Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Rogers, James Edwin Thorold

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ROGERS, JAMES EDWIN THOROLD (1823–1890), political economist, eleventh son of George Vining Rogers, was born at West Meon, Hampshire, in 1823. Educated first at Southampton and King's College, London, he matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, on 9 March 1843, graduated B.A. with a first class in lit. hum. in 1846, and proceeded M.A. in 1849. An ardent high-churchman, he was ordained shortly after taking his degree, and became curate of St. Paul's, Oxford. In 1856 he also acted voluntarily as assistant curate at Headington, near Oxford. He threw himself into parochial work with energy; but, losing sympathy with the tractarian movement after 1860, he resolved to abandon the clerical profession. He was subsequently instrumental in obtaining the Clerical Disabilities Relief Act, by which clergymen could resign their orders. Of this act he was the first to avail himself (10 Aug. 1870).

On graduating Rogers had settled in Oxford, and, while still engaged in clerical work, had made some reputation as a successful private tutor in classics and philosophy. In 1859 he published an ‘Introductory Lecture to the Logic of Aristotle,’ and in 1865 an edition of the Nicomachean Ethics. He was long engaged on a ‘Dictionary to Aristotle,’ which he abandoned in 1860 on the refusal of the university press to bear the expense of printing it; the manuscript is now at Worcester College, Oxford. Later contributions to classical literature were a translation of Euripides' ‘Bacchæ’ into English verse in 1872, and some ‘Verse Epistles, Satires, and Epigrams’ imitated from Horace and Juvenal in 1876. He was examiner in the final classical school in 1857 and 1858, and in classical moderations in 1861 and 1862. In the administrative work of the university he took a large share; but he severely criticised the professorial system and the distribution of endowments in ‘Education in Oxford: its Methods, its Aids, and its Rewards,’ 1861. In later life, while advocating the admission of women to the examinations and the revival of non-collegiate membership of the university, he disapproved of the official recognition by the university of English literature and other subjects of study which had previously lain outside the curriculum. From an early period Rogers devoted much of his leisure to the study of political economy, and in 1859 he was elected first Tooke professor of statistics and economic science at King's College, London. This office he held till his death, besides acting for some years as examiner in political economy at the university of London. In 1860 he began his researches into the history of agriculture and prices, on which his permanent fame rests. In 1862 he was elected by convocation for a term of five years Drummond professor of political economy in the university of Oxford. He zealously performed the duties of his new office, and in 1867, when his tenure of the Drummond professorship expired, he offered himself for re-election. But his advanced political views, and his activity as a speaker on political platforms, had offended the more conservative members of convocation. Bonamy Price [q. v.] was put up as a rival candidate, and, after an active canvas on his behalf, was elected by a large majority. Despite his rejection, Rogers busily continued his economic investigations. He had published the first two volumes of his ‘History of Agriculture’ in 1866. There followed in 1868 a student's ‘Manual of Political Economy,’ in 1869 his edition of Adam Smith's ‘Wealth of Nations,’ and in 1871 an elementary treatise on ‘Social Economy.’

One of Rogers's elder brothers, John Bligh Rogers, who was engaged in medical practice at Droxford, Hampshire, had married Emma, sister of Richard Cobden, on 16 Oct. 1827. This connection brought Rogers in his youth to Cobden's notice, and the two men, despite the difference in their ages, were soon on terms of intimacy. Rogers adopted with ardour Cobden's political and economic views, and, though subsequent experience led him to reconsider some of them, he adhered to Cobden's leading principles through life. He was a frequent visitor at Cobden's house at Dunsford, and Cobden visited Rogers at Oxford. After Cobden's death Rogers preached the funeral sermon at West Lavington church on 9 April 1865, and he defended Cobden's general political position in ‘Cobden and Modern Political Opinion,’ 1873. He was an early and an active member of the Cobden Club. Through Cobden he came to know John Bright, and, although his relations with Bright were never close, he edited selections of Bright's public speeches in 1868 and 1879, and co-operated with him in preparing Cobden's speeches for the press in 1870. Under such influences Rogers threw himself into political agitation, and between 1860 and 1880 proved himself an effective platform speaker. He championed the cause of the North during the American civil war, and warmly denounced the acts of Governor Eyre in Jamaica. In the controversy over elementary education he acted with the advanced section of the National Education League. In 1867 he contributed an article on bribery to ‘Questions for a Reformed Parliament.’ He was always well disposed towards the co-operative movement, and presided at the seventh annual congress in London in 1875.

