Debating the Revolution: Britain in the 1790s 9780755623402, 9781350175242

The 1790s was a fateful period for Britain. The French Revolution of 1789 opened an era of seismic political upheaval, o

192 15 803KB

English Pages [202] Year 2006

Report DMCA / Copyright


Recommend Papers

Debating the Revolution: Britain in the 1790s
 9780755623402, 9781350175242

  • 0 0 0
  • Like this paper and download? You can publish your own PDF file online for free in a few minutes! Sign Up
File loading please wait...
Citation preview

For Belinda


Some years ago I set out to teach a course on the politics and culture of the 1790s in Britain. As I prepared that course, I became aware that whilst there was a rich literature dealing with various aspects of British society in the 1790s there was no one textbook I could recommend to students. Or, at least, there was no textbook that took in all the themes I wanted to address in my teaching. The text that follows is an attempt to fill that gap. I am grateful to Claire Connolly, Penelope J. Corfield, Andy Croll, Maria Donovan, Owen Jackson, Jane Moore, Göran Rydén and David Turner for commenting on the text in its entirety or in part.


The late eighteenth century, wrote Gwyn A. Williams, the great Welsh historian, was ‘a hinge of fate for the Welsh people’.1 So it was, but not just for the Welsh. The late eighteenth century, or more particularly the 1790s, was fateful for all parts of the British Isles. Indeed, the disintegration of French absolutism unleashed a global crisis. The Revolution of 1789 opened an era of seismic political upheaval, not just in Europe, but in every part of the world where European influence was felt. Many features of the modern world made their first significant appearance. Democracy, mass nationalism, wholesale military mobilisation and anti-colonial revolt all made their most telling debuts in the revolutionary era. This book focuses on political conflict in British society during the 1790s. It is not alone in doing so. There are many books that address the so-called ‘revolution debate’, the confrontation between those who were inspired by the example of revolutionary France and those who were repelled by it. There are many ways in which the problem can be approached. It is tempting, for example, to treat the debate as a largely intellectual contest. It was, after all, one of those rare occasions when the legitimacy of the British state system was subjected to explicit theoretical investigation. Yet research carried out over the past twenty years has revealed just how much the intellectual fury of the 1790s rested upon social and institutional foundations that had been laid down in the preceding decades. It was not just the argument that was important; it was the means by which intellectual antagonists communicated it to a wider public. Historians have become far more interested in the organisational forms in which ideas were embodied, and the ways in which they were used to mobilise support. The range and scope of scholarship on the 1790s has grown enormously in the last generation. We are now far better informed about the extent

2 Debating the revolution

of popular loyalism and the nature of British patriotism. We have a greatly enhanced understanding of how events in Ireland impacted upon politics and military strategy at a pan-British level. We are far better attuned to the intellectual diversity of the period: those who were once dismissed as marginal scribblers, cranks or utopians have intruded upon the once simple polarity of Burke versus Paine. On the whole, we have acquired a more nuanced appreciation of the links between political argument and wider cultural expression. Much of the most exciting research on the period has appeared in monographs or articles in learned journals that are, by their nature, not easily accessed by the general reader. This book is an attempt to synthesise such scholarship in a comprehensible way. It is not therefore a work of original research; it is mainly concerned with marshalling arguments made by others. Nor is it a comprehensive history of the 1790s. Whilst this book seeks to understand the revolutionary emergency both as a political crisis and as a wider social and intellectual crisis, there are many aspects of the decade that are omitted. There is nothing on the complex diplomatic history of the period, and almost nothing on its military history. Although political mobilisation features heavily, there is relatively little on the workings of government, either at national or at local level. Economic developments, fascinating as they are, are mentioned only in passing. My treatment of culture is very uneven. I have written about cultural developments insofar as they illuminate the wider dynamics of social change. There is, as a result, a nod to literary activity in the late eighteenth century – which strikes me as having a critical importance to the selfunderstanding of participants in the controversies of the era – but no discussion of the visual arts or of music. Chapters 1 and 2 provide the reader with some essential background information: Chapter 1 by setting out how authority was constituted in eighteenth-century Britain, and Chapter 2 by giving a narrative overview of events in the 1790s. Thereafter, chapters are organised thematically, addressing issues that seem to me critical for understanding what was at stake in the revolutionary decade. This is a subjective choice, so there are necessarily many aspects of the era that are skated over or ignored. Yet the reader will be left, I hope, with a clearer idea about why the 1790s was so important, about how political debate built upon cultural and institutional precedents from earlier in the eighteenth century, and about what sort of legacies the decade left to the nineteenth century.

1 Empire and authority in the eighteenth century

‘It is well known, that constitutions framed for the preservation of liberty, must consist of many parts; and that senates, popular assemblies, courts of justice, magistrates of different orders, must continue to balance each other, while they exercise, sustain, or check the executive power. If any part is struck out, the fabric must totter, or fall; if any member is remiss, the others must encroach.’ Adam Ferguson, An essay on the history of civil society (1766)

In the 1790s, the French Revolution called into question the basis of European civilisation. What should be the guiding principles of political and social life? Popular sovereignty or a god-given hierarchy? Individual merit or inherited status? The Declaration of the Rights of Man, issued by the National Assembly in Paris in August 1789, announced confidently that ‘all men are born free and equal’. Yet this was to fly in the face of the principles that defined the old European order, an old order composed of various estates and corporate bodies, each with its distinct privileges, exemptions and obligations. The subjects of the old regime did most emphatically not enjoy an equality of rights, so, when the Revolution spoke of free citizens, bound together by a common set of rights and duties, it threatened aristocratic Europe in a fundamental way. Indeed, the Revolution posed questions about the nature of political authority far beyond the frontiers of France. That ‘stupendous object’, as one contemporary called it, ‘concentrated the attention not only of Europe, but of every quarter of this planet where human communications reach’.1 The debate that the Revolution engendered was international in scope and quickly engulfed most parts of Europe in war.

4 Debating the revolution

This was not a debate from which Britons could stand aloof. Indeed, British political thinkers were among the key protagonists. Edmund Burke, in his Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), made an impassioned defence of the established order and pointed to the destructive consequences of any attempt to make a revolutionary break with past practice. For his part, Tom Paine offered a thoroughgoing critique of hereditary privilege in the Rights of Man (1791–92). Although the exchanges between Burke and Paine, and a host of others, concerned universal issues of political principle, they were conducted within a distinctively British setting and dwelt upon particularly British controversies.

I To say what ‘Britain’ was in the late eighteenth century is, however, by no means simple. Britain was no mere archipelago off the north-west coast of Europe; it was a global empire based upon trade and military might. This was a far-flung imperium, the most distant part of which – the penal colony at Botany Bay – was acquired on the very eve of the French Revolution. Its components were varied, ranging from colonies of European settlement on the north American continent to slave-based plantation economies in the West Indies. In the form of the East India Company, a state-chartered trading monopoly, Britain was also a considerable territorial power in Bengal. ‘Britain’ was then a mixed and paradoxical thing. Britain’s was an aggressively Protestant empire, yet it included a large Roman Catholic enclave in Quebec. Britons proclaimed their love of liberty – indeed, they boasted of their special affinity with it – yet West Indian planters grew wealthy through African slavery, and officers of the East India Company adopted the ways of eastern potentates. These contradictions were not brought on by distance from the imperial metropolis, for the geographical core of the empire had contradictions enough of its own. Ireland, England’s oldest colony, was home, like Quebec, to a largely Catholic people. The degradation of the Catholic population, subject as it was to a discriminatory legal code, did nothing to stop the Protestant landowning elite from announcing its devotion to ‘Irish liberty’ and its autonomy from London. Many parts of the empire chafed at their submission to the imperial parliament. ‘Britons’ in the American colonies began to denounce

Empire and authority in the eighteenth century 5

royal authority vigorously from the 1760s. Indeed, in the last decades of the eighteenth century allegiance to the imperial crown seemed to be weakening rather than strengthening. Thirteen of the north American colonies declared their independence in 1776, whilst the Dublin parliament, travelling in the slipstream of the American rebels, secured legislative independence from London in 1782. Signs of political instability were offset by the evident prosperity of the empire. Britain dominated the Atlantic economy, even after the secession of the United States. North America and the West Indies took nearly half of British manufactured exports at the end of the eighteenth century, whilst British merchants channelled West Indian sugar and American tobacco into European markets. By the 1790s, London, Europe’s largest city, had replaced Amsterdam as the continent’s financial and commercial hub. London headed Britain’s urban hierarchy, but towns and cities in the provinces were growing at a rapid rate, turning England into one of Europe’s most densely urbanised countries. The surge in urbanisation stemmed, in part at least, from the growth of industrial settlements. Industrialisation was under way, spectacularly so in the case of textiles and iron. The volume of raw cotton processed in British factories climbed from 9.5 million pounds in 1783 to 56.6 million pounds in 1802, whilst the production of pig iron leapt from 78,000 tons in 1788 to 250,000 tons in 1805. Mechanisation and technological revolution were not so prominent in other industrial sectors, but the direction of change was unmistakable. Imperial expansion and economic advance brought their own anxieties, however. The range and sophistication of the goods available to Georgian consumers were a tribute, no doubt, to the enterprise of Britain’s manufacturers and traders. But at what point did prosperity shade into luxury? Prosperity suggested acumen and endeavour, but ‘luxury’ brought moral debasement in its train. Indeed, eighteenth-century thinkers were haunted by the dangers of luxury. It sapped at manly virtue and destroyed self-reliance. Those caught in its coils would quickly succumb to corruption. Since luxury implied social and political decay, the super-profits that were to be made in the Atlantic trades or in Bengal were a source of particular alarm. Such riches would be a sure means of subverting proper political life. ‘If we are Degenerate It is Luxury has done it’, a sober-sided Dissenter exclaimed in 1793.

6 Debating the revolution

Yes Yes that will destroy any Nation as it always has done . . . Nabobs & Planters set the example & we must all taste & be intoxicated with the Circean poison & being Enervated by it we cannot deny ourselves . . . we will sell our Libertys & all that is valuable to obtain it.2 The loss of the thirteen American colonies in 1783 suggested parallels with earlier imperial catastrophes. Would Britain go the way of ancient Rome, whose stern republicanism had been corrupted by the sensuality of its eastern provinces? Or Habsburg Spain, brought low by the too-easy acquisition of American silver? The impeachment of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal, in 1787 reflected in part the anxiety that a new breed of plutocrat, inured to despotism in the east, would strangle British liberties. If imperial success was an ambivalent blessing, industrial change could be equally double-edged. The buoyancy of cotton in Lancashire or of metalwares in the West Midlands should be set against industrial decline elsewhere. Whilst woollen manufacturers in the West Riding were enjoying boom conditions, their counterparts in older centres of textile production in the West Country and East Anglia were faced with deindustrialisation. And for workers, whatever their location, the emergence of an industrial economy brought a new vulnerability. Fierce competitive pressures and a dependence on distant markets introduced a volatility into economic life that was expressed in wage cuts, short-time working or unemployment. New class relations and new conflicts slowly came into being. An urbanising, industrialising Britain, at the heart of a complex and controversial empire, began to pose novel questions about the nature of public authority.

II How, it might be asked, was authority understood in Britain’s empire? Eighteenth-century Britons conventionally thought of themselves as the subjects of a constitutional monarchy. That is to say, the executive power of the monarch was constrained by representative bodies: by the House of Lords (‘an aristocratical assembly of persons selected for their piety, their birth, their wisdom, their valour, or their property’, in the words of the jurist William Blackstone) and the House of Commons (‘a kind of democracy’).3 Thus, Britons enjoyed the benefits of monarchical

Empire and authority in the eighteenth century 7

authority (but without tyranny), aristocratic leadership (but without corrupt oligarchy) and popular consent (but without anarchy). The socalled ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688 had achieved so perfect a balance between the different branches of government that Britain was the envy of all other nations – or so many Britons complacently assured themselves. But was the constitution truly balanced? Throughout the eighteenth century there were those who harboured grave doubts. Those who adhered to the ‘Whig’ tradition in British politics worried about a sinister growth of royal power. If this growth went on unchecked, Whig party theorists declared, Parliament would lose its independence and become a monarchical cat’s-paw. Liberty was only to be preserved by strengthening the representative rights of the people. Quite what the rights of the people were, however, remained a matter of contention. For many, the ejection of James II in 1688 had prevented the overthrow of English liberties. James had yearned for a Catholic absolutism in the style of Louis XIV of France, and had only been thwarted by the intervention of the Dutch – and, most crucially, Protestant – prince, William of Orange. The task of all patriots thereafter was to keep a jealous watch on royal power, preserving intact the ancient constitutional freedoms that had been safeguarded by the Glorious Revolution – ‘glorious’ because it had achieved the overthrow of a suspect regime whilst avoiding the regicide and wholesale social upheaval that had characterised the civil wars of the 1640s. Others, rather fewer in number, looked to classical republicanism, and regarded the events of 1688 as significant only insofar as they offered a practical demonstration of the people’s right of resistance to illegitimate power. Additional measures, such as triennial parliamentary elections, were essential if the tendencies towards oligarchy in modern government were to be offset. Such ideas ran alongside and sometimes intersected with a ‘Country’ tradition that identified political virtue with independent property-owners in the rural counties. Country gentlemen, beholden to no one, were contrasted with the debauched aristocrats and avaricious hangers-on who clustered about the royal court. Rustic integrity was counterposed to metropolitan vice. For those who upheld the Country tradition, the defence of the independent landed gentleman became all the more urgent after 1688. The new regime of William and Mary committed Britain to a major continental war against France, and to support this war a new financial system was put in place. The 1690s saw the foundation of the

8 Debating the revolution

Bank of England and the elaboration of money markets to fund the nation’s spiralling war debts. This, in the eyes of its critics, was the basis for a ‘Financial Interest’ that now arose to challenge the existing ‘Landed Interest’. Real authority, so Jonathan Swift complained in 1710, was passing to men ‘whose whole fortunes lie in funds and stocks: so that power, which according to the old maxim was used to follow land, is now gone over to money’.4 Whereas landowners had a fixed, permanent interest in the nation’s welfare by virtue of owning the national territory, the stock-jobbers and speculators who composed the Financial Interest knew no such restraint. Their concerns were transitory, centred upon immediate profit, but their financial weight was such that they could bend the state to their wishes, in defiance of the Landed Interest. Country propagandists did not monopolise concern over the post-1688 settlement, however. The great urban centres of Georgian Britain were home to commercial and professional groups that also fretted at the extent of state power and patronage. By the mid-eighteenth century there was much bourgeois disquiet at the closed character of elite politics and a fear that social advancement would be denied to those who stood outside privileged court circles. Urban patriots denied that political virtue was the preserve of those with country estates and expressed their own anxieties about a state system that seemed to them parasitic and unaccountable. Such critics, brilliantly marshalled by the maverick oppositionist John Wilkes in the 1760s, inveighed against corporate monopolies in the City of London or against abuses of legal authority. From a Wilkite perspective, George III, a young king who was unduly influenced by his Scottish – and therefore half-barbarous – tutorcum-minister, Lord Bute, hankered after arbitrary power, beyond representative control. These issues were brought into sharp focus in the 1770s by the gathering crisis in Britain’s north American colonies. Should public authority lie with colonial assemblies or royal governors? More pressingly, should colonists who were not represented in Parliament be subject to taxation? Oppositionists sympathised with colonial grievances and saw royal policy in America as an attempt to deprive the colonists of their liberties. All of them urged a policy of conciliation towards America and some, when hostilities began in earnest, openly supported the American revolutionaries. The ruinously expensive war against the American Congress and its French and Spanish allies (1775–83) gave fresh momentum to the durable Country critique. The ‘County Associations’

Empire and authority in the eighteenth century 9

that flourished in the later years of the American War gave expression to this. The corrective to the over-extension of royal power lay in extending the role of independent property-owners within the electoral system by increasing the number of MPs representing county seats. The Rockingham Whigs, the principal opposition faction in Parliament, also sought closer scrutiny of the Crown. ‘Economical Reform’, reducing the ability of the monarch to award pensions and profitable offices to tame supporters, became a Rockinghamite panacea and was accordingly a major issue of the early 1780s.

III As this short survey suggests, the sources of opposition to established authority were varied, but for all those positioned along the oppositional spectrum the issue of representation had to be addressed. William Blackstone’s description of the House of Commons in his Commentaries on the laws of England as a ‘kind of democracy’ was a euphemistic gloss, for this was democracy of a very partial and indirect kind. The electoral franchise was in fact restricted to certain sorts of male property-holders. The system of representation, insofar as it had any systematic features, was complex. Only in the English counties was there a standard property qualification. Owners of freehold property that yielded an annual forty shillings or more could mount the hustings. This meant that several thousand voters might have the opportunity to elect the two MPs who sat for each of England’s forty counties or the single members who represented each of the twelve Welsh counties. Indeed, in the largest counties the electorate could be quite considerable. Yorkshire, England’s most populous county in the 1790s, had about 20,000 voters. A baffling variety of franchises operated across the 203 English boroughs. In some places, the choice of MP was in the hands of freemen of the borough; in others, that prerogative was restricted to members of the corporation; in others still, it fell to those who paid certain types of local rates (‘scot and lot’). In some boroughs, the electoral privilege was extended to all householders; in others, it was extended only to those who were tenants of certain designated properties (‘burgages’). Some constituencies afforded a fairly wide degree of popular participation in the electoral process. The 12,000-strong ‘scot and lot’ electorate of Westminster, for example, included shoals of tradesmen and shopkeepers,

10 Debating the revolution

in addition to the elite inhabitants of London’s West End; and at Preston, where ‘the inhabitants at large’ were able to vote, the electorate numbered some 1,500. Elsewhere, the electoral process was in the hands of narrow local oligarchies. Bath’s MP was chosen by the thirty members of the town’s corporation, a self-perpetuating clique. The MP for Malmesbury in neighbouring Wiltshire was also nominated by the corporation – a process involving a mere thirteen burgesses. Such boroughs, with their small, malleable electorates, were often controlled by local magnates. Dozens of boroughs were the private fiefdoms of landed patrons. The MP for Monmouth, it was well understood, would be a creature of the Duke of Beaufort; his counterpart at Weobley in Herefordshire would be a kinsman or client of the Marquess of Bath. Those ‘falsely calling themselves the representatives of the people’, one reformer fumed, were ‘in fact, selected by a comparatively few influential individuals’.5 The great landed families exercised a massive influence in county elections as well, even though their commanding voice might be muffled by the presence of hundreds of small property-owners. The representation of Gloucestershire, for example, was effectively monopolised by the dukes of Beaufort and the earls of Berkeley. The control of the Williams Wynn family of Wynnstay over Denbighshire or the Mostyn family over Flintshire was so complete that elections were scarcely ever contested in those counties. The danger in this, as the reform-minded saw it, was that the services of tame MPs would be traded in exchange for the titles, offices or emoluments that were in the gift of the king’s ministers. If this danger threatened in England and Wales, it was reality in Scotland. The Scottish electoral system was rigidly controlled by a handful of aristocratic magnates. The county franchise was highly restrictive; there was no equivalent of the hundreds of independent freeholders active in English county elections. Cromartyshire, for example, mustered just six electors in 1790. The situation was little better in the sixty-five royal burghs. Their MPs were chosen by burgh councils that were ‘nearly all closed, selfelecting oligarchies’, averaging just nineteen members apiece.6 The entire system was presided over by Henry Dundas, one of the king’s leading ministers in the 1790s. As President of the Board of Control of the East India Company from 1793, Dundas had the patronage of an entire subcontinent at his disposal, patronage that would be made available to those who loyally supported the ministry of William Pitt. Small wonder that his enemies railed against the ‘Dundas Despotism’.

Empire and authority in the eighteenth century 11

Superficially, parliamentary representation in Ireland was more akin to the English model than the Scottish. Unlike Scotland, whose own parliament had dissolved itself with the Act of Union in 1707, Ireland retained an independent legislature. The franchise in Ireland’s thirty-two counties was in the hands of forty-shilling freeholders, just as it was in England and Wales. Borough representation was as motley as in England, with a wide variety of franchise qualifications in operation. Some boroughs were in the pockets of local magnates; others could boast a fairly numerous and independent electorate. The right to vote in Dublin, for instance, was shared by perhaps 4,000 freemen. What distinguished the Dublin House of Commons from its equivalent at Westminster was the religious complexion of the electorate. Political rights were restricted to those who professed the Anglican faith, and in Ireland, where Roman Catholics made up an overwhelming majority of the population, this confessional division had fateful political consequences. Power was concentrated to a quite extraordinary extent in the hands of a Protestant aristocracy, the so-called Ascendancy.

IV Grievances relating to the religious basis of the Georgian state were not restricted to Ireland. Political rights were an Anglican monopoly in England and Wales as well. The Anglican Church was the state church. The king was the head of the Church, and the king’s subjects were expected to subscribe to the Anglican faith. Those who refused identified themselves as political unreliables. Indeed, a man who wished to hold public office of any sort had to attest his loyalty to the Anglican Church and take its sacraments, as stipulated in the Test Act of 1673. This was to exclude those of questionable loyalty: Roman Catholics (who recognised the Pope rather than the king as the head of their Church) and Protestant Dissenters (whose impatience with royal authority had been amply demonstrated by their Puritan forebears in the civil wars of the seventeenth century). In practice, Dissenters were able to participate quite widely in public life, despite the Test Act and despite the 1661 Corporation Act that barred them from civic office. Nevertheless, the legal disabilities to which they were formally subject continued to rankle, and in the 1780s some prominent Dissenters began to campaign vigorously for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts.

12 Debating the revolution

The repeal campaign took strength from the centenary of the Glorious Revolution, which was celebrated with great aplomb in 1788. For Dissenters, the Revolution had struck a mighty blow for religious and civil freedom, and the centenary of that happy event prompted them to attend to what they saw as the unfinished business of 1688. ‘Revolution’ societies, established by Dissenters and their sympathisers to commemorate the landing of William of Orange, provided the organisational framework for applications to Parliament in 1788 and 1789 against the Test and Corporation Acts. The Dissenters’ petitions were rejected, but not decisively. Indeed, the motion for repeal in the spring of 1789 was only narrowly defeated in the House of Commons. However, the gathering sense of triumph in Dissenting circles called forth an aggressive counter-campaign by Anglican loyalists, one that harked back to the animosities of the seventeenth century. Dissenters were labelled ‘king-killers’ and ‘levellers’, while Charles James Fox, leader of the Whig party and a firm advocate of repeal, was portrayed as a new Cromwell. The increasingly rancorous political atmosphere in Britain coincided with the last days of the ancien régime in France and coloured British views of the crisis across the Channel. Those who regretted the exclusive nature of the political establishment in Britain took great heart from the implosion of French absolutism. One young lawyer with liberal sympathies was enraptured by events in Paris: Who, indeed, that deserves the name of an Englishman, can have preserved a cold and deadly indifference, when he found a nation, which had been for ages enslaved, rousing on a sudden from their ignominious lethargy, breaking asunder their bonds, and, with an unanimity which has no example in history, demanding a free constitution: when he viewed all the fortresses of tyranny destroyed; when he saw the dungeons of the state thrown open, and the prisons of superstition unlocked?7 The reaction of Charles James Fox to the fall of the Bastille was also famously rapturous: ‘How much the greatest event it is that ever happened in the world, and how much the best!’ His political opponents were more apprehensive. Some in Pitt’s circle viewed developments in France with equanimity, even with pleasure insofar as they amounted to a weakening of Britain’s principal rival as a great power, but others were

Empire and authority in the eighteenth century 13

quick to decide that events in Paris signified nothing but the subversion of good government in France. For one conservative industrialist, France was already in August 1789 a ‘land of Anarchy & enthusiasm’ from which nothing good was to be expected.8

2 Britain in the 1790s: a narrative

‘The French revolution . . . gave a fundamental shock to the human intellect through every region of the globe.’ William Godwin, Memoirs of the author of a vindication of the rights of woman (1798) ‘. . . ’Twas in truth an hour Of universal ferment – mildest men Were agitated, and commotions, strife Of passion and opinion filled the walls Of peaceful houses with unquiet sounds. The soil of common life was at that time Too hot to tread on . . .’ William Wordsworth, ‘The prelude’ (1805) ‘It was the triumph of human kind; it was man asserting the noblest privileges of his nature; and it required but the common feelings of humanity to become in that moment a citizen of the world.’ Helen Maria Williams, Letters written in France . . . containing various anecdotes relative to the French Revolution (1790) ‘Is it because liberty in the abstract may be classed amongst the blessings of mankind, that I am seriously to felicitate a madman, who has escaped from the protecting restraint and wholesome darkness of his cell, on his restoration to the enjoyment of light and liberty?’ Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790)

The collapse of royal authority and the assumption of power by the National Assembly in the summer of 1789 raised important questions

16 Debating the revolution

for British observers. Was France undergoing its equivalent of 1688, with proper constitutional curbs being placed on monarchical tyranny? This is what Fox and a good part of the Whig party chose to believe. If so, then the longstanding rivalry between Britain and France, one the selfproclaimed champion of constitutional liberty, the other Europe’s foremost absolutism, could be resolved. Or was France entering a crisis that had no parallels with 1688, a crisis that would be marked by political instability and social disintegration (‘Anarchy & enthusiasm’)? If so, the security of Europe at large was threatened, and vigilance and suspicion should be the proper policy of British ministers. Political differences in Britain hardened in response to events in France. A fresh application for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1790 received short shrift. The confiscation of Church property in France was held up by opponents of repeal as evidence of where an indulgent policy towards the enemies of the Established Church would lead. On the other side of a widening ideological divide, some wellwishers to the French Revolution claimed that the French had not merely joined the British as a free people, but had surpassed them. The civic equality announced in the Declaration of the Rights of Man put once despotic, Catholic France in advance of Protestant England. Indeed, the French Revolution would usher in a new epoch of universal freedom. Richard Price, one of the most eminent and outspoken Dissenting ministers, said as much in his sermon to the London Revolution Society in November 1789 on the 101st anniversary of William of Orange’s landfall: Be encouraged, all ye friends of freedom and writers in its defence! The times are auspicious. Your labours have not been in vain. Behold kingdoms, admonished by you, starting from sleep, breaking their fetters and claiming justice from their oppressors! Behold, the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes and warms and illuminates Europe!1 Conservatives were entirely sceptical of this. Price’s Discourse on the love of our country was the initial target of Edmund Burke when composing his Reflections. Burke’s book grew into a generalised assault on late Enlightenment thought – of which Price was a distinguished exponent – as irresponsible and dangerous. The overthrow of established forms of

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 17

government and attempts to build political society anew on the basis of abstract theorising were nothing but folly. For Burke, established forms of government embodied the accumulated wisdom of many generations and reflected the enduring features of national character. They should not be wantonly abandoned. Indeed, members of society had no right to reject inherited political institutions. The state could not be remade at will because it represented ‘a partnership not only between those who are living but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born’. The current generation were just ‘the temporary possessors and life-renters’ of the state, not its ‘entire masters’.2 Those who did advocate wholesale reform were naïve, Burke claimed. They thought their own intellectual power was enough to fathom the endless complexity of human affairs. And, if a zeal for root-and-branch reform was not naïve, it was wicked. It was the project of unscrupulous adventurers bent on social upheaval in which they could raise themselves to positions of power. Burke’s Reflections crystallised conservative hostility to the French Revolution. It also provoked outrage amongst friends of the Revolution, many of whom penned replies. For the most part, these ripostes mirrored Burke’s own methods of composition: they were self-consciously learned, replete with Latin tags and classical allusions. A riposte of an altogether different nature appeared in March 1791 with the publication of Paine’s Rights of Man. Paine wrote in a plain, accessible style. He ‘writes in defiance of grammar, as if syntax was an aristocratical invention’, an opponent sniffed, resorting to ‘a kind of specious jargon, well enough calculated to impose upon the vulgar’.3 Paine aimed for a mass audience and found one. Perhaps 50,000 copies of the Rights of Man were sold in the first three months of publication. But Paine opened up a new political constituency not just by using a vernacular style; he also transformed the content of the anti-Burkean case. Most of those who responded to Burke took their stand by the kind of principles that were to be enshrined in the new French constitution of 1791. Constitutional curbs should be imposed upon monarchy, but kingship should remain; ‘aristocratic’ privilege should be ended and a uniform system of representation and election introduced, but citizenship should be based upon a property qualification. Paine, by contrast, was a full-blown democrat. Political participation was the right of every man, not the preserve of the propertied elite. Hereditary rule was a nonsense: there was no more reason for having a hereditary ruler than there was for having a hereditary blacksmith.

18 Debating the revolution

Paine’s intervention was sensational. The Rights of Man penetrated to the lowest levels of British society and had a galvanising effect. Some reformers of an earlier generation were aghast. ‘It is unfortunate for the public cause’, one lamented, ‘that Mr Paine took such unconstitutional ground, and has formed a party for the Republic among the lower classes of the people, by holding out to them the prospect of plundering the rich.’4 There was something in this. Alarming reports arrived from strike-torn County Durham in the autumn of 1792: During the late disturbances amongst the keelmen at Shields and Sunderland, General Lambton was thus addressed: ‘Have you read this little work of Tom Paine’s?’ ‘No.’ ‘Then read it – we like it very much. You have great estate, General; we shall soon divide it amongst us.’5 On the whole, however, the impulse given by Paine was towards organisation, not disorder. Indeed, there can be no doubt that the Rights of Man prompted many plebeian readers to form clubs and societies dedicated to the gospel of reform. Reformist organisations pre-dated the Rights of Man, of course – the Society for Constitutional Information dated back to the American War – but they tended to be socially exclusive and intellectual rather than activist in tone. The societies that began to emerge in the winter of 1791–92 were of a new type. They were plebeian in composition and ostentatiously democratic in internal structure, with low subscription rates. The Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information, founded in November 1791, was formed by six ‘mechanicks’. The more famous London Corresponding Society (LCS), set up two months later, was made up of ‘Tradesmen, Shopkeepers and mechanics’. The popular societies that were established in the heyday of Painite radicalism, a government committee concluded at the end of the decade, were ‘of a nature and description before unknown in any country, and inconsistent with public tranquility, and with the existence of regular government’.6 They were part of a concerted plan, it was alleged, to overthrow the British state. In truth, the reformers of the early 1790s had no clear idea of how their ideals were to be achieved. As is suggested by the very title of the London Corresponding Society, the first problem confronting radical activists was that of making contact with their cothinkers in towns and cities elsewhere in Britain. And even as the new

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 19

political societies began to establish networks for the exchange of ideas and publications, they were faced by mounting official hostility. The spread of radical enthusiasm in Britain coincided with the radicalisation of the Revolution in France. The outbreak of war between France and Austria in the summer of 1792 was followed by the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy and the declaration of a Republic. The threatening aspect of international affairs convinced Pitt’s government that domestic dissent could not be tolerated. So, a Royal Proclamation against Seditious Publications in May 1792 opened the way for the suppression of Painite literature. (Paine himself fled to France and was convicted of seditious libel in absentia later in the year.) For the ministry, the royal proclamation brought a gratifying response. Loyal addresses to the king flooded in. Seventy-one counties and 315 towns signalled their support for counter-subversive measures in June and July 1792 alone. Only rarely, as in radical Sheffield, was a loyal address voted down in an open meeting. But the autumn of 1792 brought renewed anxiety. The French armies defended their eastern borders with unexpected success. Indeed, they threatened to overrun the Low Countries. Flushed with victory, the revolutionary Convention issued its Decree of Fraternity, promising material assistance to all those who would follow the French example and ‘recover their liberty’. Naturally enough, French success boosted the confidence of native democrats. Those in Sheffield staged a remarkable series of civic fêtes in open celebration of the French advance into the Austrian Netherlands. ‘The French have conquered tyranny’, one of the banners extolled, ‘and by just law Liberty and Reason will conquer the world.’7 The government found further cause for alarm in the strike wave that rolled through Britain’s industrial districts that autumn, not least because the unrest was concentrated in east coast ports, jeopardising coastal security. It was time for a party of order. The authorities had always been willing to tolerate anti-reform demonstrations. Indeed, magistrates might wink at serious outbreaks of violence against Dissenters and francophiles, as the reform party in Birmingham discovered in July 1791 when loyalist mobs ran amok for three days undisturbed. But such events often arose from local antagonisms or pressures; they were not part of a concerted campaign. The massive loyalist mobilisation in the winter of 1792–93, by contrast, was highly organised. The catalyst was a meeting at the Crown and Anchor tavern in London. Those present claimed to be ‘private men

20 Debating the revolution

unconnected with any party’, although the leading light in the venture, John Reeves, was closely connected with the ministry. A body was formed to counter the ‘progress of such nefarious designs as are meditated by the wicked and senseless reformers of the present time’, a body to which they gave the resonant title ‘Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Levellers and Republicans’. The founding declaration of the Association, which was advertised in the newspapers at government expense, invited local imitation of its initiative. Imitation there was, on a scale that must have exceeded all government hopes. Perhaps as many as 2,000 local associations were formed that winter. They were to be instrumental in consolidating loyalty to the regime and in isolating the disloyal. Some carried out a door-to-door canvass of their neighbourhood, inviting (or pressurising) householders to sign a loyal declaration. Others sponsored prosecutions of booksellers who stocked seditious literature, sought action against publicans who gave room to radical gatherings, or resorted to straightforward physical intimidation. The ministry heightened tensions still further in December 1792 by mobilising the militia, an action that was usually the response to an immediate threat of invasion or rebellion. Indeed, the mobilisation decree stigmatised domestic reformers as traitors (‘evil-disposed persons within this kingdom, acting in concert with persons in foreign parts’). The pressure on English reformers to recant or conform was intense. It became still more intense with the execution of Louis XVI and the outbreak of war with France in early 1793. For reformers in Scotland and Ireland, matters were still more serious. The administration in Dublin Castle had a horror of democratic subversion, recognising revolutionary democracy as a creed that might cut across the religious rift that had hitherto prevented any form of union between the two ‘excluded’ groups of Irish politics, Roman Catholics and the Dissenters of Ulster. As a result, the Society of United Irishmen (established in 1791) was from the outset subject to harassment and surveillance. In Scotland, the authorities were also ready to stamp upon any threat to an enclosed political system. When the ‘General Convention of Delegates from the Societies of the Friends of the People throughout Scotland’ assembled in Edinburgh in December 1792, it was promptly dispersed. Thomas Muir, its leading personality, was arrested, convicted of sedition, and transported to Botany Bay. When Scottish democrats reassembled in Edinburgh in defiance of the authorities in November 1793, they were joined by English delegates in a ‘British Convention’. ‘They assumed’, it was noted scornfully,

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 21

in almost every particular, the style and mode of proceeding adopted by the National Convention of France . . . [and] received from their sections a variety of motions and reports, some of which, in their studied affectation of French phrases, had the words ‘Vive la Convention’, prefixed to them, and ended with ‘ca ira’, and some were dated ‘first Year of the British Convention One and Indivisible’.8 If the delegates were courting martyrdom, they succeeded. New arrests and new show trials ensued, with those convicted being despatched to join Thomas Muir in penal exile. This was the prelude to a crackdown on the English radical movement. The leading members of the LCS were arrested in May 1794 and, with habeas corpus suspended, imprisoned in the Tower of London. At their trial in the autumn they were charged with high treason. The radical leaders had every reason to fear for their lives. When Thomas Hardy, the first of the twelve defendants, was brought before the Old Bailey in October 1794, he knew that just ten days earlier a Scottish activist, Robert Watt, had been convicted on a similar charge and executed. Yet the government had miscalculated. Although the trial judge delivered a pointedly hostile charge to the grand jury, there was little hard evidence to support a charge of treason and the Crown was obliged to fall back on the notion of ‘constructive treason’, that is, that if no single action by the defendants was in itself treasonable their cumulative effect was. This was a questionable point of law, and a jury of London tradesmen would not condemn the accused men to the protracted and grisly execution that was the fate of traitors on so shaky a legal foundation. Much to the fury of Pitt and his ministers, the defendants were acquitted. The collapse of the treason trials breathed new life into the democratic movement. The LCS and its provincial counterparts welcomed hundreds of new members. The harsh economic climate of 1794–95, one of poor harvests and rocketing prices, lent weight to the radical charge that aristocratic government, top-heavy with sinecurists and monopolists, ground down the honest tradesman and poor labourer. The LCS also experimented with new forms of agitation, holding a series of open-air mass meetings in and around the capital, where the Society’s leaders held forth on the necessity of democratic reform to audiences numbering tens of thousands. But when, in the aftermath of a mass rally in Islington, the king’s coach was mobbed en route to the opening of Parliament, Pitt was presented with the pretext for new legislative curbs on the reform movement.

22 Debating the revolution

The ‘horrid and sacrilegious attempt against His Majesty’, construed as a botched assassination, was answered by the ‘Gagging Acts’ that were rushed through Parliament at the end of 1795.9 The Treasonable Practices Act defined any attempt to ‘incite or stir up the People to Hatred or Contempt of the Person of His Majesty, His Heirs or Successors, or the Government and Constitution of this realm’ as a treasonable activity, while the Seditious Meetings Act prohibited the assembly of more than fifty people at a meeting without the sanction of a magistrate. Pitt’s opponents were outraged. ‘The first of these Bills is an attempt to assassinate the Liberty of the Press,’ Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared in his The plot discovered; or an address to the people against ministerial treason, ‘the second to smother the Liberty of Speech.’10 Both measures nonetheless enjoyed large majorities in the Commons and Lords alike, and the general election of 1796 showed no dissatisfaction with Pitt’s government among the propertied electorate. Four hundred and twenty-four ministerial supporters, including those conservative Whigs who had thrown their support behind the government since 1794, were returned to Westminster; the opposition Whigs could muster a mere ninety-seven MPs. The Gagging Acts effectively ended open advocacy of the democratic cause. The more intrepid remnants of the LCS sought ways of evading the Acts. John Thelwall, for example, took to delivering ticket-only lectures on classical antiquity in which his auditors were left in no doubt as to the contemporary relevance of themes such as republicanism or resistance to tyranny in Greek and Roman history. But such makeshifts could not last, and in the late 1790s radicals were confronted with a stark choice – to abandon political activism or resort to illegal means of achieving their ends. Such a choice had already been forced upon radicals in Ireland. The Irish Parliament was an assembly of the Anglican aristocratic elite, a class whose very existence depended upon the political exclusion of Roman Catholics, the conquered, dispossessed mass of the population. The Irish Parliament was therefore even more implacably opposed to measures of reform than its Westminster counterpart. The Presbyterians of Ulster were also disenfranchised as Protestant Dissenters, but an assumption of pre-revolutionary politics was that their visceral anti-Catholicism would ensure their loyalty to Dublin Castle. The revolutionary epoch brought that assumption into question. The American and French revolutions suggested that Church and state could be separated, making religious observance a matter of private conscience not an entrenched political loyalty. Moreover,

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 23

the collapse of the French monarchy and the nationalisation of Church property in France raised millenarian hopes among Dissenters that the power of the papacy was on the wane. With this, the Protestant solidarity that had once reconciled Dissenters to Anglican rule broke down. The United Irishmen agitated for an open political system, with an equality of civil rights for all Irishmen, regardless of their faith. This was to argue for the total overthrow of the system of British rule in Ireland as it had existed for a century. This much was apparent to all sides: to the United Irishmen themselves, to Dublin Castle, and to a watchful revolutionary government in Paris. Accordingly, French emissaries made contact with the leadership of the United Irishmen in 1793, offering military assistance in the event of an armed rising. The Castle authorities responded by suppressing the United Irishmen in the spring of 1794. From this point forward, the organisation had an underground existence, fully committed to the violent overthrow of the Castle regime. Subsequent events soon confirmed the correctness, even the inevitability, of this course to the United Irish leadership. The appointment of the English Whig aristocrat Lord Fitzwilliam as viceroy in 1795 held out a brief hope that the Protestant Ascendancy could be moderated. It was not to be. After a brief power struggle, Fitzwilliam was recalled. Dublin Castle could not, it was plain, be overcome by peaceful means. Then, in December 1796, the appearance of a French invasion fleet in Bantry Bay offered a very public demonstration that the promises of military assistance obtained in Paris were to be taken seriously. Recast as a secret society, the United Irishmen enjoyed some success: the Irish countryside was in turmoil; the misery of the Catholic peasantry stretched the descriptive powers of almost every visitor to Ireland; land hunger was giving way to literal, bodily hunger for growing numbers in the 1790s. Rural protest movements flourished, finding expression in arson attacks, the maiming of livestock, assaults on the land agents who presided over the estates of absentee landlords, and the assassination of magistrates. United Irishmen propaganda found a ready audience here, and the organization began to establish links with the Defenders, the principal Catholic resistance movement. In this way the Society of United Irishmen transformed itself from a rather select reformist club into a mass revolutionary party, bent on using intimidation to paralyse the normal procedures of local government in town and country. The Irish government prepared for rebellion. The Yeomanry Act of 1796 was an exercise in ‘arming the Protestants that can be depended

24 Debating the revolution

upon’, as a government official was candid enough to admit.11 Conversely, the opposition was to be disarmed. The 1796 Insurrection Act gave sweeping powers to magistrates in ‘disturbed districts’. Justices of the peace could impose curfews, carry out searches for arms, and pack off to the fleet all persons they deemed ‘disorderly’. Nowhere was more disturbed than Ulster, and here counter-revolutionary mobilisation took unofficial as well as authorised forms. Protestant loyalists formed the Orange Order in 1795 in an attempt to reassert sectarian division, to counteract United Irish recruitment, and to crush Catholic insurgency. The Orange Order was soon engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing in the disputed county of Armagh, sending a wave of Catholic refugees southwards. The regular army was scarcely more restrained. In the ‘disturbed districts’, the military operated well beyond the letter of the law. ‘In such districts’, an enemy of the government recalled, the privileges of the constitution with respect to liberty, and I might add, life, were completely suspended; for whether under pretended authority derived from this act [the Insurrection Act], or from the superabundant zeal of the military protectors of the public peace . . . numbers fell, either by being shot at their own doors, or by the newlyinvented process of strangulation, adopted to procure confession of crimes which perhaps had never been committed . . . 12 A brutal campaign of ‘pacification’ in 1797–98 spread terror through Ulster and the midland counties. Indeed, the soldiery embarked on a spree of such savagery that their commander-in-chief feared a complete breakdown of operational discipline. The Irish army, Sir Ralph Abercromby remarked dryly, was ‘in a state of licentiousness which must render it formidable to everyone but the enemy’.13 However much General Abercromby doubted his troops’ capacity to stand up to battle-hardened French regulars, the terror was nevertheless taking a fearful toll on the United Irishmen. In fact, the prospect of its underground network being smashed by government repression propelled the movement’s leadership into launching a nationwide rebellion in May 1798, without the firm guarantee of French assistance on which they had bargained. The rebellion was a bloody fiasco. Its key leaders, including the renegade aristocrat Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the United Irishmen’s would-be military chief, were arrested on the eve of the uprising. As a

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 25

result, the different regional outbreaks lacked coordination. The rebels lacked arms, cavalry and – until it was too late – French assistance. The rising in north-east Ulster was terminated fairly quickly in early June. The rebellion in Wexford in the far south-east was more widespread, more protracted and still more sanguinary, but it had been crushed by the end of June. The French invasion force did not arrive until late August. It was small – barely 1,000 men – and was landed at Killala in County Mayo, far from the main seats of United Irish support. The French commanders, realising the hopelessness of their position, surrendered. Their troops were accorded the status of prisoners of war. The same courtesy was not extended to Irish rebels. On them, the authorities exacted a terrible revenge. Of the rebellion’s 30,000 or so fatalities, 90 per cent came from the rebel camp. Events in Ireland highlighted the vulnerable international position of the British state in the later 1790s. Since entering the war against France in 1793, Britain had become the financial coordinator of the counterrevolutionary campaign. But the payment of subsidies to Austria, Prussia and various German principalities could not compensate for their repeated military failure. Britain’s own military intervention in northern Europe – in the Low Countries in 1793–95 – was no more successful. By the end of 1796, most of France’s enemies were ready for peace, stunned by the Italian victories of Bonaparte, the Republic’s most dynamic young general. Britain was faced with isolation. Worse, the British state had reached the end of its financial tether. The threat of invasion precipitated a run on the banks as the holders of bank notes sought to cash them in for gold, forcing Pitt to suspend cash payments by the Bank of England in February 1797. Although credit rallied quickly, the financial crisis swung much previously loyal opinion against the war. The Common Hall of the City of London petitioned the king for the dismissal of his ministers ‘for persisting in measures which an accumulation of unprecedented calamities has manifestly proved unwise and destructive’.14 A new crisis broke in April 1797 when mutiny swept the British fleets in the Channel and the North Sea. The sailors’ discontent over poor pay and conditions was sharpened by a new radical influence, much of it supplied by United Irishmen suspects who had been sentenced to terms of naval service under the 1796 Insurrection Act. For some weeks, the coasts of Britain were open to French invasion. The government capitulated smartly to the mutineers in the Channel Fleet, offering immediate improvements. The mutiny at the Nore took a far more serious

26 Debating the revolution

turn. The crews wanted assurances that the concessions made to the Channel Fleet would be extended to them; they then added demands of their own, some of which, such as that for courts martial to be determined by juries of seamen and marines, were of a disturbingly democratic stamp. The government would not stand for this and armed itself with draconian emergency powers. In response, the mutineers blockaded the Thames and talked of seeking asylum in France. This was too much for some of the crews and the mutiny slowly collapsed. A vengeful Admiralty executed dozens once normal discipline had been restored, but the episode put paid to what little public composure remained in 1797. Yet opposition groups were unable to exploit the crisis. The Foxite Whigs were a rump whose distance from the political mainstream was announced by their boycott of Parliament in 1797: the House of Commons had been reduced to a tame assembly of Pitt’s clients (‘a prostitute majority of borough-mongers, loan jobbers, military officers, pensioners, and official sycophants’, as one oppositionist put it) which they would not dignify with their presence.15 Perhaps so, but Parliament also expressed the herd mentality of the great mass of the propertied classes, confronted by the menace of France. As for extra-parliamentary opposition, that was now of necessity an underground movement. Those elements of the LCS that remained staunch were committed to a revolutionary organisation modelled on the United Irishmen. The activities of the United Englishmen are, naturally enough, difficult to trace, but it is clear that contacts with France and with the United Irishmen were maintained, and that a conspiratorial movement was established in Lancashire as well as London. In Scotland, a ‘United’ organisation also emerged in 1797, attracting several thousand adherents. But the United Englishmen and the United Scotsmen were dealt a grievous blow by the destruction of their sister organisation in Ireland. Neither organisation was in a position to disrupt the regular business of the British state. In the absence of any plausible alternative ministry, Pitt was able to rebuild his authority over the next year. New financial measures restored government credit. Raising loans against future revenues, the mode of war finance traditionally favoured by British ministers, gave way to a new policy of laying taxes on property. The war, it was reasoned, was being fought to protect property against republican depredation, so the propertyowning classes had to submit to Pitt’s ‘triple assessment’. As one observer, no friend of the ministry, conceded:

Britain in the 1790s: a narrative 27

taking it for granted that Supplies are necessary & the Question being by what means they shall be raised, I think no Answer can be more proper than by a Tax on Property . . . It would prevent our laying any Burthen on Posterity, & would be a way of paying our Debts as we went along.16 Pitt’s new initiative on tax made demands on a political constituency whose loyalty he could be tolerably sure of. His innovative measures of national defence were more risky; they concerned the broad mass of the population, whose loyalty could not be guaranteed. The 1798 Defence of the Realm Act appealed to every adult male to enrol in defence corps to repel the now ever-present danger of a French landing. Eighteenthcentury states were loath to entrust weapons to their population en masse. Pitt’s action was therefore a rather unusual appeal to popular patriotism (or least popular francophobia) and it was, on the whole, rewarded. Hundreds of thousands, particularly in the south of England, pledged themselves to national defence. Pitt’s ministry was restabilised, but nothing could disguise the sombre tone of public life in Britain at the end of the 1790s. Domestic opposition had been crushed or marginalised, yet the war against republican France could not be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. Death and taxes were always to be expected, as Benjamin Franklin advised, but they seemed unpalatably prominent as the war dragged on. Ireland, the weak link in Britain’s security, was brought under the direct control of the Parliament at Westminster. The Protestant Ascendancy had manifestly failed to keep its own house in order, and the landowning elite was therefore persuaded, with the help of lavish bribery, to vote the independent Dublin Parliament out of existence. However, the Union of 1801 was not accompanied by Catholic emancipation, leaving most Irish men and women without political rights and resentful of British rule. For the British Isles as a whole, the economic outlook was uncertain. Industrial growth in the English North and Midlands was often pronounced, but it was also volatile, whilst in the southern counties agricultural improvement was usually accompanied by the pauperisation of the rural workforce and the straining of welfare provision in parish after parish. In 1799 and 1800 there was renewed harvest failure and rural disturbances on a scale not seen since the seventeenth century. A new attempt to build a pan-European coalition

28 Debating the revolution

against the French foundered in 1800, and peace negotiations began the next year. The Peace of Amiens, concluded in March 1802, brought the political contentions of the 1790s to an apparent close. When hostilities were renewed a year later, the political unanimity of the nation was much remarked upon. The imperial style of Bonaparte found few supporters in Britain, whilst the French dictator’s evident territorial ambitions helped to dispel war weariness in mercantile and industrial circles where it had surfaced in the later 1790s. ‘We are all ministerial men’, a former radical announced in 1803. ‘There is no longer a difference of Political Opinions, but we are united hand and heart to drive back Invaders.’17 Yet the storms and stresses of the 1790s were not so easily put aside. The importance of the revolutionary decade lay not so much in the avoidance of revolution, critical though that was. It lay in the profound changes which the confrontation with revolution called forth: changes in politics, in the state, and in culture which were to be enduring. Chapter 3 will explore the social conditions and cultural practices that governed the British response to revolution.

