Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Miall, Edward

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1407982Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 37 — Miall, Edward1894John Andrew Hamilton

MIALL, EDWARD (1809–1881), politician, younger son of Moses Miall, a general merchant, of Portsmouth, by his wife Sarah, daughter of George Rolph, was born at Portsmouth, 8 May 1809. During his childhood his father removed to London, first to Hammersmith, and afterwards to the north of London, and opened a school. After being for a short time a pupil at St. Saviour's grammar school, Edward became, at about the age of sixteen, assistant to his father, and in 1827, when, owing to his father's poverty, the home was broken up, he filled the office of usher, first in the school of a Mr. Saltmarsh of Bocking, near Braintree, and then in that of a Mr. Waddell of Nayland in Suffolk.

At an early date he developed strong religious feeling. At the same time he showed literary propensities, reading English poetry with avidity, and writing numerous verses. Shortly before the death of his father in 1829 he entered the Wymondley Theological Institution, Hertfordshire, subsequently merged in New College, London, and began his preparation for the independent ministry. In the debating society and in the chapel pulpit he distinguished himself by natural eloquence and great fluency, and he accepted, in February 1831, the charge of a congregation at Ware in Hertfordshire, and in 1834 became minister of the Bond Street Chapel, Leicester. He familiarised himself with the condition of the working classes in Leicester, but did not take an active part in politics till 1840.

In November of that year he began his lifelong attacks upon the established church, by taking part in a meeting to express sympathy with William Baines, a member of his congregation, who had been sent to gaol for non-payment of church rates. He had already planned the foundation of a newspaper to be the special organ of the nonconformist demand for disestablishment, and had acquired journalistic facility by writing for the ‘Leicester Mercury.’ He now gave up his congregation in Leicester, and after canvassing among English nonconformists for the requisite capital from August 1840 to March 1841, he established the ‘Nonconformist,’ a weekly publication with the motto and principle of ‘The Dissidence of Dissent and the Protestantism of the Protestant Religion.’ The first number appeared on 14 April 1841. Miall was appointed editor, and, settling at Stoke Newington, devoted all his energies to the venture. His weekly articles denouncing the state church he subsequently collected for republication as ‘The Nonconformist Sketch-Book’ (1845, republished in 1867), ‘Views of the Voluntary Principle’ (1845), and ‘Ethics of Nonconformity.’ He also opposed the Melbourne administration, denounced the tory party, and attacked aristocratic government. In spite of the silent disfavour of leading dissenters, the circulation of his paper grew, and he gradually acquired real political influence. He was one of that small band of radicals which endeavoured, fruitlessly, to bring the chartist leaders into line with the more established political organisations. He advocated what was practically manhood suffrage, and appealed to the middle classes to join hands with the artisans. Through his support of the Anti-Corn Law League he obtained the acquaintance of Joseph Sturge, and in April 1842 he, with Sturge, Bright, Mursell, and Sharman Crawford, arranged the Birmingham conferences with the chartist leaders, Lovett, O'Brien, and Henry Vincent, to promote the abolition of class legislation. The National Complete Suffrage Union was then founded, and carried on for some years the propaganda for a wider franchise, and the ‘Nonconformist’ was formally constituted its organ in the press, though after the second Birmingham conference, in December 1842, Miall did not take part in its meetings.

Miall's writings did more than anything else to produce a school of aggressive politicians among dissenters. The foundation of the free church of Scotland greatly encouraged his supporters, and his determined opposition to the compulsory religious education clauses in Graham's Factories Education Bill of 1843 increased his influence. After much effort he procured the assembling of a conference on disestablishment in London on 30 April 1844, when there was established a society called the ‘British Anti-State Church Association,’ having for its object ‘the liberation of religion from all governmental or legislative interference.’ It was renamed in 1853 ‘The Society for the Liberation of Religion from State Patronage and Control.’ On behalf of the Association Miall undertook frequent missionary tours in the north of England and in Scotland. In August 1845 he contested Southwark at a by-election, caused by the death of its member, Benjamin Wood. In his election address he declared himself consecrated to the separation of church and state, and advocated complete suffrage, the ballot, equal electoral districts, payment of members, and annual parliaments. He polled one-sixth of the votes of the successful liberal candidate, Sir William Molesworth [q. v.]

At the general election of 1847 he contested Halifax on the principles of his Anti-State Church Association. He spent no money on his contest. His committees conducted their meetings with prayer, and he startled the electors by discussing with them spiritual topics, but he found himself, with Ernest Jones [q. v.] the chartist, at the bottom of the poll. In 1852, however, he succeeded Sharman Crawford in the representation of Rochdale.

