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Baroness Burdett-Coutts

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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.

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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 tumult.

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."

For thirty years he represented Westminster, fearless in what he considered right; strenuous for the abolition of slavery, and in all other reforms. Napoleon said at St. Helena, if he had invaded England as he had intended, he would have made it a republic, with Sir Francis Burdett, the popular idol, at its head.

Wealthy himself, Sir Francis married Sophia, the youngest daughter of the wealthy London banker, Thomas Coutts. One son and five daughters were born to them, the youngest Angela Georgina (April 21, 1814), now the Baroness Burdett-Coutts. Mr. Coutts was an eccentric and independent man, who married for his first wife an excellent girl of very humble position. Their children, from the great wealth of the father, married into the highest social rank, one being Marchioness of Bute, one countess of Guilford, and the third Lady Burdett.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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