3 Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain

‘The people have long been in ignorance, but that is beginning to disappear, and the people are approaching to a state of common understanding; learning is become more general than in former times, and the people assemble more into large towns, and by conversation diffuse knowledge through each other . . .’ John Lovett, The citizen of the world (1793) ‘But who suspects the destruction which lurks under the harmless or instructive names of General History, Natural History, Travels, Voyages, Lives, Encyclopedias, Criticism, and Romance?’ Hannah More, Strictures on female education (1799) ‘D——n thinking, Billy, ’tis putting the world mad. O, what a happy country we had before men turned their minds to thinking!’ [James Porter], Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand: or, a sample of the times (1796)

The French Revolution, its enemies asserted, had its origins in intellectual subversion. Edmund Burke famously bemoaned the ‘sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators’ who had undermined royal authority in prerevolutionary France. A French commentator, the Abbé Barruel, was to enlarge on this theme in his Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism (1797). Barruel maintained that the Revolution was the premeditated product of an anti-Christian and anti-monarchical conspiracy of Enlightenment philosophers. Much the same argument was rehearsed a year later by John Robison in his Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe, carried on in secret meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. As Robison’s title suggested, the

30 Debating the revolution

alarming character of late Enlightenment radicalism lay not just in its ideas but in the mechanisms through which they were disseminated and given practical expression. Clubs and reading societies were vehicles that carried subversive ideas beyond the ‘literary cabal’ in which they had originated, and gave radicalism organisational shape. The United Irishmen, for example, advanced their cause, so it was said, by ‘instituting reading societies, which the lowest classes of people attended after the labour of their daily occupations was over’.1 The tactic was particularly successful in the counties of Down and Antrim, where, an indignant loyalist noted, ‘the mass of the people . . . can read and write, and are fond of speculating on religion and politics’. For conservatives, therefore, there was a discernible link between (certain sorts of) reading, writing, intellectual exchange and the assault on the established order in the 1790s. In part, the charge was one which many radicals were happy to accept. The ‘Jacobins’ of Norwich, one of their number boasted in 1796, included ‘several of the first literary characters of this place . . . not a few [of whom] have adorned their minds with science and added to the literary productions of their country’.2 Sympathisers with the Revolution saw themselves as champions of Enlightened thought and enemies of obscurantism. Dr Richard Price looked forward to the ‘dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience’.3 This was not, in their view, a matter of conspiracy. The reform of government would arise spontaneously from free enquiry into political principles, and they believed – at least until the loyalist mobilisations of the early 1790s gave them pause for thought – that reform had gained an irresistible momentum from the publication and discussion of Enlightened thought. This chapter will examine some of the distinctive features of Enlightened society in Britain. The novel character of social and cultural life in the eighteenth century has to be stressed. There was a proliferation of new institutions and practices, ranging from the intellectual formality of learned societies to coffee-house pleasantry. Very often, these new practices flourished in a newly devised urban environment, one adorned by assembly rooms, concert halls, gravelled walks and elegant street façades. This was a ‘polite’ society, one in which good manners, proper deportment and an awareness of etiquette took precedence over formal rank. This was something of a departure from an earlier age when sumptuary laws had governed the relationship between social rank and its visible expression. In the early modern period, such laws had,

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 31

theoretically at least, restricted the wearing of prestigious clothing to the higher classes in society. Particular types of fur or precious fabric were forbidden to the low-born. Here, personal appearance denoted one’s inherited worth. In eighteenth-century Britain, matters were rather different. Much to the grief of snobbish social commentators, acquired knowledge could compensate for a lack of inherited status. The wealthy or the canny could project themselves in a way that announced their understanding of – and willingness to abide by – the rules of politeness. Here, the ability to behave in the style of a gentleman was of greater weight than ancestry. Some of those who aspired to politeness might lack breeding, but polite accomplishment could be acquired from dancing masters and elocution teachers – for a cash consideration. But what, it might be asked, were the political consequences of politeness? Did Enlightenment culture have an unsettling, democratising tendency, opening up fissures within British society? Or did the spread of politeness have a countervailing effect, supplying a cohesive culture that bound together otherwise disparate groups of property-owners and that contributed to social and political stability in the revolutionary era?

I Eighteenth-century Britons were devoted to reading. Theirs was an unusually literate society by premodern standards. Literacy was distributed very unevenly, of course. The labouring classes remained largely illiterate; more men than women could sign their names; and literacy was far more widespread in towns than in the countryside. Nevertheless, the acquisition of literacy by well over half of the male population stands in sharp contrast to the situation on the eve of the Reformation when reading and writing were restricted to a narrow social elite and members of the clerical estate. And female literacy, whilst lagging behind men’s, was probably improving at a faster rate in Hanoverian Britain. The Protestant insistence on scriptural learning had done much to spread reading ability among earnest Christians in the seventeenth century, and there were few godly households that did not treasure the Bible, together with one or two other works of Protestant piety. However, the range of reading matter that was available to the literate public increased greatly in the eighteenth century. Devotional works continued to sell in large numbers and remained part of the stock-in-trade

32 Debating the revolution

of every bookseller, but they were joined by new types of literature. The eighteenth century saw a shift away from ‘intensive’ reading (the repeated poring over of a few select volumes) and towards ‘extensive’ reading (the reading of a wide range of books, most of which are read only once). The Bible and Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were now read in conjunction with (or in competition with, in the eyes of despairing moralists) other works. Sermons were sold alongside romances, travel writing, histories, poems and ballad collections. The cheap almanacs that had provided a digest of essential information for the seventeenth-century reader were now flanked by specialist guides and reference works. The growth and growing diversity of reading matter in the eighteenth century were in part driven by demand: there were simply more literate people, most of them in the middle ranks of British society and therefore possessed of the income needed to buy the books, pamphlets and newspapers that poured from the presses. But the conditions governing the supply of reading matter had also changed radically. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the state had kept a tight grip over printing and publishing. The publication of printed matter was restricted to London and the university presses of Oxford and Cambridge, and even in the capital the number of master printers was kept to a minimum, with no more than twenty printshops being at work in Restoration London. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, this changed. The Licensing Act, the chief legal instrument of press control, lapsed definitively in 1695, never to be renewed, and, with that, the press could multiply. (Significantly, it was the French Revolution that prompted a return to state regulation of printing: legislation allowing for the registration of printing presses passed in 1799.) Publishing underwent a mighty expansion in the first half of the eighteenth century, and experienced a new spurt of growth from the 1770s as changes in the copyright laws eroded the monopoly powers of the major publishing cartels of London. An extensive publishing industry, organised on unashamedly capitalist lines, came into being to supply the reading public. Writing, Daniel Defoe claimed, is becoming a very considerable Branch of the English Commerce. The Booksellers [publishers] are the Master Manufacturers or Employers. The several Writers, Authors, Copyers, Sub-Writers and all other operators with Pen and Ink are the workmen employed by the said Master-Manufacturers.4

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 33

Printer-publishers were not only concerned with books. They were behind the emergence of periodical literature. The Tatler and the Spectator were pioneer publications in this respect, offering an urbane commentary on the manners and mores of Queen Anne’s London. The Gentleman’s Magazine, founded in 1731, may not have had the lightness of touch that Joseph Addison and Richard Steele had given the Tatler and the Spectator, but it showed greater longevity. A miscellany of reportage, literary criticism, antiquarian musing, theological discussion and topographical writing, it offered the chance for amateur contributors to appear beside regular journalists and hack writers. It was the forerunner of the more specialised literary journals, such as the deeply conservative British Critic or the more radical Analytical Review, in whose pages the politico-cultural battles of the 1790s were fought out. The lapsing of the Licensing Act in 1695 allowed printing and publishing to spread beyond the capital and the ancient universities for the first time, with major consequences. The most signal contribution of enterprising provincial printers to the emergent print culture of Enlightened Britain came in the form of local newspapers. These proliferated in the first half of the century, appearing in over fifty English towns between 1700 and 1760. The Norwich Post (1701) led the way, and by the 1730s no county capital worth the name was without a weekly paper. Much the same could be said of Ireland: at least twenty-six provincial titles were published there in the 1790s, quite apart from the eleven that appeared in Dublin in the course of the decade. Old-established urban centres, with their multitudinous legal, administrative and marketing functions, were the first to acquire newspapers, but they were closely followed by newer industrial settlements. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette made its first appearance in 1741, quickly becoming one of the main news-sheets of the English Midlands. Indeed, the demand for news, commercial intelligence and advertisement was such that the Gazette was joined – or, rather, challenged – by the Birmingham and Stafford Chronicle in the 1770s. Newspaper reading was often a public activity, one that was accommodated in some of the new social institutions of the age. The principal coffee house in late eighteenth-century Glasgow, for example, charged a fee which gave its patrons access to ‘[h]alf the newspapers of London, the Gazettes from Ireland, Holland, and France, and a number of provincial journals and chronicles of Scotland and England, besides reviews, magazines, and other periodicals’.5

34 Debating the revolution

The growth of printing and publishing supported an even greater growth of bookshops. By the 1790s, nearly 1,000 booksellers were in business in England and Wales, spread across more than 300 towns. Bookshops, for their part, were very often embryonic libraries, for bookshop proprietors found it worth their while to lend out their stock at a modest weekly rate. ‘Circulating’ libraries, as they were known, were well in evidence by the 1740s, and over 1,000 were in existence by the 1790s, enabling readers to keep abreast of the latest novels or polemical literature. Rather grander were the subscription libraries established by urban elites as a form of civic embellishment. The merchant princes of Liverpool established such a library in 1758, and they were emulated by many of their peers in other provincial towns and cities in the last decades of the eighteenth century. Well-heeled citizens of Bristol, for example, established the Bristol Library Society in 1773, paying an annual subscription of one guinea to build up a stock of relatively highbrow titles. Bristol and Liverpool were not established centres of learning, but Oxford and Cambridge, which were, offered little that was startling. Indeed, the quiescence of the ancient universities is noteworthy. The universities in Britain that showed the most vitality were those in Scotland. The Scots, with historically close links to northern Europe, independent of those with England, embraced a revised, cosmopolitan syllabus far in advance of their Oxbridge brethren. With lectures delivered in English rather than Latin, the Scottish universities were home to some of the key Enlightenment figures like Adam Smith and John Millar, whose great works, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776) and Origins of the distinctions of ranks (1771) respectively, both originated in lecture courses. Smith and Millar were both ornaments of the University of Glasgow. It was perhaps not unconnected that Glasgow was one of the most prosperous cities in the vibrant Atlantic economy, a centre of the global tobacco trade, nor, perhaps, that so many of the leaders of the United Irishmen, excluded from the Anglican bastion of Trinity College Dublin, were educated there.

II The boisterous urban culture of Britain signalled the emergence of a distinct cultural arena – what historians have come to call the ‘public sphere’. This public sphere was rooted in the commercial civilisation that

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 35

characterised much of north-west Europe by the end of the seventeenth century, a civilisation that rested upon the generalised exchange of commodities and information. Such a civilisation, being relatively open and expansive, allowed for the spread of public discussion far beyond the royal court, the one centre of public authority in earlier times. Public discussion, for its part, was dependent upon a large measure of literacy and the wide availability of printed matter. In brief, the public sphere was an arena in which private individuals could come together to elaborate political and cultural preferences. Its hallmark was voluntary association (the forming of ad hoc clubs and societies by like-minded individuals) rather than corporate organisation (guilds or similar bodies with fixed memberships and functions). Its medium was free, rational discussion. It need hardly be said that participation in the public sphere was in fact restricted to only a few members of the ‘public’. Indeed, the emergent public sphere of the eighteenth century, as it is conventionally understood, was constituted by the propertied classes. And the involvement of women, even of women from the social elite, was often partial and contingent. But the boundaries of the ‘public’ were inescapably imprecise, and this lack of precision was ultimately to underlie many of the political disputes of the 1790s. Were not all men rational beings, reformers asked, and therefore competent to participate in public affairs? Were not women, Mary Wollstonecraft was to add, also rational beings and therefore entitled to be political actors alongside men? Nevertheless, before moving to a consideration of the contradictions of the public sphere, its special vigour in eighteenth-century Britain must be affirmed. By definition, the public sphere could arise only in a capitalist, urban environment, and Great Britain, having overhauled its great commercial rival, the Dutch Republic, was assuredly that. Its economy was market-driven. Its working population sweated for money wages. Commerce, increasingly directed towards a burgeoning Atlantic empire, was its governing principle. In addition, Britain was highly urbanised. Almost 19 per cent of the population of England and Wales lived in settlements with more than 2,500 inhabitants in 1700 – a proportion that already made the country one of the most urbanised corners of Europe – and that proportion grew larger as the eighteenth century wore on. By the time of the first national census in 1801, over 30 per cent of the population lived in towns. Since the overall population was increasing sharply at this time, the actual number of urban-dwellers grew hugely, from 970,000 in 1700 to

36 Debating the revolution

2,725,000 in 1801. The most spectacular instances of urban growth were to be found in the provinces, where manufacturing and mercantile centres (like Leeds), ports (like Liverpool) and resorts (like Bath) registered massive growth. Even so, London remained at the head of the urban hierarchy. Whilst it could not match the explosive rise of many of the boom towns of the North (how could it have kept pace with Liverpool’s surge from a little over 5,000 inhabitants to nearly 70,000?), it was the one true urban colossus. The capital had known far faster growth in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, it was true, but even the more measured expansion of the eighteenth century was enough to leave it with close on a million inhabitants by the century’s end. London sustained an urban culture of great range. This was very largely an autonomous urban culture. That is, it was derived from the citizens themselves; it owed very little to the patronage of the royal court. Indeed, the British monarchy was a strikingly modest affair after the Revolution of 1688. Charles II had aspired to the ceremonial pomp of Louis XIV, but the later Stuarts and the Hanoverians lacked grandeur. There was no British equivalent to Versailles – a palace complex that absorbed the cultural energies of the social elite. Buckingham House, acquired by the monarchy in 1762, was substantial but entirely plain in aspect. A French observer was astonished to find George III, victor of the Seven Years War, living in such a ‘mediocre edifice’.6 The foreign-born monarchs of the era (William III and the first two Georges) were often out of the country. None was a noted leader of fashion, and some, like George II, were frankly philistine. As for George III, he was conspicuously lacking in glamour. He preferred domesticity, for which he was widely mocked, although his homeliness was to stand him in good stead in the propaganda battles of the 1790s: the king could be ridiculed for his lack of sophistication but he could not easily be portrayed as malevolent or sinister. Leaders of fashion did not look to the royal court for inspiration; they looked to London. London, a teeming belt of urban settlement that now stretched from Wapping to Westminster, was home to all that was culturally and politically innovative. It was the centre of the publishing trade. It pioneered new forms of commercialised leisure such as the pleasure garden, those places of promenades and trysts, as found at Vauxhall or Ranelagh. It was home to places of public resort, such as coffee houses, where customers could engage in conversation and disputation, talking over the contents of the news-sheets.

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 37

Here, to be sure, was a public sphere, as the writer John Aubrey acknowledged when he saluted the ‘modern advantage of coffee-howses in this great Citie, before which men knew not how to be acquainted, but with their own relations’.7 Its taverns harboured an enormous variety of clubs and societies – some purely amicable, others intellectual or scientific. Some were exclusive – like Dr Johnson’s Literary Club, which could boast the leading literary and artistic figures of the age among its members – and others were common-or-garden, but all were committed to the principle of voluntary association and self-organisation. Debate was the currency of this new social territory. This might be pursued amongst small groups of like-minded individuals who met privately; the aptly named Headstrong Club in the Sussex town of Lewes, which had the young exciseman Tom Paine as a member in the early 1770s, was one such gathering. By the 1780s, however, debate had also become a largescale, commercially organised activity, especially in London. Impresarios organised debating societies that met in spacious, fashionably decorated ‘rooms’ in the City and the West End, advertising upcoming topics for debate in the press. A charge – sometimes a quite significant sum – was made for admission. Promoters of debate made much of the public benefits that would accrue: ‘Public disputation’, one asserted, was revered as an invaluable blessing at a time when Rome was at the highest pitch of greatness: Philosophers and Politicians of all ages have ever considered it of the greatest consequence to mankind. For to dispute candidly, to discuss liberally, what means it? but that a society of friends have met for the very laudable purpose of discovering truth.8 Social conservatives were not convinced. For them, political or theological questions should not be ventilated by those without proper authority to speak; they should be deliberated upon by properly licensed lawyers and churchmen. In a move that prefigured the repressive atmosphere of the 1790s, Bishop Porteus of London brought in a parliamentary bill in 1780 designed to curb debating societies in the capital. The bishop’s concern was well founded, for many of those who were later to lead the attack on established authority honed their political and rhetorical skills in the clubs and debating societies of Enlightenment Britain. John Thelwall, for one, was a habitué of London debating societies in the 1780s.

38 Debating the revolution

If London exercised cultural leadership, the provinces were in hot pursuit. The pace of urban growth in the provinces has already been mentioned. Established centres continued to grow, and new settlements arose with quite startling speed. This lent a fresh vibrancy to provincial urban society. ‘I was surprised at the place’, William Hutton, the first chronicler of Birmingham life, recalled of his arrival in the town in the 1740s, ‘but more so at the people: They possessed a vivacity I had never beheld: I had been among dreamers, but now I saw men awake.’9 Activity prompted enquiry, with the result that the leading provincial centres came to support an intellectual and scientific culture that could stand comparison with that of London. The Lunar Society, meeting in Birmingham from the 1760s, drew together a distinguished membership of industrialists, scientists, doctors and other professionals living in the West Midlands, including Matthew Boulton, James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood, Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley. ‘Literary and Philosophical’ societies were a characteristic creation of the age, supplying a space in which scientific inquisitiveness, civic ambition and polite sociability could be blended. Soon, they acquired their own premises, with libraries and lecture theatres. Indeed, the vitality of provincial urban society was very often couched in a new architectural setting. The bustle of business life was now housed in exchange buildings of some splendour. That at Liverpool announced the port’s dedication to the slave trade by bearing a façade on which the heads of Africans and elephants were shown in relief. In manufacturing centres, purpose-built industrial marts sprang up. The Cloth Hall at Huddersfield, built to an ambitious oval-shaped plan in 1766, was unusually imposing, but similar developments were under way right across the West Riding. Leeds had acquired two cloth halls in the 1750s (one for white cloth, one for coloured), Bradford followed suit with two halls of its own in 1773, and Halifax erected its Piece Hall a year later. The emergence of a public architecture devoted to business was more than matched by the spread of urban facilities dedicated to pleasure: assembly rooms, theatres, concert halls and pleasure gardens. Assembly rooms deserve particular notice. Defoe, when noting the ‘new-fashion’d way of conversing by assemblies’ in the 1720s, highlighted the novelty of the public assembly as a forum in which men and women (rather than men alone) could mix outside their immediate family circles.10 The assembly was the place in which those who aspired to respectability could meet and engage in the rituals of politeness – taking tea, dancing,

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 39

conversing, displaying one’s own awareness of fashion and passing comment on that of others. The assembly quickly grew in scale and sophistication. The first assemblies in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1716 were in a former private residence, but by 1736 a purpose-built assembly room was found to be necessary, and within a generation this proved inadequate. A public subscription led to the opening of a new and much enlarged suite of assembly rooms in 1773: ‘the most elegant and commodious edifice of its kind in the Kingdom, except the House of Assembly at Bath’.11 The construction of assembly rooms was part of a general refurbishment of the urban landscape in the eighteenth century – what has been termed the ‘English urban renaissance’. Economic prosperity was reflected in a more orderly and consciously designed street environment. Brick façades and tiled roofs replaced the wooden-framed and thatch-covered buildings of the early modern town, making for a handsome, uniform (and fireproof) street frontage. The streets themselves were better paved and lit. Sometimes they were widened and remodelled, with eyesores such as butchers’ shambles being screened from public view. Very often, these initiatives were entrusted to special ‘improvement commissions’, set up by Act of Parliament in growing number in the later eighteenth century. Fifteen town improvement commissions were authorised in the 1750s, fifty-four in the 1770s, and no fewer than 110 in the 1790s. The day-to-day business of improvement may well have been a matter of cleansing gutters and regulating street scavengers, but the moral mission of improvement was far more elevated. Ambitious civic leaders were concerned with advancing the claims of their town as a social centre, as a forum for polite intercourse: hence the importance which was attached to laying out gardens and town walks through which the respectable could promenade, meeting and observing one another. Some towns were almost entirely devoted to the business of polite socialising. The taking of spa water was ostensibly therapeutic, but spa towns soon developed into centres of conspicuous display in which visitors made no more than a nod towards the health-giving waters: ‘Thousands go thither to pass away a few weeks, without heeding either the Baths or the Waters, but only to divert themselves with good Company.’12 Tunbridge in the south and Harrogate in the north offered a regular round of assemblies, concerts and theatrical performances for their visitors, as Scarborough and Brighton were to do for those who followed the vogue for sea-bathing. But one resort stood alone: Bath.

40 Debating the revolution

‘What place’, one champion of the town demanded, looking to neighbouring centres of industry and trade, ‘with Bath can compare?’ Let Bristol for Commerce and dirt be renown’d, At Sal’sbury Pen-Knives and Scissars be ground; The Towns of Devizes, of Bradford, and Frome, May boast that they better can manage the Loom; I believe that they may; – but the World to refine, In manners, in Dress, in Politeness to shine, O Bath! – let the Art, let the Glory be thine.13 Bath operated as a forcing-house for politeness on a national scale, its attractions drawing in a great range of visitors, ranging from aristocratic grandees to those who, whilst not part of the beau monde, were determined to be genteel and who flocked to Bath from across provincial Britain to demonstrate the fact. Satirists were apt to dwell upon the adventurers who sought their fortunes there or those of middling wealth or status who steadily eroded the town’s exclusivity. Yet this precarious exclusivity was also presented as Bath’s greatest strength. Bath, its admirers proclaimed, had brought the different ranks of property-owners together, spread a common culture of politeness among them, and generalised politeness into a feature of national life. Bath’s first historian, writing in 1801, remembered the coarse entertainments that had satisfied earlier generations: ‘bull-baiting, cock-fighting, cock-scaling, pig-racing, bowling, football, [and] grinning through a horse-collar’. Now matters were different: as national manners gradually refined, the ideas of elegance were proportionally enlarged, and public amusements insensibly approximated to the taste and splendour which they at present exhibit; balls, plays and cards, usurping the place of those rude athletick sports, or gross sensual amusements, to which the hours of vacancy had before been devoted.14 In this, Bath had played a leading role. Oliver Goldsmith, when surveying the life of Richard ‘Beau’ Nash, the great social impresario of eighteenth-century Bath, extended the argument. Before the elaboration of a suitable urban fabric, the

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 41

nobility still preserved a structure of Gothic haughtiness, and refused to keep company with the gentry at any of the public entertainments of the place. But when proper walks were made for exercise and a house built for assembling in, rank began to be laid aside, and all degrees of people, from the private gentleman upwards, were soon united in society with one another.15 From this vantage point, the development of an urbane and polished style of life among the propertied classes contributed heavily to social stability in the age of the French Revolution. Property-owners of various sorts were fused together in a single bloc through their common adherence to a code of politeness. There were strains and jealousies, of course. Satirists made much of the semi-couth provincials whose wives and daughters crowded into the polite world of Bath, but perhaps these satirical barbs were proof of how elastic the boundaries of the polite world could be? The polite world was not closed. Manufacturers, merchants, professional men, even the occasional tradesman, could make a mark, albeit modestly. After all, social and philanthropic movements such as the Freemasons had a broad recruitment base, allowing men of varied material wealth and ancestry to mix on equal terms – at least within the confines of the Masonic lodge. The ecumenical character of associational life in Britain was demonstrated to good effect in the course of the 1790s when loyalist organisations sprang to the defence of Church and King. These bodies were seldom the preserve of a rarefied elite. They rallied support from broad sections of the community, affording urban tradesmen the chance to shoulder arms alongside lawyers, farmers and private gentlemen. Needless to say, such solidarity among the propertied classes in the 1790s rested upon a fundamental identity of economic interest. Aristocrat and bourgeois did not stand in opposition to one another. For one thing, the landowning elite was itself thoroughly imbued with capitalist values. The English aristocracy presided over a highly profitable agrarian capitalism, driven forward by tenant farmers and exploiting abundant wage labour. Aristocratic languor disguised a fierce commitment to moneymaking, whether through mineral exploitation in Britain’s numerous coalfields or through investment in Britain’s maritime empire. Landed gentlemen who sat in Parliament had a perfect appreciation of the imperatives of capital accumulation and looked kindly upon every project devoted to that end.

42 Debating the revolution

Indeed, Parliament was conspicuously responsive to the needs of mercantile and manufacturing groups. Industrial lobby groups were more likely to find their aims frustrated by rival industrialists than by hostile legislators. The British state, with its great dockyards and Navigation Laws, tended a distinctly commercial imperialism, a project in which most sections of the propertied classes could engage, whether as exporters of cotton cloth, as the promoters of slaving voyages, or as investors in the government securities that underpinned British naval supremacy.

III The inclusive nature of politeness can be exaggerated, however. The public sphere was necessarily unstable, and the economic abundance upon which politeness rested had its own contradictions. The religious pluralism of Enlightenment Britain, for example, did not necessarily defuse religious discord. Indeed, religious pluralism had an increasingly unsettling effect in the later eighteenth century. The Toleration Act of 1689 had granted rights of public worship to all Trinitarian Protestants and had freed heterodox sects such as the Quakers from the threat of persecution. Nevertheless, Protestant Dissenters were still formally excluded from public life. For much of the eighteenth century this was a matter for resentment rather than protest. The prospect of a Jacobite restoration – a plausible prospect until the 1750s – had ensured Dissenting loyalty to the Hanoverian regime. After the accession of George III, however, Dissent was more confident, even belligerent, about its claims to political equality. The most striking trends within the Dissenting community were those towards theological liberalism. Numbers of Presbyterian congregations succumbed to anti-Calvinist heresies, even to ‘Rational Dissent’, the project of theological extremists like Joseph Priestley who sought ways of reconciling the Gospels with Enlightenment science. By the 1780s, the personalities and institutions of Rational Dissent were among the ornaments of Enlightenment Britain. Priestley was a scientist and scholar of European reputation (before Church-and-King violence prompted his emigration to the American Republic in 1794), whilst the Dissenting academy at Hackney was one of Britain’s most distinguished centres of education (where Tom Paine was fêted shortly before his flight to the French Republic in 1792). Rational Dissent supplied an intellectual cutting edge to criticism of the Georgian state system, and found in the Test and

Politeness and the public sphere in Enlightenment Britain 43

Corporation Acts a cause célèbre over which to mount a challenge to that system. In a more secular vein, the clubs and debating societies of urban Britain could easily become vehicles for partisan purposes. This was increasingly apparent from the 1760s when popular movements associated with the libertarian patriotism of John Wilkes intruded upon the factional politics of the political elite. The Wilkite movement was rooted in a commercial, urban Britain. It drew upon tradesmen, professionals, merchants, artisans and (not least) journalists. It rested, in other words, upon social groups that supplied a great diversity of goods and services to a newly formed mass urban market rather than a narrow range of luxury items to a limited number of elite consumers. Such social groups were thus economically independent of the aristocratic magnates who indulged in high politics. Economically autonomous, they were able to break free of aristocratic clientage and pioneer a new, unruly form of oppositional politics. Britain’s buoyant economy and global commerce made for a society that was wealthier and more diverse. Rank had now to compete with wealth – camouflaged by politeness – as a measure of political worth. Politeness had a pleasingly mobile and lubricant character: it could defuse potentially destructive differences between different fractions of the propertied classes. But politeness, by granting decorously displayed wealth equal status with privileged birth when it came to determining political virtue, also had a destabilising effect. It installed uncertainty at the heart of social life. After all, if social acceptability was to be judged in the first instance by appropriately polite forms of behaviour – by appearance and outward bearing – then might not political participation be based upon visible personal integrity rather than the possession of landed property? The idea of politeness also called into question the moral fitness of Britain’s traditional ruling class. The aristocracy, in theory at least, had originated as a warrior caste to which privileges had been granted in return for military service. The martial role of the landed elite was by the eighteenth century much attenuated, but aristocratic notions of honour were still bound up with violence. Aristocratic devotion to the duel as a means of resolving disputes struck critics as a ‘gothick’ survival that had no place in a world now regulated by politeness. Indeed, the style of life favoured by some of the peerage was at odds with the self-consciously rational and mannered forms of social intercourse that found increasing favour among their social inferiors. The aristocratic taste for gaming, the

44 Debating the revolution

turf and the London demi-monde was notorious. It was to fuel a bitter criticism of aristocratic arrogance in the 1790s. Too many of the nobility, it was to be claimed, were the ‘unblushing companions of Grooms and Sharpers, and the detestable Patrons of Boxers and of Strumpets’.16 All in all, the commercialised, plural society of Enlightened Britain generated new political anxieties and supported new forms of political mobilisation. In the crisis years of the 1790s, mobilisation would take place on an unheralded scale and political argument would be pursued to extreme lengths. In the course of this, the durability of Britain’s institutions and the political meaning of the novel social practices of the eighteenth century would be put to the test.

4 Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s

‘The cause in which we are engaged is not partial, but general; not the cause of one, but of all . . . upon its success depend the important questions, Whether Government shall exist – Whether Religion shall retain any influence in social life – Whether laws shall continue to bind, and Justice be anywhere administered – Whether, in short, any link of the social chain shall be preserved unbroken? – or, Whether mankind shall be uncivilized, and reduced to a state of more than Gothic barbarism . . . ?’ John Bowles, The real grounds of the present war with France (1793) ‘When a nation finds itself in this dread abyss of misery, and would be delivered, let them unite, resist the oppression, and discard the oppressors; for no government, however powerful in appearance, or rigorous in effects, can oppose with success the united wisdom and energy of a determined people.’ George Mealmaker, The moral and political catechism of man (c. 1796) ‘Let France in savage accents sing Her bloody Revolution; We prize our Country, love our King Adore our Constitution; For these we’ll every danger face, And quit our rustic labours; Our ploughs to firelocks shall give place, Our scythes be changed to sabres. And clad in arms, our song shall be, “O give us death – or victory!”’ Poetry of the Anti-Jacobin (1799)

46 Debating the revolution

The 1790s was a decade of extraordinary political mobilisation. Men and many women announced their political allegiances in a great variety of ways. They joined partisan clubs and societies; they signed petitions; they marched in demonstrations; they gathered in public meetings; they drilled in volunteer corps; they sang patriotic anthems (or they chorused obscene parodies of such anthems). Sometimes they engaged in violent crowd actions. On other occasions they affirmed their loyalties by the quiet observance of fast days. The politically active might signal their commitment by their dress or bearing. Young democrats, for example, wore their hair loose and unpowdered: wigs spoke of aristocratic artifice. Of course, many felt no need to advertise their political opinions. Even so, there were few who could ignore the vast outpouring of prints, pamphlets and verses that accompanied the debate on revolution, or escape completely the stridency of those who contended on behalf of reform or conservatism. In the early 1790s, life seemed saturated by the clamour of political confrontation. The intensity of politics in the 1790s was an incontestably new experience for those who lived through that decade. But were the forms of political mobilisation really so novel? After all, one of the most innovative and energetic campaigns of the period pre-dated the outbreak of the Revolution. The campaign against the Atlantic slave trade, launched in 1787, was orchestrated with great verve and inventiveness by a network of provincial committees. Public meetings and propaganda drives gave rise to more than 500 petitions to Parliament between 1787 and 1791. We should also ask how the mobilisations of the 1790s compared to earlier political crises. For example, did the surge of loyal addresses to the throne in the summer of 1792 differ greatly from the expressions of loyalty to the Hanoverian regime precipitated by the Jacobite rising of 1745? And did the Church-and-King rioters who terrorised Birmingham’s Dissenters in 1791 really depart from a pattern set by the Tory crowds that ransacked Presbyterian meeting houses in London in 1709 when the party strife of Augustan England was at its height? And if there was organisational innovation in the politics of the 1790s, was this always the work of political reformers? Did conservatives prove themselves equally (or more) adaptable and inventive?

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 47

I Politics in eighteenth-century Britain was enacted in the streets as well as the Palace of Westminster. Electoral contests, especially in urban Britain, could be rumbustious affairs. In most constituencies the actual electorate was rather small and contested elections were infrequent. Nevertheless, a sense of political engagement could extend far beyond those legally entitled to mount the hustings. Street politics, fuelled by a partisan press, was manifested in boisterous crowds, in the wearing of party favours or in the marking of anniversaries (the Battle of the Boyne, the Gunpowder Plot, the Glorious Revolution or the Restoration of Charles II). There were well-established procedures for mobilising crowds, and they served as well in the 1790s as in previous decades, as one Manchester reformer could testify: The same contrivances were used as at a contested election. Parties were collected in different public houses, and from thence paraded the streets with a fiddler before them and carrying a board on which was painted CHURCH AND KING in large letters.1 Eighteenth-century Britons drew upon an elaborate repertoire of symbolic gesture to express their political preferences. Jackboots signified tyranny; a haunch of beef stood for liberty; clogs (‘No wooden shoes!’) spoke of the poverty of priest-ridden Catholic Europe. The meaning of such symbols was often buried deep in the nation’s past. Church-and-King crowds of the 1790s cried out ‘Down with the Rump!’ as though the Cromwellian Parliament was still sitting, whilst anti-popery was as potent a cause in 1780, when the Gordon rioters laid waste to London for the best part of a week, as it had been in the 1680s, or even the 1580s. Nevertheless, with the revolutionary age, partisan symbolism grew apace and the political calendar became still more crowded. The day on which the Bastille had fallen, 14 July, became a focus for reformist celebration in the early 1790s, when commemorative feasts were held by well-wishers to France’s new constitutional monarchy. Loyalists responded with anniversaries of their own. Manchester’s Church and King Society was established to mark the rejection of proposals for the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in March 1790. The anniversary of that signal day for loyalists was marked by a parade in which participants ‘wore uniforms with the representation of the Old Church at Manchester engraved on their buttons’.2

48 Debating the revolution

Once war had broken out between Britain and France, military success gave partisan crowds a fresh opportunity to seize the streets, encouraging their fellow townspeople to celebrate in the customary fashion by placing candles in their windows. ‘There was an illumination last night at Wakering’, an Essex woman reported in the aftermath of Lord Howe’s victory over a French fleet on the ‘Glorious First of June’ in 1794, ‘and a Barrel of Beer given away at each of the public houses with such firing of Guns, that we heard them hither . . . ’3 The response of the crowd to those who refused to illuminate was rarely good-humoured. The disloyal had their windows put out: ‘The great Joy occasioned by Lord Howes Victory broke about 38 panes of Glass in our Meet[in]g house windows’, a Dissenter wrote to his son. ‘Our Loyal hearts catch fire’, he added with mordant humour, ‘at every Victory or Rumour of Thousands of our Fellow Creatures being Killd or Crippled for Life.’4 In Ireland, where United men and loyalists vied for the control of public space, the ability of one side or the other to compel or resist a general illumination became a critical indicator of political potency. A loyal illumination in Dublin in honour of British naval success in the West Indies in 1794 was subject to immediate countermeasures. A ‘hired mob afterwards went through several parts of the town huzzaing for Marat, Robespierre, the guillotine, etc., and broke the windows of the houses that were illuminated’.5

II When it came to organisation, radical groups, naturally enough, were self-consciously innovative. This was particularly true of the plebeian radical societies that began to emerge in the winter of 1791–92. The older, more patrician reformist bodies, such as the Society for Constitutional Information (SCI), were rather gentlemanly in tone and composition, given, as the title of the SCI suggested, to the circulation of political theory rather than agitation. The ethos of the popular societies was different. The founding members of the London Corresponding Society (LCS) were, as their first resolution declared, ‘Tradesmen, Shopkeepers and mechanics’. Their counterparts in Sheffield’s Society for Constitutional Information were recruited, it seems, from the small masters and journeymen of the town’s metalware trades. On the whole, the new societies drew their strength from the artisanal trades – LCS meetings, a spy reported, ‘are attended by the very lowest

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 49

tradesmen, and the most of them seem Scotch shoemakers’ – but not from the ranks of the labouring poor where literacy levels were low.6 They also recruited clerks, attorneys and other professional men (often, but not always, those who were experiencing downward social mobility). But they did not welcome aristocratic patronage: Thomas Hardy, the shoemaker secretary of the LCS, vetoed an invitation to the radical Lord Daer to preside over the Society. And patrician reformers, for their part, did not find the advent of popular radicalism especially congenial. The bourgeois members of Manchester’s Constitutional Society met in the house of Thomas Walker, the town’s wealthiest cotton merchant. Members of the Manchester Patriotic Society, a product of the upsurge of plebeian radicalism in 1792, were allowed to gather in Walker’s warehouse. The popular societies advocated democracy and they tried to put democratic precepts into practice. As the records of the LCS indicate, its meetings were marked by a punctilious attention to democratic procedure. The basic cell of the LCS was the division, a gathering of up to thirty members that met weekly. Each division held quarterly elections to choose its secretary and its delegate to the LCS general committee. The organisation set great store by accountability, and the credentials of divisional delegates were carefully scrutinised. Likewise, firm rules were laid down for the conduct of delegates at general committee meetings: I

A question being under the consideration of the Committee the delegates shall deliver their opinion by rotation. II No delegate shall speak out of his turn, nor more than twice to the one question unless to explain or retract III Visitors should be at liberty to deliver their sentiments . . . but on no account to give a vote.7 LCS members announced their commitment to civic equality by adopting appropriate forms of address. Fellow democrats were hailed as ‘citizens’ and greeted with a handshake. Fawning and bowing could be left to aristocrats. Democrats aspired to a ‘manly and upright’ code of behaviour; their principles and behaviour should be transparently proper. It was the custom of the LCS that ‘every New Citizen was proposed by two Citizens before he could be admitted who were obliged to vouch for his civism & Morals’.8 Not that the business of a radical was entirely confined to high-minded discussion. A spy who attended Division 9 of the LCS, meeting at the

50 Debating the revolution

Falcon in Gough Square in June 1794, found ‘an Evening of pleasure rather than business, many Treasonable Songs were sung and they did not break up until past 12 oClock’.9 Indeed, those diehard members of the LCS who inhabited the revolutionary underworld of the later 1790s had a distinct taste for blasphemy and alehouse burlesque. Perhaps an enraged mockery of the authorities was one of the few resources left to them after the government repression of the mid-1790s? What struck contemporaries most forcibly about the popular societies was their willingness to align themselves with the revolutionary regime in Paris. Many radicals laid claim to a distinctly English heritage, it is true. John Thelwall invoked the anti-monarchical struggles of the seventeenth century by christening his sons Algernon Sydney and Hampden.10 Others looked even further into the English past. They were striving, so they said, to restore popular representation to its proper place in the British constitution, to re-establish rights that their Saxon forebears had enjoyed before the arrival of feudal oppression with the Norman Conquest – the work of a ‘French bastard landing with an armed banditti’, to quote Tom Paine’s blunt and insulting summary of George III’s royal ancestry.11 Hence the preference of members of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information for gathering in ten-man sections which they styled ‘tythings’ in a revival of a supposed Saxon practice. Radical groups in Ireland were also ready to embrace time-honoured forms of popular mobilisation, often using harvest gatherings and other traditional rural assemblies as cover. The ‘disaffected’, the Lord Lieutenant in Dublin observed in 1796, had a practice of marching in military array, and assembling in large bodies . . . under the pretence of saving corn, and digging potatoes; but in fact to terrify the peaceable and well-disposed . . . The same system has since frequently been had recourse to by the United Irishmen . . . under various pretences, such as funerals, football meetings, etc with a view of displaying their strength.12 Yet these attempts to harness traditional culture notwithstanding, radicalism in the 1790s was necessarily francophile. This francophilia was expressed both verbally and symbolically. Radical demonstrators in Nottingham at the time of the 1796 general election, for example, showed ‘their sympathy with the French Revolution, by carrying about a tree of liberty, which, on one occasion, they planted, or attempted to plant, in

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 51

the market place, chanting the celebrated Marseilles Hymn’.13 This was an especially provocative stance to take after the overthrow of the constitutional monarchy and the inauguration of the French Republic in the late summer of 1792. Yet it was at this very moment that the LCS issued an Address to the French National Convention. The Address, which was endorsed by four other societies and emulated by a dozen others, applauded the French for expelling their ‘all-consuming Aristocracy’ and contrasted French liberty with the ‘oppressive system of controul’ prevailing in Britain. Most reprehensible, from the point of view of the authorities, was the LCS’s ardent hope for French military success. If the popular societies’ espousal of the French cause smacked of treason, so too did their enthusiasm for gathering in conventions. The idea of a national convention as a rival to existing (un)representative bodies had some pedigree in British radical thought, having been mooted by the republican James Burgh in 1774. The Continental Congress of 1776 and the National Assembly of 1789 provided telling recent examples of popular assemblies that had usurped the powers of existing political authorities. The convention of Scottish reformers which gathered in Edinburgh in December 1792 was unlikely, therefore, to be greeted sympathetically by the government. It was not, and Thomas Muir, its leading light, was promptly convicted of sedition. Its successor, which proclaimed itself the ‘British Convention’ (by virtue of the presence of delegates from the LCS and other English societies), was broken up without ceremony in December 1793 and further ‘Scottish Martyrs’ joined Muir in Botany Bay. The exact status of the British Convention was unclear. Was it an assembly of radical activists, gathered to debate the best ways of petitioning for parliamentary reform? Or was it an anti-parliament, with plans to supplant the established government? Lofty talk of the ‘first Year of the British Convention One and Indivisible’ suggested that at least some of the delegates had ambitions in that direction. The decision of the LCS to call a further convention in the summer of 1794, this time in England, in solidarity with those bound for Australia and in defiance of the government, might have allowed the meaning of ‘convention’ to be tested further. But Pitt and his law officers had already drawn their own conclusions. The leading London radicals were arrested as traitors in May 1794, and the reform movement was thrown into crisis.14 The suspension of habeas corpus in 1794–95 and once again from 1798 to 1801 enabled the authorities to detain suspected traitors without trial. Such a measure was not unprecedented. Habeas corpus had been

52 Debating the revolution

suspended during periods of Jacobite conspiracy in 1714, 1722 and 1745. Nonetheless, those who were arrested and committed for trial as traitors in the summer of 1794 were convinced that their conviction would inaugurate a British reign of terror. It was, they thought, only the unexpected acquittal of Thomas Hardy that prevented a wholesale attack on the reformist camp. ‘A system of proscription and terror like that of Robespierre has been for some time growing in this country’, the veteran radical Major John Cartwright told his wife, ‘and had these trials been otherwise decided than they had been, it would have been completed and written in innocent blood’.15 John Thelwall spoke confidently of 800 warrants for high treason that were to have been issued upon Hardy’s conviction. The collapse of the treason trials put the government momentarily on the back foot, but the radicals’ belief that legal terror was ‘the order of the day’ received apparent confirmation with the swift passage of the ‘Gagging Acts’ of 1795. The Treasonable Practices Act and the Seditious Meetings Act severely restricted the radical organisations’ room for manoeuvre. In actual fact, scarcely any prosecutions were taken out under the two Acts. There was very little need when prisoners could be tried for the older offences of seditious libel or speaking seditious words. A well-aimed prosecution of this sort could be a very effective blow against radical activity. James Montgomery, for example, publisher of the Sheffield Iris, was prosecuted for seditious libel ‘with a view’, as the Attorney General’s office explained, to put a stop to the Associated Clubs in Sheffield; and it is to be hoped, if we are fortunate enough to succeed in convicting the prisoner, it will go a great way towards curbing the insolence they have uniformly manifested.16 Publishers were also liable to ex officio prosecutions that had the advantage (from the point of view of the authorities) of allowing the Attorney General to detain the accused without trial and in ignorance of the charge against them. The leading London publisher Joseph Johnson found himself in this predicament in 1798 for his role in issuing Gilbert Wakefield’s vituperative Reply to some parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address. Despite the wide powers at its disposal, the Home Office remained remarkably wary about prosecuting radical activists. This was largely

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 53

because the Crown’s law officers feared the counterproductive effects of an acquittal. The Home Office was exasperated by instances of over-zealous local magistrates failing to follow due legal process, allowing Jacobin malefactors to escape on a technicality. They feared too that juries would take a lenient view of allegedly seditious words that had been uttered by a defendant when drunk or provoked. ‘The words are extremely offensive’, the Treasury Solicitor said of one such case in 1794, ‘yet it is very doubtful whether a Jury could, under the circumstances stated, be induced to find him guilty and acquital would be very mischievous.’17 Yet prosecutions there undoubtedly were. Quite how many remains uncertain. Clive Emsley, in a survey of assize records, has put the number of prosecutions under the sedition laws in England in the 1790s as under 200, a poor showing when compared with the bursts of anti-Jacobite prosecutions earlier in the eighteenth century, and scarcely a reign of terror. Yet counting the number of sedition cases that came before county assizes may be misleading. For one thing, surviving court records are frequently incomplete. Secondly, there were many who were detained but never committed for trial. Isaac Saint, the Norwich publican who was a leader of the city’s Society for Political Information, was one of those who suffered this fate. He was arrested as part of the nationwide crackdown on the radical movement in May 1794 and was imprisoned for several months before being released without charge. Moreover, there were forms of legal harassment that could stand in the place of trial for sedition. If the evidence for uttering seditious words was not overwhelming, magistrates could press ahead with a lesser, seemingly non-political charge such as profane swearing.

