pursuits, in any pursuits of life, is, to say the least of him, a contemptible creature, one who is generally despised by all classes; but a weathercock in politics, which is the same as a weathercock in principle, is a being not only despicable but most mischievous. To blow hot and to blow cold, in the same breath, or to maintain one opinion to-day and another opinion tomorrow, and the next day to revert to the former opinion, is not so much a proof of a weak head, as a sure proof of a profligate, an abandoned, and a dishonest heart. I do not mean to say that a man cannot alter his opinion without being dishonest; far from it; to maintain this proposition would be to deny the possibility of improvement in the human understanding. But that man is to be dreaded and avoided, who can change his principles, or desert his public duty, from private pique, or selfish, interested motives; such a man would sacrifice not only his principles, but he would sacrifice his dearest friends, nay, a whole nation, to gratify his malignant and selfish passion for revenge; such a passion springs wholly from cowardice; and as a coward is always the most cruel of mortals, such a man, from mere cowardice, is always the most revengeful and remorseless; and he would wade up to his knees in human blood to accomplish his private and selfish ends. Therefore, of all the deadly sins with which public men are accused, oh! save me and protect me, from the misfortune, from the indelible disgrace, of being deservedly pronounced AN INCONSISTENT CHARACTER! I have never praised Napoleon, or at least I have never intended to eulogise him, as a friend of freedom. I have characterised him as a brave and noble-minded man; and the reason why I have been led away sometimes, perhaps, to be too general in my praises and admiration of the man is, not because he was not a tyrant himself, but because I always found him more disposed to tyrannize over mighty tyrants than he was to crush the weak and the unprotected. Possibly all mankind are by nature tyrannical. Take, for instance, the most humane, the most generous, the most sincere lover of liberty, and one who has been the most steady practiser of it—to such a man even as this only give an unlimited, uncontrouled, and unrestricted sway over his fellow-creatures, and ten to one but he becomes an arbitrary tyrant; when, on the other hand, if he had been restrained within due bounds, by means of the proper checks and guards prescribed by a free constitution, he would have been one of freedom's brightest ornaments, one of liberty's safest, staunchest, guardians and protectors. So it was with Napoleon. If the tyrants of Europe had suffered him to remain First Consul of France, surrounded by such men as Carnot, to guard the liberties and rights of Frenchmen, and to controul their ruler's actions, Napoleon possessed all the qualifications for making a mild, liberal, and patriotic, as well as a brave and brilliant ruler. But the despots and tyrants of Europe dreaded such an example; they dreaded the example of freedom which the then constitution conferred upon the people of France. It was not Napoleon's political influence, great as it was, that excited their hatred, but they dreaded the little remaining liberty that the French people possessed, and it was their combined efforts, supported, maintained, and cherished, by the wealth of the people of England, that drove the French nation to submit to the hard and cruel necessity of placing unlimited authority in his hands, and consequently preparing the way for a great tyranny, and compelling him to be a tyrant. My sincere and unchangeable opinion is, that few men ever lived, who, if they had been masters of the same boundless power that Napoleon was, would not have made much more cruel and more arbitrary tyrants than he ever did, and have exercised it more vindictively against the liberties of mankind than he did. My admiration of Napoleon has, therefore, been always by comparison, as contrasted with the sanguinary and remorseless tyrants who were opposed to him; men who had sworn eternal abhorrence of liberty, eternal war against it; men, who, at the time that they professed a hatred of the tyranny of Napoleon, were themselves the greatest tyrants in the universe, and whose sole aim in destroying Napoleon's power was to rivet the chains of slavery upon the inhabitants of the whole civilized world, and who have since sworn upon the altar of the Holy Alliance to maintain an indissoluble union, for the purpose of extinguishing every spark of freedom, wherever it may arise. Napoleon was the enemy, the successful enemy of these tyrants; and under his sway, despotic as it might apparently be, and governed by the excellent code of laws that bears the name of its author, the people of France enjoyed a tenfold greater portion of liberty than any of the people who lived under the protection, or rather who groaned under the pretended forms of law and justice exercised by the hypocritical tyrants who were opposed to him. All these tyrants had made war upon France, because the French had the spirit to overthrow the most execrable tyranny that ever cursed mankind; they made war against French liberty and French principles, before Napoleon was known; he was the child of fortune, who sprung up during the Revolution, and his talent and bravery pointed him out to the people of France as the most likely man successfully to oppose her enemies. He was elevated to unlimited power through the rancour and the malice of those who had sworn in their hearts to restore the hated Bourbons, the Pope, the Devil, and the Inquisition. While he exercised that power he subdued all those who resisted him, and his greatest fault, his greatest crime, was his generosity to the Austrian, Russian, and Prussian despots: having had those enemies to liberty and humanity in his power, it was a crime, an offence, in the eye of God and man, not to annihilate them, and thus secure the human race from the continuance of their arbitrary and brutal domination. Napoleon having conquered them all, restored them all to power, and when they got him into their clutches, the return whichthey made him was, to banish him, to linger out the remainder of his life upon a barren rock, in a noxious and pestilential climate, cut off from the society even of his wife and son. Peace to his