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If we had time for sport, or, if these transactions were not of too serious and important a nature to permit us to indulge in any disposition to levity, we might here find abundant matter for amusement. But, leaving these “ inestimable advantages” to be discovered in the present state of a country, which is so over-run with paupers as for the poorrates to demand aid from Exchequer Bills ; leaving the Ministers, who wrote this speech to discover what nations those "other nations are," who acknowledge the Borough system to be the “most perfect that ever has fallen to the lot of any people ;” and leaving them also to say, what was the wisdom in pointing out the excellence of laws, the remaining good ones of which were all about to be suspended ; let us come to the subject of the “ disaffected,” and of the “ designs” and “arts" here alluded to.
It was well known, it has been a hundred times proved, that there were none of the Reformers, who had any designs, which were not openly avowed, and which were no other than the Duke of Richmond had had thirty years before ; and, so far from the agitation of the question of Reform having produced a spirit of " sedition and violence;" it had notoriously produced the contrary effects. Nobody is bound to prove a negative; nobody is bound to prove his innocence; every man and every body of men are held to be innocent till they are proved to be guilty. But, we were in the singular situation to be able to prove a negative in our favour; for, while there had been riots, in parts of the kingdom where there had been no Public Meetings for Reform, there had not, throughout the whole kingdom been one single act of violence committed where there had been, or where there were about to be, Meetings for Reform.
The Speech, indeed, did not speak of the Reformers, but, it spoke of a reliance on “ the cordial support and co-operation of the Parliament,” and, it was not very easy to see what these were needed for, while the Attorney-General was in full power, and while the Ministers had at their command an army of 150,000 men. If, however, any one could have doubted of what was intended, the speeches of the Members, on both sides of the House, as it is called most whimsically, would have left no longer any room for the shadow of such doubt. The mover and seconder of the Address, the leading Members of the Opposition, all agreed in reprobating the Reformers, and that unfathomably profound gentleman, Mr. LAMB, who is called one of “the gentlemen opposite," most eagerly volunteered his support of the “firm-handed” measures which he anticipated, and which, he said he would be for, because they would be for the good of the people themselves! Thank you, sweet Mr. Lamb; and, if we do not demonstrate our gratitude in something more solid than thanks, towards you and towards the rest of “the gentlemen opposite," by no means forgetting Lord Milton, Mr. Wm. Elliot, Mr. Wynne, and many others, we are well assured, that you will take the will for the deed, and that you will give us credit till the time shall come when we may be able to repay your kindness, principal and interest. Mr. Lamb, with his usual profundity, took occasion, by way of parenthesis. to say, that he would not touch the property of the fundholder. Stick to that, Mr. Lamb! He said, that the land holders had been ruined, and that having done the people no good, it followed, of course, that the touching of the funds would do no good, but would produce new ruin. This is Oxford learning. This is the hereditary wisdom of
Mr. Lamb, who, if he had been a “ Weaver-Boy" of Lancashire, never could have had any such brilliant thoughts come into his head.
Now it was that the gathered storm poured down upon us, and more especially upon me. Every one had some stroke at the Cheap Publi. cations ; the Poisonous, the Venomous, the Deadly, Weekly Publications. There was too much pride remaining to name my Register out-right. But, there was not pride enough to prevent a resort to all those circumlocutory shifts, which amounted to exactly the same thing as a downright calling me by my name; and the whole nation saw, that the sole drift and object were to stifle, by some means or other, the influence of the Twopenny Trash Publications. Great pains were taken to disguise this ; but all would not do. The people had foreseen, that this must be done, or that a Reform must take place; and, a resolution to refuse the latter amounted to a proof of an intention to make a desperate attempt to do the former,
Still, it was pretended, as in the Speech, that "the good sense of the "great body of his Majesty's subjects was such as not to leave room to " believe that they were capable of being perverted by the arts of the " disaffected.” Not very good English this, 'tis true, but much worse reasoning, for, if the great body were sound and well affected, and not capable of having their minds perverted, what need was there of all this fright? Why was the “ cordial co-operation” of the Parliament called for? And why did these gentlemen make such a lamentable outcry against the Twopenny Trash? But, then, as Mr.-LAMB So sweetly said, it was necessary to adopt firm-handed measures for the good of the people themselves. Yes, sweet Mr. Lamb, but, while the great body were sound, was it necessary to enable the Secretaries of State to cram into dungeons any body whom they pleased, not excepting this “great body," whose good sense made them absolutely incapable of yielding to seduction ? Some legislators might have thought it suficient to enable the Ministers to cram into dungeons those who should be found to be amongst the “ disaffected;" that is to say, legislators of a moderate degree of zeal and affection; but, so great was your zeal and affection for the people, that you volunteered your aid, though you were one of “the Gentlemen opposite," to assist the Ministers in this work of kind. ness towards the people ; accordingly, you were ballotted upon the neverto be-forgotten Committee !