III Prosecution for treason was the starkest means of subduing domestic radicalism in the 1790s. Legal action was, however, only one of the weapons in the loyalist arsenal. Loyalists had a variety of intellectual and emotional resources on which to call. The intellectual defence of the established order could be entrusted to the Anglican clergy. High Church divines, with their attachment to hierarchy and obedience, were especially reliable champions of orthodoxy in both state and church. A High Churchman like Samuel Horsley, Bishop of St Davids, proved an unremitting enemy of Dissent and French subversion. His sermon before the

54 Debating the revolution

House of Lords on 30 January 1793, on the anniversary of Charles I’s ‘martyrdom’ and coming just a few days after Louis XVI’s execution, was a tour de force of anti-revolutionary oratory. Other clergymen, less eminent but of similar views, followed suit. William Jones of Nayland, for example, waged literary war against the French Revolution from his East Anglian rectory. Soon, High Church clergy and laity joined together in organisations to combat radical ideas. Reverend Jones of Nayland established the grandly named ‘Society for the Reformation of Principles’ together with the London businessman William Stevens in 1792. A year later Jones and Stevens combined once more to found the ultraconservative literary review the British Critic. Anglican evangelicals were also quick to respond to the emergencies of the revolutionary era. Evangelicals were not looked on with favour by High Church Tories: their missionary zeal and emphasis on individual conversion sat uncomfortably with the High Church insistence on hierarchy and doctrinal orthodoxy. Nevertheless, the political reflexes of the evangelicals associated with William Wilberforce and others of the ‘Clapham Sect’ were entirely conservative, enabling them to cooperate with otherwise warily orthodox clergymen in ventures such as the Proclamation Society that sought to curb vice and disorderly activity. For those who defended the status quo in Church and state, the origins of human society were not to be found in any sort of ‘social contract’, as so many Enlightenment thinkers maintained, but in divine intention. Talk of ‘rights’ was therefore nothing but self-deception; there were only obligations, duties and submission to God’s will. Theological liberals like Richard Watson, Bishop of Llandaff, also entered the lists against radical subversion, hastening to the defence of the existing order. Confronted by the spectre of revolutionary France, he preached a sermon on the ‘Wisdom of and Goodness of God in having made both Rich and Poor’ that emphasised the rightness and inevitability of social inequality. But Watson departed from his High Church brethren in significant ways: they assumed rigid hierarchy, whereas he talked of social mobility. Pre-revolutionary France may have been socially sclerotic, but Britain was different: ‘The son of the meanest man in the nation may become a general or an admiral, a lord chancellor or an archbishop.’18 In this, Richard Watson followed a number of loyalist writers who pointed to the benefits that flowed from social differentiation in a commercial society. The rich, after all, consumed much of what artisans and labourers produced. Social inequality, provided it was moderate, brought reciprocal advantages that

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 55

would be lost if the rich were expropriated: ‘if the Gentleman loses his property, neither the manufacturer or the tradesman, can find a consumption for their articles; and of course the means of an honest livelihood for the mechanic and the labourer are done away’.19 The loyalist view, whatever its tenor, was broadcast through a variety of channels in the 1790s. One of these was the assize sermon, the principal way in which the mood of the political elite was communicated to local notables. Circuit judges delivered a review of current events, and a selected clergyman preached on an appropriate piece of scripture. ‘Fear God, and Honour the King’ was the biblical verse chosen at Cardiff in 1797. Two years later, a still more emphatic text was selected: ‘The Sheriff’s Chaplain’, a local diarist noted, was the Revd Mr Davies of Wenvoe – who gave a more political discourse than I ever heard before – His Subject was from Romans 13. Verse 1. ‘Let every Soul be subject to the higher Powers, for there is no power but of God, the powers that be are ordained of God’.20 But how were such sentiments to be communicated to the population at large? After all, the common people were not amongst the comfortably seated audience that heard the assize sermon. The message was regurgitated in local churches by a host of Anglican parsons, it is true, but the counter-revolutionary message depended for its success upon a visceral, emotional grip that Anglican theology could not, by itself, supply. It was British chauvinism, with its gallery of anti-French and anti-Catholic prejudices, that underpinned popular loyalism. That France provided much of the inspiration for domestic reformers counted heavily against them. Eighteenth-century popular culture was fiercely, luridly francophobe. France, the leading continental power of the eighteenth century, was feared because of its perceived expansionism. The French were at the same time scorned for a host of failings. Frenchmen, it was commonly supposed, were shallow and effeminate, lacking the sturdy independence of Englishmen. The French peasantry were forlorn, poverty-stricken creatures, cowed by the Catholic Church and ground down by the exactions of their despotic kings. The political and temperamental contrast between England and France found expression in all walks of life, even in diet. Free-born Englishmen dined on roast beef; the French gnawed on garlic. The Revolution did little to alter this negative appraisal.

56 Debating the revolution

French vices, it seemed to conservatives, had merely been recast in a modish but still more threatening form. ‘That vain and ambitious People’, a fictional loyalist declared, ‘our ancient and natural rivals, seem more than ever to covet universal conquest. They only pursue it in a new manner, by the dastardly means of exciting the people to revolt against their lawful Sovereigns.’21 British suspicion of French ambition seemed to be borne out by the onset of European war in the summer of 1792, and the customary English disdain for the French character was heightened by the horrific massacres in Paris that ushered in the new Republic that September. In the hands of loyalist propagandists, the revolutionary militants displayed not merely the volatility that staunch Englishmen had always despised in the French, but an inhuman savagery as well. Sansculottes were pictured not just as scrawny wretches, the guise in which Frenchmen habitually appeared in the English mind, but as cannibals, feasting on the bodies of their enemies. Gillray’s cartoon ‘Une petit Souper a la Parisienne’, which showed a ‘family of Sans-Culotts refreshing after the fatigues of the day’ by gorging on human entrails, was quick to establish this theme. This was the background to the great loyalist mobilisation of 1792–93. The response to the Royal Proclamation against Seditious Publications in May 1792 reassured the ministry. Loyal addresses to the throne were far more numerous and emphatic than those of a previous generation when, in an earlier national crisis, George III had gone to war to keep the thirteen American colonies within his empire. And the loyalist response was even more broadly based than that of 1745 when most localities had rallied in defence of the Hanoverian dynasty. Then, over 200 counties and towns in England, Wales and Scotland had pledged their loyalty to George II.22 In the summer of 1792, over seventy county meetings and over 300 town meetings expressed their abhorrence of sedition. By September, over 1,300 loyal addresses from corporate bodies, private associations or ad hoc gatherings had arrived in Whitehall.23 Even so, economic crisis and French military success in the autumn of 1792 brought new anxieties and prompted the formation of John Reeves’s Crown and Anchor Society – as the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Levellers and Republicans was more manageably known. The Crown and Anchor Society was smiled upon by Pitt’s ministry. The ministers did not wish, however, to see the rise of an autonomous loyalist organisation. The Society was intended to bring into public view those who were well disposed to the government; it was not conceived as a

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 57

permanent forum for politicking. ‘We hope to avoid the Inconvenience of much Public Discussion at Numerous Meetings’, Pitt wrote, ‘and yet to have the Impression and Effect of Numbers on our Side.’ Local societies were explicitly warned off the self-governing, participatory practices that were the hallmark of the radical clubs: the business of such Societies should be conducted by a Committee, and that the Committee should be small, as better adapted for dispatch of business; for it should be remembered that these are not open Societies for talk and debate, but for private consultation and real business.24 As many as 2,000 local associations were established in response to the Crown and Anchor Association’s manifesto of November 1792. That founded in the Sussex parish of Hamsey was probably typical. Sixty-two parishioners gathered on New Year’s Day 1793 to affirm their satisfaction with ‘the most perfect Constitution that human abilities ever framed’ and to declare their detestation of: Men who by the introduction of Anarchy & Confusion on the Absurd Principles of Levelling all to one ideal standard of Equality, which never in any Age or Country did, or possibly can subsist, aim first to reduce this great & flourishing Kingdom to the Abject State of degraded France, and then to raise themselves to Opulence & Power, on the Ruin of their devoted Country.25 Hamsey’s loyalists thereupon formed themselves into ‘a Constitutional Society for the maintenance of Peace and good Order in this Parish’. Not that loyalists were necessarily peaceful and orderly. Reevite gangs roamed the streets of London in the winter of 1792–93, a radical noted wryly, bawling and squawling like the Songs of Caterwauling, God-save-theking – Church and king for ever! They press every one that passes into this infernal service, crying to him – Blast your eyes! Cry Church and King! Church and King, damn your soul! The radical, a migrant Welsh stonemason, eased his way past his loyal tormentors as best he could: ‘I jabber’d Welsh, squeaked Church SANS

58 Debating the revolution

King in as broken a manner as I could and passed for a Dutchman.’26 Physical intimidation of this sort had its uses, but the loyal associations were at their most effective when they were at their most systematic, most simply by denying reformers places to meet. Special attention was paid to innkeepers and victuallers; they were urged not to allow their premises to be used for radical gatherings. Licensed victuallers – whose licences could be revoked by unsympathetic magistrates – took appropriate action. One hundred and eleven victuallers in Bath, for example, prompted by the city’s Association for Preserving Liberty, Property and the Constitution, undertook to exclude any activity that ‘tended to disturb the public peace’.27 Such initiatives had considerable effect in disrupting radical activity, as Thomas Hardy of the LCS was to confess: ‘not one publick house – tavern nor Coffee House would receive a branch of the society that professed a reform in parliament’ in the autumn of 1792. LCS members ‘were obliged to hire private houses and Auction rooms at great expence’.28 Loyal associations also issued printed matter on a grand scale. The Crown and Anchor Association published dozens of tracts, thousands of which were distributed via its provincial affiliates. Many parishes were flooded with pamphlets; in some, a tract was delivered to every household. ‘The loyalist association in Salford distributed 8,000 tracts at the end of 1792, and one of the most active provincial associations, the Bull’s Head Association of Manchester, handed out 10,000 copies of its loyal address in March 1793.’29 This was to meet the reformers on their own ground, for reformers set great store by the printed word as an engine of enlightenment and emancipation. The radical author of The pernicious effects of the art of printing upon society, exposed (1794) paid ironic tribute to the emancipatory power of the printing press. Masquerading as a reactionary, he urged that printing be suppressed: the happiest consequences would soon be experienced; all the wild, idle theories, with which men are at present disturbed, would soon vanish – the lower orders would mind their work, become tractable and docile, and perhaps in less than half a century, that desirable state of ignorance and darkness, which formerly prevailed, might again restore to this Island that happy state of society with which it once was blessed.30

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 59

Tom Paine concurred. ‘As we have now got the stone to roll’, he told a correspondent as the sales of the Rights of Man mounted, ‘it must be kept going by cheap publications. This will embarrass the Court gentry more than anything else, because it is a ground they are not used to.’31 His acolytes in Dublin took note: the city’s Society of United Irishmen prepared an edition of the Rights of Man that would be issued at a penny a copy. Cut-price editions were not the preserve of the reformist camp, however. In fact, loyalists proved fully alert to the potential of propaganda literature. Just as Paine had embraced a vernacular style to advance the cause of democracy, so anti-radical writers started to couch their defence of the established order in a suitably demotic idiom. Hannah More, a prolific loyalist propagandist, was to recall her own enlistment as a popular counter-revolutionary writer. She was approached by her friend Beilby Porteus, the Bishop of London, himself a busy campaigner against revolution and irreligion: our dear Bishop of London came to me with a dismal countenance and told me I should repent it on my death-bed if I, who knew so much of the habits and sentiments of the lower order of people, did not write some little thing, tending to open their eyes under their present wild impressions of liberty and equality. It must be something level to their apprehension, or it would be no use. More’s Village politics, composed in late 1792, became the most famous of the counter-revolutionary appeals to the common sense and patriotism of the tradesman and labourer. Village politics took the form of a dialogue in which a handful of stock characters (‘Tom Hod the mason’) debated the issues of the day. In this, as in several succeeding pamphlets, one of More’s yokels, more gullible than the rest, would succumb to the revolutionary fever. But one or another of his fellow villagers (‘Jack Anvil the blacksmith’) could be relied upon to puncture the half-digested Painite absurdities that his benighted neighbour had picked up. Tom: What then dost thou take French Liberty to be? Jack: To murder more men in one night than their poor king did in his whole life. Tom: And what dost thou take a Democrat to be? Jack: One who likes to be governed by a thousand tyrants, and yet can’t bear a king.

60 Debating the revolution

Tom: What is Equality? Jack: For every man to pull down every one that is above him, till they’re all as low as the lowest. Tom: What is the new Rights of Man? Jack: Battle, murder and sudden death. Tom: What is it to be an enlightened people? Jack: To put out the light of the gospel, confound right and wrong, and grope about in pitch darkness. After a final smack at the baffling neologisms of the democrats (‘What mean the other hard words . . . Organization and function, and civism and incivism, and equalization, and inviolability, and imperscriptible?’ – ‘Nonsense, gibberish, downright hocus-pocus’ comes the answer), order and good sense are restored.32 The conservative message was broadcast in a variety of media – as were reformist ripostes. Prints, for which there was a lively market in the late eighteenth century, could be produced quickly, hard on the heels of the events on which they commented. And the topical print, as a genre which relied heavily on caricature and grotesque parody, was well suited to the tumultuous 1790s when the world seemed turned upside down. The most popular print issued by the Crown and Anchor Association was The Contrast (December 1792), which juxtaposed ‘British Liberty’ and its French rival. ‘British Liberty’ featured a seated and dignified Britannia, holding the scales of justice and a copy of Magna Carta in her hands, with the British lion dozing contentedly at her feet. ‘French Liberty’ showed a revolutionary medusa striding forward, dagger in hand, over a headless corpse. The image was so striking that it soon appeared in other settings: painted on china wares, printed on fabrics or stamped on medals. The visual message was backed up by a chorus of song. In The Antigallican Songster and The Anti-Levelling Songster (both 1793), loyalist revellers could find verses which proclaimed their allegiance: ‘Shall a nation for wisdom/ And valour long fam’d/ Have their Laws and their Council/ Seditiously blamed?’33 This rhetorical question was answered by a counter-chorus of seditious song – the songbook of the Belfast United Irishmen, for example, Paddy’s Resource (1795), went through four editions. Small wonder that the United publicist James Porter had his fictional loyalist Squire Firebrand exclaim against song to his forelocktugging underling: ‘Singing, Billy, is a d——d bad custom; it infects the

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 61

whole country and makes them half mad; because they rejoice and forget their cares, and forget their duty, and forget their betters.’34

IV The outbreak of war with France in February 1793 allowed the loyalist associations to take on a more military colour. Loyalists rushed to offer material support for the war effort. Cash bounties were offered to recruits: We whose names are underwritten, Members of the Committee of the Fifteen Associated Parishes in Flintshire, this day assembled, do hereby offer TWO GUINEAS A-PIECE . . . to the first Twenty ABLE SEAMEN, natives of Flintshire . . . who are willing to enter into his Majesty’s service to defend their Religion, their King, their Wives, Children, or Friends, from a most wicked and barbarous Enemy.35 Patriotic ladies, many of whom would have been philanthropic activists in the days of peace, now occupied themselves with collecting flannel garments for those soldiers who were to campaign in the damp cold of Flanders. The Volunteer Acts of March and April 1794 allowed ‘Gentlemen of Weight and Property’ to engage in military affairs themselves by raising volunteer companies. These companies were the propertied classes in martial garb: landowners served as officers, farmers and professional gentlemen were their ensigns, while shopkeepers and publicans made up the rank and file. With their banners, elaborate uniforms and parades, they offered an opportunity for the various ranks of propertied loyalists to publicise their patriotism and solidarity, and incidentally to socialise. The Chester Courant reported on one such occasion: LOYAL HOLYWELL VOLUNTEERS – On Monday the 9th instant [October 1797], the above corps assembled at Holywell, for the purpose of receiving their colours. They were presented to them with a short, but very appropriate address, by Mrs Pennant, of Rose-hill. After receiving them, the company, about ninety in number, fired three vollies. Captain Pennant then harangued them in a manner truly classical, and delivered an alocutio worthy of the Roman age . . . They then proceeded to the church, where service was read, and the colours consecrated, in a most excellent prayer, composed on the

62 Debating the revolution

occasion by the Rev. J. Lloyd, our worthy Vicar. The corps afterwards adjourned to the Blue-bell, and Antelope, where a most plentiful dinner was provided on the occasion, by Captain Pennant. After dinner, several loyal toasts were drunk, many patriotic songs sung; and the entertainment closed with the utmost hilarity and joy.36 The volunteer companies became especially numerous in the wake of the abortive French invasion of Ireland in December 1796, when only timely gales had prevented General Hoche landing a fully equipped army in County Cork. A few large industrial employers attempted to enrol their workforces en bloc. Some 863 workers from the Cyfarthfa ironworks in south Wales, for example, were mustered ‘under the Clerks and Foremen they are accustom’d to Work under’ in blue jackets, with pikes and a ration of bread and cheese, in response to 1797’s short-lived French landing in Pembrokeshire.37 Most volunteer companies did not solicit the services of the propertyless; they remained the preserve of the gentry, the professional classes and village notables. Yet as the threat of invasion continued through 1797 and 1798, official attitudes began to change. The Defence of the Realm Act of 1798 instructed local authorities to canvass every able-bodied man between the ages of fifteen and sixty about his willingness to take up arms in his country’s defence. Local responses to the Defence of the Realm Act in 1798 (and again in 1803, when invasion threatened once more) reveal much about the mechanisms through which individuals could be mobilised in the 1790s. Linda Colley has established that a willingness to serve was related, in the first instance, to the immediacy of the French threat. Counties along the south coast of England, perhaps understandably, registered the highest proportions of able-bodied men ready to shoulder arms in the event of invasion. But once proximity to France is put aside, the regions of Britain that were most responsive to the call to arms were those with large urban or industrial populations. Rural areas, allegedly bastions of loyalism, were strikingly indifferent. They were, Colley writes, ‘essentially isolated and inward-looking’. Bucolic backwaters ‘responded to national mobilisation in much the same way as the villagers of Provence reacted to the ambitious centralisation attempted by the new French Republic after 1789: with stolid unconcern, marked suspicion and sometimes downright resistance’.38 But urban, commercialised areas, where news circulated rapidly and where an awareness of public affairs was more pronounced,

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 63

were far more receptive. A local poet saluted the response of Birmingham to the emergency: A warlike band arose, a valiant host, To guard the fam’d BRITANNIA’S sea-girt coast; INTERIOR COUNTIES, fir’d with ardent zeal, Pour’d forth their sons, to guard the Common-weal; ASSOCIATED CORPS, join’d HEART and HAND, And BIRMINGHAM produc’d a chosen band, Of HORSE and FOOT, – to aid their Country’s cause, Protect their King, their LIBERTY, and LAWS.39 In short, the established order found its defenders clustered just where the exchange of goods and information was at its liveliest, in precisely those urban-commercial locations where criticism of the old monarchical order had been most forceful. Political mobilisation in the 1790s did not then pitch a conservative countryside against reformist towns; it polarised urban communities. The 1798 Defence of the Realm Act did more than reveal the geography of armed loyalism. It demonstrated how ready the British state was to abandon its normal practice in the face of the revolutionary crisis. The kind of mass arming which the Act foreshadowed departed sharply from eighteenth-century practice. Britain had no system of military conscription. A man might be balloted for militia service, but this could easily be evaded by a man of means: he could simply hire a substitute to go in his place. Besides, the British authorities, like their ancien régime counterparts in other European states, were usually very anxious to keep arms out of the hands of the population at large. One officer spoke of the ‘general bugbear of arming too many people’.40 Indeed, in the spring of 1798 the Crown was using draconian measures to disarm all but its most politically reliable subjects in Ireland. Generally speaking, it was republicans who applauded the idea of the people in arms. Citizen militias expressed civic virtue and self-reliance; professional standing armies were potentially the instruments of royal oppression. Had not the American Revolution demonstrated this in stark fashion, with the village militias of New England ranged against King George’s German mercenary troops? Indeed, mass mobilisation smacked of the levée en masse instituted by the detested Jacobin regime, and of the revolutionary doctrine that the bearing of arms was an obligation placed

64 Debating the revolution

upon free citizens: ‘the French people are in permanent requisition for army service. The young men shall go to battle; the married men shall forge arms; the women shall make tents and cloths . . . ’ Nevertheless, some in Pitt’s inner circle came to believe that mass military service could have salutary political effects. Those who were ‘disaffected’, wrote Henry Dundas of the Scottish experience in the 1790s, ‘were insensibly cured of it by being enrolled under arms along with others of a different description’.41 But on the whole, the authorities were never comfortable with mass volunteering. They remembered all too well how the volunteer corps raised in Ireland during the American War to defend the island against French invasion had extorted political concessions from Lord North’s beleaguered ministry. Significantly, yeomanry corps were embodied in Ireland fully two years after their English counterparts, and then only with invasion imminent and rural insurgency in full spate. The authorities were right to be nervous. Being only partially subject to regular military discipline, volunteers could show a dangerous independence of mind. Volunteers in Wolverhampton, for example, refused to disperse food rioters, declaring that ‘it was never intended by them to give security to the inhuman oppressor, whilst the poor are starving in the midst of plenty’.42 Members of volunteer companies in Devon went one better, leading crowd actions against farmers and millers in the fraught winter of 1800–01. Not surprisingly, after the French naval threat was nullified at Trafalgar the government wasted no time in winding down the volunteer movement. Paramilitary activity was not restricted to the loyalist camp. There were circumstances in which reformers were themselves ready to take up arms. For the United Irishmen, committed as they were to separation from Britain, recourse to arms was almost inevitable. The organisation, banned in 1794, became an underground army, devoted to armed insurrection. Extreme radicals in England, Scotland and Wales also took the insurrectionary path. The Society of United Scotsmen and the United Englishmen both emerged in 1797. Both were secretive, oath-bound organisations modelled on the United Irishmen, with whom they established links. Both engaged in military drilling – although procuring actual arms was not easy for them – and United Englishmen cells in Lancashire made attempts to suborn troops. Their objective was a republican rising to coincide with a French invasion. The propaganda of the United movement seems to have had some impact in the famine years of 1800 and 1801, especially in the industrial districts of south Lancashire and the West Riding. Never-

Political mobilisation and the people in the 1790s 65

theless, the United Englishmen and Scotsmen were essentially conspiratorial groups whose core membership could be numbered in hundreds rather than tens of thousands. In time, they were infiltrated by government agents and their schemes exposed. Their leaders, such as Colonel Edward Despard, paid the price of political and organisational failure on the scaffold.

V Mobilisation was in general an uncertain business. Conservatives and radicals were locked in bitter competition, but they often employed the same means of rallying support. Both relied upon public display, symbolic gesture and street theatre. Conservatives, quite as much as radical enthusiasts, appealed to the public through the printed word. And Hannah More, quite as much as Tom Paine, tried to address a plebeian reading public in a vernacular vein. Only in attempting to organise mass rallies, as the LCS did in the troubled autumn of 1795, did radicals take a step which conservatives, wary of the ‘mob’, shied away from. And, of course, the government lost no time in rushing through the Seditious Meetings Act to ban such gatherings. Mobilisation should be viewed as a process: a process that varied across time and across space. Mobilisation had different meanings in different places. Social networks that cemented political loyalism in one context could nourish political affiliations of a quite different stripe in another setting. Freemasonry is a case in point. In England, it tended towards political neutrality. Its ethos of amity and non-sectarian solidarity between members of the ‘craft’ (provided they could demonstrate the material wealth and educational culture demanded of Masonic brethren) could be a source of cohesion in Enlightenment England. In Ireland, where religious loyalties had long been the basis of political identity, the non-sectarian character of Freemasonry had quite the opposite effect. Freemasonry, with its emphasis on brotherhood and virtue, veered towards radicalism of the most subversive kind and was deliberately infiltrated by the United Irishmen on that very count. The effects of mobilisation were not always permanent. Political excitement had its peaks and troughs. The loyalist upsurge of 1792–93 was followed by a falling off of activity. Likewise, the summer of 1794 saw the radical movement thrown into disarray by the arrest of its leading figures.

66 Debating the revolution

Political mobilisation could also be reversible. Some of those who burnt Paine in effigy in 1792 took a very different view of the world during the harsh years of war and economic depression in the mid-1790s. In Birmingham, five years after the spectacular Church-and-King violence of 1791, a local industrialist found the mood in the town much changed: ‘The Tradesmen appear to be about 1/3 aristocrats, & the other 2/3ds democrats; but the working mechanic’s (say the whole that I have discoursed with) are the greatest democrats I ever met with.’43 Conversely, many of those who had sought constitutional reform in 1790 were doughty anti-gallicans by the end of the decade. In the hectic circumstances of the 1790s, few could have anticipated where commitment and mobilisation would take them.

5 Secrecy and revelation in the political culture of the 1790s

‘Spies and informers now swarm in every part of the kingdom . . . ’ Considerations on the French war . . . A letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt, by a British merchant (1794) ‘For nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest.’ Luke 8: 17 ‘And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away.’ Revelation 21: 1

The political stresses of the 1790s propelled many Britons into declaring their affiliations publicly, whether by signing a loyalist address or humming a revolutionary hymn like the ‘Ça ira’. In that sense, political culture in the revolutionary decade was marked by a drive toward openness. The all-encompassing struggle over the Revolution laid bare men and women’s political inclinations in a manner that had not been known since the civil wars of the seventeenth century. Yet there was a contrary trend as well, a trend toward secrecy and subterfuge, a wish to conceal or disguise. In consequence, a tension between secrecy and revelation became characteristic of the decade, a tension that extended into many areas of British life.

I Radicals prided themselves on their commitment to political openness. They insisted that the exercise of power should be a transparent process,

68 Debating the revolution

one that could be understood and monitored by citizens. And the wellbeing of any commonwealth depended, so they thought, upon the willingness of citizens to express their beliefs openly and fearlessly. Sincerity was a key political virtue. One of the criticisms that reformers directed against the monarchical system was that kingship and sincerity could not flourish together. Royal courts, in the eyes of reformers, were necessarily places of intrigue where flattery counted for more than honesty. In court politics, secret influence prevailed over public virtue. As a consequence, the seat of power could not be accurately located; illegitimate power could not be held to account. Only if public affairs were subject to the scrutiny of citizens could the abuse of power be prevented. And for abuses to be prevented it was necessary that citizens be guided by reason and that they be equipped with the information required to make reasoned judgements. Only then could the dark, secretive recesses of political life be illuminated and liberty advanced. This was what Dr Richard Price recommended as a way of dealing with the ‘oppressors of the world’: ‘Remove the darkness in which they envelop the world and their usurpations will be exposed, their power will be subverted, and the world emancipated.’1 One of the goals which reformers set themselves was to investigate and publicise the defects of the existing political system. The Society for Constitutional Information (SCI), established during the American War, had initially concerned itself with broadcasting the virtues of an ancient constitution that modern-day Britons had lost sight of: ‘to supply, as far as may be, the want of those destroyed records (of our ancient constitution) and to revive in the minds of their fellow-citizens, THE COMMONALTY AT LARGE, a knowledge of their lost Rights’.2 This amounted to little more than some harmless political antiquarianism. By the end of the 1780s, however, the SCI, reinvigorated by the centenary of the Glorious Revolution, was paying a closer attention to the current state of parliamentary representation. An inquiry launched in 1789 resulted in the publication of T.H.B. Oldfield’s highly critical History of the boroughs (1792). The Association of the Friends of the People followed suit, setting up an investigative committee of its own. Not surprisingly, the committee’s report, The state of the representation in England and Wales (1793), failed to find any consistent rationale behind the existing system. Borough franchises, the committee men reported regretfully, were ‘scarcely capable of being classed in any methodical order, and still less of being ascertained by the application of any fixed principle’.3

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 69

‘Methodical order’ and ‘fixed principle’ were Enlightenment values to which reformers were greatly attached. By introducing these qualities into political practice, all manner of social defects could be remedied. After all, Enlightenment thinkers hailed reason as a universal panacea whose application could resolve all those inequities that arose from humankind’s attachment to the superstitions and irrationalities of the past. In the heady atmosphere that followed the disintegration of the old regime in France, a new age in human history seemed at hand. Did not Richard Price anticipate the ‘dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience’? The SCI agreed, welcoming the ‘prospect of a complete emancipation of human society from political and intellectual servitude’.4 The London Corresponding Society, in proposing the introduction of universal male suffrage, could scarcely see a limit to the benefits that would ensue: Soon then should we see our Liberties restored, the Press free, the Laws simplified, Judges unbiassed, Juries independant, Needless Places and Pensions retrenched, Immoderate Salaries reduced, the Public better served, Taxes diminished and the Necessaries of life more within the reach of the poor, Youth better educated, Prisons less crowded, old Age better provided for, and sumptuous Feasts, at the expence of the starving poor, less frequent.5 Rational reform, its proponents declared, could not fail to have salutary effects. The most extreme advocacy of reason, however, came from someone who had little interest in parliamentary reform as such – the philosopher and former Dissenting minister William Godwin. Godwin’s Enquiry concerning political justice (1793) was, despite the calm, quiet tones in which its author couched his case, a work of rational extremism. It made an extraordinary impression in radical circles, allowing Godwin to carry ‘with him all the most sanguine and fearless understandings of the time’.6 Political justice was a weighty, two-volume treatise. Its arguments were abstruse and its cost prohibitive – William Pitt argued against prosecuting Godwin for that very reason: ‘a three guinea book could never do much harm amongst those who had not three shillings to spare’.7 Nevertheless, Godwin was an influential figure. He held out an alluring vision of human perfection – a state of social bliss so complete that the conventional

70 Debating the revolution

radical concern with rectifying borough franchises or abolishing sinecures in the gift of the Crown seemed rather pettifogging by comparison. Godwin’s project was firmly rooted in the soil of Enlightenment rationality. For him, the use of reason was the distinguishing feature of the human race, and the ability of men and women to reason would lead them to recognise truth. Because truth must command the allegiance of all reasoning creatures, Godwin continued, the progress of humankind towards truth and enlightenment would be marked by a steady decline in the narrow selfishness that disfigured existing society. Destructive human passions would eventually succumb to reason as men and women came to realise that domination over their fellow beings could only lead to social disharmony and ultimately to their own misery. Reason would bring men and women to realise that benevolence was in their own self-interest. As individuals refined their own reasoning powers, so society would edge towards perfection. When men and women were finally divested of the prejudices that impaired their rational faculties, they would spontaneously recognise what was rational and therefore necessary. Here, government would expire: once humankind as a whole responded to the dictates of reason – a single, unitary reason – so social conflicts would cease and the need for law and for states would end. Reason, Godwin announced, spoke with one voice, and so the ‘functions of society extend, not to the making, but the interpreting of law’.8 The advance of reason, Godwin argued, rendered collective political action unnecessary (‘not a sword will need to be drawn, not a finger to be lifted up’).9 Humankind had only to await the happy day when reason, by its very transparency, would allow the ‘dissolution of political government, of that brute engine, which has been the only perennial cause of the vices of mankind’.10 This was a rather startling conclusion in the eyes of Jacobin activists like John Thelwall. ‘In the midst of the singularities with which that valuable work [Political justice] abounds’, he remarked, nothing is perhaps more remarkable than that it should at once recommend the most extensive plan of freedom and innovation ever discussed by any writer in the English language, and reprobate every measure from which even the most moderate reform can rationally be expected.11 Yet for others Godwin’s was an intoxicating message, and in the circumstances of the mid-1790s it had particular appeal. At a time when

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 71

the Terror blighted those hopes that many reformers had invested in revolutionary France, Godwin’s insistence on the eventual perfectibility of the human race was heartening. Moreover, his rejection of political action was seductive – seductive because political action was an increasingly dangerous pursuit at the time of the Treason Trials and the Gagging Acts. By the time Political justice had begun to make an impact on the reformist public – in 1794, 1795 and 1796 – the world which reformers had hoped to see illuminated by reason was clouded by spies, informers, prosecutions and repression.

II Godwin, to be fair, had already anticipated this. His 1794 novel Caleb Williams dealt with the persecution that the powerful could visit upon their critics. Caleb Williams, a virtuous man of humble station, is pursued by the vindictive gentleman whose guilty secret – murder – he has discovered. Here, truth appeared as rather less than the invincible force which Godwin had apostrophised in Political justice. Indeed, truth, personified in Caleb Williams, seemed rather vulnerable to harassment and legal chicanery. Truth, as the harrowing experiences of the hero revealed, might easily fall victim to a corrupt and partial system of justice. Caleb Williams had the alternative title of Things as they are, and with reason: sympathetic readers would have found Godwin’s depiction of the malign forces with which Caleb Williams contended quite recognisable. After all, by the mid-1790s reformers saw themselves as the victims of remorseless loyalist hostility. At best, they faced social ostracism, and perhaps the loss of their livelihoods. Godwin, a versatile journalist, managed to support himself with his pen, but those intellectuals who depended upon official preferment soon lost it. Dr Thomas Beddoes, the most distinguished English chemist of the day, was forced out of the University of Oxford; at Cambridge, William Frend, Fellow of Jesus College, was exiled from the university after the publication of his Peace and union recommended in 1793. Manufacturers and professionals saw a falling off of business. Thomas Walker’s cotton business in Manchester failed as a direct result of his political activities: the ‘rancour and malignity of our persecutors’, he reported, extended to boycotts and attacks on his credit-worthiness.12 Tradesmen, artisans and workers who failed to conform to the loyalist standards demanded of them were even more

72 Debating the revolution

vulnerable: one ironmaster had workers who refused to serve in his volunteer corps sacked (‘immediately discharge them from the Work, by way of Example, & let it be understood by them, & all the others that those who do decline to Continue in the Corps must also quit the Work’).13 As reformers were well aware, informal pressure and intimidation were backed by legal repression. The fate of Thomas Muir and the other ‘Scottish Martyrs’ was proof of that. Yet, as we have seen, the Home Office often discouraged local magistrates from proceeding with serious charges of sedition, not least because the law officers feared that a jury would not accept the evidence of a spy. One of the chief reasons for the collapse of the 1794 treason trials was the unsavoury character of some of the government witnesses: A more pitiful set of Ragamuffins could not have been picked up in the Highways than that which government has brought forward as witnesses on these trials. To be sure a Spy is a Character despicable enough; no man of Conscience of Character would assume it.14 Reformers made much of the authorities’ use of informers. Henry Crabb Robinson, a hopeful Godwinian in the mid-1790s, was quite conventional in expressing his ‘utmost abhorrence of the man who gains a vile subsistence by catching at the indiscreet but zealous and well-meant effusions of a reforming fellow citizen; by torturing every hasty expression into sedition or treason’.15 Many of his contemporaries thought such methods were un-English and unconstitutional. Indeed, such an accusation chimed in with a well-established libertarian tendency in British political sensibilities. Some of the most strenuous opposition to Pitt’s income tax in 1798 came from those who claimed that the assessment of such taxation necessarily – yet illegitimately – intruded into a man’s private affairs: [H]ere a spy comes, not only into the House, but opens the bureau of every man, and becomes acquainted with his most secret concerns. A man must show to this spy his bills, his notes, his bonds, and all his securities.16 From the vantage point of reformers, an oppressive system of surveillance and suspicion had been introduced into British life with the use of spies. ‘Associations were formed for the preservation of the Constitution

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 73

and discovery of offenders’, wrote the radical publisher Daniel Isaac Eaton, remembering the loyalist offensive of 1792. Anonymous accusations were encouraged, and spies and informers sent abroad. Servants were set against masters, and sons against fathers; the pleasing confidence of friendship and the domestic enjoyments of life, were poisoned by the introduction of a general system of suspicion and distrust.17 Certainly, loyal subjects of the Crown seem to have lost no time in reporting their suspicions to the Duke of Portland, the Home Secretary. The Home Office correspondence files for the 1790s are stiff with denunciations. ‘I think it my duty as an Officer and a loyal subject’, one gentleman told Portland in 1798, to inform your Grace that, Thelwall who was some time ago tried for High Treason is now resident near Hay in this County (Brecon) . . . he is intimately acquainted with a man in Brecon, who is a member of a Club notorious for their seditious sentiments.18 Pitt, it seemed to reformers, was bent on creating a police state in which honest citizens were to be subjected to official harassment. By later standards, the secret services of late Georgian England appear tiny and amateurish, but there can be no doubt that the authorities made a determined effort to establish a system of surveillance in the 1790s. London-based radical groups were infiltrated in the winter of 1792 with considerable success. George Lynam, ironmonger and commission agent, who attended the LCS general committee as the delegate of No.23 Division, sent a full account of its proceedings to the Home Secretary. James Powell, another government spy, even rose to be acting president of the LCS in 1795. And if no informers were at hand, the state could tamper with the mail of known radicals. The Traitorous Correspondence Act of 1793 allowed for the opening of suspect letters, especially those passing to revolutionary Europe. Indeed, the government was keen to monitor the links that radical bodies had established with France. An Alien Office was established in 1793 to keep track of foreign visitors to Britain, especially French agents who, it was thought, might easily enter the country in the guise of royalist émigrés. Under the terms of the Alien Act, foreigners could be confined to certain areas of the country,

74 Debating the revolution

whilst householders could be required to account for any foreigners lodging with them. The radical societies were well aware of official interest in their proceedings. John Thelwall, the LCS leader who tried the hardest to maintain an open radical presence after the passage of the Gagging Acts, remembered being ‘proscribed and hunted – driven like a wild beast, and banished, like a contagion, from society’.19 Indeed, his provincial lecture tour in 1796–97 collapsed in the face of officially condoned mob violence, while Thelwall himself was tailed for some time by John Walsh, one of the Home Office’s chief intelligence agents. The knowledge that spies and agents provocateurs were in their midst certainly contributed to the radicals’ political troubles. Suspicion and recrimination invaded radical gatherings: those present could never be certain that their fellow citizens were what they seemed. Reformist hopes for a new era of openness and sincerity were brought to naught. The reform movement fragmented in the face of government repression. Many sympathisers withdrew from political activity. Others conformed outwardly to the demands of loyalism, whilst maintaining a forlorn inner faith. George Lewis, for example, a north Walian Dissenting minister, was one of the ‘principal inhabitants’ of Caernarvon who signed a loyal declaration in January 1793, avowing his abhorrence of French principles. Fellow Dissenters in America with whom Lewis corresponded were, however, treated to a very different version of his views. To them, Lewis gave a despairing analysis of the injustices of George III’s Britain: ‘is it to be wondered’, he asked, ‘that many wish to emigrate, and to spend the remainder of their days in America which we consider as the land of plenty and the land of freedom?’20 Indeed, thousands emigrated to the American Republic in the course of the 1790s, seeking there ‘that security and peace there is so little probability of enjoying in Europe’.21 Some were well-known radical personalities like Joseph Priestley or the poet Robert Merry, both of whom stepped ashore at Philadelphia in the mid-1790s, but most were humble farmers and tradesmen, often Dissenters, fleeing economic hardship and political exclusion. While thousands crossed the ocean, others, as we shall see, found new inspiration in visionary religion. A few, as we know, entered the world of conspiratorial politics, forging alliances with the United Irishmen and throwing in their lot with the revolutionary government in Paris. Theirs was a truly clandestine world, where United Englishmen made themselves known to one another by secret signs and passwords, and

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 75

where agents and double agents waged an espionage war against one another in Dublin, London, Hamburg and Paris. This was a war which Pitt’s government won. A wave of arrests early in 1798 led to the trial and execution of James O’Coigly, the United Irish emissary who had been entrusted with the task of coordinating the activities of Irish and English revolutionaries. The suppression of the rebellion in Ireland in the summer of 1798 completed the ministerial victory by scattering the leadership of the United Irishmen and bringing the revolutionary network to the point of collapse. Yet it may be that in the aftermath of this crisis the revolutionary underground found new allies by making common cause with trade unionists in Britain’s expanding industrial districts. For, at the very moment the government was suppressing revolutionary organisations on both sides of the Irish Sea, workmen’s associations were themselves being pushed deeper into the netherworld of illegality. The Act for the Suppression of Seditious and Treasonable Societies received its royal assent on 12 July 1799, outlawing by name the LCS, the United Irishmen and the different United groups in England and Scotland. On the very same day the Combination Act, prohibiting the use of workers’ combinations to raise wages or adjust hours, became law. Edward Thompson made the junction between revolutionary democracy and trade unionism one of the key themes of his The making of the English working class (1963). Repression, he wrote, ‘unwittingly brought the Jacobin tradition into association with the illegal unions’.22 He saw shadowy agitations such as that conducted by the ‘Black Lamp’ movement in Yorkshire in 1801–02 as opening up a key phase in the emergence of a working-class consciousness in industrialising Britain. Here, economic grievances were given a sharp political inflection. Political radicals and union activists alike were harried by magistrates, and in the years around 1800 it was a simple matter to trace economic distress back to political causes. The war against France simultaneously raised taxes and disrupted European markets, leaving hundreds of thousands destitute. As markets shrank and profit margins shrivelled, employers resorted to wage cuts, substituted the labour of women and children for that of men, or replaced their workers with machines. The only beneficiaries of this state of affairs, so its critics reasoned, were unscrupulous employers, government contractors and the financiers who furnished war loans. The losers were the mass of the working population.

76 Debating the revolution

This subterranean tradition, one that coupled political and economic grievances, lasted through the war years, surfacing once more in the Luddite actions of the 1810s. The democratic tradition, expelled from respectable politics, was able to incubate in the plebeian world of workshops, alehouse clubs and secret trade union gatherings. Here, it was to contribute to a strand of working-class politics, democratic in aspiration and ‘physical force’ in orientation, that was to persist into the 1840s.

III The tension between secrecy and revelation was present in one other aspect of the political culture of the 1790s: the mood of millenarian anticipation that affected many sections of British society. The collapse of the French monarchy and the onset of European-wide revolution and war made for an air of apocalyptic expectation. There was a widespread sense that the world had entered an age of revelation when secrets of all kinds, most importantly the mystery of God’s purpose, would be revealed. Enthusiasts pored over those books of the Bible that portended great events (the Revelation of St John and the Book of Daniel were particular favourites), and tried to construe the upheavals of the late eighteenth century – the American Revolution, still more the French Revolution – in the light of biblical prophecy. This was not an activity restricted to a lunatic fringe. Intellectuals of the weight of Richard Price and Joseph Priestley held firm millenarian beliefs, their scientific credentials notwithstanding. For Dr Price, social progress was much more than a rational, secular improvement in human society. Progress was to be measured, conventionally enough, by ‘the world outgrowing its evils, [and] superstition giving way’, but its culmination would be ‘antichrist falling, and the Millennium hastening’.23 And for Price this was no distant prospect. He detected divine providence at work behind many of the tumultuous political developments of the 1770s and 1780s. The way was being cleared for the ‘downfall of all slavish hierarchies and governments, and for the introduction of those times, when truth and liberty shall triumph over all opposition, when nation shall no more lift up sword against nation’.24 When those happy conditions prevailed, Christ would return to earth and rule over the millennial kingdom foretold in biblical prophecy. Accordingly, it was incumbent on citizens to promote civic virtue and political reform, for by doing so they

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 77

were bringing nearer the Second Coming. Human action would ultimately precipitate the millennium. In this way, two apparently incompatible forces – visionary religion and the Enlightenment drive towards rational reform – could be reconciled. Millenarian enthusiasm and radical politics did not inhabit separate milieux in the 1790s. Radical activism often overlapped with the world of seers and seekers. After all, both constituencies thought of themselves as engaged in a battle with wickedness, with themselves as the custodians of truth. In the aftermath of the fall of the Bastille, it was all too easy to envision the world entering a period of cosmic conflict in which all establishments, political and spiritual, would be weighed in the balance. Certainly, the overthrow of French absolutism unleashed a flood of prophetic literature, interpreting recent events in the light of scripture. ‘Prophecies, relative to the destruction of almost every kingdom and empire in the world’, one critic recalled, ‘teemed from the British press, some of them in weekly numbers . . . ’25 The leading radical publisher, Joseph Johnson, issued over thirty works of prophecy. Indeed, the publishers of prophetic works were selling to an avid public. Baptist minister James Bicheno’s The signs of the times: or the overthrow of papal tyranny in France, the prelude of destruction to popery and despotism, but of peace to mankind went through five editions between its publication in 1793 and the end of the century. It was even translated into Welsh. In this mood of febrile excitement, the precise biblical scholarship of Richard Price was increasingly overshadowed by writing of a more apocalyptic temper. This more plebeian tradition, one that drew upon the obscure antinomian sects that had persisted through the eighteenth century in defiance of Anglican conformity and in which the sectarian ferment of the seventeenth-century revolution had been quietly preserved, laid more stress on the immediacy of Christ’s return. The advent of the Messiah would not await human improvement, as Richard Price imagined. His arrival would inaugurate the millennium, not follow it. The political implications of such religious enthusiasm were unsettling. Millennialism promised a world turned upside down. It disputed the authority of kings and prelates, declaring that they were shortly to be swept away by the King of Kings. It recalled, all too vividly for the propertied classes, the millenarian fury of the 1640s when antinomian sects like the Diggers and the Fifth Monarchy Men had declared an end to laws and hierarchies made by men and proclaimed that the earth should be held in common. Latter-day prophets in the 1790s seemed all

78 Debating the revolution

too reminiscent of the visionary subversives of that earlier era. Richard Brothers, for example, author of A revealed knowledge of the prophecies and the times . . . written under the direction of the Lord God (1795), styled himself the ‘Prince of Hebrews’ and proclaimed his actual kinship with Christ. Brothers did not stop at interpreting scripture; he issued prophecies of his own. This was to dispute the supremacy of the Established Church in the most fundamental way possible, for it announced not only that the regular clergy did not have a monopoly of scriptural knowledge, but that the Bible was only a partial guide to God’s intentions; it needed to be supplemented by Brothers’s own divinely inspired utterances. If the Bible, the bedrock of Christian civilisation, could be challenged so easily, the collapse of social order could not be far away. Small wonder, then, that visionaries should be looked upon with indulgence by radical extremists. In any revolutionary era, the Jacobin periodical Politics for the people maintained, ‘Enthusiasts are necessary, who in transgressing all bounds, may enable the wise and temperate to attain their ends.’26 A conservative commentator agreed, stating that the subversive potential of prophets and seers was deliberately exploited by Jacobin malcontents: ‘It is the desire of the most violent and ill-principled men to create distrust, disorder, and anarchy; and for that purpose, a more proper instrument could not be found than Mr Brothers.’27 Indeed, radicals might deliberately embrace the prophetic idiom in their propaganda. The Book of Bobs forecast the overthrow of monarchical order in mock biblical verse.28 The ultra-radical Thomas Spence, who saw democratic reform as being quite inadequate without a redistribution of landed property, issued a cod prophecy to highlight his differences with conventional reformers and to foretell his own triumph. ‘After these things shall arise in a certain island, a teacher of the true system of society, a system’, Spence trumpeted, ‘by which alone mankind can individually enjoy their proportion of rights and independence.’29 Prophetic utterance seems to have become a standard form of propaganda in the mid-1790s. A loyalist clergyman in County Mayo described prophecy as ‘one of the principal strategems of the Connaught United Irishmen’ who had ‘established a mint for [the] coinage of false prophecies, from whence new ones were to issue as fast as old ones should fail’.30 The government responded in kind, sponsoring millenarian tracts in a loyalist vein. A prophecy of the French Revolution and the downfall of Antichrist (1793), for example, identified the French Republic as the Beast, not the papacy as was usual in the Protestant eschatological tradition. Pitt’s

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 79

government also took the precaution of committing Richard Brothers to a madhouse.