In the House of Commons he was not, except upon questions which bore upon disestablishment, a frequent speaker. He was the advocate of voluntaryism in the debates on the Oxford University Bill, the Canadian Clergy Reserves Bill, the Bill for the Abolition of Church Rates, and the Parliamentary Oaths Bill. In 1853 appeared his ‘Bases of Belief, an Examination of Christianity as a Divine Revelation,’ which reached a third edition in 1861. Failing health obliged him to visit Switzerland in August 1854.

In 1856 the Liberation Society resolved on a more aggressive policy, and on 27 May Miall, on its behalf, introduced resolutions in the House of Commons in favour of Irish disestablishment. He was defeated by 163 to 93. At the general election of 1857 he lost his seat like many others of the radical party who had opposed Palmerston. Though he soon contested Tavistock and Banbury, he remained out of parliament for twelve years. Lord Salisbury, president of the council, nominated him, however, in June 1858, a member of the royal commission on education, and the work occupied him for nearly three years. He represented the dissenters on the commission, and opposed state education. Accordingly he and Goldwin Smith presented a joint minority report in March 1861, though he also signed the general report. In 1862 he prepared for the Liberation Society a polemical handbook called ‘The Title Deeds of the Church of England to her Parochial Endowments,’ reprinted from the ‘Nonconformist,’ being an examination into the history and conditions of the tenure of ecclesiastical endowments from the disestablishment point of view. This reached a sixth edition in 1865. After the sixth triennial conference of the Liberation Society in 1862 he received a testimonial of 5,000l. and a service of plate. In 1863 he was the author of the new policy adopted by the Liberation Society, which aimed at inducing the liberal party in the large towns to adopt a programme of disestablishment without qualification. In the autumn of 1866 he carried out a tour of propaganda in Wales. In 1867 he first contested Bradford; but the liberal party was not united, nor were Miall's the views to unite them, and he was defeated by 2,210 votes to 1,807, at a cost of 1,335l. He contested the place for a second time on 18 Nov. 1868. William Edward Forster [q. v.] headed the poll and Miall was last, but the second candidate was unseated for bribery, and at the contest for the vacant seat, 12 March 1869, Miall was returned.

In the house he soon found himself in conflict with his colleague, W. E. Forster, whose Education Bill, 1870, was not as hostile to the established church as Miall, who had at length accepted the principle of state education, desired, and the terms in which he denounced the bill on the third reading brought upon him the strong censure of Mr. Gladstone. With the concurrence of the Liberation Society, he gave notice at the end of the session of 1870 to move for a committee on English disestablishment. After addressing numerous meetings during the winter, he brought on his motion on 9 May 1871, and secured 89 votes to 374. He renewed the motion in the former year and in July 1872, but his supporters only numbered 96 on the first occasion and 61 on the second. His contention throughout was that his motion was as much in the interest of the church of England as in that of the voluntary bodies, and that his hostility was not to the church but to what he regarded as the fatal incubus of state patronage.

But his health was failing. In 1873 ten thousand guineas were subscribed for him, and he announced that he would not again contest Bradford. In 1874 he retired from parliament. Almost his last public appearance was at a liberation conference in Manchester in that year. The death of his wife in January 1876 shook him severely, and though he continued to edit the ‘Nonconformist,’ he lived in retirement. He quitted Honor Oak, near London, where he had lived since 1864, for Sevenoaks in Kent early in 1881, and died there on 29 April 1881. By his wife Louisa, daughter of Edward Holmes of Clayhill, Enfield, whom he married on 25 Jan. 1832, he had two sons—including Arthur, the author of his biography—and three daughters. Apart from the question of disestablishment Miall had few interests, and sought few distractions. For many years he was a contributor to the ‘Illustrated London News,’ and on the income from this source, combined with his stipend as editor of the ‘Nonconformist,’ which was not financially successful, he depended for his livelihood. He was in private life genial, pious, and unassuming, and hardly deserved the reputation for narrowness and bitterness which his public career brought him. As a writer he was fluent, if verbose. In addition to the works above mentioned, and many tracts and printed speeches, his chief publications were: 1. ‘The British Churches in relation to the British People,’ 1849. 2. ‘The Franchise as a means of a People's Training,’ 1851. 3. ‘An Editor off the Line: Wayside Musings,’ 1865. 4. ‘Social Influences of the State Church,’ 1867.

[His life, by his son Arthur Miall, with a portrait, was published in 1884. See, too, supplement to the Nonconformist, 5 May 1881; Times, 2 May 1881; Monthly Christian Spectator, 1852.]

J. A. H.