manes, for he beat, he humbled, and he subdued, the greatest of tyrants, and he was the author of the Napoleon code, which restrained the power of infamous Judges, and established a real, instead of a mock trial by jury. These are the traits of Napoleon's character, which, as an Englishman, I admire; had I been a Frenchman, I should have adored him. He is dead and gone, and John Gull is beginning to reap the bitter fruits that were sown to procure Napoleon's destruction. John is now grumbling, because he is called upon by the despots to pay the bill, to discharge the expenses which they incurred in dethroning and destroying NAPOLEON, and restoring Louis to the throne of France. I hope and I believe these is not a man in the world who hates and detests tyrants and tyranny more than I do; yet I trust that I may, nevertheless, be permitted to admire certain traits in the character of the brave and murdered Napoleon, without being justly accused of inconsistency. If I am asked whether I should like to live under such a tyrant and such a tyranny as existed in France, during the latter days of Napoleon's reign, I answer NO. But if I must submit to a tyrant, let it be to one that I can look up to, and whose superior qualities I can admire, rather than to a despicable wretch, who has not one noble quality, but, on the contrary, is deserving of contempt, derision, and execration. I have been led into this digression by the recollection of hearing a very pretty little girl say, that she had been kissed by the filthy old beast Blucher, at Portsmouth, where the sceptered tyrants and their whole train had been to view the English fleet and the naval arsenal. This young lady, who was really a very pretty delicate girl, I had always before considered as also a very amiable and a very modest girl; but, after hearing her boast of having been kissed by that dirty old animal, I could never look upon her but with pity, mingled with disgust.
On the 20th of June, peace was proclaimed in London. The country was still intoxicated, or rather insane, with the idea of the GLORY that had been obtained by the downfall of one man, against whom all the despots in Europe had been united, and all the wealth of nations had been squandered during fourteen years. On the 25th, there was a naval review at Portsmouth, to amuse the Royal tyrants; and on the 27th they all departed for Dover, where they embarked on the 28th. On the 7th of July, a mockery or thanksgiving for peace was offered up in these churches, where the tocsin of war had for so many years been sounded by the pious preachers of the Gospel, the servants of the meek and lowly Jesus. On this occasion the Prince Regent went in state to St. Paul's. On the 21st he gave a superb fete to two thousand five hundred persons, and on the 1st of August there was a pompous celebration, on account of the peace, held in Hyde and St. James's Parks, in the latter of which there was a grand display of fireworks; while, still further to amuse the John and Jenny Gulls of the cities of London and Westminster, there was a sham naval engagement got up on the Serpentine River, representing a battle between the British and American fleets. Of course the British fleet was victorious, and the Americans struck their colours, amidst the huzzas and shouts of the family of the Gulls, who, having for nearly a quarter of a century been gulled out of their money to pay the expenses of a sanguinary war, were now gulled out of an additional sum of their money to pay the expenses of a mock naval engagement with the Americans, who were in reality beating the British navy out of their lakes and seas. This was the way in which the peace was celebrated, and at the same time the jubilee to commemorate the accession of the House of Brunswick. It was a considerable drawback upon the pleasure to some of the Royal party, that, at the drawing-room which was held at Court, to receive the Royal visitors, the PRINCESS OF WALES WAS EXCLUDED; and as soon as the rejoicings were concluded, her Royal Highness quitted England, and embarked from Worthing for the Continent.
All this time the old King was confined at Windsor Castle, in some apartments which were padded six feet high; in these, blind and mad, he was suffered to wander about, a melancholy and disgusting object. It is confidently affirmed, however, that he had frequent intervals of reason, in which he was perfectly sensible of his forlorn and wretched fate. During one of these lucid intervals it is said that one of the domestics about his person informed him of the abdication of Napoleon; upon which he put himself in a great passion, and swore "it was a lie." This wretched old man was reduced from the highest pinnacle of grandeur to the most pitiable condition; none of his subjects were admitted to see him for many years; even his children were excluded, except upon particular occasions, and then they were admitted only in the presence of certain individuals. The old Queen had the care of his person, and it is currently reported that she governed his gracious Majesty (it being of course necessary to do so) with considerable harshness.
When one reflects upon the bloody reign of George the Third, and calls to mind the rivers of human gore that were shed during that reign; when one looks back to the period of the American war, which was generally understood to be a war of the King's, more than of his Ministers; when one calls to recollection the commencement of the French war, which, it has been asserted, was waged at his Majesty's particular instance, in opposition to the private opinion of Mr. Pitt; when one looks back on the numerous sanguinary penal statutes that were passed during this King's reign, and the thousands of victims that fell a sacrifice to them; when one contemplates the myriads upon myriads of brave Britons whose lives were offered up as a sacrifice to these Moloch wars, it may well and truly be called the UNFORTUNATE REIGN of King George the Third—which reign was concluded by the King himself being locked up, for many years, in his own castle, a solitary captive, suffering under the complicated and melancholy visitation of blindness and madness: and when one thinks of all this, one may, without being very superstitious, consider the catastrophe as an awful instance of the Divine vengeance levelled at the ruler of a sinful nation.