IV The willingness of visionaries to speak out in apocalyptic tones was an affront to polite culture in the late eighteenth century. A culture that set great store by balance and order found the strident, disorderly religiosity of Richard Brothers profoundly disturbing. It was a clear manifestation of ‘enthusiasm’, or a ‘vain belief in private revelation’ as Dr Johnson defined the term in his famous Dictionary (1755). Religious enthusiasm was a dangerous substance. Unless tempered by learning, it would give rise to social instability. A visitor to south Wales found that the sects among the lower orders of the people have in truth degenerated into habits of the most pitiable lunacy in their devotion. The various subdivisions of methodists, jumpers, and I know not what, who meet in fields and houses, prove how low fanaticism may degrade human reason.31 The meaning of Christian faith should not be left to the ‘lower orders’; it should be expounded by a trained and certified priesthood, not by those whose only qualification was their own conviction and zeal. This was why John Wesley’s Methodist revivalism, doctrinally orthodox though it was, was viewed with suspicion by so many Anglican Churchmen. ‘The Word of God on which all you popular Preachers lay so much stress’, one Wesleyan minister was told, is as ably Preach’d in our Church as in your Chappels – And the road to happiness in this Life & that wch is to come explained to us most Comfortably by Men of good morals & Superior Education – [than can] be expected to rise out of [an] inferior seminary.32 Hierarchy was needed to prevent unbridled faith becoming a disruptive, unbalanced force. A ‘vain belief in private revelation’ led to fanaticism. In society at large, as in the Church, the self had to be bound by rules that prevented the most egotistical elements of the human psyche from overturning the proper order of things. This was an area of great cultural

80 Debating the revolution

tension in the late eighteenth century. The ideals of ‘politeness’ that had been broadcast with such success by Addison and Steele in the early eighteenth century required men and women to absorb and internalise rules of decorum. Those aspects of the self that were unruly and therefore antisocial were to be constrained. By the 1770s, however, visions of a more unfettered, artless self were coming into vogue. Here, the most prized of qualities was that of ‘sensibility’. Sensibility denoted an acute sensitivity to one’s surroundings and fellow creatures, one expressed in compassion and tenderness. Contemporary psychological and neurological theory, derived from John Locke and Sir Isaac Newton, explained how human beings received and processed sense impressions from the material world, and how those impressions acted as powerful emotional and imaginative stimuli. Such stimuli gave rise to an upwelling of spontaneous and natural sentiment and, hence, an emotional sensitivity that was laudable for being free of artifice. The danger of sensibility as it came to be understood in the later eighteenth century was that it seemed to come perilously close to ‘enthusiasm’. Both took inner feeling as their justification. Each in its own way rubbed against the inhibitions imposed by politeness. So could emotional and imaginative power be distinguished from vulgar enthusiasm? Some of the leading intellectuals of the 1790s attempted to do so. William Wordsworth sought a resolution in poetry. Together with Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he sought to redefine enthusiasm, purging it of political and religious fanaticism. Wordsworth and Coleridge were concerned to eschew the mannered classicism of Augustan culture and to avow (as they saw it) authenticity and emotional immediacy. In this scheme of things, enthusiasm was redesignated as an interior, inspirational quality of poetic genius, not a source of public turbulence. Wordsworth aimed to turn aside from the degraded, artificial culture of modernity. He sought a revelation of the heart and its true sympathies. This was a poetic mission quite distinct from the superficiality of commercialised culture, which Wordsworth blamed on ‘the increasing accumulation of men in cities, where the uniformity of their occupations produces a craving for extraordinary incident which the rapid communication of intelligence hourly gratifies’.33 Poetry, Wordsworth announced, should be based on more enduring values, and the proper vehicle for conveying ‘the sympathies of men’ was – in theory at least – to be found among the non-polite classes. Explaining his choice of subject matter and his mode of expression in the Lyrical ballads of 1800, Wordsworth said:

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 81

Low and rustic life was generally chosen because in that situation the essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can attain their maturity, are less under restraint, and speak a plainer and more emphatic language; because in that situation our elementary feelings exist in a state of greater simplicity . . .34 Although in retrospect Wordsworth can be seen as depoliticising the notion of enthusiasm, his use of plebeian voices verged on the ‘jacobinical’ in the eyes of some contemporary critics. Indeed, one famously linked the ‘exertions of Mr Thomas Paine to bring disaffection and infidelity within the comprehension of the common people’ to the ‘charitable endeavours of Messrs Wirdsworth & Co. to accommodate them with an appropriate vein of poetry’.35 The suspicions that lingered about Wordsworth and Coleridge were not entirely unjustified, however, for in the early 1790s both had been fervent democrats. Wordsworth first travelled to France in the heady summer of 1790. He returned to England in 1792 a committed republican. In 1793 he penned but did not publish, rather fortunately, a defence of Louis XVI’s execution. The outbreak of war with France cooled his francophilia, so he later claimed, and he was drawn instead towards William Godwin’s cerebral anarchism. Coleridge’s odyssey of the 1790s was equally turbulent, involving a spell as an itinerant Unitarian preacher, a failed attempt at newspaper publication, and an abortive scheme to establish a utopian community in Pennsylvania. In the mid-1790s, the buffeting of events notwithstanding, both were still to be found on the wilder shores of radical politics. Wordsworth and Coleridge were closely associated with John Thelwall, then pursuing a poetic career of his own. Indeed, they were subject to government surveillance. Coleridge’s house at Nether Stowey in Somerset was the venue for several meetings between the three in 1797, meetings that were monitored by Mr Walsh, Thelwall’s nemesis from the Home Office. By 1797, however, both Wordsworth and Coleridge were edging away from the extreme radical positions they had occupied in earlier years. France’s invasion of Switzerland in 1798 was the last straw: overrunning the alpine republic could not easily be portrayed as an act of fraternal assistance to an oppressed people. Coleridge took refuge in religion, losing the self-confidence he had once shown as an adherent of progressive causes. For Wordsworth, the later 1790s saw a rapid disengagement with

82 Debating the revolution

the overly rational philosophy of Godwin. Godwin was now reproached for emphasising reason at the expense of feeling. As their hopes for the French Revolution waned, Wordsworth and Coleridge were compelled to re-evaluate their youthful passions. For Wordsworth, this took the form of a lengthy meditation on the entire revolutionary experience and the disappointments it had ultimately produced. The Prelude, his great autobiographical poem, was the outcome. While Wordsworth’s rejection of his democratic past was presented in an oblique fashion, as a passage from ‘juvenile error’ to maturity, Coleridge, whose recoil from radical extremism was more violent, resorted to an outright denial of his involvement with the democratic movement. The middle-aged Coleridge was a resolute defender of Church and state, a shrill anti-democrat. When reviewing his life, the ageing poet was careful to diminish, or where necessary deny, the extent of his impassioned activism in the 1790s. He had never, he announced in his Biographia Literaria (1817), had any truck with democracy. John Thelwall, still a democrat in the post-Waterloo era, was taken aback by this claim. He remembered Coleridge very differently: ‘Mr C. was indeed far from Democracy, because he was far beyond it, I well remember – for he was a downright zealous leveller & indeed in one of the worst senses of the word he was a Jacobin.’36 Candour and sincerity had been among the political watchwords of reformers in the 1790s, but for many veterans of the decade, broken by political defeat and disillusionment, evasion and duplicity were its legacies.

V It would be wrong to imagine that secrecy and political reaction went hand in hand. Indeed, conservatives were obsessed by what they saw as the secretive, conspiratorial nature of their enemies. Some radicals might advertise their disloyalty, as did the leadership of the United Irishmen, under guard in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion, by wearing their hair ‘completely cropped with mustachios après la mode Française’.37 But it was feared that others, more serpentine and cunning, were spreading the revolutionary virus by secret means. Suspicion fell upon itinerant pedlars, field preachers, Irish refugees and continental émigrés. A correspondent of William Wilberforce’s bewailed the presence of ‘French & Dutch Emigrants many of ’em Enemys’ who enjoyed furtive links to ‘Seditious

Secrecy and revelation in the 1790s 83

Native Regicides’.38 By the late 1790s, when the threat of invasion was an ever-present possibility, magistrates twitched every time the ostensibly crushed spirit of Jacobinism emerged from the shadows. ‘The Public Eye is dayly saluted with Sedition in Chalk Characters on our Walls’, one justice of the peace complained in 1800. ‘And Whether the subject regards Bread or Peace NO KING introduces it.’39 The government was painfully alert to the possibility that some of the king’s subjects might hold covert views incompatible with loyalty to the throne. The emergence of secret, oath-bound organisations, whose members were required to renounce their proper allegiance to the Crown, was greeted with particular horror: hence the legislation of 1797 that made the administering of illegal oaths punishable by seven years’ transportation, which would serve a generation or more later to send the Tolpuddle Martyrs into penal exile. (The 1796 Insurrection Act in Ireland was more draconian still: it made administering an illegal oath a capital offence.) In this atmosphere of dread, there was a ready market for conspiracy theories. The healthy sales enjoyed by alarmist classics such as Barruel’s Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism or Robison’s Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe were evidence of that. By the end of the 1790s, it was readily assumed in conservative circles that the French Revolution had been planned and executed by a godless cabal. The ‘Committee of Secrecy’ of the House of Commons that investigated radical activity in the aftermath of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland reported that the radical movement in Britain had from its very inception been engaged in a ‘Treasonable Conspiracy’. It followed that radical organisations should be outlawed. They were by nature conspiratorial; their true aims were hidden behind a mask of benevolence. The defence of good order required that conspiracy be unmasked and that the fallacies of modern philosophy be exposed. Pitt’s government, with its spy networks and repressive capabilities, attended to the first of these tasks. A phalanx of counter-revolutionary intellectuals, gathered about the Anti-Jacobin, published 1797–98, attended to the second. The Anti-Jacobin lambasted the ‘New Morality’ associated with Godwinianism. ‘Sound reasoning and truth,’ Godwin had supposed, ‘when adequately communicated, must always be victorious over error.’40 Those who contributed to the Anti-Jacobin and the Anti-Jacobin Review (published from 1798) agreed, save that for them the eternal truths of Christian

84 Debating the revolution

revelation were to prevail over the infidelity and immorality of Godwin. By the end of the 1790s, the faith that reformers had placed in the power of light and reason seemed misplaced. They had done their utmost to remove the darkness in which ‘the oppressors of the world’ shrouded ‘their usurpations’, as Richard Price had recommended, but oppressive power proved stubbornly resistant to the light of reason.

6 Hunger and political economy

‘Hunger will tame the fiercest animals, it will teach decency and civility, obedience and subjection, to the most brutish, the most obstinate, and the most perverse . . . ’ Joseph Townsend, A dissertation on the poor laws (1786) ‘He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him.’ Proverbs 11: 26 ‘Treason! Treason! Treason! Against the People! . . . A Plot is discovered! Pitt and the Committee for Bread are combined Together to starve the Poor into the Army and Navy! And to starve your Widows and Orphans!’ Handbill circulated in Sheffield, August 1795

Spies haunted the imagination in the 1790s, but the state’s interest in data gathering did not necessarily take a secret form. On the contrary, the exigencies of war encouraged the collection of information in many forms and on a large scale, carried out by magistrates, bureaucrats and Anglican clergymen rather than spies. The survey of manpower occasioned by the 1798 Defence of the Realm Act has already been mentioned. It was followed within three years by the first national census of population which, its leading advocate maintained, would enable the state ‘to enrol and discipline the greatest possible number of men’.1 The 1790s also saw official investigations of agricultural production, first of all in 1795, and then again in 1798 when the Home Office circularised lord lieutenants in the coastal counties of the south, authorising them to collect data on crops

86 Debating the revolution

and stock – crops that were to be destroyed in a ‘scorched earth’ campaign if the French landed. Details of the harvest were collected once more in 1800, this time via the Anglican clergy, and an ambitious survey of cultivation and land use was launched in 1801. These initiatives were entirely understandable, because these years of crisis raised the question of whether national resources were sufficient for the struggle against France. Harvest failure and widespread popular disturbances at different points in the 1790s suggested that they were not. The brute fact of hunger also prompted a rethinking of economic theory. Could reliance be placed upon markets to distribute resources effectively? Or should the state intervene to avert crises of subsistence? Members of the political elite were uncertain. But whatever divisions existed among Britain’s ruling elite, they were as nothing to the chasm that separated elite instincts about how economic life should be ordered from plebeian notions of justice. A labourer from Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, on trial for his life for his part in food riots in September 1800, told his prosecutors that he had ‘worked hard; and wanted food many a day’. He went on, to the evident consternation of the trial judge, to assert that he had ‘a right to be fed’.2 The developments in economic thinking that stemmed from the 1790s returned again and again to that issue – whether labour had a right to be fed.

I The debate over the French Revolution was, in the first instance, a political exchange over constitutional rights, yet it took place in the context of rapid economic change. Many regions of Britain were in the throes of industrialisation, sprouting new urban settlements. Other regions deindustrialised as their cottage industries proved incapable of competing with new forms of mechanised production. Contemporaries were perplexed by these changes. For the propertied elite, the industrial towns could be alarming places, where the deferential gestures expected of rustic villagers were not forthcoming. Yet the countryside was often no more secure. New types of husbandry were radically altering the structure of employment in rural society, leading to the pauperisation of the agricultural workforce in many southern counties. The years of war after 1793 exacerbated economic problems. Some sectors were boosted by the military demand for munitions, uniforms and

Hunger and political economy 87

foodstuffs, but others were badly affected by the disruption of continental markets. The economy seemed more volatile, oscillating between boom and depression. Underlying this volatility was the behaviour of the harvest, since Britain, for all its precocious industrialism, still remained a country in which the outcome of the harvest was of paramount importance. A succession of poor harvests in the 1790s dramatised the uncertainty that now shrouded economic performance. As a result, the optimism that many economic writers, taking their cue from Adam Smith, had expressed in the pre-revolutionary era receded. The prospects for growth and plenty of which Smith had spoken now seemed more elusive. Indeed, a new generation of political economists wondered whether growth was sustainable or even, when it appeared to divert scarce resources away from agriculture, desirable. The 1790s was then a transitional period in which the Enlightened belief in material betterment began to falter. In its place came a fear that misery and hunger were, and would ever remain, fundamental to the human condition. A vulnerability to harvest failure stemmed, in the first instance, from an increase in the numbers that had to be fed. The later eighteenth century was an age of rapid population growth, nowhere more so than in Ireland. The island’s 2 million inhabitants of 1740 had become 5 million in 1800. Other parts of the British Isles could not match this staggering rate of increase; even so, England’s population grew by an impressive 45 per cent between 1755 and the first national census in 1801. Scotland’s rate of increase was rather more modest – 22 per cent during the same period – but it still made for a substantial number of additional mouths to be fed. Additional mouths could be fed, but only if agricultural productivity kept pace with population growth. Productivity on the land was growing smartly in eighteenth-century England; of that there is no doubt. Labour productivity in English agriculture bounded up by 26 per cent between 1750 and 1800, whereas French agriculture managed a meagre 4.3 per cent improvement. However, there was clearly a role for imported foodstuffs. Whereas England had been an important exporter of grain in the early eighteenth century, exports shrivelled after 1760 as domestic demand grew more insistent. By the 1790s, there was a clear need for imports to compensate for any failure in domestic supply. There were obstacles to the importation of grain, however. Agriculture was regarded as the bedrock of national prosperity. It was only the revenue from agricultural surpluses, contemporaries reasoned, that supported manufactures and services. Agriculture therefore had to be protected. So,

88 Debating the revolution

not only were generous bounties paid to merchants who exported grain, there were also tariff barriers to ensure that cheap imports did not flood the British market. The first of a series of corn laws, which employed a sliding scale of duties to keep foreign grain from the British market when prices were low, dated from the seventeenth century. Such arrangements were advantageous to the farming community. They were not so welcome to those who did not earn a living from agriculture and who considered that the price of bread, the ‘staff of life’, was being kept artificially high. Political radicals developed this suspicion into a systematic critique. The corn law, they said, was expression of aristocratic power. Its purpose was to defraud the public at large. It did so by guaranteeing high returns to farmers, high returns that aristocratic landowners could confiscate in the form of higher rents. When, in 1791, a new Corn Act pushed up the price threshold at which foreign corn could enter British ports, it aroused great indignation among urban radicals. The ‘enormous high price of provisions’ was one of the issues that most exercised the ‘five or six mechanicks’ who were the kernel of the Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information. A speaker at one of the earliest meetings of the Sheffield Society linked ‘the expediency of an equal representation in parliament’ directly to ‘the great Hardship imposed on the poor people by the late Corn Bill’.3 The issue of subsistence became increasingly contentious in the 1790s as a succession of harvest failures left hundreds of thousands of poor consumers with empty bellies. Dearth provoked serious outbreaks of public disorder. It posed questions about the responsibilities of both local authorities and central government. Ultimately, it broached questions about the economic order of early industrial Britain and the political legitimacy of the regime that ruled it.

II A poor harvest did not as a rule spell immediate ruin. It did, however, imply a period of unusually high prices the following summer when stocks were at their lowest in advance of the new harvest. Matters became critical if one scant harvest was succeeded by another, as was to happen in both 1795 and 1800. The 1794 harvest was deficient. The winter that followed was exceptionally severe, and the succeeding summer cold and wet. The outcome was a sharp escalation of prices in the second half of

Hunger and political economy 89

1795, an escalation that only a massive importation of wheat in the spring of 1796 could curtail. The years 1797 and 1798 offered some respite with adequate harvests, but 1799 saw a return to crisis conditions when August floods put the seal on a disastrous harvest. The harvest of 1800 was still worse. A withering summer drought was terminated by torrential storms that rendered much of the crop worthless. A sudden upward shift in the price of wheat had immediate and serious consequences for poor consumers. Without bread, they lacked the bulk carbohydrates that allowed them to labour with the unrelenting persistence that was expected of them. The working-class budgets collected by the social investigator Sir Frederick Morton Eden in the 1790s revealed the extraordinary reliance of the poor upon bread. The labourer’s diet was leavened by scraps of bacon, milk, a little tea, perhaps some sugar, but little else. When wheaten bread was in short supply, the plebeian consumer had to seek alternatives in coarser, unpalatable cereals. A weaver in the textile town of Oldham recorded the deterioration in the diet of his neighbours in the spring of 1800: ‘the poor in a most Shocking Situation a great deal are Starving for Bread and verey few can get any thing Better than Barley Bread, Barly Pottages Barley Dumpkins’. Even potatoes were ‘so Exxcessively dear that the poor cannot by [sic] them’.4 Indeed, by 1800 nettles commanded a market price in many neighbourhoods. None of this found favour with the labouring poor. The availability of bread had great symbolic as well as nutritional significance, being intimately connected with contemporary visions of the social order and national identity. Was not the consumption of fine wheaten bread one of the distinguishing marks of an Englishman? Few Englishmen feasted on the sirloin of beef that they adopted as a national totem in the eighteenth century, but even fewer (in southern and central England anyway) ate the coarse, dark breads that sustained the peasantries of northern Europe. The labouring masses expected to share in the agricultural prosperity of their country; their dividend was to come in the form of good bread. Poor consumers were convinced that they had a right to be fed loaves of a set quality and size, and to be protected against speculators who sought to drive up the price of life’s necessities. Indeed, the marketing of cereals and the production of bread were hedged about with legal regulations intended to protect the consumer, and an awareness of this regulatory code underpinned popular expectations concerning dietary standards. But in the 1790s these entrenched popular expectations were

90 Debating the revolution

tested in two ways: firstly by the sheer gravity of the subsistence crises that afflicted these years, and secondly by shifts within economic thought that brought the regulatory code so cherished by the poor into intellectual disrepute among their governors. The marketing of cereals was subject to a nationwide system of legal regulation dating from the mid-sixteenth century, another period of rapid population growth and chronic harvest failure. Dealing in corn was restricted to specified market centres where transactions could be monitored by the proper authorities. Humble consumers were given the opportunity to make small purchases for their own consumption before large merchants entered the commercial fray. Magistrates were empowered to take action against those who sought to evade these restrictions, those stigmatised as ‘forestallers, regraters and engrossers’. These enemies of the poor indulged in a variety of malpractices. They bought standing corn direct from the farmer without allowing it to go to market; they withheld corn from the market so as to force up its price; or they joined together to form a price-fixing cartel, the phantom ‘Committee of Bread’. These reviled practices were, however, their illegality notwithstanding, entirely in line with the commercial logic of English agrarian capitalism. The growth of English towns in the early modern period, London above all, prompted the emergence of a national market for foodstuffs. Urban populations had to be fed; powerful metropolitan grain merchants undertook to feed them. To do so required the bulk movement of cereals from corn-growing counties to grain-deficient areas. Grain merchants who operated on an international scale bought vast consignments, using the credit resources at their disposal to buy an entire crop. The legislation of the sixteenth century had envisaged a local, even-handed exchange between consumers and producers in town and country, conducted in a public arena, but the marketing system of the eighteenth century was increasingly interregional and covert, being orchestrated by capitalist grain merchants. Much of the dealing was conducted outside the public market, with merchants buying many tons of grain on the basis of samples brought to them by farmers. From the vantage point of the plebeian consumer, these procedures were deeply sinister. Stands of corn suddenly disappeared, carted away to distant markets where merchants could take advantage of premium prices. The marketing of food ceased to be a transparent process, visible and intelligible to all; it became instead a mysterious phenomenon where

Hunger and political economy 91

grainstuffs were shipped off into a fathomless international market, beyond popular scrutiny. Prices in market towns now fluctuated according to the conditions on national and international exchanges, not local circumstances. This dislocation between price behaviour and observable local conditions gave rise to the belief that scarcity was not necessarily a result of harvest failure. It was a matter of conspiracy: forestallers, regraters and the rest of their ilk had combined to starve the poor. Gaining redress was fraught with difficulty, however. The Tudor statutes outlawing the commercial practices that now characterised the grain trade were at odds with Enlightenment political economy. The system of regulation that they enjoined was in conflict with the free movement of commodities advocated by the most advanced thinkers of the new, commercial age. Adam Smith’s paean to unfettered trade, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations, appeared in 1776. It was an intellectual landmark, but Smith’s great work crystallised and codified a sentiment that was already abroad, for the old regulatory laws concerning the marketing of corn had already been repealed in 1772 at the initiative of Edmund Burke. The progress of Smithian political economy was not unruffled, however. No sooner had the legal code of the 1550s been swept away than Parliament passed an Act which gathered together and renewed regulations that required bakers to produce fine wheaten loaves, unsullied by inferior grain, for their customers. This Act of 1773 seemed to validate popular sensitivities about diet, so the suspension of the Act in the crisis summer of 1795 was greeted with outrage. Indeed, many at the highest levels of government were wary of denying the poor the fine, white flour they yearned for. Forcing ‘the labouring Classes’ to accept flour milled from a mixture of grains, Lord Auckland opined, ‘would be more dangerous to the Peace of the Country than all the Jacobinism of the Times’.5 A second attempt to impose inferior grains on the plebeian public – the ‘Brown Bread Act’ of December 1800 that sought to ban the sale of fine wheaten bread between February and November 1801 – had to be revoked amid an outcry about the adulteration of flour by exploitative millers. Moreover, whilst the statutory prohibition on forestalling had been repealed in 1772, forestalling, regrating and engrossing remained offences in common law, as magistrates who hankered after the old paternalist code realised. Indeed, in the summer of 1795 magistrates were reminded of this and encouraged to take action against speculators by no less a figure than Lord Chief Justice Kenyon, England’s most senior judge.

92 Debating the revolution

Numerous local prosecutions followed, reinforcing the popular belief in a shadowy conspiracy to starve the poor. So tenacious was the prejudice against grasping corn dealers that poor consumers were ready to take action of their own against those who abused the time-honoured marketing procedures. There was an established protocol for crowd action, for the food riots that punctuated the eighteenth century displayed a number of persistent features. Riotous crowds would seize control of public markets, forcing farmers and dealers who were believed to be complicit in a pacte de famine to lower their prices. The looting of foodstuffs, it should be stressed, was rare: grain or flour was sold at a ‘fair’ price, with the proceeds being handed over to the farmer or merchant. The crowd saw its rationale as the enforcement, not the flouting, of the law. As if to emphasise this, crowds often ‘recruited’ a justice of the peace to bear witness to their actions. This was especially so when urban crowds ventured out from market centres to scour the rural hinterland. They went in search of unthreshed corn that farmers were holding back from market, or they detained convoys of grain that were being exported from the region. The presence of an (unwilling) magistrate was to lend legitimacy to their searches and blockades. The blockade was the characteristic form of crowd action in the first of what Roger Wells, the leading historian of wartime hunger, has labelled ‘hypercrises’, which occurred in the summer of 1795. The movement of grain was brought to a standstill in many areas of southern and Midland England. Mining districts, like Cornwall or the Forest of Dean, with their large, non-agricultural populations, were traditionally sensitive to the outflow of foodstuffs: hence the attention that Dean colliers paid to barges of grain passing down the Wye towards Bristol. Grain-producing areas were themselves patrolled by anxious crowds, fearful of engrossers. By July 1795, critical shortages and plebeian anger were forcing local magistrates to impose bans of their own on the shipment of grain, echoing and amplifying popular fears. Ports and river ports in East Anglia were closed in an effort to preserve local stocks. Meanwhile, in the bigger urban centres the situation was becoming desperate. Nervous magistrates in Birmingham pleaded with their fellow justices in Oxfordshire to restart shipments: if Corn & Flour are not permitted to be brought from Oxfordshire & the neighbouring Counties to this Town there is great reason to fear that the Workmen of this Place & its neighbourhood who all of them

Hunger and political economy 93

know that there is an Abundance in the Counties will sally forth and make great confusion in the Kingdom.6 Quite so, for Birmingham and its neighbourhood witnessed successive outbreaks of disorder. An attack on the Snow Hill mill on the edge of the town, where flour was thought to be hoarded, had already resulted in two deaths in June. The pattern was to be repeated in other industrial towns that summer when crowds found mills defended by military or paramilitary detachments. There were fatalities in Rochdale and Sheffield as well. A second ‘hypercrisis’ struck in the autumn of 1800. The summer had been misleadingly fine, raising hopes that the shortfall of the previous season might be compensated for, so the failure of the harvest unleashed a torrent of popular fury. September 1800 was perhaps the most riotous month in English history. Disturbances swept across the Midlands – Snow Hill in Birmingham was once again the scene of bloodshed – and erupted in south Wales and the West Country. Public order in some districts appeared to be on the point of collapse: ‘the law of the country’, the military commander of the south-west of England admitted, was ‘totally overthrown from the [river] Paret to the [river] Teign’.7 Prices rose vertiginously and did not peak until the spring of 1801. Even the middling sort felt the pinch: so much so that the poor law system started to buckle as ratepayers withheld their payments.

III As might be expected, a sequence of crises of this magnitude stimulated widespread debate. How were the poor to be fed? More particularly, could an unregulated trade in corn be pursued without compromising social stability? Few members of the propertied classes were prepared to abandon the economic liberalism that David Hume, Adam Smith and other pioneer political economists had identified as the mainspring of Britain’s prosperity. Britons of a philosophical inclination tended to look favourably upon commerce, seeing political liberty and economic advancement as complementary. Thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who thought liberty incompatible with opulence and sought freedom in untarnished primitivism, found relatively little favour in England. Those who harked back to the austerity of ancient Sparta for a political model

94 Debating the revolution

fared no better. The private pursuit of riches had beneficial public outcomes as Smith had explained in The wealth of nations, invoking the ‘invisible hand’ of the market as the best means of distributing resources. For most members of Britain’s political elite at the beginning of the 1790s, economic deregulation was an incontestable blessing: capital would seek out the most profitable channel available to it; to divert it elsewhere, even in the cause of social justice, was to waste it. No one expressed this view more vehemently than Edmund Burke. His tract Thoughts and details on scarcity, rushed out in the autumn of 1795, issued a shrill warning against trying to buck the market for grain. The laws of commerce, Burke announced, were ‘the laws of nature, and consequently the laws of God’. The duty of the labouring poor was to submit to a market system sanctioned by God. Misguided philanthropists should not pretend there was any alternative. ‘Patience, labour, sobriety, frugality, and religion, should be recommended to them [the poor]’, Burke thundered; ‘all the rest is downright fraud’.8 Burke was as implacable in this as in every controversy of the 1790s, but others began to wonder whether the exceptional difficulties of the times might not call for exceptional remedies. Arthur Young, the foremost writer on agricultural matters of his day, had been a doctrinaire advocate of ‘improvement’ in the pre-revolutionary era. The advantages of large, consolidated farms and the enclosure of common lands had been constant themes of his journal Annals of Agriculture. By the mid-1790s, however, Young began to see some merit in the sort of peasant tillage he had previously scorned. He began to press the case for labourers having access to allotments on which they could grow food for themselves. This was quite a reversal. The conventional wisdom of the landlord class was that labourers should be deprived of gardens whenever possible: labourers who were not absolutely dependent on money wages were apt to be ‘saucy’. But in the age of the French Revolution some way of reconciling a sullen agricultural proletariat to the existing social order had to be found. The ‘Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor’ (SBCP), founded in 1796, followed Arthur Young in seeking ways of ameliorating social hardship at a time of ‘jacobinical’ danger. Its founders, evangelical churchmen in the main, agreed with Burke that the poor had to bear their hardships with due submission, but they thought that sermonising on the rightness of the market was not sufficient in itself. Philanthropic Christian gentlemen should exert themselves on the poor’s behalf, teaching them how best to endure their unenviable condition. Not

Hunger and political economy 95

least, the labouring classes should be encouraged to adopt new dietary habits. Nothing exasperated the wealthy more than the poor’s insistence on having fine wheaten bread to eat: hence the promotion of wheat substitutes such as peas, maize, rice, beans, or even ship’s biscuits, an unappetising makeshift usually restricted to naval service. The SBCP’s main contribution was to champion soup as a nourishing stand-in, one that yielded the maximum nutrition for the minimum expenditure of fuel. Yet few seem to have relished the broth that the SBCP proposed for them. ‘I have known instances during the last winter’, Sir Frederick Morton Eden wrote in 1797, when the Poor were extremely distressed by the high price of provisions, of their rejecting soup which was served at a Gentleman’s table. Their common outcry was: ‘this is washy stuff, that affords no nourishment: we will not be fed on meal, and chopped potatoes, like hogs!’.9 Indeed, the campaign against the fine wheaten loaf knew major success only where the consumer could be coerced into eating the substitutes on offer. The inmates of gaols and workhouses had brown loaves forced upon them, whilst the Parochial Relief Act, rushed through in the crisis winter of 1800–01, encouraged parishes to give cereal substitutes to poor law applicants rather than a cash dole that might be squandered on fine wheaten bread. But those who had any kind of choice exercised it in favour of white bread. Dietary reform, as all but its most eccentric advocates appreciated, was insufficient in itself. More far-reaching ways had to be found of boosting the well-being of the labouring poor. The Whig MP Samuel Whitbread went so far as to introduce a bill allowing justices of the peace, gathered in quarter sessions, to regulate the wages of agricultural labourers in their county. His fellow MPs shied away from any interference in the labour market, however, and voted the measure down in February 1796. Men of affairs turned their attention to the poor law instead. The poor law, the parish-based welfare system that dated back to the last years of Elizabeth’s reign, was a matter of abiding public concern in the closing years of the eighteenth century. Overseers of the poor were required to offer support to the destitute in their parish, raising a rate on local property-owners to do so. In principle, the system was simple; in practice, it was complex and vexatious. Were parishes obliged to relieve all and sundry within their

96 Debating the revolution

boundaries or only those who could claim a ‘settlement’ (legal connection) with the parish by birth, by their parentage, by prolonged residence or by some other criterion? The Act of Settlement of 1662 had been designed to resolve this issue. It did not do so. Or, at least, it did not do so with sufficient clarity to avert a mass of inter-parochial litigation in the century and half that followed. The day-to-day operation of the poor law was muddied further by the great number of supplementary laws, local or permissive in nature, which had been enacted since the codification of the Tudor system in 1601. As a result, the functioning of the poor laws varied enormously from place to place. Nevertheless, ratepayers were united in one belief, that the costs of the system were becoming intolerably burdensome. Total expenditure on poor relief in England and Wales in 1696 had amounted to £400,000. In the middle of the eighteenth century, expenditure still came to less than £700,000, but by the close of the American War of Independence (1783) it had breached £2 million. By the time of the Peace of Amiens (1802), poor law spending had more than doubled again to nearly £4.3 million. The upward spiral had a variety of causes, a tendency towards structural unemployment and chronic underemployment in southern and eastern Britain being foremost, but the crises of the 1790s ratcheted up the costs of poor relief in an acute way. Military mobilisation left thousands of families dependent upon the poor rates, waiting, often in vain, for husbands and fathers to return from Flanders or the West Indies. Harvest failure brought its own tragedies, throwing hundreds of thousands on the parish. Contemporaries conventionally drew a distinction between the ‘impotent’ poor – the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the lunatic or the orphaned – who were incapable of supporting themselves and the able-bodied poor who were capable of work. The former were deserving objects of Christian benevolence; the latter were more likely to be objects of suspicion. If the able-bodied poor were fit to work, should they not do so? Indeed, should parishes not compel them to work in return for their subsistence, as was provided for in the Act of 1601? Some commentators went further: did not the poor law actively promote pauperism? Surely, they asked, if a labourer knew that the parish would come to his assistance, what incentive was there to be industrious or provident? Joseph Townsend, writing in 1786, was one of the first to call for the abolition of the poor law: ‘These laws, so beautiful in theory, promote the evils they mean to remedy, and aggravate the distress they were

Hunger and political economy 97

intended to relieve.’10 Yet Townsend’s clarion call evoked no immediate response. Mainstream opinion in the 1780s was not implacably hostile to the poor laws. Adam Smith was notably sympathetic to a system of publicly funded subvention, although he was hostile to the laws of settlement, seeing them as obstacles to the mobility of labour. A good many legislators and magistrates sought ways of reducing the poor rates, but most stopped short of outright abolition. Indeed, in the emergencies of the 1790s the preservation of the poor law was politically expedient, for the common people regarded poor relief as a positive right, hallowed by age, of which they could not be deprived. In view of these contending pressures, it was not altogether surprising that a government attempt to overhaul the poor law in the wake of 1795’s ‘hypercrisis’ proved a short-lived and misbegotten experiment. The bill that Pitt put before the House of Commons in the winter of 1796–97 included elements that all too clearly aimed at harshening the terms under which relief was available. ‘Schools of industry’, for example, were to be opened in which applicants for relief were to be put to work and in which pauper children were to be trained up. On the other hand, poor families were to be furnished with a cow with which they might contribute to their own support, an initiative that savoured of the Christian paternalism of the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor. Pitt’s poor bill, by pleasing no one consistently, foundered. Nevertheless, some of its provisions had already been anticipated by hard-pressed provincial magistrates. Pitt had suggested that a needy man whose income did not cover his family’s outgoings might have his wages supplemented from the rates. Wage subsidies of this sort had been made in one location or another for several decades, but in the 1790s they became widespread. Magistrates in several southern counties (Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Norfolk and Oxfordshire) gave formal sanction to such practices. Most famously, a group of Berkshire justices, meeting at the Pelican Inn in Speenhamland in the famine year of 1795, devised a formula that linked the value of the wage supplement to the price of bread. The Speenhamland scale also linked the allowance due to a labourer to the number of his dependent children, providing an extra sum for ‘the support of his Wife and every other of his family’.11 It was this feature that was to be singled out for criticism by opponents of the Speenhamland system. This, it was said, was an entirely selfdefeating mechanism for aiding the indigent. The availability of wage subsidies would merely encourage farmers to pay below-subsistence

98 Debating the revolution

wages, leaving their ratepaying neighbours to make up the shortfall. Worst of all, the poor were rewarded for having children. They should more properly be penalised for introducing an extra mouth into the world, one that they could not themselves feed. No one marshalled this argument more effectively than the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus, whose Essay on the principle of population (1798) began a sustained attack on the tendency of the poor law to fuel population growth. In time, Malthus was to develop his initial insights into the relationship between populousness and economic growth into a generalised theory of demographic behaviour, but in the 1790s his intentions were more polemical than scientific. The first edition of his Essay had an explicitly political purpose. Malthus’s target was the utopianism espoused by William Godwin, then at the zenith of his prestige. Godwin, it should be recalled, had looked forward to the day when the advance of human reason would eradicate oppression and inaugurate a benign anarchy. ‘There will be no war, no crimes, no administration of justice, as it is called, and no government. Beside this, there will be neither disease, anguish, melancholy, nor resentment. Every man’, Godwin concluded, ‘will seek, with ineffable ardour, the good of all.’12 But such an outcome presupposed material plenty: a scarcity of food or fuel would surely undercut whatever benevolence men and women might feel for one another. More specifically, population growth, by pressing on the finite resources available to humanity, would render Godwin’s utopia an ever more distant prospect. Godwin was alert to this objection and sought to counter it with an audacious conjecture. In the future, he suggested, the development of humankind’s mental faculties would render men and women invulnerable to bodily decay. Disease and decrepitude, Godwin told his readers, stemmed from social circumstances and the anxieties to which they gave rise. Banish the anxieties that afflicted modern man and his life would be prolonged. Indeed, Godwin hinted that immortality could not be ruled out. This line of argument would seem to weaken rather than strengthen Godwin’s faith in human perfectibility, for if old age did not bring about a natural wastage of the human population famine would surely ensue. Godwin denied this, however. The super-development of humankind’s mental faculties to which he looked forward would not merely alleviate the frailties of old age, but it would release men and women from the animal appetites that governed their present-day existence. As intellectual perfection drew closer, so sexual desire would perish, and so the balance

Hunger and political economy 99

between human population and the resources of nature would remain in harmony. Malthus set himself the task of exploding this utopian delusion. Whilst no hidebound reactionary – he had been schooled in the radical Enlightenment, his father being one of Rousseau’s leading devotees in Britain – Malthus’s conclusions about the course of social development were bleak. ‘The view which he has given of human life has a melancholy hue’, Malthus wrote of himself in the preface to the Essay, ‘but he feels conscious that he has drawn these dark tints, from a conviction that they are really in the picture; and not from a jaundiced eye, or an inherent spleen of disposition.’ Hardship was the inescapable destiny of humankind. Godwin had imagined that men and women could exercise a serene mastery over nature, but Malthus thought that man must ever be subordinate to nature. Malthus had two premises: one, that food was absolutely necessary for human survival; and, two, that ‘the passion between the sexes’ would, contra Godwin, remain constant. If this was so, then human society must necessarily hover on the brink of disaster. An increase in the supply of food, Malthus argued, was limited by the fertility of the soil. No amount of human ingenuity could overcome this brute fact. Gains in agricultural productivity could boost yields, but growth would proceed in an ‘arithmetical ratio’ (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, etc.). Population growth knew no such constraints. The ‘passion between the sexes’, left to itself, would see population vault upwards in a ‘geometric ratio’ (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc.). In no time at all, Malthus asserted, human numbers would outstrip the resources necessary for their support. With this, he disposed of Godwin. ‘The system of equality which Mr Godwin proposes’, Malthus was ready to concede, ‘is without doubt, by far the most beautiful and engaging of any that has yet appeared. The substitution of benevolence as the master-spring, and moving principle of society, instead of self-love, is a consummation devoutly to be wished.’ Indeed, Malthus pretended to an ‘ardent longing for the period of its accomplishment’. Alas, the principle of population – the tendency of human numbers to outrun the resources available for their support – would preclude any such thing. And so the future that Godwin projected for humanity was ‘little better than a dream, a beautiful phantom of the imagination’.13 The distinction that Malthus drew between the ‘arithmetical’ sloth of agricultural output and the ‘geometric’ multiplication of human numbers

100 Debating the revolution

was a piece of dogmatism, unsupported by empirical evidence. Yet there was a vivid logic to it, one that spoke powerfully to readers in the 1790s, especially those readers who found themselves confronted by mounting poor rate assessments. Malthus undercut traditional thinking on the relationship between population and wealth. It had been conventional to make a positive association between population growth and economic vitality: a nation’s greatest resource was its people, ‘the chiefest, most fundamental and precious commodity’.14 Populousness was to be lauded; a sparsity of people was to be feared. Pitt, no less, had spoken in favour of large families when responding to Whitbread’s wage regulation bill in 1796, talking with approval of those who had ‘enriched their country with a number of children’.15 Fertility should be rewarded; sterility, by the same logic, was to be deplored. Indeed, the taxation of bachelors, penalising them for their antisocial chastity, was a pet scheme of many in the pro-natal camp. Malthus’s achievement was to overturn the natalist prejudices of the governing elite. An abundance of people was a curse, he maintained, not a blessing. The propensity of men and women to breed had to be checked. There were what Malthus termed ‘positive’ checks – poverty, disease, famine – that kept population and natural resources in a rough balance, but checks of this sort were hardly to be welcomed. Nor could an Anglican minister like Malthus countenance ‘vice’ like contraception or infanticide. Far better, Malthus remarked, if men and women exercised a ‘preventive check’ on population. This was to refrain from sexual intercourse, either by delaying marriage or by abstaining from marriage altogether. To forego the ‘gratification of so delightful a passion as virtuous love’ was no easy thing, but many, especially among the middle orders in English society, did so in order to maintain their social status.16 ‘A man of liberal education, but with an income only just sufficient to enable him to associate in the rank of gentlemen’, would surely, Malthus opined, shy away from marriage if the expense of a family was such that in future he would only be able to socialise ‘with moderate farmers, and the lower class of tradesmen’.17 He spoke from experience: Reverend Malthus did not marry until he had secured a comfortable rectory in Lincolnshire. He was then thirty-four years old. Self-restraint was most commonly found in the middle ranks of society, Malthus supposed, but it was not entirely absent among the labouring classes. On the whole, the common people evinced a commendable spirit of self-reliance. Many labourers had a proper aversion to ‘dependent

Hunger and political economy 101

poverty’, that is, dependence upon poor relief. Yet the stigma of dependent poverty was inevitably diminished by the availability of poor relief. The poor laws weakened the ‘strongest incentives to sobriety and industry’, Malthus declared, echoing Joseph Townsend.18 Worst of all, they placed no obstacle in the path of early marriage, leading to excess population and misery for the poor at large. ‘The poor-laws of England tend to depress the general condition of the poor’, Malthus insisted, leaving his readers with no other conclusion to draw than that the poor laws should be abolished.19

IV The Malthusian principle of population was pitiless. Poverty was unavoidable for most of the human race; its progress could be retarded only by strict abstinence. This, of course, ran counter to biblical injunctions urging God’s children to be fruitful and multiply. Indeed, how was the notion of a benign providence to be reconciled with the unforgiving demographic tendencies that Malthus the political economist set out? Malthus the clergyman was aware of this problem and concluded his Essay with a theological justification of the harsh natural laws he had uncovered. ‘Evil exists in the world’, he wrote, ‘not to create despair, but activity.’20 Hardship, in this view, was a stimulus to human ingenuity. It was a wise providence that condemned humankind to suffering, for it was only the struggle for food and shelter that honed the human mind. This was a ‘process necessary to awaken inert, chaotic matter, into spirit; to sublimate the dust of the earth into soul; to elicit an æthereal spark from the clod of clay’.21 The ‘wants of the body’ gave rise to consciousness; a consciousness of self became in time a consciousness of God. Thus, the trials of earthly existence prepared humankind for salvation in the world to come. Malthus concluded the first edition of his Essay on this jarringly optimistic theological note. Yet the practical implications of his work remained entirely sombre. The rich could have no general duty to support the poor. Private charity bestowed selectively on those of blameless character was to be recommended, but wholesale provision for the needy, regardless of their failings, was to be condemned. Orthodox Anglican social thought of the late eighteenth century, whilst socially conservative, had rarely denied the responsibilities that those at the top of the social

102 Debating the revolution

hierarchy had towards those at its base. Malthus, however, gave licence to those who would make just such a denial – to those who thought the poor laws counterproductive, even that they were contrary to God’s purpose. Malthus’s response to the food crisis of 1800 – his pamphlet An investigation of the cause of the present high price of provisions – attributed the rocketing price of bread to a welfare system that put too much money in the hands of the poor, and not to the machinations of forestallers, regraters and other ogres of the popular imagination. A second edition of the Essay on the principle of population in 1803 included a categorical attack on the poor law, lest any of his readers had missed the point in the first edition. The third edition of 1806 proposed a legislative timetable for the phasing out of poor relief: I should propose a regulation to be made, declaring that no child born from any marriage, taking place after the expiration of a year from the date of the law; and no illegitimate child born two years from the same date, should ever be entitled to parish assistance.22 The present generation, Malthus believed, should be the last to suffer the poor law and its baleful consequences.

V Others approached the question of social welfare in an equally sweeping fashion. Paine had already proposed the abolition of the poor rates in the second part of The rights of man in 1792, but he viewed the problem from an entirely different vantage point. Paine did not believe that poverty arose from the irresponsible fecundity of those who were already impoverished. He attributed poverty to misgovernment, to the profligate nature of monarchical government. It was the taxes that monarchs levied on their subjects that pushed labourers and hard-pressed tradesmen into poverty. Yet most of these taxes were unnecessary: they were to pay for the sumptuous extravagance of court life, for wasteful foreign wars, or to service the debts incurred in fighting such wars. In a properly ordered society, none of this expenditure would be necessary and taxes could be reduced accordingly. Because excessive taxation was the root of pauperism, the return of surplus taxation to those who had paid it would,

Hunger and political economy 103

at a stroke, dispel the threat of poverty for hundreds of thousands of families. The poor rates, Paine concluded, could be dispensed with. Not all poverty was a result of monarchical taxation, it had to be confessed. There were some groups that were inevitably prone to want: most notably, the very young and the very old. Yet these could be cared for by instituting a system of progressive taxation on property. Indeed, Paine called for a range of welfare benefits: old age pensions, child benefits, grants to couples upon marriage, even funeral grants to bury those who died whilst ‘travelling for work . . . at a distance from their friends’.23 Paine mooted an even more searching redistribution of wealth in Agrarian justice, published in France in 1795. He looked back to the first beginnings of human society. The earth had then, Paine contended, ‘in its natural, uncultivated state, [been] . . . the common property of the human race’, with every man the joint proprietor of the soil and ‘all its natural productions, vegetable and animal’. This state of rough equality could not, however, survive the onset of cultivation. Settled agriculture gave rise to private property, as those who had introduced improved forms of tillage asserted their right to the soil whose powers they had augmented. Here was the paradox. The advance of cultivation had been a great boon to the human race – it was the very foundation of civilisation – yet the cost of increased agricultural production was a concentration of land ownership among a fortunate few. Cultivation, wrote Paine, ‘has dispossessed more than half the inhabitants of every nation of their natural inheritance . . . and has thereby created a species of poverty and wretchedness that did not exist before’.24 Private property in land should not on that score be abolished, but landed proprietors should be held to account for the monopoly they exercised over the soil. Like most radical thinkers of the age, Paine was opposed to primogeniture. The settlement of landed property on the eldest son and him alone prevented the dispersal of land among the wider community; it was a device for shoring up ‘landed monopoly’. Primogeniture, as was well understood, was the touchstone of aristocratic identity. The finality of Lord Edward Fitzgerald’s rejection of his caste was underscored when, as a dying prisoner in Dublin’s Newgate gaol, he drew up his will. The military leader of the United Irishmen left instructions that his estate was to descend to his three children equally, his daughters as well as his son, ‘share and share alike’.25 Yet it was hardly to be expected that other sprigs of the nobility would follow Lord Edward’s example. Tom Paine

104 Debating the revolution

anticipated a different solution. He proposed that the proprietors of land, whilst being left in secure possession of their property, should be required to pay a ‘ground rent’ to the community at large. The ground rent would accumulate into a ‘national fund’, and from this there shall be paid to every person, when arrived at the age of twentyone years, the sum of fifteen pounds sterling, as a compensation in part, for the loss of his or her natural inheritance, by the introduction of the system of landed property.26 ‘It is not charity but a right,’ Paine said, ‘not bounty but justice, that I am pleading for.’27 He was joined in his quest by John Thelwall, erstwhile tribune of the London Corresponding Society, but Thelwall was to launch out on a still keener analysis of economic and social inequality, one that ended by contending for the ‘rights of labour’. Thelwall’s earliest known pronouncements on social theory give little hint of any originality on his part. He subscribed to a critique of contemporary ‘opulence’ that was rather commonplace: that the flowering of commercial society, for all its advantages, brought greed, affectation and deceit in its train. Economic advance, in other words, was bought at the expense of political rectitude. The pastoral society of old had had a raw, egalitarian simplicity in which political virtue had flourished; modern-day luxury nourished corruption. In the mid-1790s, however, Thelwall moved away from this rural nostalgia and began to consider how the material benefits of commercial modernity might be extended to ‘the poor, wretched, o’er-toiled, half-starved, illclad, and worse-lodged labourer of Britain’.28 His The rights of nature, against the usurpations of establishments (1796) included a discussion of how labourers should be rewarded for their contribution to society. Thelwall went beyond Paine’s call for a one-off payment in restitution for a historic loss of land; he argued that labourers were entitled to a continuing transfer of wealth from their employers in recognition of their role in present-day production. Wage payments should not be a matter of what the market would bear, which in the countryside in the 1790s was close to, or below, subsistence. Wages should reflect the fact that labour was the sole source of value. Capital, Thelwall announced, ‘could never be productive’ without labour. Yet labour, ‘in the present state of society, cannot have the means of production’. Equity demanded that the ‘labourer has a right to a share of the produce, not merely equal to his support, but proportionate to the profits of the employer’.29

Hunger and political economy 105

Labour, instead of being subordinate to capital, should be its equal in a cooperative partnership.

