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When he was a boy going to
About seventy years later a funeral was attended by more than 400,000 mourners, almost exclusively from the lower working class people. The vast throng moved slowly down the road carrying huge and wide banners. I was naked and he clothed me. Then maybe one hundred yards behind that, I was sick and he visited me. And farther back again, I was hungry and he fed me. And even farther back, I was thirsty and he gave me a drink. [They could have added:
"I was tired and he gave me rest."]
This was old Ashley Cooper, Lord Shaftesbury, Seventh Earl of Shaftesbury.
It was overheard and reported. Two young brothers from the poorest quarter were looking at the paper pasted to a wall, a paper that announced the death of Ashley Cooper. The older boy was able to make out what it was about and read it off to his younger brother—Lord Shaftesbury is dead. The younger one asked, “Is that our Lord Shaftesbury?”
It’s said of his school that, “nothing could have surpassed it for filth, bullying, neglect, and hard treatment of every sort.” So he wept when it was time to return to it. But life at home was almost as miserable because his mother didn’t care for him and his father was rigid and very severe. So he wept because he had to go to school and he wept because he had to go home.
But at home he had his old servant friend, Maria Millis just as Robert Louis Stevenson had his “Cummie”. Maria taught him a passionate and evangelical faith that contrasted with the Deism he found in his family and this remained with him for the rest of his long life.
He entered parliament when he was twenty-five and his first important speech in the House was an appeal on behalf of lunatics. God only knows how many of those poor people were chained together, herded like animals, allowed to lie in their filth and used as freak shows. It was Shaftesbury’s bill that led to a law that treated these people as “persons of unsound mind” rather than social pariahs. He fought to reduce the working day to ten hours, he fought to keep women and children out of the mines (he had come across children as young as four and five in the mines), he raged against the use of children as chimney cleaners and he fought to get the government to subsidize low cost but sound houses for the poor. He headed up schools for the poor and helped educate 300,000 during his twenty-nine years at the job. He wrote in his dairy, “By His grace I have stirred the country.”
There was nothing sentimental about Ashley Cooper’s life. For all his compassion and sensitive heart he worked to make a difference for the poor and the plundered.
Shaftesbury is one face of God’s love for the world.