Having thus fitted himself for a seat in parliament, Rogers was in 1874 an unsuccessful candidate for Scarborough in the liberal interest. From 1880 to 1885 he represented, together with Mr. Arthur Cohen, Q.C., the borough of Southwark. After the redistribution of seats by the act of 1885 he was returned for the Bermondsey division. He took little part in the debates of the House of Commons, but on 10 March 1886 moved and carried a resolution recommending that local rates should be divided between owner and occupier. He followed Mr. Gladstone in his adoption of the policy of home rule in 1886, and consequently failed to retain his seat for Bermondsey at the general election in July of that year.

Before and during his parliamentary career Rogers lectured on history at Mr. Wren's ‘coaching’ establishment in Bayswater. But he still resided for the most part at Oxford, and continued his contributions to economic literature. In 1883 he was appointed lecturer in political economy at Worcester College, and on the death of his old rival, Bonamy Price, in 1888, he was re-elected to the Drummond professorship at Oxford. He died at Oxford on 12 Oct. 1890.

Rogers married, on 19 Dec. 1850, at Petersfield, Anna, only daughter of William Peskett, surgeon, of Petersfield; she died without issue in 1853. On 14 Dec. 1854 Rogers married his second wife, Anne Susanna Charlotte, second daughter of H. R. Reynolds, esq., solicitor to the treasury, by whom he had issue five sons and a daughter. A portrait by Miss Margaret Fletcher is in the possession of the National Liberal Club, the library of which owes much to his counsel, and another by the same artist is in the hall of Worcester College, Oxford.

It is as an economic historian that Rogers deserves to be remembered. Of minute and scholarly historical investigation he was a keen advocate, and to his chief publication, ‘History of Agriculture and Prices,’ English historical writers stand deeply indebted. No similar record exists for any other country. The full title of the work was ‘A History of Agriculture and Prices in England from the year after the Oxford Parliament (1259) to the commencement of the Continental War (1793), compiled entirely from original and contemporaneous records.’ Vols. i. and ii. (1259–1400) were published at Oxford in 1866, 8vo; vols. iii. and iv. (1401–1582) in 1882; vols. v. and vi. (1583– 1702) in 1887; while vols. vii. and viii. (1702–1793), for which Rogers had made large collections, are being prepared for publication by his fourth son, Mr. A. G. L. Rogers.

Rogers published both the materials which he extracted from contemporary records and the averages and the conclusions he based upon them. The materials are of permanent value, but some of his conclusions have been assailed as inaccurate. He sought to trace the influence of economic forces on political movements, and appealed to history to illustrate and condemn what he regarded as economic fallacies. But he seems to have overestimated the prosperous condition of the English labourer in the middle ages, and to have somewhat exaggerated the oppressive effects of legislation on his position in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Mr. Frederic Seebohm proved that Rogers greatly underestimated the effects on the rural population of the ‘black death’ of 1349 (cf. Fortnightly Review, ii. iii. iv.); Dr. Cunningham has shown that Rogers seriously antedated the commutation of villein-service, and misapprehended the value of the currency in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries (Growth of English Industry and Commerce, passim). But it should be recognised that much of Rogers's vast work is that of a pioneer making roads through an unexplored country. To abstract economic theory Rogers made no important contribution. He objected to the method and to many of the conclusions of the Ricardian school of economists, but he never shook himself free from their conceptions. Nor had he much sympathy with the historical school of economists of the type of Roscher.