VI Thelwall, by drawing attention to the process of capitalist production rather than the monopolisation of land as a source of exploitation, opened the way for a socialist political economy in the nineteenth century. That new intellectual current was slow to gather force, however. The most hardened exponents of radicalism after the government repression of the mid-1790s were disciples of Thomas Spence, for whom the collective ownership of land was the sine qua non of social redemption. A theoretical assault on the priority accorded to capital in orthodox political economy did not emerge until the 1820s. Thomas Hodgskin’s Labour defended against the claims of capital, or the unproductiveness of capital proved (1825) was seminal in this respect. And it was only in the 1820s and 1830s that a workers’ cooperative movement attempted a practical demonstration of the capitalist’s dispensability. In the first years of the nineteenth century, it was orthodox political economy that made headway. The political economy that came to the fore in the first decades of the 1800s differed from that espoused by Adam Smith in the 1770s. Smith, whilst well aware of the resource constraints facing humanity, laid stress on the expansive potentialities of a society such as Britain’s, one in which market relations and an advanced division of labour prevailed. A new generation of political economists abandoned this cautious optimism. For Malthus and for David Ricardo, the most distinguished economic thinker of the post-Napoleonic age, the law of diminishing returns held irrevocable sway. That is to say, population growth would push humankind into cultivating marginal lands of dubious quality or to overwork land of good quality. Here arose a tendency towards the progressive collapse of agricultural profits: its end point, stagnation and misery. Although Malthus and Ricardo differed in their assessment of how this ‘stationary state’ was to be averted or at least postponed, they were united in according labour the lowest priority as a factor of production. For Malthus, landlords’ rents took precedence; only the protection of agriculture could ensure national survival, hence his support for the corn laws. For Ricardo, the profits of the capitalist class should be attended to; free trade, even in grain, would be the best way to stave off immiseration.

106 Debating the revolution

Both Malthus and Ricardo, however, concluded in regretful unison that the reward of labour, of those already mired in misery, was to be paltry. Adam Smith had applauded high wages, believing that they betokened an ‘active, diligent and expeditious’ workforce. His intellectual heirs, by contrast, saw low wages as more likely and more proper. Self-denial should be promoted, not prodigality. The poor law and every other device that might prompt the labouring poor to reproduce should be erased. Wages should be subject to market forces; intervention by government or by trade unions was impermissible. As mechanisation began to take hold in many branches of industry, as employers embarked on campaigns of wage-cutting or began to substitute the labour of women or children for that of men, and as changes in husbandry created massive underemployment in the countryside, this was a chill message.

7 Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution

‘The general state of civilized society depends more than those are aware, who are not accustomed to scrutinize into the springs of human action, on the prevailing sentiments and habits of women, and on the nature and degree of the estimation in which they are held.’ Hannah More, Strictures on female education (1799) ‘Female modesty is the last barrier of civilized society.’ John Bowles, Reflections political and moral at the conclusion of the war (1802) ‘The abolition of the present system of marriage appears to involve no evils.’ William Godwin, Enquiry concerning political justice (1793) ‘Yes, injured Woman! rise, assert thy right! Woman! too long degraded, scorned, oppressed . . . ’ Anna Laetitia Barbauld, The rights of woman (1795)

As the dispute between William Godwin and Malthus suggests, the human body itself became a matter of controversy in the 1790s. Could human beings exercise full control over their animal natures, as Godwin hoped? Or were men and women doomed, as Malthus feared, to obey drives and desires they could never effectually suppress? This was a fundamental issue that raised all sorts of other questions, questions about human psychology and sexuality, about male and female identity, about the nature of the family, and about social authority in the round. These questions were not new in the 1790s, but, like so much else in that decade, they were posed in a new, more acute fashion. The overturn

108 Debating the revolution

of the French monarchy was commonly perceived, for good or ill, as a revolt against patriarchal authority. Commentators of many different persuasions therefore looked to France for confirmation of their hopes and fears. Interpretations of the Revolution were almost always made in ways that were gendered. The Revolution, it was said, had been caused by the derangement of proper gender roles. The ancien régime, so its critics alleged, had forfeited its moral authority through the all-too-visible vice and effeminacy of the French aristocracy. Not so, said Burke. The breakdown was the fault of sceptical Enlightenment philosophers who had stripped monarchy of its sacred aura. Worst of all, Burke continued, they had undermined notions of chivalry, thereby exposing women who should have been exalted, like Queen Marie-Antoinette, to assault. On this scheme of things, a king is but a man; a queen is but a woman; a woman is but an animal; and an animal not of the highest order. All homage paid to the sex [i.e. women] . . . is to be regarded as romance and folly.1 The argument about the Revolution was then also an argument about masculinity and femininity. It concerned the respective roles of men and women in society. Contemporaries debated the limits to male authority and the possibility of political enfranchisement for women. A few radical voices, most famously that of Mary Wollstonecraft, called for an equality of rights, insisting that women, like men, were rational creatures, capable of self-government. Many others, shocked by events that seemed to bear out the dangers of overturning established gender roles, opted for a stern conservatism. Writers like Hannah More wrote in justification of female subordination, laying stress on religious duty rather than political rights. But even those conservatives who drew upon traditional Christian thinking, with its emphasis on hierarchy and obedience, recognised that the revolutionary period had brought about radically new conditions, conditions that required new forms of social regulation. Gender-appropriate conduct would not emerge unbidden; it had to be actively sought out and shaped. To understand these differing reactions, we must first explore attitudes to gender in the prerevolutionary era.

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 109

I The eighteenth century inherited views on the respective social roles of men and women from Christian teaching. The message of the gospels was clear: men took priority over women. St Paul, architect of the Early Church, was explicit on this point. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church . . . Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.2 Men and women might be equal in the hereafter, but never in their earthly existence. Such views provided the ideological basis for the legal subordination of women. Women rarely knew legal independence; they existed only as adjuncts to their fathers or their husbands. This subordination was no mere legal abstraction; it was mirrored in household structure. The man was the head, the woman his helpmeet. In the pre-industrial era, it was conventional for the household to operate as a single economic unit, around a single hearth, with the husband, wife and children each contributing to household production. The idealised domestic group was at once patriarchal and cooperative. The husband exercised authority; the wife laboured beside him. But in eighteenth-century Britain, the most advanced segment of a globalising capitalism, the integrity of the old household economy was being undermined. For many prosperous middle-class families, the woman’s function within the household was changing. As the business of manufacturing and commerce grew in scale and relocated to specialised premises away from the family home, women retreated from a direct involvement in production, concentrating instead on organising domestic consumption. Whilst men retained their role in the very public world of business, women came to occupy a more withdrawn private sphere. Contemporary moralists drew a sharp distinction between the public world of men and the private seclusion of women, and in this they have been joined by many modern historians. The attributes of men were worldliness and vigour; those of women, domesticity and delicacy. It is easy to interpret this state of affairs as a restriction of women to a confined world of housekeeping and maternity. Some caution should be

110 Debating the revolution

exercised, however, before doing so. For one thing, the public–private divide was one that flourished principally in the middling ranks of British society. The experience of plebeian women, condemned to arduous labour, was vastly different. And the preferences of aristocratic women rarely corresponded with emerging middle-class notions of female decorum. Not before the 1790s. The rise of a commercial capitalism in north-western Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, sustained by maritime trade routes that crossed the Atlantic and Indian oceans, posed certain problems for inherited assumptions about patriarchal power. It encouraged reflection upon what it was that separated Christian Europe from non-European societies in which the relationship between men and women owed nothing to Christian precepts. The exploration of the Pacific in the decades before the French Revolution by James Cook (for the British) and de Bougainville (for the French) made a profound contribution to this kind of speculation. Accounts of Tahiti that alluded to the non-scriptural standards of sexual chastity prevailing in those islands found an avid reading public in Europe. An awareness of exotic, non-European cultures also prompted a consideration of what it was that distinguished contemporary developments in Europe from earlier ages – upon what it was that led from barbarism to civilisation. The leading lights of the Scottish Enlightenment were especially active in this endeavour, developing models of historical progress that were at odds with the timeless, ahistorical prescriptions of the Christian canon, and thereby putting the conventional emphasis on the superiority of men over women into question. Adam Smith joined Adam Ferguson and John Millar in propounding a four-stage model of social development, differentiating between: ‘first, the Age of Hunters; secondly, the Age of Shepherds; thirdly, the Age of Agriculture; and fourthly, the Age of Commerce’.3 The progress of human society could be gauged by the way in which the population gained its subsistence. Most Enlightened commentators – in Britain, at least – were satisfied that humankind’s ascent from primitivism to modern civility was a positive development. The earliest hunter-gatherers had lived lives of perpetual uncertainty in which hunger and violence were ever-present. The existence of the nomadic herders who supplanted them was scarcely superior. Only with the coming of settled agriculture, characterised as it was by food surpluses, technological progress and the first signs of urban accomplishment, did the prospects of humankind improve. And it was

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 111

only the modern, commercial age that offered reasonable guarantees of personal safety, security of property, and widespread material enrichment. The advantages of commercial society were offset, however, by various disamenities. Primitive society, it was conjectured, had offered a certain raw freedom to its members: freedom of movement through the forests, freedom from political authority, freedom to take what one would from a bounteous nature. The progression to more settled forms of existence involved the partial surrender of these freedoms. The security of one’s person and property, whilst an inestimable benefit, required submission to rules and regulations, and the recognition of a higher political authority. The enjoyment of material progress required acceptance of a social division of labour, one that obliged men and women to submit to increasingly narrow specialisms. Yet these negative features affected men and women in quite different ways, as John Millar argued in his Origin of the distinction of ranks in society (1771). Barbarism may have given a sort of brutish liberty to the male hunter, but to women it offered nothing. Where might was right, women had no protection against physical violence or sexual predation. In the ‘ages most remote from improvement’, Millar announced, women were degraded below the other sex, and reduced under that authority which the strong acquire over the weak: an authority, which, in early periods, is subject to no limitation from the government, and is therefore exerted with a degree of harshness and severity.4 It was only with the advent of private property and civil society, and hence the elaboration of legal rules and behavioural codes, that women were shielded from casual violence and insult. The progress of civilisation was then peculiarly pro-feminine. For all the social and economic disadvantages to which women were subject, they, far more than men, were the beneficiaries of the legal safeguards, civility and systems of moral sense that defined the commercial modernity of eighteenth-century Britain. It became something of a commonplace among Enlightened thinkers that the state of development of any given society could be rated by the place of women within it. By this standard there would appear to be many hopeful signs in Britain in the decades preceding the French Revolution, for propertied women at least. Despite the heavy emphasis that

112 Debating the revolution

contemporary advice books placed on domestic duties, there was a growing range of public activities in which women could indulge. The ‘urban renaissance’ in Georgian Britain created a townscape of gravelled walks, arcades and public gardens through which middle-class men and women could promenade together. Theatres, concert halls, museums and assembly rooms provided venues in which both sexes could gather to enjoy forms of art and entertainment that had once been restricted to the houses of the great. The striking feature of this new world of polite intercourse was the extent to which men and women were brought together as participants. ‘In Great-Britain’, it was boasted, ‘the ladies are as free as the gentlemen and we have no diversions, or public amusements, in which the one may not appear, without any offence, as frankly as the other.’ 5 Women could not, in fact, circulate quite as freely as men. Rules of etiquette distinguished very clearly between what was permissible for a man and for a woman, and women were excluded from many areas of male sociability. The clubs and societies that flourished in Enlightened Britain were often male preserves, whilst female participation in debating societies – the forum that was so characteristic of the open, disputatious urban environment – was frowned upon. Even so, female and mixed debating clubs had made their appearance in London by the 1770s. Moreover, propertied women had forms of public leisure that were their own, most notably shopping. If middle-class women were being edged out of the sphere of production, they were making the sphere of consumption their own. Shopping became a leisure activity for the propertied lady: a form of social and aesthetic expression rather than a routine of domestic management. Whilst household budgets were set by men, household expenditure was something conducted by their wives. Indeed, this was an urban activity that respectable women might do by themselves, unchaperoned. Fashionable shops were geared towards female consumers, women being recognised as the arbiters of domestic comfort. The eighteenth century saw a vast multiplication of luxury and semi-luxury goods directed at a middle-class market: fabrics, glassware, ceramics, and decorative articles of every variety. Adventurous entrepreneurs such as Josiah Wedgwood aimed selfconsciously at captivating genteel female consumers. His London showroom, first opened in 1765, was always in a select West End district where ladies would not be too much troubled by the presence of

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 113

plebeian crowds. Special attention was paid to the presentation of goods. Wedgwood wares were to be set out in a way that pleased the female eye, as Josiah Wedgwood told one of his partners: I need not tell you the many good effects this must produce, when business and amusement can be made to go hand in hand. Every new show, Exhibition or rarity soon grows stale in London . . . unless utility or some such variety as I have hinted at continues to recommend it to their notice . . . I need not tell you that it will be our interest to amuse, & divert, & please, and astonish, nay, & even to ravish, the Ladies.6 Indeed, Georgian shopkeepers made great strides in the art of display, taking full advantage of the advances in glass-making technology that made large plate glass windows, brightly lit from within and sumptuously filled, such an eye-catching feature of town streets. By the revolutionary era, middle-class and elite consumers also had a profusion of catalogues at their disposal from which to select goods for their homes. The growing comfort of the bourgeois home went hand in hand with a redefinition of family life. The patriarchal authoritarianism of the early modern period fell from favour. There was instead a vogue for intimacy and emotional warmth. The ‘companionate’ marriage was hailed as the new ideal. Romantic feeling, quite as much as compliance with parental ambitions, was identified as the foundation of a good match. Husbands and wives should be united by affection, not merely by duty. Their children, once seen as agents of disorder, if not the devil, were now to be valued as delightful innocents, to be indulged rather than disciplined. Indeed, motherhood was venerated as never before, culminating in the late eighteenth-century cult of breastfeeding. The woman of fashion who left her infant in the hands of a wet-nurse had, by the 1790s, misunderstood an important facet of contemporary fashion, the sentimentalisation of the mother and child. This new model of family life was just that, a model that might be adhered to only loosely. There was doubtless no shortage of loutish husbands or indifferent wives to make a mockery of this ideal. Nevertheless, new standards of behaviour were called for, especially from men. Traditional expressions of virility – hunting or hard drinking, for example – were put in question. Exclusively male gatherings were, it was feared, likely to be boorish or sottish unless tempered by a higher scientific or

114 Debating the revolution

philanthropic purpose in keeping with the Enlightened times. Manliness was now to be judged by a man’s ability to conform to contemporary norms of mannerliness. The code of politeness, advanced by Addison and Steele at the start of the eighteenth century, was highly influential. Masculinity was to be demonstrated by acting with propriety and sensitivity to others. A partiality to violent pursuits or drunken male camaraderie was to be deplored as unmanly. This brand of masculinity did not go unchallenged. Some fought hard to uphold a vision of masculinity that valued hard-living rakishness. John Wilkes, a devotee of whoring and scandal, made such behaviour an important part of his political appeal. Yet Wilkes was subscribing to a minority creed by the 1760s. Whilst moralists grumbled at the opportunities for sexual delinquency that masquerades and pleasure gardens afforded, other social commentators applauded the arrival of a new, more decorous male behaviour. An urban, commercial civilisation such as Britain’s, so thinkers like Adam Smith and David Hume believed, tended inevitably to produce a more refined masculinity. Bustling commercial towns had a humanising effect, promoting a new type of social personality. Here, harmonious interaction triumphed over social aggression, as symbolised by the growing middle-class prejudice against the patrician practice of duelling, and polite gratification won out over coarser pleasures, especially those involving cruelty to animals. Early eighteenth-century theorists of the ‘polite’ associated its growth with the conscious application of rules of civility. Politeness could be learnt. By mid-century, however, theories of social refinement that looked to spontaneity were in the ascendant. The notion of sensibility was of critical importance here. Sensibility was not a quality available to everyone, however. Such sensitivity was believed to be most commonly found among the middle classes. The poor were too brutalised by their labours and their wretched living conditions to be capable of the heightened emotional receptivity that was true sensibility. As for the aristocracy, their palates were too jaded by dissipation and excess. Indeed, the idea of sensibility soon became a vehicle for criticism of the fashionable aristocracy. The world of the ton was one where dissimulation, cynicism and calculation were to the fore. Sensibility, with its stress on the unbidden upwelling of genuine feeling, was fundamentally at odds with this. Dramatised in some of the most successful literature of the eighteenth century – Samuel Richardson’s sentimental novels of the 1740s and 1750s – sensibility became one of the key cultural tropes of the late eighteenth

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 115

century. Sensibility underpinned the companionate family by allowing men and women to take delight in the joyful emotional traffic that bound together the family circle. Sensibility also allowed the man of feeling to understand suffering. Indeed, sensibility was soon associated more with pain than with pleasure. Grief all too immediately communicated itself to those who were sufficiently receptive. And those who felt the grief of others (or themselves) could hardly refrain from showing it. So, the vogue for sensibility made weeping not just acceptable, but fashionable. Men, and not only women, were unashamed by tears. Charles James Fox felt no compunction about crying openly in the House of Commons when his breach with Edmund Burke over the French Revolution could be hidden no longer. Mr Fox rose to reply: but his mind was so much agitated, and his heart so much affected by what had fallen from Mr Burke, that it was some minutes before he could proceed. Tears trickled down his cheeks, and he strove in vain to give utterance to feelings that dignified and exalted his nature. His fellow MPs were moved rather than embarrassed by this. As the Parliamentary History related, the ‘sensibility of every member of the House appeared uncommonly excited upon the occasion’.7 This emotionally wrought scene came, however, at a moment when the cult of sensibility was beginning to falter. There had always been misgivings about the implications that exaggerated sentimentality had for masculine behaviour. The man of feeling, with his tenderness and lachrymosity, was disturbingly effeminate. He was, aggrieved traditionalists maintained, a sign of degenerate times, when luxury and self-indulgence had undermined the enterprising, martial spirit that had made Great Britain a global power. If sensibility endangered traditional notions of masculinity, it also problematised femininity, for, if sensibility tended to flourish in a classspecific location (the middling ranks of British society), it flourished best of all amongst middle-class women. Women, sequestered as they were from the mercenary world of business and public affairs, were felt to be more susceptible to the pathos and elevated moral sense that defined sensibility. This was commendable, but it brought with it attendant difficulties, as critics of sentimental excess began to point out. The prioritisation of feeling necessarily downgraded the place of duty. The

116 Debating the revolution

hallmarks of the sentimental heroine – romantic despair, a feverish and over-wrought emotionalism, and so forth – were essentially self-indulgent and therefore destructive of good social order. Sensibility, over-reaching itself and spinning out of control, threatened female chastity as women became the ‘prey of their senses, delicately termed sensibility, and are blown about by every momentary gust of feeling’.8 The over-delicate lady found herself so oppressed by feeling that she was incapable of coping physically with its demands, hence the frequency with which she swooned. Hence too the danger that emotional surfeit would find expression as sexual arousal, leaving women responsive to male adventurers. Thus, a surplus of sensibility might lead incautious middle-class women to resemble the aristocratic society hostesses whose supposed laxity in sexual matters had been one of the principal targets of sentimental literature.

II Thinking on issues of gender was then, on the eve of the French Revolution, increasingly troubled. Men were feminised, women corrupted. Amid the soul-searching that followed the loss of the thirteen colonies, voices were raised that attributed the disasters of the American War to a failure of moral fibre. Material prosperity, so evident in Britain’s commercial towns, had brought vice in its train. A ‘much looser system of morals commonly prevails in the higher than in the middling and lower orders of society’, William Wilberforce opined, as a direct consequence of the thoughtless luxury in which the aristocracy wallowed. But as wealth multiplied among the middle classes they adopted not just the ‘comforts and refinements’ of the great, but their vices as well.9 Acting on this analysis, evangelical Christians persuaded a sympathetic monarch to issue a royal proclamation against vice in 1787, urging loyal subjects to be diligent in enforcing the laws against immorality. The Proclamation Society, dedicated to enforcing the provisions of George III’s edict, followed. Yet it took the French Revolution to throw these dark anxieties into sharp relief and for errant sexuality to be checked. The French monarchy’s political collapse seemed to have been foretold in the plunging moral credit of the royal court. The chroniques scandaleuses that issued from the Parisian literary underworld in the 1770s and 1780s had harped upon the vice and corruption that, it was alleged, swirled

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 117

around Versailles. As British observers understood, the crisis of French society lay not just in the substantive political and social issues that had paralysed royal government in 1788–89; it extended to the moral legitimacy of the regime. That was why both sides of the revolution debate rushed to align themselves with moral virtue. It explains the emotionally pivotal role played by Marie-Antoinette in Burke’s Reflections, where the famous rhapsody to her grace and beauty served to underline the villainy of her enemies: ‘surely never lighted on this orb, which she hardly seemed to touch, a more delightful vision. I saw her just above the horizon . . . glittering like the morning-star, full of life, and splendour, and joy.’10 It explains also the response of Mary Wollstonecraft, who scoffed at Burke’s improbable likening of the queen to ‘a Roman Matron’, accusing him of being taken in by ‘the fascinating glance of a great Lady’s eyes, when neither virtue nor sense beamed in them’.11 Wollstonecraft, as will be seen, had her own model of female rectitude to counterpose to Burkean chivalry. One of the most extended early discussions of the French Revolution in its moral aspects came from the novelist Helen Maria Williams in her Letters written in France (1790). Williams wrote as a sympathiser of the Revolution. Her opening chapters are a journalistic survey of the new political landscape of France, describing public life under the new constitutional monarchy. But as her Letters progress they take a different turn, becoming a narrative of the private affairs of the du F—— family, members of the Norman nobility whose domestic conflicts Williams presents as emblematic of the wider conflict between the ancien régime and the Revolution. The Baron du F—— was a man of ‘stern insensibility’ who preferred ‘the exercise of domestic tyranny to the blessings of social happiness, and chose rather to be dreaded than beloved’. His eldest son, Monsieur du F——, was by contrast a man of the modern age, a man of ‘the most amiable dispositions, and the most feeling heart’. As such, he fell in love with a young woman of cultivation and charm. Alas, she was of bourgeois parentage and therefore unacceptable to the baron, who, in evaluating marriage partners for his son, ‘though he would have dispensed with any moral qualities in favour of rank, considered obscure birth as a radical stain, which could not be wiped off by all the virtues under heaven’.12 When the lovers marry secretly, the vindictive baron embarks upon a campaign of persecution, using all the arbitrary powers that were available to him as a privileged member of the old order. The young couple are hounded into exile and reduced to poverty, and when Monsieur du F——

118 Debating the revolution

is lured back to France by the prospect of reconciliation he is imprisoned by his unbending father. It is only the baron’s death, which arrives with symbolic appropriateness on the eve of the Revolution, that brings the sufferings of Monsieur and Madame du F—— to a close. Just as the Revolution gives liberty to the people as a whole, so the passing of the baron cancels the cruel familial servitude to which Monsieur du F—— and his family had been subject. There is a new order in both family and state. The companionate bliss of Monsieur and Madame du F—— replaces the authoritarianism of the dead patriarch, whilst Monsieur du F—— happily renounces his noble title and, scorning the aristocratic practice of primogeniture, offers to share his inheritance with his younger siblings. Helen Maria Williams interpreted the French Revolution as the overthrow of patriarchal power, as generous, warm feeling overcoming cold, aristocratic protocol. In doing so, she drew upon contemporary notions of sensibility. Responding to a complaint from her fictive correspondent in the Letters that she had presented too rose-tinted a view of the new France, she acknowledged the fact: I shall only observe, that it is very difficult, with common sensibility, to avoid sympathizing in general happiness. My love of the French revolution, is the natural result of this sympathy, and therefore my political creed is entirely an affair of the heart; for I have not been so absurd as to consult my head upon matters of which it is so incapable of judging.13 Yet for many critics of the Revolution a different conclusion was to be drawn: that the instability of the new revolutionary regime demonstrated the dangers that might issue from an over-reliance on feeling. The thoughtless turning away from established sources of authority, be it within the family circle or the nation at large, could only have disturbing consequences. Loyalist propaganda of the 1790s often pointed to the necessity of hierarchy both in the domestic sphere and in wider society, appealing to the sexual chauvinism of male readers. ‘They begin by telling us that all Mankind are equal’, one counter-revolutionary dialogue stated, ‘but that’s a lie, John; for the Children are not equal to the Mother, nor the Mother to the Father; unless where there is Petticoat Government; and such families never go on well’.14 Hannah More, pursuing the theme in

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 119

her Village politics, drew a parallel between the demand for radical constitutional change and female giddiness: Jack: I’ll tell thee a story. When Sir John married, my Lady, who is a little fantastical, and likes to do everything like the French, begged him to pull down yonder fine old castle, and build it up in her frippery way. No, says Sir John; what shall I pull down this noble building, raised by the wisdom of my brave ancestors . . . which all my neighbours come to take a pattern by; – shall I pull it all down, I say, only because there may be a dark closet, or an inconvenient room or two in it? A stop was put to this piece of female presumption, as Jack related: ‘My Lady mumpt and grumbled; but the castle was let stand, and a glorious building it is.’15 Hannah More played a major role in reasserting the importance of female duty in the 1790s. Women should forsake the raptures of sensibility; religious conviction was the one object worthy of their fervour. Women should restrict themselves to the domestic sphere; they should not hope to cut a public dash. Female propriety, More insisted, ‘shews itself by a regular, orderly, undeviating course; and never starts from its sober orbit into any splendid eccentricities’. Indeed, More inveighed against the widening social world that many propertied women had known in the eighteenth century. Spa towns, to take just one example, were in her view a typical instance of the trivialisation of modern life, converting ‘the health-restoring fountains, meant as a refuge for disease, into the resorts of vanity for those who have no disease but idleness’.16 Hannah More had her eye on high society, taking the fashionable world to be the source of the corruption that threatened middle-class morals. If middle-class women were vapid and heedless of their duty, it was because they took their cue from the aristocracy. The need for moral reformation was strongest amongst the aristocracy. They were in need of re-christianisation lest the middle classes imbibe their vices. More had already decided upon this in her Thoughts on the importance of the manners of the great to general society, published before the outbreak of the Revolution, but events in France only made the need for reform keener, hence Wilberforce’s resumption of the theme in his Practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country in 1797.

120 Debating the revolution

The extent of vice amongst the aristocracy became a matter of acute anxiety in the 1790s. The example of the French aristocracy stood as a terrible warning. As The Times told its readers in 1790: the thinking part of the fashionable world must surely know, that their only hope to secure their uplifted situation exists in an impression among their inferiors, that they are legally entitled to submission on the score of their ascribed virtues, and not on the splendour of descent.17 Social stability depended upon the ruling elite behaving with due propriety. Gambling, especially by noble women, became the target of vituperative press hostility. The appetite for gaming, especially among the Foxite fast set, was prodigious. The Duchess of Devonshire, one of the most compulsive visitors to the faro table, lost enormous sums with apparent insouciance. Nothing could demonstrate more clearly the irresponsibility of fashionable society, or the impunity with which aristocratic gamesters, secure in their West End houses, could evade the laws that bore down on plebeian gamblers. It was this outrage to decency that attracted the ire of Justice Ashhurst in his widely noticed address to the grand jury at the Middlesex assizes in 1792. The cry was taken up by a still more senior member of the judiciary in 1796 when the Lord Chief Justice, the puritanical Lord Kenyon, vowed to curb gaming by upper-class hostesses by whatever means available. Those convicted, Kenyon declared, ‘whatever may be their rank or station in the country, though they should be the first ladies in the land, they shall certainly exhibit themselves in the pillory’.18 Members of the fashionable elite were also under fire for their sexual licence. The promiscuity of the aristocracy was a matter of popular notoriety in the last decades of the eighteenth century, not least because of the mounting number of ‘criminal conversation’ actions that came before the courts. ‘Crim. con.’ actions were civil law suits in which a cuckolded husband sued his wife’s lover for trespassing upon the body of his spouse, the wife being considered as an item of property. These trials, the subjects of hugely salacious press reports, contributed to a feeling that the ton was jeopardising its own future through its reckless moral laxity. It was against this background that Lord Chief Justice Kenyon, already the scourge of gambling, sought to rein in aristocratic debauchery.

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 121

Lord Kenyon assailed the adulterers who appeared before him at the Court of King’s Bench in the most lurid terms (‘that hoary, detestable, abandoned, and degraded lecher’, as he called one offender) and urged juries to award the most extravagant damages to aggrieved husbands. It was not an age, as he pointed out, in which a form of moral relativism – one that granted freedoms to the governing elite that were to be denied to the governed – could be tolerated. If, he expostulated, ‘adultery is to be treated as a mere refined morality, what a lesson is read by the superior ranks of society to those who are to be governed and to be obedient to the laws. The next step is that there is no God – no religion.’19 Yet Kenyon’s crusade against adultery had paradoxical results. The more the judge raged against adulterers, and the heavier the damages that juries awarded under his direction, the more crim. con. cases were bought before him. Only eighteen crim. con. actions were heard in the 1760s. Their number went up to thirty-six in the 1770s, then thirty-seven in the 1780s. But in the 1790s the number of crim. con. cases shot up to seventy-three, before subsiding in the following decades. This abrupt increase was almost certainly a direct outcome of Lord Kenyon’s severity. The lavish damages now available – £10,000 was not out of the question – gave every encouragement to cuckolded husbands, who might once have shunned humiliating publicity, to seek recompense in the Court of King’s Bench. More alarming still was the possibility that plaintiff and defendant were colluding with one another, that the husband was to mulct the lover in return for not contesting his wife’s divorce. An uncontested divorce would leave all three parties free to remarry: the lovers could regularise their relationship, whilst the husband could start afresh. The crim. con. action in these circumstances became the means of effecting a financial settlement. This, as conservatives protested, was a shocking display of irreligion: so shocking, in fact, that by the end of the 1790s moves were afoot to make adultery a criminal offence, rather than a sin subject to a civil action. Lord Auckland introduced a bill in 1800 to make adultery a crime punishable by fines or imprisonment; Auckland’s personal preference was for two to three years of solitary confinement. The bill’s backers were particularly attentive to the issue of collusion, stipulating that a divorced woman and her lover would be forbidden to marry. Auckland placed his proposal squarely in the context of the French Revolution and the moral debasement that British conservatives associated with it. Addressing

122 Debating the revolution

the problem of collusion in crim. con. actions, Lord Auckland regretted the existence of a system which, however unintentionally, seemed to imply an approximation towards the system of legalized prostitution and profligacy, now prevalent in a neighbouring country. Great Britain had preserved her existence amidst the paroxysms, and convulsions, and downfalls of nations, by the effect of our being a little less irreligious and less immoral than others.20 Auckland’s bill failed. Its opponents played on the fear that should remarriage become an impossibility for adulteresses their lovers would simply abandon them. Without a husband and with no prospect of gaining one, these women would be left with no recourse but prostitution. Even so, Auckland’s desire that Great Britain should be more religious and more moral – and thereby more secure against subversion – was widely shared. A broad spectrum of Anglican opinion, from High Church divines to the evangelical laity around the ‘Clapham Sect’, could be marshalled behind the proposition. But it was the evangelicals, with More and Wilberforce to the fore, who proved the most influential in the new century. Their belief that piety should be nurtured within the family circle, rather than paraded publicly, led them to place a special emphasis on women. The household should be a place of spiritual redemption, not a haven of secular domestic affection. The process of moral reform was to be led by women, and it therefore required a new seriousness on the part of women. An interest in female sobriety was not restricted to evangelical Christians, however. Mary Wollstonecraft, on the radical wing of politics, was in her own way as distrustful of fashionable womanhood as Hannah More. Like More, Wollstonecraft harboured grave doubts about the effects of modern manners on women. The habits of the fashionable world were mere frivolity; they led middle-class women to aspire to be ornamental rather than ‘useful’. Wollstonecraft also joined More in deploring the effects of ‘sensibility’ in the modish but immoderate forms it assumed in the 1770s and 1780s. Women were expected to affect ‘a kind of sickly delicacy . . . a deluge of false sentiments and overstretched feelings, stifling the natural emotions of the heart’.21 But whereas More assigned her morally regenerate woman a subordinate position within a Christian home, Wollstonecraft defined her new woman of the revolutionary era as a rational citizen, taking her place

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 123

alongside her enfranchised male counterpart. Both of them saw a necessity for a change in female manners. More wanted women to withdraw from the fashionable world and to rediscover a ‘love of fire-side enjoyments’.22 Wollstonecraft was equally critical of modern dissipation but drew a rather different conclusion. Adultery and sexual cynicism stemmed from the socially enforced weakness of women. Social convention forced middle-class women into a life of numbing banality: To preserve personal beauty, woman’s glory! the limbs and faculties are cramped with worse than Chinese bands, and the sedentary life which they are condemned to live, whilst boys frolic in the open air, weakens the muscles and relaxes the nerves.23 The only accomplishments that were urged upon women were superficial: they should be beguiling, alluring and coquettish. These attainments helped a young woman to attract a husband, but they did little to help her keep one. Such women, Wollstonecraft believed, became lifeless, intellectually vacant wives. In time, as their allure faded, their husbands neglected them and sought new pleasures elsewhere. If middle-class women – Wollstonecraft expected little of the decadent elite – were to be reformed, they should be more worldly, not less. They should be educated as rational beings, not relegated to insipid domestic routines. Women who discharged real responsibilities and who commanded the respect of their husbands would provide the model for a new type of family life. Wollstonecraft’s determination on this point came in reaction to Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French savant who had done much to establish the cult of sensibility in the 1760s. Rousseau’s influential novel Émile (1762) had proposed a model of education in which simplicity and sincerity were to replace the cold conventions of aristocratic child rearing. Yet it was men who were to be the beneficiaries of the exercise in self-discovery that Rousseau recommended. Women were to remain uneducated. Knowledge would destroy their pleasing naturalness, rendering them unfit to be submissive, loving wives. Wollstonecraft, like so many of her generation, was greatly influenced by Rousseau, but her Vindication of the rights of woman, with strictures on political and moral subjects, published in 1792, repudiated his misogyny. Men and women, she wrote, should be educated in the same fashion: ‘their conduct should be founded on the same principles, and have the same aim’. Men and women, Wollstonecraft believed, shared a common

124 Debating the revolution

rationality and were therefore equally capable of undertaking public duties. If this was so, then it was time to end the practice of women being ‘treated like slaves; or, like the brutes who are dependent on the reason of man’. Educate women fully, Wollstonecraft declared: ‘cultivate their minds, give them the salutary, sublime curb of principle, and let them attain conscious dignity by feeling themselves only dependent on God’.24 This revolutionary step would not be of benefit just to women. Men would be gainers too. For all the privileges they enjoyed, men could derive no long-term satisfaction from an empty-headed spouse. Once the first throes of passion had subsided, domestic life became barren, devoid of conversation or zest. If an uneducated woman offered no stimulation as a life partner, she was also unqualified for the important household duties that were hers. ‘And have women’, Wollstonecraft asked, ‘who have early imbibed notions of passive obedience, sufficient character to manage a family or educate children?’ The changes that Mary Wollstonecraft envisaged were then part of a wholesale reformation of society. The emancipation of women would help to inaugurate an era of reason and justice for all: ‘It is time to effect a revolution in female manners – time to restore them to their dignity – and make them, as a part of the human species, labour by reforming themselves to reform the world.’25

III Wollstonecraft rejected Rousseau’s view that women were intellectually insubstantial, just as she repudiated the model of Christian submission proposed by Hannah More. She counterposed her own vision of women as active, rational citizens. Nevertheless, Mary Wollstonecraft’s willingness to proclaim a sober, self-aware citizenship for educated women was compromised by her inability to suppress in herself the emotional surplus she denounced in women who were over-affected by sensibility. For all her emphasis on rationality, Wollstonecraft was subject to powerful emotional and sexual impulses. Her personal life was tumultuous and tragic. She strove for personal independence, making her living as a writer, reviewer and translator. Yet she was also prey to intense romantic feeling, as evidenced by her infatuation with the painter Henry Fuseli or her affair with the American businessman Gilbert Imlay, with whom she had a daughter.

Gender and sensibility in the age of revolution 125

In 1796, after an agonising separation from Imlay, she began a liaison with William Godwin. Theirs was not to be a conventional relationship. That was scarcely possible given their views on marriage and domesticity. Wollstonecraft disparaged marriage as ‘legal prostitution’. Godwin concurred. To him, marriage was the ‘worst of monopolies’. A man should not expect life-long ownership of a woman, which was what Christian marriage implied. What if she, subsequent to marriage, happened upon a man more worthy of her talents than her husband? A husband who followed the dictates of reason should be ready to relinquish his rights over his wife. ‘So long as I seek, by despotic and artificial means’, Godwin wrote, ‘to maintain my possession of a woman, I am guilty of the most odious selfishness.’26 In keeping with their convictions on the issue, Wollstonecraft and Godwin did not marry, or at least not at once. Nor, indeed, did they cohabit in any regular sense. Godwin rented a separate apartment to which he went every day ‘for the purpose of my study and literary occupations’. They also ‘agreed in condemning the notion, prevalent in many situations in life, that a man and his wife cannot visit in mixed company, but in company with each other’.27 Sadly, this experiment in radical domesticity was not to last for long. Mary Wollstonecraft died of puerperal fever in September 1797, shortly after giving birth to Godwin’s daughter Mary, the future Mary Shelley. Godwin, stricken by grief, turned his mind to erecting a literary monument to Wollstonecraft’s memory. Within four months he had completed his Memoirs of the author of a vindication of the rights of woman. Its effect was disastrous. Godwin told of her extra-marital affairs and suicide attempts with what even his closest associates regarded as appalling candour. A driven, sexualised Mary Wollstonecraft emerged, very different from the coolly rational theorist presented in her writings. Wollstonecraft’s political opponents took full advantage. Her life and writings were subjected to an onslaught of scurrilous criticism. The Anti-Jacobin delivered a thunderous review of Godwin’s Memoirs, indexing the book under the entry ‘Prostitution: see Mary Wollstonecraft’. The irascible clergyman-poet Richard Polwhele used Wollstonecraft’s fate as the occasion to berate radical bluestockings as a whole. His mocking poem The unsex’d females (1798) poured abuse on ‘Amazonian’ writers, identifying them as part of an atheist plot against Christian civilisation. Looking back at the publication of the Vindication of the rights of woman, Godwin was confident that, ‘when we consider the importance of

126 Debating the revolution

its doctrines, and the eminence of genius it displays, it seems not very improbable that it will be read as long as the English language endures’.28 Yet within a decade of its first appearance Wollstonecraft’s Vindication was lost to sight, buried beneath the obloquy that had been heaped on its author. It was nearly a century before a fresh edition was issued. It was the counter-revolutionary spirit that triumphed in the early nineteenth century. Pronouncing sentence on clamorous women radicals in The unsex’d females, the Reverend Polwhele was sure that ‘the crimsoning blush of modesty will always be more attractive than the sparkle of confident intelligence’.29 Self-control and religious devotion took priority over impulsive sensibility. Indeed, sensibility was increasingly parodied and reviled. Women in the early nineteenth century were expected to be prudent, dutiful and undemanding. Wollstonecraft’s death coincided with the publication of Thomas Gisborne’s An enquiry into the duties of the female sex, an evangelical response to the Vindication of the rights of woman. It was Gisborne’s tome that was the more widely read. The ascendancy of Christian evangelicalism ensured that the emancipatory message of Wollstonecraft and her ilk was confined to the margins.

8 Remembering the 1790s

As the war with Napoleonic France dragged on through the first decade and a half of the nineteenth century, the 1790s began to recede into history. And as the events of that decade became a matter of memory so their meaning and significance became mutable. Those who had lived through the decade remembered it in different ways, selecting those episodes that gave them the most comfort, the most pride or the least guilt in their own role. Some resorted to outright falsification, conspicuously so in the case of Coleridge, but every thinking person was obliged to impose some sort of meaning on the confused and often chaotic events they had witnessed, to construct a plausible narrative of the 1790s. The Report of the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons of 1799 provided an early example of how the ‘facts’ of the 1790s were reordered in an attempt to explain events. Seeking an explanation of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland, the Committee concluded that sympathisers with the French Revolution had been engaged from the outset in a ‘systematic design . . . pursued up to the present moment with unabated perseverance, to overturn the laws, constitution, and government, and every existing establishment, civil or ecclesiastical, both in Great Britain and Ireland’.1 Whilst such an intention could indeed be ascribed to the United Irishmen and their fraternal allies in Scotland and England in 1798, it could not have been said of the far more broadly based constituency of well-wishers who had toasted the French Revolution in 1790 or 1791. The tendency to rewrite the revolutionary decade as an instance of calculated subversion that had been wisely and properly quashed had important consequences. Attitudes and aspirations that had been acceptable, if not entirely conventional, in the 1780s became suspect in

128 Debating the revolution

the 1800s. Mary Wollstonecraft had aroused little controversy as a writer of conduct manuals and children’s fiction on the eve of the Revolution. Ten years later, her writings were shunned and the initiative had passed to High Anglican writers like Sarah Trimmer. Trimmer’s journal, the Guardian of Education, published between 1802 and 1806, raged against Rousseau-esque progressive education of the kind advocated by Wollstonecraft. The emphasis, Trimmer insisted, should always be on religion. There was no area of a child’s education upon which Christianity might not be brought to bear: ‘even geography, writing and arithmetic may be made in some measure subservient to religious instruction’.2 Echoing Hannah More, Trimmer laid heavy stress on the domestic duty of women. Women were charged with inculcating Christian values in their children; a more public role of the sort Mary Wollstonecraft had hoped for was ruled out. The prospects for middle-class women that had seemed to widen, albeit slowly and cautiously, in the decades preceding the Revolution were now narrowing. In the first half of the nineteenth century, women’s activism was increasingly restricted to areas of philanthropy that were compatible with traditional Christian conceptions of femininity. It was evangelical Christianity in particular that was to prove a pervasive influence in early nineteenth-century culture. Evangelicals espoused a ‘serious’ Christianity, one grounded in a morbid consciousness of original sin. The innate depravity of humankind, the subject of countless evangelical sermons, provided a ready explanation of why the French Revolution had taken the sanguinary course that it had. Humankind’s wretched sinfulness also explained why British sympathisers with the Revolution, with their materialist mind-set, had been so deluded. The reformist remedies that late Enlightenment thinkers had proposed for social woes were doomed to founder on the unregenerate nature of men and women who had not accepted God’s grace. Christ, and Christ alone, was the source of redemption, and redemption was to be made good in the world to come, not in the here and now. In this way, evangelical Christianity provided a compelling theological explanation of the revolutionary havoc of the 1790s. Submission to God’s will, to the restraints of Christian order, stood revealed as the only barrier to violence and anarchy. Little wonder that many radical visions of the 1790s faded in the new century. A generation of youthful reformers, shaken by the spectacle of the Terror, grew more wary in their maturity. Perhaps ‘English customs and

Remembering the 1790s 129

Regulations’, one apostate decided, were to be preferred to the ‘chimeras of visionary Enthusiasts’.3 The lawyer James Mackintosh, who had made one of the most successful replies to Burke in his Vindiciae Gallicae (1791), also made one of the more noteworthy volte-face. His lecture series on the ‘Laws of Nature and Nations’, delivered in 1799–1800, was a thorough repudiation of earlier errors. While many radical voices recanted, others sank into oblivion. Mackintosh’s former friend William Godwin, having endured the opprobrium that followed the appearance of his biography of Wollstonecraft, eked out a quiet existence as a hack writer. The silence that descended upon this one-time radical celebrity was so total that Percy Shelley, later to be his son-in-law, was astonished to discover that Godwin was still alive in 1812. The reputation of conservative thinkers was also subject to change, despite the success they had enjoyed in countering the radical assault. Edmund Burke had led the way in rallying conservative opinion against the Revolution, but his personality and his political preferences were disturbingly complex. He could not easily be translated into a reactionary icon in the years after his death in 1797. For the conservative Whigs who had transferred their loyalties to Pitt’s ministry in 1794, Burke remained a central influence, but for other government supporters his anti-Jacobin spleen had become a hindrance. His opposition to peace with France, even after the fall of the Jacobin dictatorship, was often at odds with realpolitik in the late 1790s. Nor could Burke be accommodated within the Tory pantheon. His support for Catholic emancipation alienated Anglican diehards. It was William Pitt who emerged as a posthumous keeper of the conservative faith in the early nineteenth century. The ‘pilot who weathered the storm’ posed fewer problems for a later generation of Tories. Pitt, like Burke, came to favour Catholic emancipation, but he prudently downplayed the issue in the years before his death in 1806. Burke’s antagonist Tom Paine died in America in 1809. His reputation had never recovered from the appearance of The age of reason, his antiChristian polemic of 1794. Besides, Painite radicalism of the 1792 vintage was on the wane in early nineteenth-century Britain. Paine’s republicanism had always been at odds with the main body of reformist opinion, and his reliance on natural rights theory soon came to be seen as unhelpful. Many friends of reform noted the success of loyalist appeals to a constitutional heritage and to British patriotism in solidifying anti-reformist feeling. Paine’s internationalism and his dismissive attitude to the British constitution – which he had derided as a fiction – had, they concluded, played

130 Debating the revolution

into the hand of his enemies. Those who led the postwar radical renewal sought to appropriate constitutionalist language for their own ends. Liberty, in the eyes of William Cobbett (1763–1835) and Henry Hunt (1773–1835), was a historic right of the common people. It was inscribed in British (more especially English) history, and could be reclaimed by the common people through the destruction of the system of venality and graft that Cobbett termed ‘Old Corruption’. That Hunt and Cobbett made obeisance to the notion of a British constitution did not make the postwar Tory governments any more tolerant of their agitations, however. The mass democratic movement of the Peterloo era was broken by the ‘Six Acts’ of 1819, which reprised and extended the ‘Gagging Acts’ of 1795. Indeed, the repressive reflexes of the British state when confronted with democracy remained sharp throughout the first half of the nineteenth century, as Chartists were to discover in the 1840s. And when democracy and ideas of national liberation were conjoined, as they were in Ireland, the state resorted to stark illiberalism. The strands of radical thinking that persisted best in the early nineteenth century were those that could be harnessed to the needs of the British state. The utilitarianism of the jurist Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), which had a rather low public profile in the 1790s, stands out in this respect. Bentham was indefatigable in subjecting the institutions of Georgian Britain to his ‘felicific calculus’: they were to be judged by their utility – by their capacity to promote general happiness – not by their antiquity. Bentham was a searching critic of the established order, but he had no emotional commitment to democratic freedoms. He rejected Paine’s belief in a natural right to liberty. Natural rights theory was ‘nonsense on stilts’, based on abstractions that could be neither measured nor assessed. Likewise, constitutional radicalism, with its talk of recovering lost Saxon freedoms, was an object of scorn: reason, not tradition, was the only source of legitimacy for Bentham. The extent of political participation should be governed by utility, nothing more. This opened up the possibility that political reform could be a bloodless, technical exercise, detached from the impassioned talk of rights that had produced so much turmoil in the 1790s. It was a possibility pursued by Bentham’s disciples, most notably by James Mill, whose 1820 ‘Essay on government’ advanced a utilitarian argument for a limited form of democracy, one open to middle-class men but closed to working-class men and women of every class.

