Cobden: a plinth among men

With fierce debates swirling around our heads about historic statues, Daniel Snowman considers that of Richard Cobden.

I THINK I’ve known since school days roughly who “Cobden and Bright” were. Just as I’ve (kind of) known about Francis Drake, Guy Fawkes, Newton, Nelson and Gladstone. Weren’t Cobden and Bright mid-Victorian advocates of free trade? Based, I remember learning, in newly industrialising Manchester (remember the Free Trade Hall)?

Well, yes. But it was when I moved into the Camden area some years ago and kept passing that statue of Cobden just up from Mornington Crescent station on my way home that I found myself wanting to learn more about him.

The results of my passing curiosity led to some hugely “relevant” thoughts about the ways we think about the past today. For a start, I had a good look at the plaque beneath the statue. It says it is of “COBDEN” (no first name) and was erected by public subscription to which the principal contributor was the Emperor of France, Napoleon III.

"Daniel Snowman has brought zest and boundless curiosity to every aspect of his very wide and always impressive professional life. These pages reflect all that in joyful abundance."


"Daniel says somewhere that he doesn’t want to judge people. And he doesn’t. He writes candidly about his orthodox Jewish background, the benefits brought by German refugees, the evils of McCarthyism, the racism of the American South. He has been everywhere. As a musician and broadcaster, he has interviewed politicians like Crossman, luminaries like Barbirolli, and befriended singers like Domingo. He has even calmly discussed ‘the bomb’ with Harry Truman. He is a writer, producer, performer, historian and human being all in one and this book deserves to be read widely."

11th Earl of Sandwich and former President of the Pepys Club

"Daniel Snowman’s well-lived life – as broadcaster, historian, singer, lecturer, opera-buff – has taken him around the world and brought him in contact with many of the cultural and  political greats of the modern world. His warmly empathetic, intelligent and open-minded personality informs every page of this insightful and civilised memoir."

Editor of History Today, 1997–2008

"I have known Daniel over 70 years, but had no idea what a rich and full life he has led. I found it so impressive how he has managed to combine his two loves, history and music, largely through his world-wide travels and research, and his fascinating interviews (about some of which I would have liked to have learned more!). The book is beautifully presented, easy to read and well illustrated. I particularly appreciated the shortish chapters.

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Historian, Educationalist - and Daniel's first history teacher 70 years ago

"A masterpiece by a profound thinker: wonder and wisdom, grace and beauty, sprinkled with the human condition, dazzle the senses."