Today, one hundred and ninety years ago, was born Anthony Ashley Cooper, who later became the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. A religious man, and, in his day, a well-known philanthropist, he campaigned to improve factory conditions and to restrict the hours children were allowed to work. His diaries were quoted extensively in a three volume biography published the year after his death.
Cooper was born in Richmond, near London, on 28 April 1801, the eldest son of ten children. He was educated at Harrow and Christ College, Oxford, and when only 25, was elected as MP for Woodstock, a Shaftesbury family borough. He married Emily Cowper, whose real father was rumoured to be Lord Palmerston (who did marry Emily’s mother after Lord Cowper’s death). They had ten children some of them beset with health problems.
From the outset in his Parliamentary career, Cooper was interested in social reform. Early on he was a member of a committee looking into the treatment of lunatics, a subject which he followed through for much of his career. In 1832, he became the leader of the factory reform movement in the House of Commons. A year later he proposed a bill to restrict children’s working time to ten hours. It was defeated, but the government nevertheless brought in new restrictions on child labour in the 1933 Factory Act. Some years later, in 1840, Lord Ashley helped set up the Children’s Employment Commission which led to the Coal Mines Act prohibiting women and children from working underground.
In 1851, on the death of his father, Cooper became the 7th Earl of Shaftesbury. He continued to campaign for more restrictive legislation on child working hours, and his work led to the passing of the so-called Ten Hours Act in 1847. He also campaigned on education and was chairman of the Ragged Schools Union which established many schools for poor families. He died in 1885. For more biographical information see The Victorian Web or Wikipedia. The Diary Junction has information on the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who lived two centuries earlier, and was also a diarist, and was also called Anthony Ashley Cooper.
Here are several extracts from The Life and Work of the Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury by Edwin Hodder, published in three volumes by Cassell & Company in 1886, all of them written by Cooper on his birthday.
28 April 1826
My birthday, and now I am twenty-five years old - a great age for one who is neither wise, nor good, nor useful, nor endowed with capability of becoming so. People would answer me, ‘Why, you have not lost your time, you have always been engaged;’ quite true, but always upon trifles; indeed, since my quitting Oxford, a space now of three years, I have absolutely done harm to my intellects, by false reasoning which, however rare it may have been, is the only exercise which has disturbed my mental indolence. What might have been performed in three years? but not a study commenced, not an object pursued; not a good deed done, not a good thought generated: for my thoughts are too unsteady for the honour of that title. Visions without end, but, God be praised, all of a noble character. I fancy myself in wealth and power, exerting my influence for the ends that I sought it for, for the increase of religion and true happiness. No man had ever more ambition, and probably my seeming earnestness for great and good purposes was merely a proof of hotter ambition and deeper self- deception than exists in others. That I am not completely in despair must come from God who knows, . . . Latterly I have taken to hard study. It amuses me and prevents mischief. Occasionally the question ‘cui bono’ sours my spirit of application; but generally speaking, I have stilled the passions. An attachment during my residence at Vienna commenced a course of self-knowledge for me. Man never has loved more furiously or more imprudently. The object was, and is, an angel, but she was surrounded by, and would have brought with her, a halo of hell.
28 April 1827.
‘My birthday again; and God be praised that I have arrived at it without any intolerable calamity of mind or body. It has been a year of study and exertion, but I have neither learnt nor done anything. Yet look at the history of all men who have obtained a degree of efficiency. They began much earlier to signalise their merits. Cicero opened his Pleadings at twenty-six, my age, . . ; Scipio was consul at twenty-four ; Pitt prime minister at twenty-three. All the men at the present day started while still of supple years. Peel, Canning, Robinson, were all younger than I am now, who have not done one thing, nor acquired the power of doing one thing, which might be serviceable to my country or an honour to myself. And yet I cannot keep down an aspiring sentiment - a sentiment which, God knows, aims at all virtue, and through that, aiming at all greatness. I cannot understand why my time is less profitably employed than the time of others. I read, think, make every endeavour, but no good result comes of it, and this year has found me as unprepared as the last, and the next year will find me no better than this has done. To be sure my weak stomach has a sad effect upon the head, but this is not all, I must confess painful deficiency, and in humbleness make the best of it.’
28 April 1831
‘Dorchester. Another birthday in the midst of an election and a falling country. Were I not married to a woman whose happiness, even for an hour, I prefer to whole years of my own, I could wish to be away from the scene of destruction and carried to an unearthly place, rather than see my country crumble before my eyes. Whatever be the result of this General Election relative to the Bill, the Ministers have succeeded in rendering some Reform inevitable.’
28 April 1843
‘My birthday. I am this day forty-two years old, more than half my course is run, even supposing that I fulfil the age assigned by the Psalmist to fallen man. ‘A short life, and a merry one,’ says the sensualist’s proverb; a long life and a useful one, would be more noble and more Scriptural; but it is spoken to the praise of Solomon, and by God himself, that he had not asked a long life; neither then will I; but I do ask, for to this we have the warranty of the Holy Word, that the residue of my years be given to the advancement of the Lord’s glory, and to the temporal and eternal welfare of the human race. Surely I may also pray to see, and even to reap, some fruit of my labours, to discern at least some probability of harvest, although to be gathered by other hands!
The Factory Bill drags a long - ten years have witnessed no amelioration - the plan for Education is defeated; the Opium effort is overthrown. On the Colliery Question alone have I had partial success, and that even is menaced by evil and selfish men.’
28 April 1884
‘My birthday, and I have now struck the figure of eighty-three. It is wonderful, it is miraculous, with my infirmities, and even sufferings, of body, with sensible decline of mental application and vigour, I yet retain, by God’s mercy, some power to think and to act. May He grant, for Christ’s sake, that, to my last hour, I may be engaged in His service, and in the full knowledge of all that is around and before me! Cobden used to say of D’Israeli - I have heard him more than once - “What a retrospect that man will have!” Retrospects must be terrible to every one who measures and estimates his hopes by the discharge of his duties here on earth. Unless he be overwhelmed with self-righteousness, he must see that, when weighed in the balance he will be found wanting. But what are the prospects? They may be bright, joyous certain, in the faith and fear of the Lord Jesus.’