Remembering the 1790s 131

Doctrinaire Benthamism was a minority creed, but many of its presuppositions chimed in with liberal middle-class hopes for a reformed state system, one that acknowledged the primacy of laissez-faire economics, downgraded aristocratic privilege and recognised the value of scientific expertise. Here were values that spoke to a bourgeois audience confronted with the entirely new problems posed by industrial urbanism. Utilitarianism appeared to provide a morally neutral means of policing the social tumult and environmental degradation of the industrial city. Reform and orderliness would go hand in hand. Utilitarianism also held out the promise of putting the poor laws on a new, ‘scientific’ footing. The immiseration of the rural population in the south and east of England continued apace in the early nineteenth century. By 1802, more than 20 per cent of the inhabitants of Sussex, Hampshire, Dorset, Wiltshire and Berkshire were in receipt of poor relief. Expenditure on poor relief kept spiralling upwards, reaching nearly £7 million by the war’s end in 1815. At a time of rapid population growth – the increase between the census of 1811 and its successor in 1821 was the fastest in modern English history – Malthus’s gloomiest prognostications appeared to be borne out. A misguidedly generous welfare system, many ratepayers concluded, was nourishing pauperism rather than diminishing it. Yet a solution to the poor law problem proved elusive. Sections of the gentry clung to traditional notions of paternalism, believing that by succouring the poor they maintained social stability. Other gentlemen came to feel that the costs of paternalism were unacceptably high, but they could not agree on an alternative: hence the inconclusive parliamentary select committees on the poor law in 1817 and 1824. It was left to a clutch of Benthamite ideologues to engineer the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act, introducing a new system of relief – centralised, draconian, bereft of paternal sentiment, and cheap – that penalised poverty. If Malthus supplied part of the intellectual backdrop for the governing elite in the bleak post-revolutionary age, his critics could still command a substantial plebeian public. The arguments made by Paine about the monopolisation of land by the aristocracy were not forgotten. In fact, they gained in importance as increasing numbers left the countryside for towns and cities. The idea that the common people had been expelled from the soil that was rightfully theirs became part of the common currency of working-class complaint in early industrial Britain. Poverty arose because the poor were deprived of land, the most fundamental of resources, not because of the poor’s propensity to breed. Rural nostalgia, heavily

132 Debating the revolution

promoted by William Cobbett and others, persisted alongside the critiques of capitalist exploitation that emerged in the 1820s and 1830s. It lived on in the Chartist Land Plan of the 1840s. Indeed, it echoed through later Victorian Britain in the form of opposition to the enclosure of urban common lands: opposition that was often supported by trade unions that insisted upon their members’ right to renew their acquaintance with the earth in their leisure hours. A yearning for land was felt still more acutely in Scotland and Ireland. The capitalist rationalisation of agriculture had swept southern Scotland fully as much as southern England in the eighteenth century. The subsequent application of the same principles to estates in north-west Scotland, involving the ruthless expulsion of crofters, produced lasting trauma. The defects of landlordism were clearer still in Ireland, where clandestine rural resistance had been endemic since the 1760s. Agrarian disturbances in Ireland gathered pace in the last years of the eighteenth century and melded with United Irish agitations in the mid-1790s. The ferocity that desperate peasants and landless labourers lent the rising of 1798 had important consequences for the way in which the United Irishmen’s rebellion was remembered and interpreted in the decades that followed. Sir Richard Musgrave, an Anglican ultra, wasted no time in identifying the rebellion as a Catholic conspiracy. His Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland, published in 1801, saw 1798 as a papist jacquerie on the model of 1641. The Catholic hierarchy in Ireland had, in fact, been notably loyal through the 1790s. They, like the authorities in Dublin Castle, had little love for the French Revolution. Musgrave saw none of this. He dwelt lovingly on the sectarian bloodletting that had disfigured the rising in Wexford, whilst wilfully disregarding the non-sectarian mission of the United movement. The United Irishmen, crushed and dispersed, were in no position to respond. The republicanism of the United Irishmen implied separation from Britain, independence for Ireland being the only means of escaping the rule of George III. In the early nineteenth century, however, the political coordinates of Irish nationalism began to shift. Under the influence of Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), chief of the Catholic Association, nationalism’s alignment with republicanism was loosened. National identity in Ireland became instead more closely associated with Roman Catholicism, its object the more temperate one of Catholic emancipation within the United Kingdom. Tellingly, when the poet Thomas Moore published his

Remembering the 1790s 133

biography of Lord Edward Fitzgerald in 1831 he cast the dead chief of the United Irishmen as a romantic patriot rather than the hardened republican revolutionary he had become. Meanwhile, Protestant Dissent in the north of Ireland, once the bastion of republican democracy, took a new direction after the chastening experience of 1798. Evangelical and therefore antiCatholic tendencies triumphed over Enlightenment cosmopolitanism. And so the non-sectarian spirit of the United Irishmen withered. For Ireland, more than any other part of the British Isles, the shattering events of the 1790s proved the most fateful of hinges. Even though the revolutionary impulse had been defeated in the 1790s, many conservative commentators recognised that there could be no return to the status quo ante. The headlong pace of urbanisation, the all-tooevident spread of manufacturing industry, and surging population growth all militated against the untroubled retention of political authority by the traditional landowning elite. Those who stood for the leadership of an aristocratic governing elite felt less secure in the new century. Indeed, attempts to shore up the ‘landed interest’ by passing a new corn law in 1815 indicated how unstable the postwar ‘restabilisation’ was to be. The Act was a naked attempt to institutionalise the towering price levels of wartime. As such, the corn laws became an object of resentment for those who dwelt in the new urban, industrial Britain, and a source of rancour in politics until their abolition in 1846. ‘Liberal’ Tories of the 1820s like Canning and Huskisson sought to square the circle by combining constitutional conservatism with an openness to fiscal and financial reform. Their efforts were earnest and skilful, but the success of their programme was undermined by divisions within Toryism that dated from the 1790s. Catholic emancipation was to the fore here. The legal incorporation of Ireland into the United Kingdom in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion had been seen by William Pitt as essential for securing a vulnerable military flank. Pitt had envisaged granting political rights to propertied Catholics as a quid pro quo. This, he judged, could be safely done: those Irish MPs who were Catholic or dependent upon Catholic votes would be greatly outnumbered at Westminster by English, Welsh and Scottish members of impeccably Protestant loyalties. But the granting of Catholic emancipation had foundered on the opposition of George III, leaving the Tories split between ‘Catholics’ who saw the expediency of concessions and ‘Protestants’ who put the defence of Anglicanism before all other concerns. Divisions over Catholic emancipation – the unfinished business of 1798 – were eventually to bring about the collapse of the postwar Tory regime

134 Debating the revolution

and precipitate the constitutional transformations of 1828–34: the ending of the Test and Corporation Acts, the passage of the Great Reform Act, the reform of English municipal government, and the death of the old poor law. The Reform Act was designed, so its authors asserted, to ‘remove at once, and for ever, all rational grounds for complaint from the minds of the intelligent and independent portion of the community’.4 The effect was quite opposite. Discontent among the ‘intelligent and independent’ – code for the middle classes – may have been assuaged, but that of more plebeian members of the community was not. Indeed, the Reform crisis of 1830–32 and the controversies that ensued intensified working-class belligerence, for the Reform Act, by substituting a more uniform franchise for the qualificatory muddle that had prevailed under the old regime, made very plain the link between political exclusion and manual labour. The middle classes were granted political rights in 1832; the working classes were expressly not. The agitations that flourished in the 1830s and 1840s revealed that the ‘public sphere’ that had emerged among the propertied classes in the eighteenth century now had a proletarian equivalent. From 1816, radical journalists defied government regulation to produce an ‘unstamped’ (that is, an unlicensed and untaxed) press intended for a working-class public. Freethinking publishers of the postwar years courageously pushed at the boundaries of what was permissible, often paying for their temerity with spells in gaol. Debating societies flared back into life after Waterloo, publicising a variety of social panaceas. New institutions, catering for the consumption needs of artisans and workers, also sprang into being: the producers’ cooperative societies of the late 1820s and 1830s stand out, posing a challenge to the market-based orthodoxies of political economy. Trade unions, enjoying a limited legal freedom after 1825, made their own contribution to the carving out of a working-class consciousness. Chartism, the beneficiary of this long phase of development, was therefore marked by a vibrant, innovative culture in which political entrepreneurs printed tracts, ran circulating libraries, hosted lectures, sold party favours and retailed a selection of unlikely political commodities such as ‘Chartist pills’ (guaranteed to ‘avert much of the illness usually affecting the working classes’).5 Despite the raw industrial context in which Chartism flourished, the movement preserved something of the world-view of 1790s radicalism. Its programme – the People’s Charter – would certainly have won approving recognition from a member of the LCS. The continuity was not lost on

Remembering the 1790s 135

Chartists themselves. Those ‘who were originally called radicals and afterwards reformers’, said one in 1842, ‘are [now] called Chartists’.6 Indeed, many Chartists self-consciously commemorated their political forebears. It was in 1844 that a ninety-foot-tall stone obelisk was erected in Edinburgh to honour the Scottish Martyrs who had been transported to New South Wales fifty years earlier and whose bones were now scattered across three continents. Chartism was far more than a regurgitation of earlier radical critique; it was a broad church that drew upon newly emerging theories of capitalist exploitation as well as well-rehearsed complaints about representation. Even so, an inherited hostility to the state, defined as the plaything of a parasitic aristocracy, remained central. The liberal agenda of the mid-Victorian period, with its demand for retrenchment in state spending, for accountability among public officials and for visibly ‘responsible’ government, was intended to defuse the storms and stresses of the Chartist period. It was also, therefore, an attempt to lay the arguments of the 1790s finally to rest.


Short biographical sketches of persons mentioned in the main text are given below. The details given are necessarily selective. They focus on the individual’s actions in the 1790s, their relationship with those who played a prominent part in the events of the 1790s, or their subsequent role in interpreting the events of the 1790s. The Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford, 2004) has been an indispensable source. Biographical data have also been drawn from Iain McCalman (ed.), An Oxford companion to the romantic age: British culture 1776–1832 (Oxford, 1999) and J.O. Baylen and N.J. Gossman (eds), Biographical dictionary of modern British radicals (2 vols) (Hassocks, 1979–84). Full-scale biographies, notably those listed in the Bibliography, have also been consulted. Sir Ralph Abercromby (1734–1801), soldier and MP. Abercromby saw action in the Seven Years War, but refused to serve in the American War; he was sympathetic to the rebels and an open admirer of George Washington. Abercromby was also well disposed towards the French Revolution in its early stages, but after war broke out with the Republic he served with distinction in Flanders and the West Indies. In December 1797 he was appointed commander-in-chief in Ireland. He soon formed a very poor opinion of the forces at his disposal, particularly the wildly illdisciplined yeomanry units. When he publicly expressed these misgivings, he was dismissed. He was killed at the battle of Aboukir in March 1801. Sir William Ashhurst (1725–1807), judge. Ashhurst shared the moral conservatism of his contemporary and fellow judge Lloyd Kenyon. Gambling and duelling provoked his particular ire. He also gained renown for his address to the grand jury of Middlesex in November 1792, when

138 People

he castigated the enemies of the British constitution. The address was printed and widely distributed by loyalist clubs. William Eden, Lord Auckland (1744–1814), lawyer, MP and diplomat. William Eden was an able administrator who, after cutting his teeth in the area of penal reform, became a trusted lieutenant of Pitt. It was he who negotiated the landmark commercial treaty of 1786 with France. Such was his intimacy with the prime minister that his pamphlet Some remarks on the apparent circumstances of the war in the fourth week of October 1795 was seen as smoothing the way for peace negotiations with the French Directory. It provoked Burke’s apoplectic rebuke, Letters on a regicide peace. Anna Laetitia Barbauld (1743–1825), poet. Barbauld was the daughter of John Aikin, a Dissenting minister and tutor (alongside Joseph Priestley) at Warrington Academy. After her marriage to Rochemont Barbauld in 1774, the new husband and wife partnership set up a school for boys at Palgrave in Suffolk, run on liberal principles. Barbauld had been a published poet since the 1770s, but the heightened political atmosphere introduced by the French Revolution led her in a more polemical direction. She denounced the Test and Corporation Acts and the slave trade, and in 1793 she inveighed against the war in Sins of government, sins of the nation. As an essayist and editor, Anna Laetitia Barbauld was to prove an important figure in early romanticism. Abbé Augustin Barruel (1741–1820), French Jesuit priest. Barruel was an early opponent of the French Revolution, polemicising against the new constitution of 1791 and the oaths demanded by the new regime of Catholic clergy. By 1792 he was in exile in England, where he continued to publish in the counter-revolutionary cause. His Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism (1797) identified the French Revolution as the outcome of an anti-Christian conspiracy formulated by the Illuminati, a rationalist secret society of Bavarian origin. Dr Thomas Beddoes (1760–1808), chemist. Beddoes was a radical in both his politics and his science. His politics saw him depart the University of Oxford under a cloud in 1793. Thereafter he developed theories of therapeutic medicine that assigned social causes to most bodily disorders. His conclusion was that many physical ills stemmed from snobbery, ignorance and fashionable affectation. In the late 1790s, he settled in Bristol, where he frequented radical circles in the company of Coleridge,

People 139

Robert Southey and the radical bookseller Joseph Cottle. His faith in gases as curative agents, showcased at his ‘Pneumatic Institute’ in Bristol, provoked much loyalist ridicule. Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), jurist and philosopher. Bentham was admitted to the bar at a precociously young age, but he did not long practise law, preferring the development of new penal policy to the courtroom. He drew from the most advanced Enlightenment theories to mount a critique of the entire basis of English law. It was, Bentham claimed, confused, unsystematic and therefore inefficient. He made it his life’s task to develop a rational alternative, a new science of legislation. Bentham was for much of his life politically promiscuous; he offered his services as a codifier of law to polities as varied as the democratic United States and the autocratic Russian empire. He welcomed the French Revolution as opening up a new field for the application of his legal theories, but when the leaders of the Revolution failed to take up his eagerly proffered policy suggestions his interest in French events subsided. Bentham’s embrace of political radicalism in Britain came later, towards the end of the Napoleonic wars, when the failure of successive governments to take his proposed penal reforms seriously suggested to him that partial and malign interests were blocking the progressive improvements that he had selflessly put forward. Matthew Boulton (1728–1809), businessman. Boulton was a manufacturer of small, decorative metallic wares (‘toys’ in the parlance of the day) in Birmingham. His was no run-of-the-mill intellect; in the spheres of product design and marketing he was unequalled. An able networker, Boulton attracted to him others who shared his taste for scientific experimentation and entrepreneurialism. He was the mainstay of the Lunar Society, that matchless arena for science and sociability in the English Midlands, from the 1760s. Its luminaries included Erasmus Darwin, Joseph Priestley, James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood. Boulton shared the progressive outlook of his fellow ‘Lunaticks’, but commercial prudence kept him aloof from the Revolution. The aristocracy were, perhaps, to be regretted as a social caste, but they were leaders of fashion, and for Boulton – the irrepressible salesman – therefore worth cultivating as a means of guiding middle-class taste. Indeed, Boulton trod the path of respectability, taking care to maintain good relations with the powers that be. Whilst Priestley was driven into exile, and Darwin lambasted in the Anti-Jacobin Review, Boulton came to Pitt’s rescue in the late 1790s by

140 People

minting the new copper coinage that would, it was hoped, restabilise the nation’s finances. John Bowles (1751–1819), lawyer and counter-revolutionary author. Bowles was a hard-line proponent of war against revolutionary France. His outlook was Burkean, holding that France was a pariah nation and should remain so until the old monarchical regime was restored. This view was expounded in The real grounds of the present war with France (1793) and more than a dozen other tracts in the 1790s. Bowles was a High Church activist whose Reflections on the moral and political state of society at the close of the eighteenth century (1801) railed against vice and moral decay in all its forms. Richard Brothers (1757–1824), millenarian prophet. Brothers served in the Royal Navy between 1772 and 1784, retiring on half-pay with the rank of lieutenant. His life thereafter was marked by growing religious eccentricity. A series of visions from 1791 onwards led Brothers to think of himself as the chosen instrument of God. The prophecies of the selfstyled ‘Prince of the Hebrews’ took an increasingly apocalyptic tone and in the uncertain temper of the times attracted a large following. Demand for his A revealed knowledge of the prophecies and the times (1795) was such that it went through four editions in London in its first year. The government decided to silence this turbulent visionary. He was committed to a lunatic asylum in 1795, where he remained until 1806. James Burgh (1714–75), educationalist and writer. Burgh was a radical propagandist in the 1760s and early 1770s, whose acquaintance included Richard Price, Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Franklin. His Political disquisitions (1774) mooted the idea of a national convention to rectify political ills. It was an idea that was taken up by a new radical generation in the 1790s. Edmund Burke (1729–97), MP, writer and counter-revolutionary prophet. Burke was an Irishman whose father conformed to the Church of Ireland but whose mother was a Roman Catholic. As a result, Burke was often portrayed by caricaturists in the garb of a Jesuit or later, in the 1790s, as an Inquisitor. He was educated at Trinity College Dublin and the Middle Temple with the intention of following his father into the law, but he never practised. Whilst in his twenties, he published some noted pieces of history and philosophy, one of which – 1757’s A philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful – was a

People 141

landmark in aesthetic theory. Burke’s ambition was to be a man of affairs, not just a man of letters, and in 1765 he was able to implant himself at the centre of political life by becoming private secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham, the prime minister. Rockingham’s ministry was shortlived, but the Rockinghamite Whig party was to provide Burke with a political home until it split apart on the issue of the French Revolution nearly thirty years later. The Whig veneration of aristocrats as disinterested defenders of constitutional liberty against a resurgent court was one that he found philosophically congenial. Burke re-worked and codified the Rockinghamite world-view in his Thoughts on the causes of the present discontents (1770). This opposition to royal policy in the 1760s, together with Burke’s advocacy of conciliation with the restless American colonies in the 1770s, led some contemporaries to mistake his political coordinates. Burke opposed the colonial policies of Lord North’s ministry as overbearing and inexpedient, but he did not deny the right of Britain to tax America. His opposition to coercing the colonies was fundamentally conservative, not radical; Burke had never been in sympathy with the interpretation placed upon the American Revolution by radicals like Dr Richard Price. The surprise that some expressed in 1790, that this erstwhile ‘friend of America’ should denounce the French Revolution, was therefore misplaced. The anathema that Burke issued in his Reflections on the Revolution in France was total. The leaders of the constitutional monarchy had stepped outside the norms that had historically regulated Europe’s states. Those who directed the affairs of the French Republic after 1792 were far worse; they were proponents of an ‘armed doctrine’, as Burke styled Jacobinism, against whom eternal war was to be waged. It was this belief that led Burke to oppose – furiously in his Letters on a regicide peace of 1796–97 – any accommodation with republican France, even though militant Jacobinism had been sidelined after the coup of 9 Thermidor. Burke did not hold office in the 1790s, but his supporters in the Whig party joined Pitt’s ministry in 1794. George Canning (1770–1827), politician and contributor to the AntiJacobin Review. Canning associated in his teenage years with the opposition Whigs, but in the early 1790s he attached himself to William Pitt, and it was to Pitt that he remained devoted. He entered Parliament as the prime minister’s protégé in 1793 and was soon gainfully employed as under-secretary at the Foreign Office. But it was as a satirist that Canning did most to succour Pitt during his ministry’s nadir in 1797. He was the moving spirit behind the Anti-Jacobin Review, a weekly

142 People

newspaper that appeared between November 1797 and July 1798. The Anti-Jacobin Review specialised in wickedly effective parodies of the bien pensant radical intelligentsia – parodies so effective that they have coloured views of Southey, Coleridge and their ilk ever since. Canning’s subsequent political career was by turns astounding and frustrating. He carried forward the Pittite agenda of administrative efficiency, staunch defence of the existing electoral system, yet openness to Catholic emancipation. It was an increasingly contradictory position and one that Canning could not resolve in the four-month premiership that was terminated by his death in August 1827. John Cartwright (1740–1824), reformer. Cartwright was a younger son in a landed Nottinghamshire family. He served as a naval officer between 1758 and 1775, when the approach of the American Revolution compelled him to review his political stance. Concluding that the American rebels were in the right, he resigned his commission. Cartwright’s diagnosis of Britain’s ills rested upon a belief in a pristine Saxon constitution that had been sadly corrupted. His remedy was set out in his 1776 pamphlet Take your choice! He advocated a six-point programme of reform that anticipated the People’s Charter of 1838. It was to be his consistent theme for the next half-century, through the revolutionary era and beyond. He had the distinction of being convicted of sedition at the age of 81. William Cobbett (1763–1835), journalist and MP. Cobbett was a rebel but not a friend to the French Revolution – not, at least, in the time of the Revolution. Cobbett had served as a common soldier and had had opportunity enough to observe the corruption of the officer class. His denunciation of officers’ peculation obliged him to withdraw to the safety of the young American Republic in 1792, but there he devoted himself to the anti-French, anti-democratic Federalist camp. Cobbett appeared to have impeccably anti-Jacobin credentials when he returned to Britain in 1800, yet he was increasingly dissatisfied with the wartime regime in Britain. It was too corrupt and too little concerned with the suffering of the agricultural labourer – the touchstone for Cobbett of all that was virtuous. As a consequence, Cobbett became an adherent of radical reform. Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772–1834), poet. Coleridge, the son of a Devon clergyman, was a scholar of precocious brilliance. He went up to Cambridge in 1791 and quickly came to prominence as one of the most passionate supporters of the Dissident fellow William Frend. His radical

People 143

enthusiasm was ratcheted up further in 1794 through meeting an Oxford undergraduate, the later poet laureate Robert Southey. They had an intoxicating effect on one another and concocted a utopian scheme to relocate to the United States, where they and a clutch of other worthy souls would form an egalitarian community in the Susquehanna valley, close to where Joseph Priestley – then a revered figure for Coleridge – had settled. ‘Pantisocracy’, as it was called, came to nothing, however, and Coleridge moved to Bristol, establishing himself as a lecturer and sometime Unitarian minister, and issuing a short-lived magazine, The Watchman, in 1796. Coleridge’s radical zeal was now at its zenith, pursued in company with his newest intellectual companion, William Wordsworth, and the semi-fugitive John Thelwall. It was not to last, however. Coleridge’s brooding on the complexity of the human psyche led him to abjure the materialist psychology of Priestley and his school, to throw off the rationalism of Godwin and to dart from Unitarianism to Anglicanism. He died a reactionary. Basil William Douglas, Lord Daer (1763–94), son of the fourth Earl of Selkirk and a member of the London Corresponding Society. Daer was a product of the radical Enlightenment, educated at the school run on progressive lines by Anna and Rochemont Barbauld in Suffolk, and then at Edinburgh University under the tutelage of the philosopher and political economist Dugald Stewart. Daer was a member of the Society for Constitutional Information and the Scottish Association of the Friends of the People, in addition to the LCS. Tuberculosis brought his radical career to an end at the age of 31. Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), physician and poet. Darwin spent most of his professional life at Derby, where he mixed the practice of medicine with a variety of intellectual, industrial and philanthropic concerns. He was a stalwart of Birmingham’s Lunar Society, and he joined with fellow members, such as Joseph Priestley and Josiah Wedgwood, in envisioning the progressive improvement of humankind via science and industrial enterprise. Darwin was the most innovative and adventurous natural philosopher of his time, proposing a system of botanical classification that anticipated the evolutionary theory of his grandson, Charles Darwin. His findings were announced in a series of provocative poetical works, beginning with The loves of the plants in 1789, and followed by The botanic garden (1791) and Zoonomia (1794). Darwin’s was a vision of the natural world that had little place for a Creator, except as a remote first cause.

144 People

His work therefore drew fire from orthodox Christians. By the later 1790s, his work was subject to ferocious attack, being lampooned in the AntiJacobin Review in a mock-poem entitled The loves of the triangles (1798). Edward Despard (1751–1803), soldier and revolutionary conspirator. Despard served in the Caribbean during the American War, becoming the postwar governor of the small colony on the Honduran coast. He was not a compliant servant of British imperialism, however, and after a dispute arising from his granting of political rights to freed slaves Despard was removed from his post in 1790. On returning to Britain, he gravitated toward the new radicalism, becoming a member of the LCS and in time a committed revolutionary. By the mid-1790s, Despard, a native of Queen’s County in the Irish midlands, was active in liaising between the United Irishmen and the United Britons. Arrested early in 1798 as part of the crackdown against the revolutionary underground, he remained a state prisoner until 1801. Imprisonment did nothing to quench Despard’s revolutionary zeal, and he immediately returned to the underground. He was re-arrested at a Lambeth pub in November 1802, together with a dozen or so co-conspirators. The details of the plot in which he was implicated remain unclear, but it involved revolutionary cells in the north of England and Ireland, as well as in London. Edward Despard was executed as a traitor on 21 February 1803. Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), political hostess. The duchess was the leader of fashion at the time of the American War and a strong partisan of the Whigs. She was an intimate of the party’s leading men in the House of Commons, Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, whose devotion to the bottle and the card table she shared. She exemplified the extravagance and irresponsibility that conservative moralists were to deplore in the beau monde in the 1790s. Henry Dundas, Viscount Melville (1742–1811), lawyer and politician. Dundas held the post of Lord Advocate in Scotland from 1775, becoming the country’s de facto ruler. His powers of patronage were enormous, allowing him to control Scottish politics with such precision that, for example, only four of Scotland’s forty-five parliamentary seats were contested at the general election of 1796. This patronage was at the disposal of William Pitt, for whom Dundas was a valued confidant and drinking companion. As home secretary from 1791, Dundas implemented a policy of domestic repression against British reformers, and as secretary

People 145

of state for war from 1794 he was the architect of Britain’s military strategy against revolutionary France. Daniel Isaac Eaton (c. 1753–1814), radical publisher and member of the London Corresponding Society. Eaton was the publisher of Hog’s Wash, or, a Salmagundy for Swine, an irreverent weekly newspaper whose very masthead hit back at Burke’s disparagement of the ‘swinish multitude’. Renamed as Politics for the People, it appeared between 1793 and 1795. In the ironic guise of ‘Antitype’, he composed The pernicious effects of the art of printing upon society, exposed (1794). Eaton was repeatedly prosecuted and eventually driven into American exile. Returning to Britain in 1801, he was once more subject to official persecution for publishing works of religious scepticism such as Paine’s Age of reason. Sir Frederick Morton Eden (1766–1809), social investigator. Eden, a nephew of Lord Auckland, was prompted to investigate the living conditions of the poor by the harvest failures of 1794–95. The outcome was The state of the poor: or, an history of the labouring classes in England from the conquest to the present period; in which are particularly considered their domestic economy with respect to diet, dress, fuel, and habitation; and the various plans which, from time to time, have been proposed and adopted for the relief of the poor (1797). He also attempted to gauge national population, issuing An estimate of the number of inhabitants in Great Britain and Ireland in 1800, a year ahead of the government’s first census. Adam Ferguson (1723–1816), philosopher. Ferguson, a professor at the University of Edinburgh, was a leading light of the Scottish Enlightenment. His Essay on the history of civil society (1767) was a highly influential account of the rise of commercial modernity, with an insistence that virtue and national wealth were not incompatible. Ferguson sympathised with the complaints of American Patriots but deplored their resort to rebellion, polemicising against Richard Price on that account. His reaction to the French Revolution was joyful, although he came to appreciate that military resistance to Napoleon was a necessity. Lord Edward Fitzgerald (1763–98), United Irishman. Fitzgerald was a younger son of the Duke of Leinster, Ireland’s leading peer. After being educated in Ireland and France according to the precepts of Rousseau, he was commissioned in the British army and saw action in the American War whilst still a teenager. As an MP in the Irish House of Commons in the 1780s, he followed the line of his cousin, Charles James Fox. He

146 People

travelled extensively in north America in the late 1780s, following the Mississippi valley south. The native peoples he encountered fired his Rousseauvian enthusiasm for simplicity and equality. Fitzgerald greeted the French Revolution with unbounded acclaim, and was undismayed by its radicalisation. He visited Paris in the autumn of 1792, befriending Tom Paine whilst there. He returned to Ireland a convinced republican, and by the mid-1790s Fitzgerald was deeply implicated in revolutionary plotting. Driven into hiding by government repression, he prepared for insurrection, but was betrayed and arrested in May 1798. Fitzgerald had been wounded whilst resisting his captors and died of septicæmia on 4 June 1798. William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, second Earl Fitzwilliam (1748–1833), Whig politician. Fitzwilliam exemplified the ambiguities of the Whig aristocracy in the revolutionary age: verbally committed to constitutional liberties but in dread of democratic agitation. Fabulously wealthy and the political heir to the Marquess of Rockingham, Fitzwilliam was a conventional Foxite Whig in the 1780s. The onset of the French Revolution led to a shift in outlook and he followed Lord Portland in joining Pitt’s ministry in 1794. Fitzwilliam’s reward was to be appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, but his tenure of office was short-lived. He was dramatically recalled from Dublin when his commitment to Catholic emancipation ran ahead of that of his masters at Westminster. His career thereafter was anticlimactic, save for his dismissal as Lord Lieutenant of Yorkshire in 1819 after chairing a meeting of protest at the Peterloo Massacre. Charles James Fox (1749–1806), politician. Fox, a man of dazzling personal talents, had his already jagged political career destroyed by the Revolution. It was Fox’s belief that George III’s influence on politics was overweening and deleterious. The king’s role, unscrupulous and of questionable constitutional validity, in capsizing Fox’s coalition with Lord North in 1783 was for Fox an unconscionable offence. It led him to interpret the king’s every move as tending toward despotism. Conversely, the collapse of French absolutism was a matter for celebration – not only was the fall of the monarchy desirable in itself, but it gave power to friends of Fox’s such as the Marquis de Lafayette. Yet the constitution of 1791, which Fox had endorsed, was to be short-lived, and liberal aristocrats of Fox’s type were soon evicted from power. For Fox’s old mentor, Edmund Burke, this merely demonstrated the inevitable degeneration of a misconceived political experiment. For Fox, the failure of the constitutional monarchy in France merely disclosed what he had always

People 147

suspected – that Louis XVI, like all kings, was temperamentally hostile to constitutional curbs. Yet the fall of the monarchy brought Fox little pleasure; he had no sympathy for democracy or republicanism. Despite posturing as the ‘Man of the People’, he was implacably aristocratic in outlook, believing that it was the function of a politically sophisticated social elite to protect the interests of the common people. The common people were not to be consulted as to their interests. William Frend (1757–1841), religious controversialist. Frend was a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and an Anglican clergyman. In the late 1780s, however, he embraced Unitarianism. This was enough to make his position in the university difficult; his publication of Peace and union recommended to the associated bodies of republicans and antirepublicans (1793) made it untenable. Frend was expelled in May 1794. Thereafter he mixed with the metropolitan radical intelligentsia, forging friendships with William Godwin, Thomas Holcroft and others. He also involved himself with the London Corresponding Society, being one of the speakers at a giant, open-air rally in Islington in December 1795. James Gillray (1756–1815), caricaturist. Gillray began his career as a caricaturist in the 1770s, but the 1790s was his heyday. His initial reaction to the French Revolution was favourable; by 1791, however, he had swung firmly into the counter-revolutionary camp. Thereafter he lambasted the Revolution and its British sympathisers in a series of grotesquely imaginative prints. Gillray was recruited by George Canning for the Anti-Jacobin Review in 1797, and he received a government pension for his trouble. Yet James Gillray was no complacent loyalist. John Bull, a regular character of Gillray’s, was usually portrayed as overtaxed and put-upon. Thomas Gisborne (1758–1846), evangelical churchman. Gisborne held the perpetual curacy of Barton under Needwood in Staffordshire during the revolutionary era. A close friend of William Wilberforce’s, who had been a Cambridge contemporary, Gisborne campaigned against the slave trade. Wilberforce’s friendship also brought Gisborne into the Clapham Sect. In 1789, he published his Principles of moral philosophy, which sought to re-establish divine revelation rather than utilitarian considerations as the basis of morality. His major works of the 1790s – An enquiry into the duties of men (1795) and An enquiry into the duties of the female sex (1797) – insisted on the necessity of social obedience.

148 People

William Godwin (1756–1836), philosopher and novelist. Godwin was the son of an East Anglian Dissenting minister and he made early attempts to follow the same profession. His heterodox beliefs and prickliness led several congregations to reject his ministrations, however. Instead, Godwin turned to writing, making a modest living as a journalist and novelist in the 1780s. The publication of An enquiry concerning political justice in 1793 turned William Godwin into an unlikely literary lion. Cursory strictures on the charge delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre, his penetrating critique of the Crown’s case in the 1794 treason trials, brought fresh laurels. Yet Godwin fell from grace in the late 1790s, along with so many of the radical intelligentsia. His Memoirs of Mary Wollstonecraft brought special opprobrium. By the first years of the nineteenth century, Godwin was reduced to writing children’s fiction under an assumed name. Thomas Hardy (1752–1832), shoemaker and founding member of the London Corresponding Society. Scottish-born Hardy came to London on the eve of the American War and was much influenced by the pamphlet war provoked by that conflict. Richard Price’s Observations on the nature of civil liberty (1776) and John Cartwright’s Give us our rights! (1782) were of particular importance for his evolution into a democrat. The French Revolution intensified Hardy’s interest in reform and led to his establishment of the LCS in January 1792. Hardy was the first of the twelve radical leaders to be tried at the treason trials of November 1794 and the first to be acquitted; but whatever joy Hardy felt at the verdict was qualified by the knowledge that his wife had died in childbed two months earlier, not long after their house had been stormed by a loyalist mob. Thomas Hardy was never again so central to radical agitation, but as a freeman of the City he remained active in the politics of London for two decades after his momentous acquittal. Louis Lazare Hoche (1768–97), French general. Hoche had been a common soldier in the royal army before 1789, but in the fluid conditions of the Revolution his energy and talents earned him rapid promotion. By 1793 he was a general and commander of the French armies on the Rhine. Hoche’s subsequent success in crushing the royalist insurgency in the Vendée brought him a new command in 1796, that of the Army of Ireland. His invasion was thwarted by the December gales that scattered his fleet. Indeed, the general never saw the coast of Ireland. His juniors, buffeted in Bantry Bay, decided that a landing was out of the question. Hoche

People 149

died of tuberculosis within the year. His extravagant state funeral was parodied in Gillray’s print ‘The apotheosis of Hoche’. Samuel Horsley (1733–1806), Bishop of Rochester. Horsley was a High Church Tory who first came to public attention as an antagonist of Joseph Priestley, whose anti-Trinitarian History of the corruptions of Christianity (1782) he condemned. As Bishop of St Davids from 1788, Horsley defended the Test and Corporation Acts in the House of Lords. His zealous attachment to the established order was such that he was rewarded by translation to the bishopric of Rochester in 1793 and then to the see of St Asaph in 1802. His turn of mind was increasingly millenarian in the 1790s, seeing revolutionary France as the Beast. Evil times, he concluded, called for ever greater moral discipline, and he was one of the supporters of Auckland’s adultery bill of 1800. William Huskisson (1770–1830), politician. Huskisson spent his teenage years in pre-revolutionary Paris, moving in some of the most philosophically advanced circles. Indeed, Huskisson appears to have been an early enthusiast for the Revolution. By the end of 1792, however, as private secretary to Lord Gower, the British ambassador to Louis XVI, he was back in London. By now he was an avowed enemy of the Revolution. His command of French led to his appointment as superintendent of the Alien Office, becoming, in effect, the operational head of Britain’s secret service whilst still in his mid-twenties. Huskisson was a consummate ‘man of business’. As such, he became a thorough Pittite, and then, after the death of his old chief, a loyal friend of Canning’s. Together, Canning and Huskisson formulated ‘liberal Toryism’ as a creed, intellectually committed to economic liberalism and without a sentimental attachment to diehard anti-Catholicism. Henry Hunt (1773–1835), politician. Hunt, a prosperous Wiltshire farmer, spent the 1790s as a loyalist and a volunteer. However, a spat with the commanding officer of his yeomanry detachment and a prison sentence led to a political re-evaluation. Hunt became an outspoken critic of wartime peculation and an advocate of universal manhood suffrage as the remedy. He was the figurehead of postwar radicalism. Gilbert Imlay (1754–1828), businessman and writer. Imlay, a native of New Jersey, served in the Continental Army during the American War and operated as a land speculator after it. By 1792 he was in London, where

150 People

his promotional book A topographical description of the western territory of north America was published. It was a work that spoke to the proAmerican temper of the radical circles in which Imlay now moved. So too did his novel The emigrant (1793), which contrasted the freedom of the new world with the social constraints of the old. By 1793, Imlay was in Paris, and it was there that he met Mary Wollstonecraft, soon to be the mother of his daughter Fanny. Joseph Johnson (1738–1809), bookseller and publisher. Johnson was the leading radical publisher of the age. As a Unitarian, he specialised in publishing the works of that community. This led him into becoming an outlet for the radical intelligentsia of the late Enlightenment in general. There were few radical personalities of the 1790s who did not have a book or tract emerge from Johnson’s shop at St Paul’s Churchyard, London. The Analytical Review, published by Johnson between 1788 and 1798, was the principal reform-minded literary periodical of the 1790s. William Jones (1726–1800) of Nayland, Anglican clergyman and controversialist. Jones was a High Churchman of the most unforgiving variety. Appointed to the perpetual curacy of Nayland in Suffolk in 1777, he combined his parochial duties with an unremitting campaign against Unitarians, such as Joseph Priestley, and other theological subversives. The French Revolution filled Jones with dread; he identified it from the outset as anti-Christian. He sought to combat its influence both in high culture, via tracts like those gathered in his The scholar armed against the errors of the time (1795), and in the popular mind, by composing didactic pamphlets that anticipated those of Hannah More. Lloyd Kenyon (1732–1802), Lord Chief Justice. Kenyon was called to the bar in 1756, beginning a long and lucrative legal practice. Elected to the House of Commons in 1780, he served as Attorney General in 1782–83 and again from 1784. Kenyon was appointed Lord Chief Justice in 1788. His judgements reflected his deep religious convictions and his traditionalist cast of mind. He sentenced seditious libellers and their publishers with enthusiasm. Irascible and pious in equal measure, Kenyon was convinced that errant sexual behaviour contributed to social disorder, and he expressed the wish that adultery should be punishable by death. His social conservatism also led him to affirm that the forestalling, regrating or engrossing of grain remained an offence in common law, despite the repeal of the relevant criminal legislation in 1772.

People 151

George Lewis (1763–1822), Independent minister. Lewis was educated at Carmarthen’s Presbyterian college and appointed minister to the Independent congregation at Caernarvon in 1785. His political sympathies were radical, and he toyed with emigrating to America as the loyalist offensive gathered pace in the early 1790s. He was an orthodox Calvinist throughout his pastoral career, indicating that political deviance was not the preserve of theological liberals. Sir James Mackintosh (1765–1832), writer. After a varied early career in Scotland, Mackintosh established himself as a journalist in London. He was a partisan of the Foxite Whigs and favourably inclined, therefore, to the French Revolution. His response to Burke, Vindiciae Gallicae: a defence of the French Revolution and its English admirers (1791), drew applause from moderate reformers who baulked at Paine’s democratic extremism. By the mid-1790s, Mackintosh’s enthusiasm for the Revolution had receded, and his about-turn was made explicit in his 1799 lectures on ‘The law of nature and nations’, which poured scorn on the ‘perfectibilist speculations’ of Godwin and his school. Mackintosh remained a Whig, however, in his subsequent life as a judge in India (1804–11) and an MP (1813–32). Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), political economist and clergyman. Malthus’s early education reflected the unconventional views of his father. He attended the Dissenting academy at Warrington and was afterwards tutored privately by the Unitarian polemicist Gilbert Wakefield. But after distinguishing himself at the University of Cambridge, Malthus entered the Anglican priesthood in 1791. An essay on the principle of population was his first publication; it secured him a central, though controversial, place in political economy. It led also to his appointment in 1805 as the first professor of history and political economy at the East India College at Haileybury, training a generation of Company officers for service in the east. Malthus, by being centrally involved in establishing the Political Economy Club in 1821 and the Statistical Society of London in 1834, did much to institutionalise economic science. Jean-Paul Marat (1743–93), French revolutionary and editor of the Jacobin newspaper L’Ami du Peuple. The Swiss-born physician, famously assassinated by Charlotte Corday, was an enthusiastic proponent of the Terror. For British loyalists, he epitomised the bestial violence of the Revolution.

152 People

George Mealmaker (1768–1808), weaver and radical. Mealmaker was active in radical circles in his native Dundee, and Scotland more widely, from the early 1790s. By 1796 he was a leading figure in the underground Society of United Scotsmen. Arrested in 1797, he was convicted of sedition and administering illegal oaths and sentenced to fourteen years’ penal exile in New South Wales. He never returned, dying at Parramatta soon after his fortieth birthday. Robert Merry (1755–98), poet. Merry developed the fashionably highflown ‘Della Cruscan’ poetic style in the 1780s. The fall of the Bastille had him hurrying to Paris to hymn the new regime, and in the early 1790s he travelled back and forth between England and France, an entranced champion of liberty. The mid-1790s were less prosperous, politically and professionally, and Merry left for the American Republic in 1796. James Mill (1773–1836), Benthamite theorist. Scottish-born and educated, Mill made his living as a journalist in London in the first decade of the nineteenth century. From 1808 onwards, Mill became a collaborator of Jeremy Bentham, popularising the utilitarian sage’s works and publishing essays of his own at a prolific rate. His Essay on government of 1820 was one of a series in which Mill set out a utilitarian approach to law, penal reform and political economy. John Millar (1735–1801), professor of civil law at the University of Glasgow. Millar was a key figure in the Scottish Enlightenment, formulating much of the ‘four-stage’ historical sociology that was one of its characteristics. He was a supporter of American independence and the French Revolution, and he consistently opposed the war with France. James Montgomery (1771–1854), publisher and poet. Montgomery joined the Sheffield Register, the radical newspaper run by Joseph Gales, as a clerk in 1792. When Gales fled to America to escape prosecution for sedition, Montgomery stepped into the breach, launching a new paper, the Sheffield Iris, in 1794. He was to suffer the fate that Gales had feared, being convicted in January 1795 of publishing a seditious poem celebrating the fall of the Bastille. Montgomery was to be prosecuted and jailed for a second time in January 1796 for libelling the Sheffield militia. James Montgomery’s later life was one of business success and respectability. He received considerable acclaim for his poetry and hymns. By the 1830s he was considered so worthy a figure that he was awarded a pension by Sir Robert Peel’s conservative government.

People 153

Hannah More (1745–1833), writer and educationalist. More, together with her sisters, ran a girls’ school at Bristol. Her earliest literary success came as a playwright in the 1770s, but her most enduring works were those that dealt with education and public morality. An evangelical Anglican, she showed herself a stiff critic of aristocratic moral laxity even before the French Revolution, as evidenced by her Thoughts on the importance of the manners of the great to general society (1788), but the experience of the Revolution redoubled her campaigning zeal. She now devoted herself to the redemption of the poor. At the suggestion of Beilby Porteus, the Bishop of London, she composed a series of counterblasts to Painite propaganda, beginning with Village politics: addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen, and day labourers in Great Britain (1792). Others followed, all written in simple, didactic prose. The publication of the Cheap Repository Tracts – moralistic, anti-revolutionary pamphlets that appeared in huge numbers between 1795 and 1798 – was overseen by More. She authored forty-nine of the tracts herself. In 1799, she published Strictures on the modern system of female education, a lengthy assault on progressive thinking about women. In it, the emancipatory message of Mary Wollstonecraft was dismissed in favour of a traditional emphasis on Christian duty. Thomas Muir (1765–99), ‘Scottish Martyr’. Muir was educated at the University of Glasgow under John Millar, and then at Edinburgh, where he qualified for the law. He was a founding member of Edinburgh’s Association of the Friends of the People, and participated in the convention of Scottish reform societies that gathered in the city in December 1792. For this, he was arrested and charged with sedition. Released on bail, Muir appears to have contemplated emigration to the United States, but he dallied and was sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation after a trial before a packed jury in August 1793. Muir spent little more than a year in Australia, making a sensational escape across the Pacific on an American vessel. After a series of adventures taking him to Mexico, Cuba and Spain, Muir eventually made his way to France, where he was fêted as a hero. Sir Richard Musgrave (c. 1755–1818), Irish MP and anti-Catholic publicist. Musgrave was of a Protestant gentry family in County Waterford. He entered the Irish House of Commons as the member for Lismore in 1778 and soon stood out for his splenetic anti-Catholicism. He published on several occasions in the 1790s, first warning of the impending rebellion

154 People

and then justifying draconian countermeasures in its wake. Musgrave’s Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland (1801) was a copiously detailed sectarian analysis of the 1798 Rising. James O’Coigly (1761–98), United Irishman. O’Coigly was a native of County Armagh, where his family had been prominent Jacobites. Ordained as a Catholic priest in 1785, he went to France for further clerical training and was a witness to the Revolution in its early stages. When he returned to Armagh in the early 1790s, he found it a cockpit of sectarian violence between the Catholic Defenders and their Protestant counterparts, the Peep o’ Day Boys. By now O’Coigly was deeply involved in radical politics, and he played an instrumental role in fusing Defenderism with the more cosmopolitan politics of the United Irishmen. As a member of the inner circle of the now militarised, revolutionary United Irishmen, he travelled through England in the summer of 1797 in an attempt to put together a pan-British revolutionary conspiracy, liaising with Colonel Edward Despard in the process. Returning to England early in February 1798, O’Coigly and four other conspirators were arrested at Margate en route to France. O’Coigly, who had highly incriminating documents on him, made no attempt to hide his insurrectionary intentions. He was executed as a traitor on 7 June 1798. Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), lawyer and MP. The offspring of a Catholic gentry family from Kerry, O’Connell was drawn into the world of radical democracy as a law student in mid-1790s London and abandoned his ancestral faith for deism. He moved in United Irish circles but without committing himself to violent measures, and he held prudently aloof from the 1798 Rising. O’Connell subsequently returned to the Catholic fold and became an advocate of emancipation through constitutional rather than revolutionary means. In 1828, he was returned as MP for County Clare, even though, as a Catholic, he was technically barred from taking his seat at Westminster. It was the election of O’Connell with huge popular backing that forced the London government to concede Catholic emancipation in 1829. Thomas Hinton Burley Oldfield (1755–1822), lawyer and historian. Oldfield was a reformer of the historical school, one who sought to reverse the supposed degeneration of Britain’s ancient constitution, rather than a Painite who espoused natural rights theory. A longstanding member of the Society for Constitutional Information, he published An entire and

People 155

complete history, political and personal, of the boroughs of Great Britain (1792). Other works in a similar vein followed. Oldfield remained active in the post-Napoleonic years, issuing his six-volume Representative history of Great Britain and Ireland in 1816. Thomas Paine (1737–1809), radical theorist. Paine was born in Norfolk, the son of a Quaker stay-maker. Paine followed his father’s trade for several years, but in 1762 he entered the excise service wherein he remained, with mixed professional results, until his dismissal for inattention to business. Paine’s commitment to better pay and conditions for his brother officers, announced in his pamphlet The case of the officers of excise, shut off whatever avenues of advancement were open to him. His prospects in tatters, Paine left for America. Arriving in Philadelphia at the end of 1774, Paine turned to journalism and immediately threw himself into the Patriot cause. His pamphlet Common Sense, written in the autumn of 1775, was a bold rejection of any compromise with Britain and asserted the necessity of American independence. It sold tens of thousands of copies and transformed Paine from a penniless failure into the herald of the new American Republic. Thomas Paine remained in the service of the American Congress through the mid-1780s, before returning to Europe in 1787 to publicise engineering projects to which he was committed. Paine was delighted to see the American experiment with free government being repeated, as he saw it, in France in 1789. He was provoked, naturally enough, by Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790). His riposte in The rights of man (1791–92), with its startling advocacy of universal manhood suffrage, was the most notorious radical publication of the age. Official hostility led to Paine’s departure for France in September 1792. He had already been awarded honorary French citizenship and, as someone who saw his principles as universal rather than particular to any one country, he had no difficulty in accepting nomination as a deputy to the National Convention. Paine soon fell foul of the Jacobin dictatorship, however, and was fortunate to suffer nothing worse than imprisonment in the crisis of 1793–94. Despite these disruptions, Paine wrote The age of reason and Agrarian justice in the mid-1790s. Neither work expanded his public. Indeed, the assault on Christianity in The age of reason alienated a good many of his former sympathisers. Nor did Paine manage to find a public role in post-Thermidorean France. He returned to America in 1802, where he spent a rancorous and drunken old age.

