Barry, son of Charles Barry, architect of the new Palace of Westminster (1840-70). Complete with a handsome classical façade it seemed to exemplify the achievements and spectacle of ancient Rome and Greece, manifesting such civic spectacles in the centre of industrial Birmingham. It was clearly a most fitting setting from which Dawson could preach a culturally progressive

and civic-minded Gospel. A transcript of Dawson’s speech can be found below: A great library contains the diary of the human race; when the books of mankind are gathered together we can sit down and read the solemn story of Man’s history. Here in this room are gathered together the great diaries of the human race, the record of its thoughts, its struggles, its doings. So that a library may be regarded as the solemn chamber in which man can take counsel with all that have been wise and great and good and glorious among the men that have gone before him. (Cheers) Men are very apt to think that the universe inspired their little creed. When a man has worked himself into an unwise heat, a good place for him to go is a great library, and that will quiet him down admirably. The man who is fond of books is usually a man of lofty thought, of elevated opinion. One of the greatest and happiest things about this Corporation Library [is that], supported as it is by rates and administered by the Corporation, it isthe expression of a conviction on your part that a town exists for moral and intellectual purposes. A great town like this has not done all of its duty when it has put in action a set of ingenious contrivances for cleaning and lighting the streets, for breaking stones and for mending ways; and has not fulfilled its highest function even when it has given the people of the town the best system of drainage... I had rather a great book of a great picture fell into the hands of the Corporation than into the hands of an individual – a great picture God never intended to be painted for the delight of but one noble family, which maybe shut away through the whim of its owner. But the moment you put great works into the hands of the corporate body like this

you secure permanence of guardianship in passionless keeping... what a noble thing it would be if the nobility should take to giving their precious collections to the Corporation... and then they would be open to the multitude. I hope in time that this Corporation will be as rich in pictures and works of art as it has already become in books, for I believe that one of the highest offices of civilisation is to determine how to give access to the masterpieces of art and of literature to the whole people. There is no object higher and nobler than that – to make Raphael common, to make Michelangelo intelligible, to the multitudes, to lay open to the workman and the peasant what heretofore only ranks and riches could command. And this freedom from payment is the glory of this library. There are few places that I would rather haunt after my death than this room, and there are few things I would have my children remember more than this, that this man spoke the discourse at the opening of this glorious library, the first fruits of a clear understanding that a great town exists to discharge towards the people of that town the duties that a great nation exists to discharge towards the people of that nation – that a town exists by the Grace of God, that a great town is a solemn organism through which should flow, and in which should be shaped, all the highest, loftiest and truest ends of a man’s intellectual and moral nature. We are a Corporation who have undertaken the highest duty that is possible for us – we have made provision for our people – for all our people – and we have made a provision of God’s greatest and best gifts unto Man. (Loud cheers)18 Dawson’s speech is a model of Late-Victorian idealism. It is an exhortation to the Council to take up the ‘improving’ tenets of the Civic Gospel. The speech is laced with a sublime faith in the beneficial and improving impact of great art and literature and of the accumulated wisdom refined from centuries of Man’s history.

At its emotional core is an ‘idea of community drawn [not from scripture but] from the works of Goethe, Schiller and other German romantics’.19 These sentiments resonate with contemporary commentators and comparisons with Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy (1869) can be clearly made. Indeed, the Arnoldian emphasis on the promulgation of ‘sweetness and light’, 20 the conferring of not merely moral and material improvement but an attempt to address the aesthetic condition of the masses, is prominent in Dawson’s message that there is no ‘object higher and nobler than that – to make Raphael common, to make Michelangelo intelligible’. This trope of ‘feeding the mind’ was prominent in Dawson’s rhetoric, in a later sermon given at the Church of the Saviour Dawson concluded that, when a man has his comfort, his health, his security, the mind and the spirit have needs of their own too, and those needs to be satisfied. This means that the city which really is a city must have parks as well as prisons, an art gallery as well as an asylum, books and libraries as well as baths and washhouses, schools as well as sewers. It must think of beauty and dignity no less than of order and of health.21 This was a creed of civic responsibility and a recognition of the equality of the citizens of Birmingham. The language of the speech clearly renders the city as the new corpus, a paternal and powerful organism with a duty to its inhabitants, not dissimilar to ‘a Church in which there was no bond, nor text, nor articles – a large Church, one of the greatest institutions yet established’.22 Dawson’s view is clearly that it is the highest and most noble duty of the Corporation to act as the nave or spiritual focus of this new church.23 Dawson was not alone in preaching the Civic Gospel and his influence was felt upon many dissenting preachers across Birmingham. Robert Dale, Congregationalist Minister of Carrs

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