This sentiment of wondrous affection for the people; of wondrous zeal for their good ; this amiable sentiment seems to have been uppermost in the breasts of the whole of the actors in this memorable scene. Lord Castlereagh and Mr. Canning had principally in view their love of the Constitution and of the liberties of the people. That plain, frank, and sincere old Nobleman, the Lord Chancellor, almost shed tears, while he declared (and took God to witness to the truth of what he said) that it was his love for the Constitution and of the liberties of the people, that alone could induce him to give his consent to these measures. That pondrous statesman, the Marquis of Buckingham, and his no less pondrous uncle, said the same; while that future pillar of his country, as the sycophant Burke, called him, Lord Milton, though he voted for all the Bills but the Power-of-Imprisonment Bill, did not think that any degree of affection for the Constitution and for the liberties of the people called upon him to go quite so far; and, as his father (Burke's main national pillar) had gone the whole length, the newspapers told us, that
the tender-hearted Lord Milton was “deepıy affected” in expressing his dissent from the Dungeon-Bill. However, the Right Honourable Wm. Elliot, who is, in a parliamentary sense as closely connected with Lord Fitzwilliam as Lord Milton himself is; this Right Honourable Genileman, whose very figure bespeaks benevolence and warmth of heart, and each of whose dimples brotherly love would seem to have chosen for its abode ; this Right Honourable personage carried his love to the full length of Dungeon-Bill and all; and, if any thing further could have been proposed, I dare say, that his ardent love of the Constitution and of the liberties of the people, would have urged him to follow the propositions. In answer to all which expressions of tender regard, the people might have answered, that these worthies had "an odd way of showing it.” When they told us, so often, that they were really, at bottom, only anxious to prove their love to the Constitution and to our liberties, though they might seem to be passing Acts against both, we might have answered in the words of the old French Epigram, the former part of which I have forgotten, but in the latter part of which (being translated into English) a young girl, all in tears, says to her lover :
I excuse you, my dear, for dissembling your love;
The compassion, too, that these kind gentlemen expressed for the deluded few, was very striking in its character and effects. There were only a few of the deluded; and yet these gentlemen would put the whole nation into the absolute power of the Ministers, for the purpose of preserving these few from the delusions practised upon them. They would, and they did pass a law enacting a new treason; a law making it death to attempt to seduce a soldier from bis duty; a law to enable the magistrates to open, or shut up, at their sole pleasures, all reading-TOOTERS, all lecturing rooms, all circulating-libraries, and to grant or refuse assent to the petitioning the Parliament itself at any public meeting, and finally, to drive the people of Westminster away from their old place of meeting to petition. All this these gentlemen did, besides enabling the Ministers to shut up in prison whomsoever they pleased, in any jail that they pleased, and for any length of time they pleased, without suffering the parties so shut up to see, or to correspond with, their wives, children or friends. All this these kind gentlemen did; and that, too, from their extreme affection and compassion for the “ deluded few !” There were, indeed, laws, and those pretty severe ones, too, already in existence for punishing whoever might, by writing or speaking, inculcate what was called sedition and blasphemy; but while these laws remained wholly unappealed to ; while none of the “ designing men” were attempted to be made amenable to these laws, the compassion of these gentlemen for the “deluded few” induced them to hasten to propose new laws, which embraced every class of the community.
Infinite pains were taken, in these speeches at the opening of the Parliament, to send forth the idea, that the persons who had been seduced; that is to say, the persons who had met and petitioned for Reform, were nothing but an ignorant rabble. This was very inconsistent with the alarn, that they had excited, and the serious measures which were clearly intended. It was completely answered by the wonderful stock of knowledge and of talent, which had appeared at those meetings. But, for reasons too obvious to mention, it was thought necessary to ascribe the demands of the people to ignorance. To have called them all perverse or disaffected would have not suited the purpose. Therefore it was to their ignorance and to the craftiness of their seducers that the alarming evil was to be ascribed; though the arguments of the former had not, and were never intended to be, attempted to be refuted, and though the latter had never been called in question by the law. Yet did Mr. Dawson, who seconded the Address in the House of Commons, complain of the “ delusive appeals of those, who, under the pretence of a redress " of grievances, were found haranguing large assemblies of the people, “ on topics, which were quite above the comprehension of the vulgar."
I wonder what topics these could be? The usual topics were Sinecures, and unearned Pensions and Grants ; the Civil List; the sums voted annually for the relief of the “ Poor Clergy” of the richest Church in the world, while Mr, Malthus, one of that Church, was crying out against relieving poor labourers, because it was a premium for population. Other topics were, the injustice of making the nation pay interest in a high currency for debts contracted in a low currency, and for salaries at the old rate, when the price of labour had so greatly fallen. And, above all, the people discussed the topic of trafficking in seats.