156 People

William Pitt (1759–1806), politician. The son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Pitt the Younger was a political prodigy. Entering the House of Commons in 1781, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer at the age of twenty-three. A year later, after George III’s dismissal of the Fox–North coalition, he was prime minister. Pitt was well disposed towards parliamentary reform in the 1780s, favouring the disenfranchisement of rotten boroughs and the redistribution of seats to populous areas. In the 1790s, however, national security took precedence and Pitt set his face against constitutional change; domestic repression and counterrevolutionary war abroad became the watchwords. Catholic emancipation was the one constitutional innovation that Pitt would countenance. He argued for it as a matter of national security; without it, the continuation of British rule in Ireland could not be guaranteed. George III would not agree, and Pitt resigned in frustration in 1801. William Pitt returned to office in 1804 and set about building a new anti-French coalition, the third he had assembled since the onset of the revolutionary wars. It was shattered by Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz in December 1805. The ailing prime minister died six weeks later. Richard Polwhele (1760–1838), clergyman and author. Polwhele, who held the living of Manaccan in his native Cornwall from 1794, was a prolific writer who could turn his hand to poetry, topography, history or devotional literature. His The unsex’d females (1798) was his most notorious contribution to the polemical exchanges of the 1790s, but he also contributed to the Anti-Jacobin Review and the British Critic. He composed a History of Devon in three volumes and a History of Cornwall in seven. James Porter (1752/3–98), Presbyterian minister, farmer and satirist. After attending Glasgow University, Porter was appointed as minister to the Presbyterian congregation at Greyabbey, County Down. A fierce critic of political and religious injustice in Ireland, he contributed songs and squibs to the Belfast newspaper the Northern Star. These were subsequently gathered together as Paddy’s Resource. The Northern Star also saw the first appearance of the satirical pieces that were republished in 1796 as Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand. Porter was tried by court martial during the 1798 rebellion for his part in the seizure of a mail coach; he was executed on 2 July 1798. Beilby Porteus (1731–1809), evangelical churchman and Bishop of London. Porteus was a firm sabbatarian and a campaigner against vice

People 157

and moral laxity. As such, he was a key figure in the ‘Society for Enforcing the King’s Proclamation against Immorality and Idleness’, set up in 1787. In the 1790s, the Proclamation Society turned its attention to combating radicalism and anti-Christian thought, prosecuting the printer of Tom Paine’s The age of reason. Porteus was a close friend of Hannah More and prompted her to write Village politics and subsequent counterrevolutionary tracts. Porteus was also a stalwart of the campaign against the slave trade. William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, third Duke of Portland (1738–1809), Whig politician. Portland assumed the leadership of the Whig party after the death of Rockingham in 1782. He owed his position to the eminence of his family, Whig grandees since the Glorious Revolution, rather than the transcendence of his talents, which did not match those of Charles James Fox. Portland was a social conservative, who did not share the enthusiasm shown by Fox and Sheridan, the Whig figureheads in the House of Commons, for causes such as the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts. The outbreak of the French Revolution was, therefore, a matter of concern. Portland was slower to distance himself from Fox than Burke and Windham, the principal Whig ‘alarmists’, but by 1793 the breach was total. Portland took office as home secretary under Pitt in January 1794 and proved an unswerving exponent of domestic repression for the remainder of the 1790s. Richard Price (1723–1791), Dissenting minister, philosopher and scientist. Price was an Enlightenment polymath who published numerous works of philosophy and theology, and several tracts on public finance, as well as seminal contributions to the nascent sciences of demography and probability theory. His Observations on the nature of civil liberty (1776) was a stirring defence of American resistance to royal authority. Price was a member of the Society for Commemorating the Revolution in Great Britain, established on the centenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and it was at a meeting of the Society in November 1789 that he delivered the address subsequently published as a Discourse on the love of our country. The Discourse, with its claim that men had the ‘right to chuse our own government, to cashier them for misconduct, and to frame a government for our selves’, aroused the ire of Edmund Burke. Reflections on the Revolution in France was his response. Joseph Priestley (1733–1804), Dissenting minister, scientist and theological controversialist. Priestley was a man of extraordinarily diverse

158 People

accomplishments: a philosopher, an educationalist, a groundbreaking chemist, and a pioneering theorist of electricity. His notoriety came from his aggressive theological and political views. His biblical scholarship led him to deny the divinity of Christ and to champion the rights of Unitarians. Priestley was one of the most prominent critics of the Test and Corporation Acts in the 1770s and 1780s, and a highly visible friend to French liberty after 1789. It was for this that he was targeted by a loyalist mob during the Birmingham riots of July 1791. Priestley’s house, library and laboratory were ransacked; the local magistracy reacted with a conspicuous lack of urgency. With little left to hold him in Britain, Priestley sailed for America in 1794, settling in the Susquehanna valley of Pennsylvania. There he remained, still active as a scientist, theologian and political polemicist, until his death. John Reeves (1752–1829), lawyer and counter-revolutionary organiser. Reeves was a barrister in government service, rising to be chief justice in Newfoundland in the early 1790s. Returning to London from north America in November 1792, he was horrified by the extent of radical agitation and established the Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Republicans and Levellers (or ‘Crown and Anchor Society’). The initiative was Reeves’s own, but it was immediately taken up by Pitt as a means of mobilising loyalist feeling, which it did with great success over the winter of 1792–93. Reeves’s conservatism was pronounced. His pamphlet Thoughts on the English Government (1795) announced that ‘Kingly Government may go on, in all its functions, without Lords or Commons’. This, his Whig opponents complained, was a seditious libel on the constitution, and they succeeded in having Reeves prosecuted. His acquittal enabled him to rehearse his pro-monarchical argument in two subsequent pamphlets. David Ricardo (1772–1823), political economist and MP. Ricardo’s On the principles of political economy and taxation (1817) was an influential statement of laissez-faire theory. Its author became an important disciple of utilitarianism, advocating minimal government, the abolition of the corn laws and an end to the poor laws. Maximilien Marie Isidore de Robespierre (1758–94), French revolutionary leader. Robespierre practised as a lawyer before his election to the Estates General in 1789. He was a man of the extreme left, a republican disciple of Rousseau and a member of the Jacobin Club. In July 1793, he was elected to the National Convention’s Committee of Public Safety,

People 159

becoming the effective dictator of France when the Terror was at its zenith. He was overthrown on 27 July 1794 (9 Thermidor of the Year II by the new revolutionary calendar) and guillotined the next day. Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867), lawyer and journalist. Robinson was of East Anglian Dissenting stock. Like many of his background and generation, he was thrilled by the French Revolution, still more by Godwin’s Enquiry concerning political justice. Robinson moved in exalted literary circles, as a friend to Wordsworth, Coleridge and sundry other personalities of English romanticism. He retained his liberalism to the end of his days, but unlike some of his peers he was never seduced by Bonaparte, whom he viewed as the betrayer of the Revolution, not its embodiment. John Robison (1739–1805), scientist. Robison was a native of Glasgow and a graduate of the city’s university, where he first met James Watt, a life-long friend and collaborator. After a spell in the service of Catherine II of Russia, Robison returned to his homeland as professor of natural philosophy at Edinburgh. In his later years, Robison became increasingly perturbed by the irreligious tone of the French Enlightenment – a concern that surfaced in his Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe (1797). Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–78), philosopher. The Swiss-born savant was a major influence on the revolutionary generation, whether through his works of political theory such as The social contract (1762) or through novels such as Émile (1762). Isaac Saint (fl. 1792–94), Norwich publican and radical organiser. Saint was the proprietor of the Weavers Arms and a leading figure in the Norwich Society for Political Information, which in November 1792 applied for affiliation to the London Corresponding Society. Saint became secretary to an umbrella organisation, the Norwich United Constitutional Society, and as such was a signatory to its manifesto in January 1794. In May of that year he was arrested and detained without trial for several months. Adam Smith (1723–90), philosopher and political economist. Smith’s two major works, The theory of moral sentiments (1759) and An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776), established him as one of the towering figures in the Scottish Enlightenment.

160 People

Thomas Spence (1750–1814), bookseller, philologist and ultra-radical. Spence spent the first half of his life in his native Newcastle upon Tyne, where he supported himself through teaching. It was teaching that led him to develop a phonetic alphabet, one designed to deliver learning to the poor and in which he was to publish several of his later radical screeds. It was in Newcastle too that he developed his ideas of agrarian reform, prompted by the corporation’s proposals to enclose areas of open grazing on the Town Moor. Spence responded in 1775 with a disquisition on the ‘real rights of man’, tracing all social evils to the private ownership of land. He argued for the land to be taken into collective ownership at parish level and rented out to entrepreneurs. The rents received would be distributed among all the inhabitants of the parish, eliminating poverty at a stroke. The 1790s found Spence in London, making a livelihood through the sale of radical works. He was interned on numerous occasions and served a year in Newgate gaol for publishing The restorer of society to its natural state (1801). Spence attracted a small but devoted following, members of which provided the personnel for the insurrectionary plots connected with the Spa Fields riots in 1816 and the Cato Street conspiracy of 1820. William Stevens (1732–1807), merchant and High Church campaigner. Stevens, a London hosier, was connected via his cousin George Horne, Bishop of Norwich, with a network of High Church divines and lay activists. He was a severe doctrinal conservative who deplored Dissent of any kind; he was more comfortable with Roman Catholicism and the Scottish Episcopal tradition, whose reverence for hierarchy and obedience he shared. He published widely, often in cooperation with William Jones of Nayland. He was also a noted philanthropist, and he acted as treasurer to the clerical charity Queen Anne’s Bounty for many years. John Thelwall (1764–1834), radical and poet. Thelwall, the son of a London silk mercer, had a rather unsettled early career, in which the family business, painting, acting, tailoring and the law were all tried and all found wanting. Despite a childhood stammer, Thelwall was an enthusiastic participant in the disputatious London of the 1780s, appearing at the Society for Free Debate. He had literary and scientific ambitions, manifested in his Poems on various subjects (1787) and An essay towards a definition of animal vitality (1793). Thelwall was not a significant presence in the heyday of francophile reformism, but from 1793 onwards he assumed a central importance in metropolitan radicalism. He was

People 161

arrested along with the leadership of the London Corresponding Society in May 1794 and imprisoned in the Tower of London. After his acquittal on charges of high treason, Thelwall resumed the struggle against monarchical government, staging public lectures at Beaufort Buildings on the Strand and issuing a series of literary assaults on Pitt’s ministry. By 1796, however, vilified and assailed by loyalist mob violence, even the indomitable Thelwall had to desist from open avowal of radical reform. He took up instead with Coleridge and Wordsworth, then closeted together in radical-chic retreat in the West Country. The two poets, however, could not match Thelwall’s commitment to democratic reform, and the trio moved in very different directions in the post-revolutionary world. Wordsworth and Coleridge achieved literary celebrity. Thelwall, whose poetic output is now well regarded, eked out a living as a lecturer and an elocution therapist. Joseph Townsend (1739–1816), clergyman and scientist. Townsend was rector of Pewsey, Wiltshire. He published extensively on medical and biblical topics, and was a pioneering geologist. His two works on the poor laws – 1786’s A dissertation on the poor laws and the Observations on various plans for the relief of the poor of 1788 – recommended their abolition. In doing so, Townsend influenced both Jeremy Bentham, whom he knew, and Malthus. Sarah Trimmer (1741–1810), educationalist. Trimmer came to prominence in the 1780s as a prolific author of textbooks and primers for children. These all reflected her strongly held evangelical beliefs. From 1786 onwards, she ran a Sunday school in Brentford, where her husband was a brick manufacturer. She also established a charity school, the principles of which were advertised in her influential The œconomy of charity (1787). Although an innovative author, Trimmer was a profound social conservative and a doughty opponent of Rousseau’s educational theories. Gilbert Wakefield (1756–1801), religious controversialist. Wakefield was a brilliant scholar who, like his near contemporary at Cambridge, William Frend, came to reject Trinitarian Christianity. By denying the divinity of Christ, he brought his career at Cambridge to an early close. He taught subsequently at the Dissenting academy at Warrington and later at Hackney. Wakefield was a ferocious polemicist, whether defending the French Revolution or attacking the theology of his enemies. It was this lack of restraint that was to bring him down. He published a

162 People

slashing response to the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address to the people of Great Britain (1798) and was gaoled for his impertinence. Wakefield died of typhus soon after the conclusion of his two-year sentence. Thomas Walker (1749–1817), cotton merchant and founder of the Manchester Constitutional Society. Walker’s first political involvement came in the County Association movement during the American War. The centenary of the Glorious Revolution saw him a member of the Manchester Revolution Society and a recruit to the reinvigorated Society for Constitutional Information. By the early 1790s, the political scene in Manchester was riven, with loyalists gathered in the Church and King Society and reformers grouped in the Manchester Constitutional Society. Although Walker was a moderate reformer, in April 1794 his opponents succeeded in having him arraigned for conspiring to overthrow the king and the constitution. The case against him collapsed, but the experience was sufficient to drive Walker from active politics. Loyalist attacks on his credit-worthiness subsequently brought about the collapse of his business. Richard Watson (1737–1816), Bishop of Llandaff. Watson enjoyed a career at the University of Cambridge – first as professor of chemistry, then as regius professor of divinity – before his appointment as Bishop of Llandaff in 1782. He was a theological and political liberal who openly regretted British policy toward the rebellious American colonies. As a firm Whig, he at first welcomed the French Revolution. His subsequent turn against the Revolution and his support for the war against France drew critical fire from indignant radicals. James Watt (1736–1819), engineer. James Watt was a man of wideranging interests whose earliest training was as a mathematical instrument maker. It was in this capacity, retained as such by the University of Glasgow, epicentre of the Scottish Enlightenment, that he earned a living in his twenties. It was in association with Matthew Boulton, the great Birmingham entrepreneur, that he achieved his greatest fame, as the proponent of improved forms of steam power. Watt’s scientific acquaintance was extensive. He was a devoted admirer of his Glasgow contemporary Dr John Robison, as he was of his fellow member of the Lunar Society Dr Erasmus Darwin. Robison and Darwin took diametrically opposed political positions in the 1790s, but Watt kept his own counsel, avoiding explicit comment on the controversies of the day. His son James (1769–1848) did not follow suit. Much to his father’s discomfort, he was a fiery radical. The younger Watt was a member of the Manchester

People 163

Constitutional Society and presented an address from that body to the Club des Jacobins in Paris in March 1792, becoming thereby one of the most notorious francophile firebrands of the day. Robert Watt (1768–94), wine merchant. Watt became involved in the Scottish radical movement in 1792. His precise role is unclear, but he was certainly informing on his associates for a period in 1793. In 1794 he was implicated in a plot to suborn troops and seize Edinburgh Castle. The reality of this conspiracy was much disputed at the time, with Watt’s counsel arguing that his client was acting as an agent provocateur. Whatever the truth of the matter, Watt was convicted of treason. He was strung up and then decapitated on 15 October 1794. Josiah Wedgwood (1730–95), industrialist. Wedgwood was the most innovative and celebrated potter of the age. As a Dissenter and a member of the Lunar Society, he was predictably well disposed to the overthrow of French absolutism in 1789. His firm was also characteristically quick to spot a commercial opportunity in the Revolution. ‘What do you think’, Wedgwood was asked by his son, just a fortnight after the fall of the Bastille, ‘of a [ceramic medallion with a] figure of public faith on an altar & France embracing Liberty in the front?’ John Wesley (1703–91), clergyman and revivalist. Wesley was the child of High Anglican parents, but from the late 1730s he participated in the evangelical revival that was so marked a feature of the mid-eighteenth century in Britain and America. Wesley was a charismatic and tireless preacher who ministered to all who would hear him, be they poor or outcast, regardless of whether they took the Anglican sacraments. He was no respecter of the rich, but Wesley did revere authority, hence his opposition to the American Revolution. Samuel Whitbread (1764–1815), MP. The heir to a brewing fortune, Whitbread was a Foxite Whig and a prominent member, along with his brother-in-law Lord Grey, of the Society of the Friends of the People. William Wilberforce (1759–1833), MP. Wilberforce, heir to a merchant fortune in Hull, was elected MP for his native town in 1780 and then for the prestigious county seat of Yorkshire in 1784. Soon afterwards, he underwent a powerful religious conversion, becoming thereafter the most conspicuous Anglican evangelical layman in public life. It was at Wilberforce’s instigation that a royal proclamation against vice was issued in 1787, and thanks to him that the Proclamation Society, devoted to

164 People

enforcing virtue, was subsequently formed. Wilberforce was no simple reactionary, however. His other great moral passion, the suppression of the slave trade, was carried forward in cooperation with political liberals like Thomas Clarkson. Wilberforce was also a reluctant warrior in the 1790s, agonising over the propriety of war against France. This was to test his close friendship with Pitt, a Cambridge contemporary. Yet Wilberforce was fully in favour of the repressive legislation of the mid-1790s, being concerned only that it was counter-balanced by Christian paternalism of the sort espoused by the Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. John Wilkes (1725–97), MP and satirist. Wilkes was the most flamboyant and audacious opponent of George III’s ministers in the 1760s and 1770s. As a journalist, MP and officeholder in the City of London, his defiance of government significantly extended electors’ rights and press freedom. Helen Maria Williams (1761–1827), writer. Williams was a literary prodigy who was nurtured in the liberal, inquisitive atmosphere of Protestant Dissent. Her poetic output in the 1780s, ardently sentimental, reflected this. She was a vocal opponent of the slave trade and an enemy to the Test and Corporation Acts. Williams’s assessment of the French Revolution was so positive that she moved to France in 1790. Her experiences provided the material for her Letters written from France (1790). Returning to France in 1791, Williams found the political environment less congenial. Not only was she associated with the doomed Girondin faction, but she was a national of a country with which the Republic was at war from February 1793. As such she was interned in 1793–94. The ordeal qualified but did not overturn her liberal sympathies. She remained in France, give or take the shortest of interludes abroad, until her death in 1827. Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), writer. Wollstonecraft, the daughter of an unsuccessful London silk manufacturer, knew a childhood of genteel impoverishment. Together with her sisters, she entered into one of the few professional avenues open to middle-class women, that of education. She worked as a governess and school mistress during the American War and after. It was the basis for her first book, Thoughts on the education of daughters, published in 1787, and the stimulus for her second, a collection of tales for children entitled Original stories from real life (1788). Literary promise led to Wollstonecraft being retained as a hack writer by the

People 165

Unitarian publisher Joseph Johnson, whose Analytical Review was in need of regular copy. It was also at this time that she made her debut as a novelist with Mary: a fiction (1788). Wollstonecraft moved in the literarycum-intellectual circle defined by Rational Dissent, so it was natural that her reaction to the fall of French absolutism should be one of applause. It was equally predictable that her response to Edmund Burke’s assault on the Revolution should be severe. Her Vindication of the rights of men was probably the earliest rejoinder to Burke’s Reflections. It was followed by a still more noteworthy work, Wollstonecraft’s A vindication of the rights of woman (1792). The book earned her instant fame, but no sooner had it appeared than she left for France, where she was to meet the American adventurer Gilbert Imlay, by whom she became pregnant. Wollstonecraft was wild with passion, but Imlay, alas, proved a faithless lover. Only after two abortive suicide attempts did Wollstonecraft regain her equilibrium. She found respite with William Godwin, but their domestic contentment was cut cruelly short by her death, soon after the birth of their daughter Mary. William Wordsworth (1770–1850), poet. Wordsworth was born in the Lake District, the second son of John Wordsworth, agent to Sir James Lowther, the region’s leading magnate. Despite superabundant talent, he did not flourish at Cambridge and he spent the early 1790s wandering in search of a vocation. His travels took him to France, first in 1790 and again in 1791–92. Enthralled by the passions of the Revolution, Wordsworth was transformed into a full-blown democrat. On his return to Britain, he was drawn to London’s radical intelligentsia, mixing with William Godwin, William Frend and their circle. But literature rather than radical activism was to be the vehicle for Wordsworth’s politics. Sympathetic patrons provided successive refuges for him in the West Country. Here Wordsworth developed a philosophical and poetic voice that dwelt particularly on the wartime sufferings of the poor. He was drawing away from the arid rationalism of Godwin, with which he had earlier been much taken, for its very lack of human empathy. By 1797 Wordsworth had entered upon his famous collaboration with Coleridge, a fellow radical refugee in Somerset. Their collection of Lyrical ballads, first issued in 1798, was the groundbreaking literary outcome. Arthur Young (1741–1820), agricultural reformer. After a desultory early career in publishing, Young turned to farming. He was an instant enthusiast for agricultural improvement, which he began to promote in a

166 People

series of books, beginning in the 1760s, and in his long-running periodical, the Annals of Agriculture. Young was an indefatigable traveller in search of new techniques. As such he toured France in 1787, 1788 and 1789, just as the country slithered into revolution. The experience turned Young, a broadly liberal presence in the 1770s and 1780s, into a far more conservative figure. His new conservatism was ramified by religious conversion under the influence of William Wilberforce. The economic reformer who had once been rather heedless of the condition of the poor became, in the revolutionary age, a Christian paternalist.


Introduction 1 Gwyn A. Williams, The search for Beulah Land: the Welsh and the Atlantic Revolution (London, 1980), p. 1.

Chapter 1 1 Watkin Tench, Letters from revolutionary France: letters written in France to a friend in London, between the month of November 1794, and the month of May 1795 (1796), ed. Gavin Edwards (Cardiff, 2001), p. 3. 2 P.J. Corfield and Chris Evans (eds), Youth and revolution in the 1790s: letters of William Pattisson, Thomas Amyot and Henry Crabb Robinson (Stroud, 1996), pp. 47–8. Circe was the beguiling sorceress of Homeric legend whose potions turned the companions of Ulysses into swine. 3 William Blackstone, Commentaries on the laws of England (4 vols) (London, 1765), I, pp. 50–1. 4 Jonathan Swift in the Examiner (1710), quoted in Daniel A. Baugh (ed.), Aristocratic government and society in eighteenth-century England: the foundations of stability (New York, 1975), p. 56. 5 Memoir of Thomas Hardy, founder and secretary to the London Corresponding Society (London, 1832), p. 10. 6 R.G. Thorne (ed.), The House of Commons 1790–1820 (5 vols) (London, 1986), I, p. 77. 7 Samuel Romilly, Memoirs of the life of Samuel Romilly (London, 1840). 8 Richard Crawshay to William Stevens, 13 August 1789, D2.162, Gwent Record Office.

168 Notes

Chapter 2 1 Richard Price, A discourse on the love of our country (1789), in D.O. Thomas (ed.), Richard Price: political writings (Cambridge, 1992), pp. 195–6. 2 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (Harmondsworth, 1968), pp. 192, 194–5. 3 Sir Brooke Boothby, Observations on the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791), quoted in John Keane, Tom Paine: a political life (London, 1995), p. 306. 4 Revd Christopher Wyvill, quoted in Keane, Tom Paine, p. 329. 5 Quoted in E.P. Thompson, The making of the English working class (1963; revised edition, London, 1968), p. 112. Keelmen, a well-organised group of workers on Tyneside, were employed in ferrying coal from riverside wharfs out to the sea-going collier vessels, moored in the middle of the river, that were to carry the coal to London. 6 Report from the Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons relative to the Proceedings of different Persons and Societies in Great Britain and Ireland engaged in a Treasonable Conspiracy (1799), in William Cobbett (ed.), The parliamentary history of England, XXXIV (London, 1819), col. 580. 7 Quoted in John Stevenson, Artisans and democrats: Sheffield in the French Revolution, 1789–1797 (Sheffield, 1989), p. 59. 8 Report from the Committee of Secrecy, col. 591. 9 Report from the Committee of Secrecy, col. 592. 10 S.T. Coleridge, The plot discovered; or an address to the people against ministerial treason (Bristol, 1795), in Lewis Patton and Peter Mann (eds), The collected works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. 1: Lectures 1795 on politics and religion (London, 1971), p. 286. 11 Quoted in Kevin Whelan, The tree of liberty: radicalism, Catholicism and the construction of Irish identity 1760–1830 (Cork, 1996), p. 114. 12 [Thomas Ledlie Birch], The causes of the rebellion in Ireland (London, 1798), p. 57. 13 Quoted in Nancy J. Curtin, The United Irishmen: popular politics in Ulster and Dublin 1791–98 (Oxford, 1994), p. 256. 14 Annual Register (London, 1797), p. 84. 15 Gilbert Wakefield, A reply to some parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address (1798), quoted in F.K. Prochaska, ‘English state trials in the 1790s: a case study’, Journal of British Studies, XIII (1973), p. 76. 16 William Pattisson to Jacob Pattisson, 4 January 1798, in Penelope J. Corfield and Chris Evans (eds), Youth and revolution in the 1790s: letters of William Pattisson, Thomas Amyot and Henry Crabb Robinson (London, 1996), p. 153. 17 William Pattisson to Henry Crabb Robinson, 16 July 1803, Henry Crabb Robinson correspondence 1800–03, Dr Williams Library, London.

Notes 169

Chapter 3 1 Sir Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland (Dublin, 1801), p. 153. 2 Richard Dinmore junior, An exposition of the principles of the English Jacobins (Norwich, 1796), pp. 5–6. 3 Richard Price, A discourse on the love of our country (1789), in D.O. Thomas (ed.), Richard Price: political writings (Cambridge, 1992), p. 195. 4 Quoted in Terry Eagleton, The function of criticism: from the Spectator to poststructuralism (London, 1984), p. 31. 5 Quoted in Henry W. Meikle, Scotland and the French Revolution (Glasgow, 1912), p. 43. 6 Quoted in John Brewer, The pleasures of the imagination: English culture in the eighteenth century (London, 1997), p. 12. 7 Quoted in Brewer, Pleasures of the imagination, p. 37. 8 Quoted in Donna T. Andrew, ‘Popular culture and public debate: London 1780’, Historical Journal, XXXIX (1996), p. 422. 9 William Hutton, An history of Birmingham, to the end of the year 1780 (Birmingham, 1781), p. 63. 10 Quoted in Paul Langford, A polite and commercial people: England 1727–1783 (Oxford, 1989), p. 101. 11 Quoted in Brewer, Pleasures of the imagination, p. 505. 12 Quoted in P.J. Corfield, The impact of English towns 1700–1800 (Oxford, 1982), p. 53. 13 Christopher Anstey, The new Bath guide (1766), ed. Gavin Turner (Bristol, 1994), p. 67. 14 Richard Warner, History of Bath (Bath, 1801), p. 349, quoted in Roy Porter, ‘Science, provincial culture and public opinion in Enlightenment England’, in Peter Borsay (ed.), The eighteenth-century town: a reader in English urban history 1688–1820 (London, 1990), p. 254. 15 Oliver Goldsmith, Life of Richard Nash of Bath (1762), p. 24, quoted in Mark Girouard, The English town (New Haven, CT and London, 1990), p. 79. A modern commentator has recast this argument in a more critical vein: ‘The English bourgeois public sphere of the early eighteenth century . . . . [had as] its major impulse . . . class consolidation, a codifying of the norms and regulating of the practices whereby the English bourgeoisie may negotiate an historic alliance with its social superiors.’ Eagleton, Function of criticism, p. 10. 16 William Vaughan, The catechism of man (1794), quoted in Amanda Goodrich, Debating England’s aristocracy in the 1790s: pamphlets, polemics and political ideas (Woodbridge, 2005), p. 117.

170 Notes

Chapter 4 1 Thomas Walker, Review of some political events in Manchester (1794), quoted in Frida Knight, The strange case of Thomas Walker (London, 1957), p. 94. 2 Quoted in Knight, The strange case, p. 44. 3 Elizabeth Pattisson to Jacob Pattisson, 14 June 1794, Pattisson papers, Essex Record Office. 4 Jacob Pattisson to William Pattisson, 22 July 1794, in Penelope J. Corfield and Chris Evans, Youth and revolution in the 1790s: letters of William Pattisson, Thomas Amyot and Henry Crabb Robinson (Stroud, 1996), p. 73. 5 Quoted in Nancy J. Curtin, The United Irishmen: popular politics in Ulster and Dublin 1791–98 (Oxford, 1994), p. 233. 6 Mary Thale (ed.), Selections from the papers of the London Corresponding Society 1792–99 (London, 1983), p. 28. 7 Thale, London Corresponding Society, p. 18. 8 Thale, London Corresponding Society, p. 184. 9 Thale, London Corresponding Society, p. 187. 10 Tribute was being paid here to Algernon Sidney (1623–83), the republican theorist who was executed for seeking the overthrow of Charles II, and to John Hampden (1595–1643), the leader of parliamentary resistance to the personal rule of Charles I, or conceivably to Hampden’s grandson, another John (1653–96), a co-conspirator with Sidney. 11 Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick (eds), The Thomas Paine reader (Harmondsworth, 1987), p. 76. 12 Quoted in Kevin Whelan, The tree of liberty: radicalism, Catholicism and the construction of Irish identity 1760–1830 (Cork, 1996), p. 89. 13 Quoted in John Beckett, ‘Responses to war: Nottingham in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, 1793–1815’, Midland History, XXII (1997), p. 74. 14 The Irish government, with its keener repressive instincts, had already outlawed extra-parliamentary assemblies by its Convention Act of 1793. 15 Major John Cartwright, quoted in Clive Emsley, ‘Repression, “terror” and the rule of law in England during the decade of the French Revolution’, English Historical Review, C (1985), p. 810. 16 Quoted in A. Goodwin, The friends of liberty: the English democratic movement in the age of the French Revolution (London, 1979), p. 380, note 115. 17 Quoted in Clive Emsley, ‘An aspect of Pitt’s “Terror”: prosecutions for sedition during the 1790s’, Social History, VI (1981), p. 162. 18 Richard Watson, Appendix to the Bishop of Llandaff’s sermon (1793), quoted in Amanda Goodrich, Debating England’s aristocracy in the 1790s: pamphlets, polemics and political ideas (Woodbridge, 2005), p. 154.

Notes 171 19 John Jones, The reason of man: with strictures on Rights of Man, and others of Mr Paine’s works (1792), quoted in Goodrich, Debating England’s aristocracy, p. 111. 20 Diary of John Bird, 29 March 1797 and 25 March 1799, MS 2.716, Cardiff Central Library. 21 John Bowles, Dialogues on the rights of Britons, between a farmer, a sailor, and a manufacturer. Dialogue the second (London, 1792), p. 17. 22 Linda Colley, Britons: forging the nation 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992), p. 376. This total excludes loyal addresses submitted after the Jacobite army began its retreat toward Scotland, when loyalism became a risk-free activity. 23 Jennifer Mori, ‘Responses to revolution: the November crisis of 1792’, Historical Research, LXIX, 170 (1996), p. 288. 24 Second Declaration of the Crown and Anchor Society, published in The Times, 26 November 1792, quoted in Michael Duffy, ‘William Pitt and the origins of the Loyalist Association Movement of 1792’, Historical Journal, XXXIX (1996), p. 954. 25 East Sussex Record Office, SHR 1350. 26 Quoted in Gwyn A. Williams, Madoc: the legend of the Welsh discovery of America (Oxford, 1987), p. 110. 27 Robert R. Dozier, For king, constitution and country: the English loyalists and the French Revolution (Lexington, KY, 1983), p. 86. 28 Thale, London Corresponding Society, p. 30. 29 Harry T. Dickinson, ‘Popular loyalism in Britain in the 1790s’, in Eckhart Hellmuth (ed.), The transformation of political culture: England and Germany in the late eighteenth century (Oxford, 1990), p. 528. 30 ‘Antitype’, The pernicious effects of the art of printing upon society, exposed (1794), pp. 15–16. 31 Quoted in Knight, The strange case, p. 64. 32 [Hannah More], Village politics. Addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen and day labourers in Great Britain. By Will Chip, a country carpenter (London, 1793), pp. 20–21. 33 Quoted in David Bindman, The shadow of the guillotine: Britain and the French Revolution (London, 1989), p. 121. 34 James Porter, Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand: or, a sample of the times (Belfast, 1812), p. 20. 35 Quoted in R. Paul Evans, ‘The Flintshire Loyalist Association and the Loyal Holywell Volunteers’, Flintshire Historical Society Journal, XXXIII (1992), p. 58. 36 Quoted in Evans, ‘Flintshire Loyalist Association’, p. 65. 37 Richard Crawshay to Rowland Williams, 9 March 1797, D2.162, Gwent Record Office. 38 Colley, Britons, p. 297.

172 Notes 39 James Bisset, A poetic survey round Birmingham (Birmingham, 1800), p. 19. Bisset alluded to the Loyal Birmingham Light Horse Volunteers and the footsloggers of the Birmingham Loyal Association. 40 Quoted in J.E. Cookson, The British armed nation, 1793–1815 (Oxford, 1997), p. 29. 41 Quoted in Cookson, Armed nation, p. 67. 42 Quoted in Colley, Britons, p. 317. 43 Gilbert Gilpin to William Wilkinson, 9 December 1796, 1781/6/23, Shropshire Records and Research Centre.

Chapter 5 1 Richard Price, A discourse on the love of our country (1789), in D.O. Thomas (ed.), Richard Price: political writings (Cambridge, 1992), p. 182. 2 Quoted in Albert Goodwin, The friends of liberty: the English democratic movement in the age of the French Revolution (London, 1979), p. 63. 3 Quoted in A. Aspinall and E.A. Smith (eds), English historical documents 1783–1832 (London, 1959), p. 218. 4 Quoted in Goodwin, Friends of liberty, p. 116. 5 Address from the LCS to the inhabitants of Great Britain on the subject of a parliamentary reform (1792), quoted in Mary Thale (ed.), Selections from the papers of the London Corresponding Society 1792–99 (London, 1983), p. 18. 6 William Hazlitt, The spirit of the age: or contemporary portraits (London, 1825), p. 33. 7 Quoted in Don Locke, A fantasy of reason: the life and thought of William Godwin (London, 1980), p. 60. 8 William Godwin, Enquiry concerning political justice (1793), ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth, 1976), p. 236. 9 Godwin, Enquiry, p. 274. 10 Godwin, Enquiry, p. 554. 11 Quoted in Nicholas Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge: the radical years (Oxford, 1988), p. 167. 12 Quoted in Frida Knight, The strange case of Thomas Walker (London, 1957), p. 143. 13 William Taitt to Thomas Guest, 25 March 1799, D/D G 1799 B-W, f. 376, Glamorgan Archives. 14 Penelope J. Corfield and Chris Evans, Youth and revolution in the 1790s: letters of William Pattisson, Thomas Amyot and Henry Crabb Robinson (Stroud, 1996), p. 104. 15 [Henry Crabb Robinson], ‘On the essential and accidental characteristics of informers’, in The Cabinet: by a Society of Gentlemen (Norwich, 1795), I, p. 282.

Notes 173 16 Quoted in Chantal Stebbings, ‘The Budget of 1798: legislative provision for secrecy in income taxation’, British Tax Review (1998), p. 651. 17 Considerations on the French war . . . . A letter to the Right Honourable William Pitt, by a British merchant (London, 1794), p. 16. 18 Roderick Gwynne to the Duke of Portland, 25 April 1798, HO 42/43, fo. 37, National Archives: Public Record Office. 19 Quoted in E.P. Thompson, ‘Hunting the Jacobin fox’, Past and Present, 142 (1994), p. 102. 20 Quoted in Hywel M. Davies, ‘Loyalism in Wales, 1792–93’, Welsh History Review, XX, 4 (2001), p. 710. 21 Corfield and Evans, Youth and revolution, p. 53. 22 E.P. Thompson, The making of the English working class (1963; revised edition, London, 1968), p. 546. 23 Quoted in Jack Fruchtman junior, The apocalyptic politics of Richard Price and Joseph Priestley: a study in late eighteenth-century English republican millennialism (Philadelphia, PA, 1983), p. 31. 24 Quoted in Fruchtman, Apocalyptic politics, p. 43. 25 William Hamilton Reid, The rise and dissolution of the infidel societies in this metropolis (London, 1800), p. 2. 26 Quoted in Jon Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm: William Blake and the culture of radicalism in the 1790s (Oxford, 1992), p. 66. 27 The age of prophecy! Or, further testimony of the mission of Richard Brothers. By a convert (London, 1795), p. 40. 28 The Book of Bobs. Being a serious caution to the pensioned tribe of Albo (London, n.d.). 29 [Thomas Spence], A fragment of ancient prophecy. Relating, as some think, to the present revolutions (London, 1796), p. 3. 30 Quoted in Kevin Whelan, The tree of liberty: radicalism, Catholicism and the construction of Irish identity 1760–1830 (Cork, 1996), p. 73. 31 B.H. Malkin, The scenery, antiquities, and biography of south Wales (London, 1804), p. 172. 32 Richard Crawshay to the Revd James Buckley, 21 November 1796, D2.162, Gwent Record Office. 33 William Wordsworth, Lyrical ballads (London, 1800), pp. xviii–xix. 34 Wordsworth, Lyrical ballads, p. xi. 35 Francis Jeffrey in the Edinburgh Review in 1804, quoted in Marilyn Butler, Romantics, rebels and revolutionaries: English literature and its background 1760–1830 (Oxford, 1981), p. 62. 36 Quoted in Roe, Wordsworth and Coleridge, p. 5. 37 Quoted in E.W. McFarland, Ireland and Scotland in the age of revolution: planting the green bough (Edinburgh, 1994), p. 212. 38 Richard Crawshay to William Wilberforce, 3 February 1795, D2.162, Gwent Record Office.

174 Notes 39 Quoted in Roger Wells, Wretched faces: famine in wartime England 1793–1801 (Stroud, 1988), p. 150. 40 Godwin, Enquiry, p. 140.

Chapter 6 1 John Rickman, ‘Thoughts on the utility and facility of ascertaining the population of England’ (1800), quoted in D.V. Glass, Numbering the people: the eighteenth-century population controversy and the development of census and vital statistics in Britain (Farnborough, 1973), p. 107. 2 The words of Samuel Hill, repeated to him by Mr Justice Hardinge as he delivered sentence of death at Cardiff Great Sessions in April 1801, quoted in D.J.V. Jones, ‘The Merthyr riots of 1800: a study in attitudes’, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies, XXIII (1968–70), pp. 177–8. 3 Quoted in John Stevenson, Artisans and democrats: Sheffield in the French Revolution, 1789–97 (Sheffield, 1989), p. 50. 4 Quoted in Roger Wells, Wretched faces: famine in wartime England 1793–1801 (Stroud, 1988), p. 63. 5 Quoted in Wells, Wretched faces, p. 210. 6 Quoted in Wells, Wretched faces, p. 111. 7 Quoted in Wells, Wretched faces, p. 153. 8 Quoted in J.R. Poynter, Society and pauperism: English ideas on poor relief, 1795–1834 (London, 1969), p. 53. 9 Sir Frederick Morton Eden, The state of the poor: or, an history of the labouring classes in England (3 vols) (London, 1797), I, p. 533. 10 Joseph Townsend, A dissertation on the poor laws (London, 1786), p. 2. 11 Quoted in A. Aspinall and E.A. Smith (eds), English historical documents 1783–1832 (London, 1959), p. 415. 12 William Godwin, Enquiry concerning political justice (1793), ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth, 1976), p. 777. 13 Thomas Robert Malthus, An essay on the principle of population (1798), ed. Antony Flew (Harmondsworth, 1970), p. iv. 14 Sir William Petty, quoted in Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the creation of the modern world (London, 2000), p. 380. 15 Quoted in Aspinall and Smith, English historical documents, p. 417. 16 Malthus, Essay, p. 66. 17 Malthus, Essay, p. 64. 18 Malthus, Essay, p. 87. 19 Malthus, Essay, p. 83. 20 Malthus, Essay, p. 395. 21 Malthus, Essay, p. 353.

Notes 175 22 Quoted in Patricia James, Population Malthus: his life and times (London, 1979), pp. 130–1. 23 Michael Foot and Isaac Kramnick (eds), The Thomas Paine reader (Harmondsworth, 1987), p. 350. 24 Foot and Kramnick, Paine reader, p. 477. 25 Stella Tillyard, Citizen Lord: Edward Fitzgerald 1763–1798 (London, 1997), p. 284. 26 Foot and Kramnick, Paine reader, pp. 477–8. 27 Foot and Kramnick, Paine reader, p. 482. 28 G. Claeys (ed.), The politics of English Jacobinism: writings of John Thelwall (University Park, PA, 1995), p. 478. 29 Claeys, English Jacobinism, p. 477.

Chapter 7 1 Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790), ed. Conor Cruise O’Brien (Harmondsworth, 1968), p. 171. 2 Ephesians 5: 22–4. 3 Alexander Broadie (ed.), The Scottish Enlightenment: an anthology (Edinburgh, 1997), p. 479. 4 Quoted in Sylvana Tomaselli, ‘The Enlightenment debate on women’, History Workshop Journal, 20 (1988), p. 111. 5 John Potter, Observations on the present state of music and musicians (1762), quoted in Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the creation of the modern world (London, 2000), p. 326. 6 Quoted in Neil McKendrick, ‘Josiah Wedgwood and the commercialization of the Potteries’, in Neil McKendrick, John Brewer and J.H. Plumb, The birth of a consumer society: the commercialization of eighteenth-century England (London, 1982), pp. 118–19. 7 Quoted in Conor Cruise O’Brien, The great melody: a thematic biography and commented anthology of Edmund Burke (London, 1993), p. 425. 8 Mary Wollstonecraft, A vindication of the rights of woman (1792), in Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler (eds), The works of Mary Wollstonecraft (7 vols) (London, 1989), v, p. 129. 9 William Wilberforce, Practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country, contrasted with real Christianity (1797), quoted in A. Aspinall and E.A. Smith (eds), English historical documents 1783–1832 (London, 1959), p. 639. 10 Burke, Reflections, p. 169. 11 Mary Wollstonecraft, A vindication of the rights of men, in a letter to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (1790), quoted in Jane Moore, Mary Wollstonecraft (London, 1999), p. 35.

176 Notes 12 Helen Maria Williams, Letters written in France (London, 1790), pp. 123, 125, 126. 13 Williams, Letters, p. 66. 14 Liberty and property preserved against republicans and levellers: a collection of tracts (1793), quoted in Olivia Smith, The politics of language 1791–1819 (London, 1984), p. 72. 15 [Hannah More], Village politics. Addressed to all the mechanics, journeymen and day labourers in Great Britain. By Will Chip, a country carpenter (London, 1793), p. 9. 16 Strictures on female education (1799), in Robert Hole (ed.), Selected writings of Hannah More (London, 1996), pp. 126, 220. 17 The Times, 24 August 1790, quoted in D.T. Andrew, ‘ “Adultery à-la-mode”: privilege, the law and attitudes to adultery 1770–1809’, History, LXXXII (1997), p. 17. 18 The Times, 9 May 1796, quoted in Gillian Russell, ‘ “Pharo’s daughters”: female gamesters, politics, and the discourse of finance in 1790s Britain’, EighteenthCentury Studies, XXXIII, 4 (2000), p. 490. 19 Quoted in Lawrence Stone, Roads to divorce: England 1530–1987 (Oxford, 1990), p. 278. 20 William Cobbett, The parliamentary history of England, XXXIV (London, 1819), col. 1559, quoted in Katherine Binhammer, ‘The sex panic of the 1790s’, Journal of the History of Sexuality, VI, 3 (1996), p. 430. 21 Quoted in Harriet Guest, ‘The dream of a common language: Hannah More and Mary Wollstonecraft’, Textual Practice, IX, 2 (1995), p. 306. 22 Hole, Selected writings of Hannah More, p. 232. 23 Wollstonecraft, A vindication of the rights of woman, pp. 110–11. 24 Wollstonecraft, A vindication of the rights of woman, p. 105. 25 Wollstonecraft, A vindication of the rights of woman, p. 114. 26 William Godwin, Enquiry concerning political justice (1793), ed. Isaac Kramnick (Harmondsworth, 1976), p. 762. 27 William Godwin, Memoirs of the author of a vindication of the rights of woman (London, 1798), p. 168. 28 Godwin, Memoirs, pp. 83–4. 29 Quoted in G.J. Barker-Benfield, The culture of sensibility: sex and society in eighteenth-century Britain (Chicago, IL, 1992), p. 376.

Chapter 8 1 William Cobbett, The parliamentary history of England, XXXIV (London, 1819), cols 579–80. 2 Quoted in Iain McCalman (ed.), An Oxford companion to the romantic age: British culture 1776–1832 (Oxford, 1999), p. 739.

Notes 177 3 William Pattisson to Hannah Thornthwaite, 9 October 1799, D/D CM, C1/2, Essex Record Office. 4 Quoted in Norman Gash, Aristocracy and people: Britain 1815–1865 (London, 1979), p. 147. 5 Quoted in Paul A. Pickering, Chartism and the Chartists in Manchester and Salford (Basingstoke, 1995), p. 154. 6 Quoted in Gareth Stedman Jones, ‘Rethinking Chartism’, in idem, Languages of class: studies in English working class history (Cambridge, 1983), p. 90.


There is a vast literature on the 1790s in Britain. The following pages offer a brief guide to what is available. It is far from comprehensive; it makes suggestions for further reading that follow on from the topics addressed in this book, and those topics only. Something should be said, however, about original sources, for these repay reading, even for those who are new to the period. Many of the key texts of the period – Burke’s Reflections, Wollstonecraft’s A vindication, etc. – have long been available in paperback editions. A thematic guide to the debate is provided in Marilyn Butler (ed.), Burke, Paine, Godwin and the revolution controversy (Cambridge, 1984). A range of texts is made available in Iain Hampsher-Monk (ed.), The impact of the French Revolution (Cambridge, 2005) and, on a far more extensive scale, in Gregory Claeys (ed.), Political writings of the 1790s: the French Revolution debate in Britain (8 vols) (London, 1995). There are also collections relating to the principal radical body of the decade in Mary Thale (ed.), Selections from the papers of the London Corresponding Society 1792–99 (London, 1983) and Michael T. Davis (ed.), The London Corresponding Society: publications, 1792–1799 (6 vols) (London, 2001), whilst Iain McCalman and Jon Mee have edited seven volumes of Trials for treason and sedition, 1792–1794 (London, 2002). Burke’s own words can be found in the multi-volume Writings and speeches of Edmund Burke under the general editorship of Paul Langford. Of special relevance are: L.G. Mitchell (ed.), The French Revolution 1790–1794 (London, 1988), and R.B. McDowell (ed.), The revolutionary war 1794–1797 (London, 1991) and Ireland (London, 1991). Paine’s output is gathered in Philip S. Foner’s Complete writings of Thomas Paine (New York, 1945). The radical intelligentsia have been well served by

180 Bibliography

publishers in recent years. The political and philosophical writings of William Godwin (4 vols) (London, 1993) have appeared under the general editorship of Mark Philp. Philp has also overseen the publication of Godwin’s Collected novels and memoirs (8 vols) (London, 1992). Janet Todd and Marilyn Butler, with Emma Rees-Mogg, have edited The works of Mary Wollstonecraft (7 vols) (London, 1989), whilst Ralph M. Wardle oversaw Godwin and Mary: letters of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft (London, 1977). Richard Price: political writings, edited by D.O. Thomas (Cambridge, 1992) is also of value. Radical activists have not always been accorded the intellectual respect that might lead to the reissue of their writings in a modern edition. John Thelwall is an exception – see Gregory Claeys (ed.), The politics of English Jacobinism: writings of John Thelwall (University Park, PA, 1995) – as is Thomas Spence, whose Political works (Newcastle upon Tyne, 1982) have appeared under the editorship of H.T. Dickinson. Biographies of the leading political figures are plentiful. Musty Victorian memoirs are often worth consulting because they tended to quote letters and diaries with a generosity that a modern publisher would resist, but the emphasis here is on recent and/or authoritative scholarly biographies. John Keane, Tom Paine: a political life (London, 1995) provides new insight into its subject’s life, whilst Mark Philp, Paine (Oxford, 1989) and Gregory Claeys, Thomas Paine: social and political thought (London, 1989) offer concise guides to his political thought. The most recent complete biography of Burke – Conor Cruise O’Brien’s The great melody: a thematic biography and commented anthology of Edmund Burke (London, 1992) – is idiosyncratic, adulatory but highly readable. Only the first volume of F.P. Lock’s biography, covering the years 1730–84, has so far appeared. A short guide to Burke’s thought is provided in C.B. Macpherson, Burke (Oxford, 1980). John Ehrman’s Pitt the Younger provides a monumental biography of the period’s leading statesman. There are three volumes: The years of acclaim (London, 1969), The reluctant transition (London, 1983) and The consuming struggle (London, 1996). Eric Evans provides a more condensed assessment in Pitt the Younger (London, 1999), as does Michael Duffy in his Pitt the Younger (London, 2000). Modern biographical accounts of Pitt’s greatest antagonist are given in L.G. Mitchell, Charles James Fox (Oxford, 1992) and Stanley Ayling, Fox: the life of Charles James Fox (London, 1991).