Several of Rogers's other publications were largely based upon the ‘History of Agriculture and Prices.’ Of these the most important was ‘Six Centuries of Work and Wages’ (2 vols. London, 1884, 8vo; new edition revised in one volume, London, 1886, 8vo; 3rd edit. 1890, 8vo). Eight chapters of his ‘Six Centuries’ were reprinted separately as ‘The History of Work and Wages,’ 1885, 8vo. His ‘First Nine Years of the Bank of England,’ Oxford, 1887, 8vo, and his article ‘Finance’ in the ‘Encylopædia Britannica,’ 9th edit., are valuable contributions to financial history. The former reprints a weekly register discovered by Rogers of the prices of bank stock from 1694 to 1703, with a narrative showing the reasons of the fluctuations.

Rogers also published: 1. ‘Primogeniture and Entail,’ &c., Manchester, 1864, 8vo. 2. ‘Historical Gleanings: a series of sketches, Montague, Walpole, Adam Smith, Cobbett,’ London, 1869, 8vo; 2nd ser. Wiclif, Laud, Wilkes, Horne Tooke, London, 1870, 8vo. 3. ‘Paul of Tarsus: an inquiry into the Times and the Gospel of the Apostle of the Gentiles, by a Graduate’ [anon.], 1872, 8vo. 4. ‘A Complete Collection of the Protests of the Lords, with Historical Introductions,’ &c., 3 vols. Oxford, 1875, 8vo. 5. ‘The Correspondence of the English establishment, with the Purpose of its Foundation,’ London [1875], 8vo. 6. ‘Loci e Libro Veritatum. Passages selected from Gascoyne's Theological Dictionary …’ 1881, 4to. 7. ‘Ensilage in America: its Prospects in English Agriculture,’ London, 1883, 8vo; 2nd edit., with a new introduction on the progress of ensilage in England during 1883–4, London, 1884, 8vo. 8. ‘The British Citizen: his Rights and Privileges,’ 1885 (in the People's Library.) 9. ‘Holland’ (Story of the Nations series), 1888, 8vo. 10. ‘The Relations of Economic Science to Social and Political Action,’ London, 1888, 8vo. 11. ‘The Economic Interpretation of History,’ &c., London, 1888, 8vo; there are translations in French, German, and Spanish. 12. ‘Oxford City Documents … 1268–1665’ (Oxford Historical Society), Oxford, 1891, 8vo. 13. ‘Industrial and Commercial History of England,’ a course of lectures, edited by his fourth son, Mr. A. G. L. Rogers, London, 1892, 8vo.

Joseph Rogers (1821–1889), medical practitioner, elder brother of the above, for forty years actively promoted reform in the administration of the poor law. Commencing practice in London in 1844, he became supernumerary medical officer at St. Anne's, Soho, in 1855, on the occasion of an outbreak of cholera. In the following year he was appointed medical officer to the Strand workhouse. In 1861 he gave evidence before the select committee of the House of Commons on the supply of drugs in workhouse infirmaries, when his views were adopted by the committee. In 1868 his zeal for reform brought him into conflict with the guardians, and the president of the poor-law board, after an inquiry, removed him from office. In 1872 he became medical officer of the Westminster infirmary. Here also the guardians resented his efforts at reform and suspended him, but he was reinstated by the president of the poor-law board, and his admirers presented him with a testimonial consisting of three pieces of plate and a cheque for 150l. He was the founder and for some time president of the Poor Law Medical Officers' Association. The system of poor-law dispensaries and separate sick wards, with proper staffs of medical attendants and nurses, is due to the efforts of Rogers and his colleagues. He died in April 1889. His ‘Reminiscences’ were edited by his brother, J. E. Thorold Rogers.

[René de Laboulaye's Thorold Rogers, Les Théories sur la Propriété (1891); Times, 10 April 1889, 14 Oct. 1890; Academy, 1890, ii. 341; Athenæum, 1890, ii. 512; Guardian, 1890, ii. 1609; Economic Review, 1891, vol. i. No. 1; Dr. Rogers's Reminiscences; Foster's Alumni Oxon. 1715–1886, iii. 1219.]

W. A. S. H.