Lives of Girls Who Became Famous HTML version

Baroness Burdett-Coutts
We hear, with comparative frequency, of great gifts made by men: George Peabody and
Johns Hopkins, Ezra Cornell and Matthew Vassar, Commodore Vanderbilt and Leland
Stanford. But gifts of millions have been rare from women. Perhaps this is because they
have not, as often as men, had the control of immense wealth.
It is estimated that Baroness Burdett-Coutts has already given away from fifteen to
twenty million dollars, and is constantly dispensing her fortune. She is feeling, in her
lifetime, the real joy of giving. How many benevolent persons lose all this joy, by waiting
till death before they bestow their gifts.
This remarkable woman comes from a remarkable family. Her father, Sir Francis Burdett,
was one of England's most prominent members of Parliament. So earnest and eloquent
was he that Canning placed him "very nearly, if not quite, at the head of the orators of the
day." His colleague from Westminster, Hobhouse, said, "Sir Francis Burdett was
endowed with qualities rarely united. A manly understanding and a tender heart gave a
charm to his society such as I have never derived in any other instance from a man whose
principal pursuit was politics. He was the delight both of young and old."
He was of fine presence, with great command of language, natural, sincere, and
impressive. After being educated at Oxford, he spent some time in Paris during the early
part of the French Revolution, and came home with enlarged ideas of liberty. With as
much courage as eloquence, he advocated liberty of the press in England, and many
Parliamentary reforms. Whenever there were misdeeds to be exposed, he exposed them.
The abuses of Cold Bath Fields and other prisons were corrected through his searching
public inquiries.
When one of his friends was shut up in Newgate for impugning the conduct of the House
of Commons, Sir Francis took his part, and for this it was ordered that he too be arrested.
Believing in free speech as he did, he denied the right of the House of Commons to arrest
him, and for nearly three days barricaded his house, till the police forcibly entered, and
carried him to the Tower. A riot resulted, the people assaulting the police and the
soldiers, for the statesman was extremely popular. Several persons were killed in the
Nine years later, in 1819, because he condemned the proceedings of the Lancashire
magistrates in a massacre case, he was again arrested for libel (?). His sentence was three
months' imprisonment, and a fine of five thousand dollars. The banknote with which the
money was paid is still preserved in the Bank of England, "with an inscription in
Burdett's own writing, that to save his life, which further imprisonment threatened to
destroy, he submitted to be robbed."