Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Fall from Grace

Speculation in stocks is a very old practice, often one which produces bad results.  Such turned out to be the case for Thomas, the 10th Lord Cochrane, an admired Naval commander, who placed a profitable trade on February 21st, 1814.  The story is told in a footnote by editor Rowland Prothero, in “The Works of Lord Byron, Letters and Journals, Volume II.
‘During the days February 8-26, 1814, it seemed possible that Napoleon might defeat the Allied Armies, and the Funds were sensitive to every rumour. At midnight on Sunday, February 20, a man calling himself Du Bourg brought news to Admiral Foley, at Dover, that Napoleon had been killed by a party of Cossacks. Hurrying towards London, Du Bourg, whose real name was Berenger, spread the news as he went. Arrived in London soon after daybreak, he went to Cochrane's house, and there changed his uniform. When the Stock Exchange opened at ten on February 21, 1814, the Funds rose rapidly, and among those who sold on the rise was Cochrane. The next day, when the swindle had been discovered, the Stocks fell.

A Stock Exchange Committee sat to investigate the case, and their report (March 7) threw grave suspicion on Cochrane. He, his uncle, Cochrane Johnstone, a Mr. Butt, and Berenger, were indicted for a conspiracy, tried before Lord Ellenborough, June 8-9, and convicted. Cochrane was sentenced to a year's imprisonment and a fine of £1000. On the back of the note for £1000 (still kept in the Bank of England) with which he paid his fine on July 3, 1815, he wrote:

  "My health having suffered by long and close confinement, and my   oppressors being resolved to deprive me of property or life, I submit   to robbery to protect myself from murder, in the hope that I shall   live to bring the delinquents to justice."

Cochrane was also expelled from the House of Commons and from the Order of the Bath…’

It was quite a fall from grace for Lord Cochrane.  Convicted of fraud (reversed posthumously, in 1876), Cochrane lost his post with the British Royal Navy, and subsequently served with the navies of Chile and Brazil, during their wars of independence.  Returning to Britain in 1825, Cochrane was greeted favorably by the public, including an incident in 1826 that inspired Walter Scott’s pen.  The incident is related in “The Life of Thomas, Lord Cochrane, Tenth Earl of Dundonald…” by Thomas Cochrane , the Eleventh Earl of Dundonald.

One incident in that visit was noteworthy. On the 3rd of October, Lord and Lady Cochrane, being in Edinburgh, went to the theatre, where an eager crowd assembled to do them honour. Into the after-piece an allusion to South America was specially introduced. Upon that the whole audience rose and, turning to the seats occupied by the visitors, showed their admiration by plaudits so long and so vehement that Lady Cochrane, overpowered by her feelings, burst into tears. Thereupon Sir Walter Scott, who was in the theatre, wrote the following verses:--

"I knew thee, lady, by that glorious eye,
By that pure brow and those dark locks of thine,
I knew thee for a soldier's bride, and high
My full heart bounded: for the golden mine
Of heavenly thought kindled at sight of thee,
Radiant with all the stars of memory.

"I knew thee, and, albeit, myself unknown,
I called on Heaven to bless thee for thy love,
The strength, the constancy thou long hast shown,
Each selfish aim, each womanish fear above:
And, lady, Heaven is with thee; thou art blest,
Blest in whatever thy immortal soul loves best.

"Thy name, ask Brazil, for she knows it well;
It is a name a hero gave to thee;
In every letter lurks there not a spell,--
The mighty spell of immortality?
Ye sail together down time's glittering stream;
Around your heads two glittering haloes gleam.

"Even now, as through the air the plaudits rung,
I marked the smiles that in her features came;
She caught the word that fell from every tongue,
And her eye brightened at her Cochrane's name;
And brighter yet became her bright eyes' blaze;
It was his country, and she felt the praise,--

"Ay, even as a woman, and his bride, should feel,
With all the warmth of an o'erflowing soul:
Unshaken she had seen the ensanguined steel,
Unshaken she had heard war's thunders roll,
But now her noble heart could find relief
In tears alone, though not the tears of grief.

"May the gods guard thee, lady, whereso'er
Thou wanderest in thy love and loveliness!
For thee may every scene and sky be fair,
Each hour instinct with more than happiness!
May all thou valuest be good and great,
And be thy wishes thy own future fate!"

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