Now, it may be a matter of doubt, perhaps, with some persons, though it is none with me, whether there were a score of labourers in England, who did not understand all these topics as well as Mr. Dawson did ; but, if they did not; if they were ignorant, and, if the matters discussed really were above their comprehension, how came the discussions to have produced so strong an impression upon their minds, that it was necessary to endeavour to efface it by four most tremendous Acts of Parliament ? We never find, that much impression is produced on the mind of a man by the hearing, or the reading, of what he does not understand; and hence, I suppose, the few converts that are made by the sublime speeches which the English people might, if they had nothing better to look at, read in the newspapers, during one-half of every year, Talk, or write, nonsense to a man, and you will make no impression upon him other than such as disposes him to laugh. Talk even sense to him, in a language that he does not understand, and he stares at you, but that is all. But, the people, in this case must have been addressed in a language that they understood, and they must have pretty clearly comprehended the matter too; otherwise, why these extraordinary, why these monstrous efforts, to reduce to silence those who were called their seducers ?
It is curious to observe, too, how the estimate of the people's understanding varies, in the opinions of men like Mr. Dawson, as the tendency of the people's efforts vary. Burke called them a "Swinish Multitude," while he held forth Lord Fitzwilliam and his son as the Nestor and the Telemachus of the day. This was at a time, when the people were, many of them, calling for an end to the trafficking in seats. But, when, in four years afterwards, they had been, in some places, especially at Manchester and Birmingham, induced by false alarms and by various other tricks, to form themselves, under the rich to pull down Jacobins' houses, and to burn Mr. PAINE in effigy; then they became all at once a very rational and sensible people ; and, Sir Robert Peel, the manufacturing Baronet, in answer to Mr. Fox, who had said, that the Government ought to be ashamed of having instigated these Church-and-King Mobs, said, that the “ Right Honourable Gentleman was much deceived in his estimate " of the character of the labouring classes, as far, at least, as related “ to the county with which he had the honour to be connected. They “ were not only a very loyal class of persons, but an enlightened class “ of persons, who were not to be misled by any writings or any speeches, “ however artful. The pamphlet of Paing had produced no impression “ on them. They wanted, they said, no French fraternity. They pre“ ferred their religion and their legal freedom with the good solid Roast “ Beef of Old England, to the atheism, the liberty and equality, and “ the broken breeches, and soup-meagre of France."
Well, now, either this was the character of the people in 1794, or it was not. If it was not, Sir Robert Peel was what I need not name ; if it was, why is not this their character now, after twenty-three years of Bible Societies, Lancaster Schools, Bell's Schools, and after all the boastings that we have heard about the wonderful progress that has been made in the work of enlightening ? It was their general character in 1794 ; no doubt of it; and, it happens, too, that Sir Robert spoke particularly of that same county of Lancuster, the people of which have now shown so much public spirit, and so strong a desire to produce a Parliamentary Reform. And, if Sir Robert spoke truth, when he described the labouring classes in Lancashire twenty-three years ago, why should they be regarded as mob and rabble now? Why should Mr. Dawson suppose, that the divers matters, discussed at their late numerous meetings, were quite above their comprehension ? The truth is, that the general capacity of the people is the same as it was in 1794. They have, however, since that time, received a great deal of information ; and, to this it is that we are to ascribe the change in their way of thinking, and in their conduct, as to political matters. And, what do they want more to enlighten them as to these matters, and to produce this change, than their experience of the last twenty-three years ? And, at any rate, can they be called inconsistent in their change, when they see that the same “ Roast Beef of Old England,” to which Sir Robert said they were so much attached, has been exchanged, not for “ the soupmeagre of the French,” but for butter-milk and brewer's grains, which are actually now the food of a part of the people of that same county of Lancaster, the Soup-Subscription Kettle being a thing beyond the reach of many, many thousands?
Besides, who, amongst all the sons and daughters of Corruption, who have been writing pamphlets to the “ Lower Orders," as they call them; who have been so busily engaged in circulating Tracis amongst them of all sorts; who, amongst these persons, has ever affected to believe, that the “ Lower Orders" did not comprehend what they had given to them to read ? Will any man pretend to say, that the Books of Moses do not present to the mind greater difficulties to unravel than are contained in the question of Parliamentary Reform ? Subjects, such as those of the Incarnation and the Trinity, about which thousands of Doctors of Divinity have quarrelled all their lives, were submitted to the “ Lower Orders," as to judges who were to decide between the disputants. But, the question, whether it was or was not just and reasonable, that the “ Lower Orders" should pay ten pounds in taxes out of every eighteen pounds of their earnings, while Lord Such-a. one was receiving twenty or thirty thousand pounds a year out of those same taxes ; this was a “ topic quite above the comprehension of the vulgar," was it ? There are passages in the Bible of not more than two or three verses, to expound which, more volumes have been written than would fill Westminster Hall, to say