Bibliography 181

Patricia James, Population Malthus: his life and times (London, 1979) explores the career and thought of the influential political economist. Donald Winch offers a succinct appraisal in Malthus (Oxford, 1987). William Godwin, the target of Malthus’s Essay on the principle of population, is the subject of two recent biographies: Peter Marshall’s William Godwin (London, 1984) and Don Locke’s A fantasy of reason: the life and thought of William Godwin (London, 1980). Mary Wollstonecraft was rescued for posterity by Claire Tomalin’s The life and death of Mary Wollstonecraft (London, 1974). Fresh insight is supplied in Janet Todd, Mary Wollstonecraft: a revolutionary life (London, 2001), whilst Jane Moore’s Mary Wollstonecraft (London, 1999) provides a short overview of her thought. Joseph Priestley is the subject of a two-volume biography by Robert E. Schofield, the concluding volume of which – The Enlightened Joseph Priestley: a study of his life and work from 1773 to 1804 (London, 2004) – covers the revolutionary period. John Thelwall was the subject of a pioneering study at the start of the twentieth century, based upon material that is now largely lost: C. Cestre, John Thelwall: a pioneer of democracy and social reform in England during the French Revolution (London, 1906). J.O. Baylen and N.J. Gossman (eds), Biographical dictionary of modern British radicals (2 vols) (Hassocks, 1979–84) has a wide chronological reach but includes biographical entries for late eighteenth-century radicals. Iain McCalman (ed.), An Oxford companion to the romantic age: British culture 1776–1832 (Oxford, 1999) contains biographical matter on many figures of political importance in the period. John Derry, Politics in the age of Fox, Pitt and Liverpool (Basingstoke, 1990) and Michael J. Turner, British politics in an age of reform (Manchester, 1999) offer useful surveys of national politics. H.T. Dickinson, The politics of the people in eighteenth-century Britain (Basingstoke, 1994) examines popular attitudes, whilst J.A. Phillips, Electoral behaviour in unreformed England: plumpers, splitters and straights (Princeton, NJ, 1982) and Frank O’Gorman, Voters, patrons and parties: the unreformed electoral system of Hanoverian England 1734–1832 (Oxford, 1989) have revealed the complex choices confronting voters under the unreformed electoral system. See also the essays in Mark Philp (ed.), The French Revolution and British popular politics (Cambridge, 1991) and H.T. Dickinson (ed.), Britain and the French Revolution 1789–1815 (London, 1989).

182 Bibliography

There has been a renewal of interest in recent years in the fiscal, logistical and military capacity of the British state in the eighteenth century. Although its chronological span stops short of the 1790s, John Brewer’s The sinews of power: war, money and the English state 1688–1783 (London, 1989) has much to suggest about the later period. See also, in this vein, some of the contributions to Lawrence Stone (ed.), An imperial state at war: Britain from 1689 to 1815 (London, 1994). Linda Colley’s Britons: forging the nation 1707–1837 (New Haven, CT, 1992) made some influential suggestions about the connections between wartime mobilisations and the formation of national identity in these years, but note the scepticism of J.E. Cookson, whose The British armed nation 1793–1815 (Oxford, 1997) stresses the enduring quality of local loyalties. Austin Gee’s The British volunteer movement 1794–1814 (Oxford, 2003) should also be consulted. Clive Emsley, British society and the French wars 1793–1815 (London, 1979) examines the impact of war on many facets of British life. Most of the works mentioned here assume the unprecedented nature of the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars in their effects. But there are suggestions that the demands of the American War of 1776–83, or even the Seven Years War, were such that the wars against revolutionary France do not represent as sudden a break as is often imagined. See Stephen Conway, The British Isles and the War of American Independence (Oxford, 2000). Radicalism has a rich historiography. Simon Maccoby, English radicalism, 1786–1832: from Paine to Cobbett (London, 1955) was the first volume of a capacious history of nineteenth-century radicalism and liberalism. See also C.B. Cone, The English Jacobins: reformers in late eighteenth-century England (New York, 1968). H.T. Dickinson’s British radicalism and the French Revolution, 1789–1815 (London, 1985) is a short guide to events and the debates surrounding them, whilst Albert Goodwin’s The friends of liberty: the English democratic movement in the age of the French Revolution (London, 1979) supplies a detailed examination of its subject. The opening sections of E.P. Thompson’s The making of the English working class (London, 1963) insert plebeian radicalism into a broader narrative of working-class politicisation. Gwyn A. Williams’s Artisans and sans-culottes: popular movements in France and England during the French Revolution (London, 1968) is an interesting comparative study of radical mobilisation. R.A.E. Wells, Insurrection: the British experience 1795–1803 (Gloucester, 1983) is an exhaustive study of the revolutionary wing of British radicalism. The revolutionary era and its

Bibliography 183

legacy for radical politics are charted in different ways in J.R. Dinwiddy, Radicalism and reform in England 1780–1850 (London, 1992) and J.R. Epstein, Radical expression: political language, ritual and symbol in England 1790–1850 (New York, 1994). Rohan McWilliam traces the continuities and ruptures in his Popular politics in nineteenth-century England (London, 1998). Loyalism has until recently attracted less attention. It has found its sometimes rather credulous historian in R.R. Dozier, whose For king, constitution and country: the English loyalists and the French Revolution (Lexington, KY) appeared in 1983. H.T. Dickinson provides a more measured account of loyalism’s potency in his ‘Popular loyalism in Britain in the 1790s’, in Eckhart Hellmuth (ed.), The transformation of political culture: England and Germany in the late eighteenth century (Oxford, 1990), pp. 503–33, and Amanda Goodrich gives weight to the tactical flexibility of loyalist writers in her Debating England’s aristocracy in the 1790s: pamphlets, polemics and political ideas (Woodbridge, 2005). The great loyalist mobilisation of 1792–93 is described in D.E. Ginter, ‘The loyalist association movement of 1792–3 and British public opinion’, Historical Journal, IX (1966), pp. 179–90, and Austin Mitchell, ‘The association movement of 1792–3’, Historical Journal, IV (1961), pp. 56–77. The question of the government’s role in the establishment of the Crown and Anchor Society is settled in Michael Duffy, ‘William Pitt and the origins of the Loyalist Association Movement of 1792’, Historical Journal, XXXIX (1996), pp. 943–62. See also J.R. Western, ‘The volunteer movement as an anti-revolutionary force’, English Historical Review, LXXI (1956), pp. 603–14. The repressive powers of the state were examined critically in ‘An aspect of Pitt’s “Terror”: prosecutions for sedition during the 1790s’, Social History, VI (1981), pp. 155–84, by Clive Emsley. Emsley concluded that the ‘Terror’ did not amount to much, a view since challenged, or at least modified, by Steve Poole, ‘Pitt’s terror reconsidered: Jacobinism and the law in two south-western counties, 1791–1803’, Southern History, XVII (1995), pp. 65–87. A survey of repressive activity across the British Isles as a whole is much needed. See also Alan Wharam, The treason trials 1794 (Leicester, 1992). Conservative thought is dealt with in J.J. Sack, From Jacobite to conservative: reaction and orthodoxy in Britain c. 1760–1832 (Cambridge, 1983) and T.P. Schofield, ‘Conservative political thought in Britain in response to the French Revolution’, Historical Journal, XXIX (1986),

184 Bibliography

pp. 601–22. Robert Hole, Pulpits, politics and public order 1780–1832 (Cambridge, 1989) addresses the clerical defence of the established order. Anne Stott analyses an important reactionary voice in Hannah More: the first Victorian (London, 2004). Some of the personnel of conservatism can be studied in E.L. de Montluzin, The Anti-Jacobins, 1798–1800: early contributors to the ‘Anti-Jacobin Review’ (Basingstoke, 1988). Contrasting conservative interpretations of the era, the one stressing the ideological impregnability of England’s old regime, the other its benign paternalism, can be found in J.C.D. Clark, English society 1688–1832: ideology, social structure and political practice during the ancien régime (Cambridge, 1985) and Ian R. Christie, Stress and stability in late eighteenth-century Britain: reflections on the British avoidance of revolution (Cambridge, 1985). Significantly, both these books dwell upon England, yet our knowledge of the 1790s has been broadened appreciably in recent years by attending to developments across the British Isles as a whole. It is no exaggeration to say that our understanding of Ireland in the revolutionary epoch has been transformed in the last twenty years. Marianne Elliott’s Partners in revolution: the United Irishmen and France (London, 1982) restored Ireland’s significance in the political and strategic agenda. See as well her Wolf Tone: prophet of Irish independence (New Haven, CT, 1991). A reappraisal, indeed a rediscovery, of popular politics followed. See Jim Smyth, The men of no property: Irish radicals and popular politics in the late eighteenth century (Basingstoke, 1992), Nancy J. Curtin, The United Irishmen: popular politics in Ulster and Dublin 1791–1798 (Oxford, 1994) and Kevin Whelan, The tree of liberty: radicalism, Catholicism and the construction of Irish identity 1760–1830 (Cork, 1996). As the bicentennial of the 1798 rebellion drew near, some important collections of essays made their appearance: see David Dickson, Dáire Keogh and Kevin Whelan (eds), The United Irishmen: republicanism, radicalism and rebellion (Dublin, 1993) and Jim Smyth (ed.), Revolution, counter-revolution and union: Ireland in the 1790s (Cambridge, 2000). R.B. McDowell, Ireland in the age of imperialism and revolution 1760–1801 (Oxford, 1991) supplies a magisterial overview of the period. Wales has been less well served. Gwyn A. Williams produced two penetrating, and typically exuberant, studies of the relationship between democracy and national feeling in the revolutionary era in Madoc: the making of a myth (London, 1979) and The search for Beulah Land: the Welsh and the Atlantic Revolution (London, 1980), positioning Wales

Bibliography 185

within a wider Atlantic context. More recently, Hywel M. Davies has addressed a much neglected topic in his ‘Loyalism in Wales, 1792–93’, Welsh History Review, XX, 4 (2001), pp. 687–716. There is, nevertheless, a real historiographical gap here. The relevant volume of the Oxford History of Wales is keenly awaited. Scotland is also surprisingly neglected. Henry W. Meikle’s Scotland and the French Revolution (Glasgow, 1912), remains worth reading. Among modern works, Michael Fry, The Dundas despotism (Edinburgh, 1992) explores the system of control exercised by Pitt’s lieutenant in Scotland, whilst E.W. Macfarland, Ireland and Scotland in the age of revolution: planting the green bough (Edinburgh, 1994) places Scottish radicalism in a wider, Irish context. Studies of different localities can do much to assist our understanding of the national picture. Many more are needed, but see: John Beckett, ‘Responses to war: Nottingham in the French revolutionary and Napoleonic wars, 1793–1815’, Midland History, XXII (1997), pp. 71–84; J.A. Hone, For the cause of truth: radicalism in London, 1796–1821 (Oxford, 1982); C.B. Jewison, Jacobin city: a portrait of Norwich in its reaction to the French Revolution, 1788–1802 (Glasgow, 1971); Frida Knight, The strange case of Thomas Walker: ten years in the life of a Manchester radical (London, 1957); John Money, Experience and identity: Birmingham and the West Midlands 1760–1800 (Manchester, 1977); John Stevenson, Artisans and democrats: Sheffield in the French Revolution 1789–1797 (Sheffield, 1989); and J.L. Baxter and F.K. Connelly, ‘Sheffield and the English revolutionary tradition 1790–1820’, International Review of Social History, XXV (1975), pp. 398–423. Towns have been much studied in recent times as vibrant cradles of enlightened feeling: see Peter Borsay, The English urban renaissance: culture and society in the provincial town, 1660–1760 (Oxford, 1989) and P.J. Corfield, The impact of English towns 1700–1800 (Oxford, 1982). Indeed, the recent historiography of the Enlightenment has paid close attention to the social, institutional and even architectural context of what was once seen as a purely intellectual current. See Dorinda Outram, Enlightenment (Cambridge, 1995) and Roy Porter, Enlightenment: Britain and the creation of the modern world (London, 2000). The relationship between consumption and new forms of social interaction in the eighteenth century is the theme of John Brewer and Roy Porter’s edited collection Consumption and the world of goods (London, 1993), whilst

186 Bibliography

John Brewer presents a harmonious picture of cultural development in The pleasures of the imagination: English culture in the eighteenth century (London, 1997). Gender relations in the revolutionary era have been much written about. A landmark publication in this area was Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall’s Family fortunes: men and women of the English middle class, 1780–1850 (London, 1987), although Davidoff and Hall’s reliance upon ‘separate spheres’ as an organising category has been widely questioned in recent years: see, for example, Robert Shoemaker, Gender in English society 1650–1850: the emergence of separate spheres? (London, 1998) or – more thoroughgoing and with greater panache – Amanda Vickery, The gentleman’s daughter: women’s lives in Georgian England (New Haven, CT, 1998). A good deal of gender history has in fact been the history of middleclass women. Philip Carter, Men and the emergence of polite society: Britain 1660–1800 (London, 2001) supplies a much-needed guide to masculinity in the eighteenth century, whilst Anna Clark, The struggle for the breeches: gender and the making of the British working class (London, 1995) attempts an interpretation of politics and gender relations among the labouring classes. Bridget Hill, Women, work and sexual politics in eighteenth-century England (Oxford, 1989) should also be consulted. Sensibility, one of the key concepts for gender historians of the period, is explored in G.J. Barker-Benfield, The culture of sensibility: sex and society in eighteenth-century Britain (Chicago, IL, 1992). See also Chris Jones, Radical sensibility: literature and ideas in the 1790s (London, 1993), Janet Todd, Sensibility: an introduction (London, 1986) and Sylvana Tomaselli, ‘The Enlightenment debate on women’, History Workshop Journal, 20 (1988), pp. 101–24. ‘Enthusiasm’, another highly charged concept of the age, is the subject of Jon Mee’s Romanticism, enthusiasm, and regulation: poetics and the policing of culture in the Romantic period (Oxford, 2003). A general history of Protestant Dissent is supplied by Michael Watts, The Dissenters: from the Reformation to the French Revolution (Oxford, 1978). Variant views of Dissent’s contribution to political radicalism are given in Russell E. Richey, ‘The origins of British radicalism: the changing rationale for Dissent’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, VII (1973–74), pp. 179–92, and James Bradley, ‘Whigs and nonconformists: “slumbering radicalism” in English politics, 1739–89’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, IX (1975–76), pp. 1–27. See also John Seed, ‘Gentlemen Dissenters: the social and political meaning of Rational Dissent in the 1770s and 1780s’, Historical

Bibliography 187

Journal, XXVIII (1985), pp. 299–326, and D.M. Ditchfield, ‘The parliamentary struggle over the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts’, English Historical Review, LXXXIX (1974), pp. 55–77. Heterodox religiosity is addressed in J.F.C. Harrison, The second coming: popular millenarianism 1780–1850 (London, 1979). The political implications of fringe religion are explored in Iain McCalman, Radical underworld: prophets, revolutionaries, and pornographers, 1795–1840 (Cambridge, 1988) and Jon Mee, Dangerous enthusiasm: William Blake and the culture of radicalism in the 1790s (Oxford, 1992).


Abercromby, sir Ralph 24, 137 Aboukir, battle of 137 Act for the Suppression of Seditious and Treasonable Societies (1799) 75 Addison, Joseph 33, 80, 114 adultery 120–1, 123, 125, 149, 150 Africa 4, 38 Age of reason (1794) see Paine, Thomas Agrarian justice (1795) see Paine, Thomas agriculture 85–95, 103, 105, 131–2, 160, 165–6 Aikin, John 138 Alien Office 73, 149 America 4, 5, 6, 42, 74, 81, 139, 142, 143, 145, 148, 149–50, 151, 153, 155, 158 New Jersey 149 Pennsylvania 81, 158 Philadelphia 74, 155 Susquehanna valley 143, 158 see also American Revolution, American Revolution 5, 8–9, 16, 18, 22, 51, 56, 63, 76, 116, 141, 142, 145, 149, 152, 155, 157, 162, 163 Amiens, treaty of 28, 96 Analytical Review 33, 150, 165 Anglicanism 11, 12, 16, 22, 34, 47, 53–5, 77, 79, 85, 94–5, 116, 122, 126, 128, 132, 133, 140, 143, 147, 149, 151, 153, 156–7, 160, 161, 163–4, 166 Evangelical 54, 94–5, 116, 122, 126, 128, 147, 153, 156–7, 161, 163–4, 166 High Church 54–5, 122, 140, 149, 160, 163 see also Scottish Episcopal Church Annals of Agriculture 94, 166 Anti-Gallican Songster (1793) 60 see also song Anti-Jacobin 45, 83, 125

Anti-Jacobin Review 83, 139, 141–2, 144, 147, 156, 184 Anti-Levelling Songster (1793) 60 see also song ‘Antitype’ 145 anti-slavery 46, 147, 157, 163, 164 see also slavery aristocracy 6–7, 22, 43–4, 51, 103, 108, 114, 116, 120, 131, 135, 139, 141 Armagh see Ireland, counties Ashhurst, sir William 120, 137–8 assembly rooms 38–9, 112 Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Levellers and Republicans 19–20, 56–7, 58, 60, 158, 183 Association of the Friends of the People see Society of the Friends of the People associated for the purpose of obtaining a Parliamentary Reform Atlantic economy 5, 34, 35, 110 Aubrey, John 37 Auckland see Eden, William, lord Auckland Austerlitz, battle of 156 Australia 4, 20, 51, 135, 152, 153 Botany Bay 4, 20, 51 New South Wales 135, 152 Parramatta 152 Austria 19, 25 Bank of England 8, 25 Barbauld, Anna Laetitia 107, 138, 143 Barbauld, Rochement 138, 143 Barruel, Augustin 29, 83, 138 Bastille 12, 47, 77, 152, 163 Bath 10, 36, 39, 58 Association for Preserving Liberty, Property and the Constitution 58 Bath, marquesses of 10

190 Index Beaufort, dukes of 10 Beddoes, Thomas 71, 138 Belfast 60, 156 Bengal see India Bentham, Jeremy 130, 139, 152, 161 see also utilitarianism Berkeley, earls of 10 Berkshire 97, 131 Bible 31, 55, 76–9, 109 Bicheno, James 77 Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand: or, a sample of the times (1796) see Porter, James Biographia Literaria (1817) 82 see also Coleridge, Samuel Taylor Birmingham 33, 38, 63, 92–3, 139, 143, 162, 185 see also riots, Priestley ‘Black Lamp’ 75 Blackstone, William 6, 9 Bonaparte, Napoleon 25, 28, 145, 156, 159 Book of bobs (nd) see Spence, Thomas booksellers 20, 34, 139, 150, 160 Botanic garden (1791) see Darwin, Erasmus Botany Bay see Australia Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de 110 Boulton, Matthew 38, 139–40, 162 Bowles, John 45, 140 Real grounds of the present war with France (1793) 45 Reflections on the moral and political state of society at the close of the eighteenth century (1801) 107 Boyne, battle of 47 Bradford-on-Avon 40 breastfeeding 113 Brecon 73 Brentford 161 Brighton 39 Bristol 34, 40, 92, 138–9, 143, 153 ‘British Convention’ see conventions British Critic 33, 54, 156 Brothers, Richard 78–9, 140 ‘Brown Bread’ Act (1800) 91 Buckinghamshire 97 Burgh, James 51, 140 Burke, Edmund 2, 4, 15, 16–17, 29, 91, 94, 108, 115, 117, 129, 138, 140–1, 145, 146, 155, 157, 165, 179, 180 Letters on regicide peace (1796) 138, 141 Philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful (1757) 140 Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) 4, 15, 16–17, 108, 117, 141, 155, 157, 165, 179 Thoughts and details on scarcity (1795) 94

Thoughts on the causes of the present discontents (1770) 141 Bute see Stuart, John, third earl of Bute Caernarvon 74, 151 Caleb Williams (1794) see William Godwin Cambridge 31 see also universities Canning, George 133, 141–2, 149 Cardiff 55 Carmarthen 151 Cartwright, major John 52, 142, 148 Give us our rights! (1782) 148 Take your choice! (1776) 142 Case of the officers of excise (1772) see Paine, Thomas Catherine the Great 159 Catholic Association 132, 154 Catholic emancipation 27, 129, 132–4, 142, 146, 154, 156 catholicism 4, 7, 11, 16, 20, 22–3, 24, 47, 55, 132, 140, 153–4, 160 Cato Street conspiracy 160 Cavendish, Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire 120, 144 Cavendish-Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish, third duke of Portland 73, 157 census 85, 87, 131, 145 Charles I 54 Charles II 36, 47 Chartism 130, 132, 134–5, 142 Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–1798) see More, Hannah chemistry 71, 138, 162 children 113, 118, 123, 128 Clapham Sect 54, 122, 147 Clare see Ireland, counties Clarkson, Thomas 164 cloth halls 38 clubs 37–38, 43, 45, 112 Headstrong Club 37 Literary Club 37 Lunar Society 38, 139, 143, 162, 163 Political Economy Club 151 Cobbett, William 130, 132, 142 coffee houses 37, 58 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor 22, 80–2, 127, 138, 142–3, 159, 161, 165 Colley, Linda 62 Combination Act (1799) 75 ‘Committee of Bread’ 85, 90 Committee of Secrecy of the House of Commons 83, 127 conspiracy 29, 74–6, 144, 146, 154, 160 consumerism 112–13, 185 Contrast, The (1792) 60

Index 191 conventions 51 ‘British convention’ 20–1, 51 ‘Scottish Convention’ 20, 51, 153 Cook, captain James 110 cooperative societies 105, 134 Corday, Charlotte 151 corn laws 88, 133, 158 Cornwall 92, 156 Corporation Act (1661) 11–12, 16, 42–3, 47, 134, 138, 149, 157, 158, 164, 187 Cottle, Joseph 139 cotton industry 5, 49, 71, 162 ‘Country’ tradition 7 county associations 8–9, 162 ‘criminal conversation’ 120–2 Crown and Anchor Society see Association for Preserving Liberty and Property against Levellers and Republicans Cuba 153 Cursory strictures on the charge delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre (1794) see Godwin, William Cyfarthfa ironworks 62 Daer see Douglas, Basil William, lord Daer Darwin, Erasmus 139, 143–4, 162 The botanic garden (1791) 143 The loves of the plants (1789) 143 Zoonomia (1794) 143 debating societies 37, 43, 112, 134, 160 Declaration of the Rights of Man 3, 16 Decree of Fraternity (1792) 19 Defence of the Realm Act (1798) 27, 62, 63, 85 Defenders 23, 154 Defoe, Daniel 32, 38 democracy 1, 6, 17, 20, 130, 147, 148, 149 Despard, colonel Edward 65, 144, 154 Devizes 40 Devon 64, 142, 156 Devonshire, duchess of, see Cavendish, Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire diet 55, 56, 89, 94–5 Diggers 77 Discourse on the love of our country (1790), see Price, Richard Dissent 5, 11–12, 19, 20, 22–3, 42–3, 46, 48, 53, 74, 77, 79, 81, 133, 143, 148, 151, 154, 157, 159, 160, 161, 163, 164, 165, 186 Dissenting academies 42, 138, 151, 161 Dissertation on the poor laws (1786) see Townsend, Joseph Dorset 97, 131 Douglas, Basil William, lord Daer 143 Down see Ireland, counties

Dublin 5, 11, 20, 22–3, 33, 48, 50, 59, 75, 103, 132, 140, 146 duelling 43, 114, 137 Dundas, Henry, first viscount Melville 10, 64, 144–5 Durham 18 East Anglia 6, 30, 48, 53, 92, 97, 148, 159 East India Company see India Eaton, Daniel Isaac 73, 145 economic theory 86, 91, 93–4, 98–102, 130, 151, 157 ‘economical reform’ 9 Eden, William, lord Auckland 91, 121–2, 138, 149 Eden, sir William Morton 89, 95, 145 Edinburgh 20–1, 135, 153, 163 see also universities elections 47, 181 general election of 1796 22, 50, 144 electoral system 9–11, 68, 134, 181 see also parliamentary constituencies Emigrant, The (1793) see Imlay, Gilbert emigration 74, 15, 153 émigrés 73–4, 82 empire 4–6, 35, 144 Émile (1762) see Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Emsley, Clive 53 engrossing see forestalling, regrating and engrossing Enlightenment 16, 29–44, 65, 69, 70, 77, 91, 108, 110–12, 114, 128, 132, 143, 150, 152, 157, 159, 162, 185 Enquiry concerning political justice (1793) see Godwin, William Enquiry into the duties of the female sex (1797) see Gisborne, Thomas Enquiry into the duties of men (1795) see Gisborne, Thomas ‘enthusiasm’ 79–81, 186 Entire and complete history, political and personal, of the boroughs of Great Britain (1792) see Oldfield, T.H.B. Essay on government (1820) see Mill, James Essay on the principle of population (1798) see Malthus, Thomas Robert Essay towards a definition of animal vitality (1793) see Thelwall, John Ferguson, Adam 3, 110, 145 Fifth Monarchy Men 77 ‘Financial Interest’ 8 Fitzgerald, lord Edward 24, 103, 133, 145–6 Fitzwilliam, William Wentworth, second earl Fitzwilliam 23, 146 Flanders 61, 96, 137

192 Index Flintshire 61 Foreign Office 141 Forest of Dean 92 forestalling, regrating and engrossing 90–3, 102, 150 Fox, Charles James 12, 16, 115, 144, 145, 146, 156, 157, 180 Foxe’s Book of Martyrs 31 Foxite Whigs see Whig party francophobia 55–6 Franklin, Benjamin 27, 140 Freemasonry 41, 65 French Revolution 1, 3, 4, 12, 15–16, 22–3, 29, 32, 41, 50–1, 56, 70–1, 76, 78, 81–2, 83, 108, 116–18, 127–8, 132, 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 145, 146, 151, 153, 155, 157–8, 158–9, 161, 162, 164, 165, 181 Frend, William 71, 142, 147, 161, 165 Frome 40 Fuseli, Henry 124 ‘Gagging Acts’ 22, 52, 65, 71, 74, 130 Gales, Joseph gambling 43–4, 120, 137, 144 gender 107–26 passim, 128, 186 Gentleman’s Magazine 33 George II 36 George III 8, 36, 50, 56, 63, 116, 132, 133, 146, 156, 164 Gillray, James 56, 147, 149 Gisborne, Thomas 126, 147 Give us our rights! (1782) see Cartwright, major John Glasgow 33 see also universities ‘Glorious First of June’ 48 Glorious Revolution 7, 12, 16, 31, 47, 68, 157, 162 Godwin, William 15, 69–71, 82, 83, 98–9, 107, 125–6, 129, 143, 147, 148, 151, 159, 165, 179, 180, 181 Caleb Williams (1794) 71 Cursory strictures on the charge delivered by Lord Chief Justice Eyre (1794) 148 Enquiry concerning political justice 69–71, 107, 148, 159 Memoirs of the author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman 15, 125–6, 148 Goldsmith, Oliver 40 Gordon riots see riots Great Reform Act (1832) 134 Grey, Charles, second earl Grey 163 Greyabbey 156 Guardian of Education see Trimmer, Sarah Gunpowder Plot 47

habeas corpus, suspension of 21, 51–2 Hackney 161 Haileybury 151 hair 46, 82 Hamburg 75 Hampshire 131 Hamsey 57 Hardy, Thomas 21, 52, 57, 148 Harrogate 39 harvests 21, 27, 64, 75, 85–7, 88–9 Hastings, Warren 6 History of the boroughs (1792) see Oldfield, T.H.B. History of the corruptions of Christianity (1782) see Priestley, Joseph Hoche, Louis Lazare 62, 148–9 Hodgskin, Thomas 105 Holcroft, Thomas 147 Home Office 52–3, 72, 73, 74, 81, 85 Horne, George, bishop of Norwich 160 Horsley, Samuel, bishop of St Davids 53–4, 149 House of Commons 6, 9, 11, 12, 26, 83, 127, 156 House of Lords 6, 54 Howe, Richard, earl Howe 48 Hume, David 93, 114 Hunt, Henry 130, 149 Huskisson, William 133, 149 Hutton, William 38 Illuminati 138 Imlay, Fanny 150 Imlay, Gilbert 124, 149–50, 165 Topographical description of the western territory of north America (1792) 150 Emigrant, The (1793) 150 improvement commissions 39 India 4, 5, 6, 10, 151 Bengal 4, 5, 6 East India Company 4, 10, 151 industrialisation 5–6, 27, 41, 75, 86–7, 106, 131, 133 Inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776) see Smith, Adam Insurrection Act (1796) 24, 25, 83 Investigation of the cause of the present high price of provisions (1800) see Malthus, Thomas Robert Ireland 2, 4–5, 11, 20, 22–7, 33, 48, 50, 59, 62, 63, 65, 74–5, 78, 83, 87, 130, 132, 137, 144, 145, 146, 148–9, 154, 156, 184, 185 Act of Union (1800) 27 counties Armagh 154

Index 193 Clare 154 Down 156 Kerry 154 Mayo 25, 78 Wexford 25, 132 Ulster 20, 22, 24, 30 1798 rebellion 24–5, 75, 82, 127, 132–3, 153–4 iron industry 5, 6, 62, 72 Islington 147 Italy 25 jacobitism 42, 46, 52, 53, 154 James II 7 John Bull 147 Johnson, Joseph 52, 77, 150, 165 Johnson, Samuel 79 Jones, William 54, 150, 160 Scholar armed against the errors of the time, The (1793) 150 Kenyon, Lloyd 91–2, 120–1, 137, 150 Kerry see Ireland, counties Labour defended against the claims of capital (1825) see Hodgskin, Thomas Lafayette, marquis de 146 Lambeth 144 Lancashire 6, 26, 64 ‘Landed Interest’ 8 Leeds 36, 38 Letters on a regicide peace (1796) see Burke, Edmund Letters written in France (1790) see Williams, Helen Maria levée en masse 63–4 Lewes 37 Lewis, George 74, 151 liberal toryism 133, 149 libraries 34, 38, 134 Licensing Act 32, 33 Lincolnshire 100 Lismore 153 literacy 31–2, 35, 49 Liverpool 34, 36, 38 Locke, John 80 London 5, 8, 18, 21, 25, 31, 36, 37–8, 75, 112, 120, 148, 150, 151, 153, 160–1, 164 London Corresponding Society 18, 21–2, 26, 48–51, 57, 65, 69, 73, 74, 134, 143, 144, 145, 147, 148, 159, 161, 179 London Revolution Society 16, 157 see also revolution societies Louis XIV 7, 36 Louis XVI 20, 54, 81, 147, 149

Loves of the plants (1789) see Darwin, Erasmus Loves of the triangles (1798) 144 Lovett, John 29 Low Countries 19, 25, 35 Lowther, sir James 165 loyalism 2, 19–20, 41, 42, 47, 53–63, 67, 72–3, 183, 185 loyal addresses 19, 56, 67 see also francophobia Luddism 76 Lunar Society see clubs luxury 5, 104, 115, 116 Lynam, George 73 Lyrical ballads (1798) 80–2, 165 see also Wordsworth, William Mackintosh, sir James 129, 151 Making of the English working class, The (1963) 75, 182 Malthus, Thomas Robert 105–06, 107, 131, 151, 161, 180 Essay on the principle of population (1798) 98–102 Investigation of the cause of the present high price of provisions (1800) 102 Manaccan 156 Manchester 47, 49, 58, 71, 162–3, 185 Bull’s Head Association 58 Church and King Society 162 Constitutional Society 49, 162–3 Patriotic Society 49 Revolution Society 162 Marat, Jean-Paul 48, 151 Margate 154 Marie-Antoinette 108, 117 marriage 107, 113, 115, 117–18, 125 Marseillaise 51 Mary II 7 Mary: a fiction (1788) see Wollstonecraft, Mary masculinity 113–114, 186 Mayo see Ireland, counties Mealmaker, George 45, 152 Memoirs illustrating the history of Jacobinism (1797) see Barruel, Augustin Memoirs of the author of the Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1798) see Godwin, William Memoirs of the different rebellions in Ireland (1801) see Musgrave, sir Richard Merry, Robert 74, 152 Merthyr Tydfil 62, 85 Mexico 153 Middlesex 120, 137 militia 20, 63, 152

194 Index Mill, James 130, 152 Millar, John 110, 152, 153 Origins of the distinctions of ranks (1771) 34, 111 millenarianism 76–79, 140, 149, 187 mining 92 mobilisation, military 1, 61–65, 85, 96, 182 mobilisation, political 19–20 anniversaries 47 demonstrations 19, 47, 64, 147 feasts 47, 62 meetings 47, 56, 57 mobs 48, 57, 64 radical societies 48–52, 57 monarchy 6–7, 68, 102–03, 108, 158 Montgomery, James 52, 152 Moore, Thomas 132 More, Hannah 65, 108, 122, 124, 128, 150, 153 Cheap Repository Tracts (1795–1798) 153 Strictures on female education (1799) 29, 107, 153 Thoughts on the importance of the manners of the great to general society (1788) 119, 153 Village politics (1792) 59–60, 118–19, 153, 157 Mostyn family 10 Muir, Thomas 20–1, 51, 72, 153 see also ‘Scottish Martyrs’ Musgrave, sir Richard 132, 153–4 music 47 see also song nabobs 6 Nash, Richard 40–1 navy 42, 48, 61, 64, 85, 140 1797 mutinies 25–6 Nayland 54, 150 Nether Stowey 81 New Jersey see America New South Wales see Australia Newcastle upon Tyne 39, 160 Newfoundland 158 Newton, sir Isaac 80 newspapers 33, 52, 134 Aris’s Birmingham Gazette 33 Birmingham and Stafford Chronicle 33 Hog’s Wash 145 L’Ami du Peuple 151 Northern Star 156 Norwich Post 33 Politics for the People 78, 145 Sheffield Iris 152 Sheffield Register 152 The Times 120 Watchman 143

Norfolk 97, 155 Norman conquest 50 North, Frederick, second earl of Guilford 64, 141, 146, 156 Norwich 30, 33, 53, 159, 160, 185 Norwich Society for Political Information 53, 159 Norwich United Constitutional Society 159 Nottingham 50, 185 Nottinghamshire 142 oaths 83, 152 Observations on the nature of civil liberty (1776) see Price, Richard Observations on various plans for the relief of the poor (1988) see Townsend, Joseph O’Coigly, James 75, 154 O’Connell, Daniel 132, 154 Œconomy of charity (1787) see Trimmer, Sarah ‘Old Corruption’ 130 Oldfield, T.H.B. 68, 154–5 Entire and complete history, political and personal, of the boroughs of Great Britain (1792) 154–5 Representative history of Great Britain and Ireland (1816) 155 Oldham 89 On the principles of political economy and taxation (1817) see Ricardo, David Orange Order 24 Original stories from real life (1788) see Wollstonecraft, Mary Origins of the distinctions of ranks (1771) see Millar, John Oxford 31 see also universities Oxfordshire 92–3, 97 Paddy’s Resource see Porter, James Paine, Thomas 2, 4, 17–18, 19, 37, 42, 59, 65, 66, 81, 102–03, 105, 129, 130, 131, 145, 146, 155, 157, 179, 180 Age of reason (1794) 129, 145, 155, 157 Agrarian justice (1795) 103–04, 105, 155 Case of the officers of excise (1772) 155 Common sense (1775) 155 Rights of man (1791–1792) 4, 17–18, 59, 102–03, 155 Palgrave 138 Pantisocracy 143 Papacy 11, 22 Paris 3, 12, 23, 50, 56, 74, 116, 146, 149, 152, 163 parliamentary constituencies Bath 10 Cromartyshire 10

Index 195 Denbighshire 10 Dublin 11 Flintshire 10 Gloucestershire 10 Hull 163 Lismore 153 Malmesbury 10 Monmouth 10 Preston 10 Weobley 10 Westminster 9 Yorkshire 9, 163 Parochial Relief Act (1801) 95 Parramatta 152 Peace and union recommended (1793) see Frend, William Peel, sir Robert 152 Peep o’Day Boys 154 Pembrokeshire 62 Pennsylvania see America Pernicious effects of the art of printing upon society, exposed (1794) 58, 145 Peterloo 130, 146 Pewsey 161 Philadelphia see America philanthropy 94–5, 101–02, 160, 161 Philosophical enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful (1757) see Burke, Edmund Pitt, William 10, 12, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26, 51, 64, 69, 72, 75, 79, 85, 97, 100, 129, 133, 137, 139, 141, 144, 149, 156, 157, 158, 161, 164, 180 Pitt, William, earl of Chatham 156 pleasure gardens 36, 38 Poems on various subjects (1787) see Thelwall, John poetry 80–1, 138, 152, 160–1, 164 politeness 30, 39–44, 114 Political disquisitions (1774) see Burgh, James Political Economy Club see clubs Polwhele, Richard 125–6, 156 Poor Law Amendment Act (1834) 131 poor laws 85, 93, 95–8,100–03, 106, 131, 134, 158, 161 population 87, 98–102, 105–06 Porter, James 29, 60, 156 Billy Bluff and Squire Firebrand: or, a sample of the times (1796) 29, 156 Paddy’s Resource (1795) 60, 156 Porteus, Beilby, bishop of London 37, 59, 153, 156–7 Portland see Cavendish-Bentinck, William Henry Cavendish, third duke of Portland Powell, James 73

Practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country (1797) see Wilberforce, William Prelude 82 see also Wordsworth, William press freedom 22, 134, 164 Price, Richard 16, 30, 68, 69, 76, 77, 84, 140, 141, 145, 148, 157, 180 Discourse on the love of our country (1790) 16, 157 Observations on the nature of civil liberty (1776) 148, 157 Priestley, Joseph 38, 42, 74, 76, 138, 139, 140, 143, 149, 150, 157, 181 History of the corruptions of Christianity (1782) 149 see also riots, Priestley primogeniture 103–04, 118 Principles of moral philosophy (1789) see Gisborne, Thomas prints 56, 60 Proclamation Society 54, 116, 157, 163–4 Proofs of a conspiracy against all the religions and governments of Europe (1798) see Robison, John prophecy 77–79 Prophecy of the French Revolution and the downfall of Antichrist (1793) 78 protestantism 4, 11, 16, 20, 22–3, 42, 78–9 see also Anglicanism, Dissent Prussia 25 public houses 47, 48, 50, 57, 58, 62, 76, 97, 144, 159 public sphere 34–44, 134 publicans 20, 53, 57, 159 publishing 32–4, 52, 58–60, 73, 77, 134, 150, 152 Quakerism 42, 155 Quebec 4 Queen Anne’s Bounty 160 Ranelagh see pleasure gardens reading clubs 30 Real grounds of the present war with France (1793) see Bowles, John Reeves, John 20, 56, 158 Thoughts on the English Government (1795) 158 regrating see forestalling, regrating and engrossing Reflections on the moral and political state of society at the close of the eighteenth century (1801) see Bowles, John Reflections on the Revolution in France (1790) see Burke, Edmund

196 Index Reply to some parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address (1798) see Gilbert Wakefield Representative history of Great Britain and Ireland (1816) see Oldfield, T.H.B. republicanism 6, 7, 18, 22, 129, 132, 146, 147 Restorer of society to its natural state (1801) see Spence, Thomas Revealed knowledge of the prophecies and the times (1793) see Brothers, Richard revolution societies 12, 16, 157, 162 revolutionary underground 26, 152, 154, 160, 182, 185 Ricardo, David 105–06, 158 On the principles of political economy and taxation (1817) 158 Richardson, Samuel 114 Rights of man (1791–1792) see Paine, Thomas Rights of nature (1796) see Thelwall, John Rights of woman (1795) see Barbauld, Anna Laetitia riots 19, 48 food 64, 86, 92–3 Gordon 47 Priestley 19, 42, 46, 66, 158 Spa Fields 160 Robespierre, Maximilien Marie Isidore de 48, 52, 158–9 Robinson, Henry Crabb 72, 159 Robison, John 29, 83, 159, 162 Rochdale 93 Rochester 149 Rockingham see Wentworth, Charles Watson, second marquess of Rockingham Rockinghamite Whigs see Whig party Rome 6, 22, 117 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 93, 99, 123, 124, 145, 158, 159, 161 Émile (1762) 123 Social contract (1762) 159 Royal Proclamation against Seditious Publications (1792) 19, 56 Royal Proclamation for the Encouragement of Piety and Virtue, and for the Preventing and Punishing of Vice, Profaneness and Immorality (1787) 116 Russia 139, 159 Saint, Isaac 53, 159 St Asaph 149 St Davids 53, 149 St Paul 109 Salford 58

Scarborough 39 Scotland 10–11, 20–1, 26, 33, 51, 64, 72, 87, 110, 132, 144–5, 151, 152, 153, 159, 162, 163, 185 ‘Scottish Convention’ see conventions Scottish Episcopal Church 160 ‘Scottish martyrs’ 20–1, 51, 72, 135 Scottish Society for Constitutional Information 143 secrecy 68, 71–76, 83 sedition, trials for 20–1, 51, 52–53, 72, 152, 153, 179 Seditious Meetings Act see ‘Gagging Acts’ sensibility 80, 114–16, 118, 122, 186 sermons 16, 53–4, 55 sexuality 107, 115–16, 121–2 Scholar armed against the errors of the time, The (1793) see Jones, William Sheffield 18, 19, 48, 50, 52, 85, 88, 93, 152, 185 Sheffield Society for Constitutional Information 18, 48, 50, 88 Shelley, Mary 125, 165 Shelley, Percy 129 Sheridan, Richard Brinsley 144, 157 shoemakers 49 shopping 112–13 Signs of the times (1793) see Bicheno, James Sins of government, sins of the nation (1793) see Barbauld, Anna Laetitia ‘Six Acts’ (1819) 130 slavery 4, 38, 42, 46, 144 see also anti-slavery Smith, Adam 87, 93, 97, 105–06, 110, 114, 159 An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (1776) 34, 91, 94, 159 Theory of moral sentiments (1759) 159 Social contract (1762) see Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Society for Bettering the Condition and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor 94–5, 97, 164 Society for Constitutional Information 18, 48, 68, 69, 143, 154, 162 Society for Enforcing the King’s Proclamation against Immorality and Idleness see Proclamation Society Society for the Reformation of Principles 54 Society of the Friends of the People associated for the purpose of obtaining a Parliamentary Reform 68, 153, 163 Society of United Irishmen see United Irishmen

Index 197 Some remarks on the apparent circumstances of the war in the fourth week of October 1795 (1795) see Eden, William, lord Auckland Somerset 81, 165 song 45, 46, 50, 50–1, 60, 67 Southey, Robert 139, 142, 143 Spain 153 Sparta 93–4 spas 39–40 Spa Fields see riots Spectator, The 33 Speenhamland system 97–8 Spence, Thomas 78,105, 160, 180 Book of bobs (nd) 78 Restorer of society to its natural state (1801) 160 spies 49, 67, 72–5, 85 Staffordshire 147 State of the poor (1797) see Eden, sir Frederick Morton State of the representation in England and Wales (1793) 68 Statistical Society of London 151 Steele, Richard 33, 80, 114 Stevens, Willam 54, 160 Stewart, Dugwald 143 Strictures on female education (1799) see More, Hannah Stuart, John, third earl of Bute 8 Suffolk 138, 143, 150 sumptuary laws 30–1 Susquehanna valley see America Sussex 57, 131 Swift, Jonathan 8 Tahiti 110 Take your choice! (1776) see Cartwright, major John Tatler, The 33 taxation 26–7, 72, 102–03 Terror 71, 128, 151, 159 Test Act (1673) 11–12, 16, 42–3, 47, 134, 138, 149, 157, 158, 164, 187 Thelwall, Algernon Sydney 50 Thelwall, Hampden 50 Thelwall, John 22, 37, 50, 52, 70, 73, 74, 81–2, 143, 160–1, 180, 181 Essay towards a definition of animal vitality (1793) 160 Rights of nature (1796) 104–05 Poems on various subjects (1787) 160 Theory of moral sentiments (1759) see Smith, Adam Thompson, E.P. 75 Thoughts and details on scarcity (1795) see Burke, Edmund

Thoughts on the causes of the present discontents (1770) see Burke, Edmund Thoughts on the education of daughters (1787) see Wollstonecraft, Mary Thoughts on the English Government (1795) see Reeves, John Thoughts on the importance of the manners of the great to general society (1788) see More, Hannah tobacco 5, 34 Tolpuddle Martyrs 83 Tone, Theobold Wolfe 184 Topographical description of the western territory of north America (1792) see Imlay, Gilbert Townsend, Joseph 85, 96–7, 101, 161 trade unions 75, 134 Trafalgar 64 Traitorous Correspondence Act (1793) 73 treason, trials for 21, 51, 71, 72, 75, 144, 148, 156, 161, 162, 163, 179 Treasonable Practices Act (1795) see ‘Gagging Acts’ Trimmer, Sarah 128, 161 Guardian of Education 128 Œconomy of charity (1787) 161 Tunbridge 39 Ulster see Ireland Unitarianism 143, 147, 150, 151, 157, 165 United Britons 144 United Englishmen 26, 64–5, 74–5, 127 United Irishmen 20, 23–6, 30, 34, 48, 59, 60, 64, 65, 74–5, 82, 103, 127, 132–3, 154, 184 United Scotsmen 26, 64–5, 75, 127, 152 universities Cambridge 34, 71, 142, 147, 151, 161, 162, 164, 165 Edinburgh 143, 145, 153, 159 Glasgow 152, 153, 156, 159, 162 Oxford 34, 71, 138, 143 Scottish 34 Trinity College Dublin 34, 140 Unsex’d females (1798) see Polwhele, Richard ‘urban renaissance’ 30, 37–41, 112, 185 urbanisation 5–6, 8, 35–6, 80, 90, 131, 133, 185 utilitarianism 131, 152, 158 Vauxhall see pleasure gardens Versailles 36, 117 Village politics (1792) see More, Hannah Vindication of the rights of men (1790) see Wollstonecraft, Mary

198 Index Vindication of the rights of woman (1792) see Wollstonecraft, Mary Vindiciae Gallicae (1791) see Mackintosh, sir James Volunteer Act (1794) 61 volunteer corps 46, 61–4, 72, 137, 149, 183 Birmingham Light Horse Volunteers 63 Birmingham Loyal Association 63 Cyfarthfa corps 62 Loyal Holywell Volunteers 61 Wakefield, Gilbert 52, 151, 161–2 Reply to some parts of the Bishop of Llandaff’s Address (1798) 52, 162 Wales 1, 9, 57, 73, 77, 79, 93, 151, 184–5 Walker, Thomas 49, 71, 162, 185 Walsh, John 74, 81 war 7–8 of American Independence 8, 18, 56, 63–4, 68, 137, 144, 149, 162, 164, 182 French revolutionary 19, 25–8, 48, 56, 61–5, 75, 81, 139, 144–5, 152, 156, 164, 182 Seven Years 36, 137, 182 Warrington 138, 151, 161 Washington, George 137 Watson, Richard, bishop of Llandaff 52, 54–5, 162 Watt, James (1736–1819) 38, 139, 159, 162–3 Watt, James (1769–1848) 162–3 Watt, Robert 21, 163 Wedgwood, Josiah 38, 112–13, 139, 143, 163 Wells, Roger 92 Wentworth, Charles Watson, second marquess of Rockingham 141, 146, 157 Wesley, John 79, 163

West Country 6, 40, 93, 161, 165 West Indies 4, 5, 6, 48, 96, 137, 144 Wexford see Ireland, counties Whig party 7, 9, 12, 16, 22, 23, 26, 120, 141, 144, 146, 151, 157, 162, 163 Whitbread, Samuel 95, 100, 163 Wilberforce, William 54, 82, 116, 119, 122, 147, 163–4, 166 Practical view of the prevailing religious system of professed Christians in the higher and middle classes in this country (1797) 119 Wilkes, John 8, 43, 114, 164 William of Orange 7, 12, 16, 36 Williams, Gwyn A. 1 Williams, Helen Maria 15, 117–18, 164 Williams Wynn family 10 Wiltshire 131, 161 Windham, William 157 Wollstonecraft, Mary 35, 108, 117, 122–6, 128, 129, 148, 150, 153, 164–5, 179, 180, 181 Mary: a fiction (1788) 165 Original stories from real life (1788) 164 Thoughts on the education of daughters (1787) 164 Vindication of the rights of men (1790) 165 Vindication of the rights of woman (1792) 123–4, 126, 165, 179 Wolverhampton 64 Wordsworth, John 165 Wordsworth, William 15, 80–2, 143, 161, 165 Yeomanry Act (1796) 23–4 Yorkshire 6, 9, 38, 64, 146 Young, Arthur 94, 165–6 Zoonomia (1794) see Darwin, Erasmus