The story goes that a mouse had contracted a sort of friendly sympathy for the hoary-headed, sightless Royal maniac, and paid him such frequent visits, during his long captivity, that it was at length become quite tame, and would submit to be handled by the unfortunate shadow of a great monarch. The King was very much delighted with this friendly little visitant, and its little antics and gambols assisted him to pass away many a wearisome, sorrowful hour. Unfortunately, the Queen came into the room one day, before the little trembling animal had time to escape to its hiding place. The Queen eyed it before it had yet left the King's hand, and when she quitted the apartment she ordered the attendant to take care and kill that "nausty mose," before she came again. The attendant ventured to state that the poor old King was so exceedingly partial to the mouse, and appeared so much entertained with it, that he was fearful his Majesty would miss it very much, and that the loss of it might make him unhappy. The answer was "kill the nausty mose before I come again!" It was as much as the servant's situation was worth to disobey, and the poor little tame animal, too confident of its former protection, was easily caught and killed! The King, of course, soon missed the little solitary companion of his adversity, and for along time inquired the cause of its absence with the greatest earnestness; and when he found that it never came again, he grieved incessantly, more so than he did for any thing that happened to him during his long and cruel captivity.
So goes the tale, and I, for one, believe it. What a subject this for reflection, what a picture of misery, what an awful monument of fallen greatness! If the King had those lucid intervals of reason which it is said he had, his situation must have been, if possible, infinitely more deplorable than that of the captive of St. Helena; it must have been a thousand times more hopeless than that of the latter; shut up and confined for life in his own palace, by his own family, he must have soon lost all hope: while Napoleon, till he found that his dissolution was approaching, must have always been cheered by the hope, arising from ten thousand chances which could not fail to present themselves to his mind, of his being at length relieved from his iron bondage.
George the Third was the only King I ever saw, and I never wish to see another King. The last time I saw him was when he was getting out of his carriage at the Star, at Andover, on his return from Weymouth; which place he never after visited. His eyesight was then nearly gone, and his attendants were obliged to guide his feet, and to lead him like a child into the Inn. I had known him in his prime, and had frequently hunted with him. At the time when I saw him at Andover, he had indeed sadly fallen off, and his signature to all documents was effected by a stamp, some one directing his hand. All Acts of Parliament, all Commissions, all Death-warrants, and all Pardons, were for a long time signed in this manner. He who had signed more death-warrants than any mortal that ever breathed, and who could spare or kill human beings by the mere dash of his pen; alas! alas! he, once so powerful, could not now even save the life of a poor mouse. He who, as a mere matter of course, and perhaps without giving the subject a thought, had put his fiat on the black scrolls which ordered hundreds upon hundreds of his fellow creatures to be sent to their long homes, and executed in cold blood; he now grieved and lamented, and cried like a child, at the death of a mouse. I would have had the Emperor Alexander, the King of Prussia, and all the Royal Visitors, go down to Windsor, to be eye-witnesses of the "ills that (Royal) flesh is heir to:" they should have been reminded, by a personal interview with this poor old maniac, to what a wretched state it was possible even for the greatest monarch to be reduced, by the hand of Providence. That all-wise and just Providence, the same Power that permitted the Emperor NAPOLEON to be sent a prisoner to St. Helena; the same Power that permitted HENRY HUNT to remain a captive in Ilchester Bastile, for TWO YEARS AND SIX MONTHS, commanded also that GEORGE THE THIRD should, after having LOST HIS SIGHT, and been DEPRIVED OF HIS REASON, be confined as a solitary prisoner in his own palace, for many of the latter years of his existence. The Lord's will be done!
During the whole time that these ridiculous freaks were going on in London, and that John Gull and his family were running stark mad with joy and glory, each bellowing out, whenever or wherever you met him, have you not seen the Emperor? have you not seen the King? have you not seen Blucher with his whiskers? surely you have seen the Don Cossack? &c. &c. &c.; during this time I remained quietly and snugly at Middleton Cottage, occupied in fishing or looking after my farm, and most sincerely lamenting the folly of my countrymen and countrywomen; and whenever I had an opportunity, I did not fail to remonstrate with them on their ridiculous and preposterous conduct, and to assure them that the hour would come when they would be heartily ashamed of it, and would have cause and leisure for bitter repentance. With many this time has arrived, with others it is fast approaching. So far was I from ever making one of the number of fools who ran after these sceptred despots, that, when some of them were travelling post by the house where I was staying, I retired into a back room, in order to avoid the possibility of seeing them; always saying, when the question was put to me, that "I thanked God I had seen one King, and was so well satisfied, that I never wished to see another." A single sample was quite enough for me. One of my great political friends had expressed the same sort of disgust at the idea of running after these foreign Sovereigns, and he swore most roundly and lustily, that none of his family should stir an inch to see them. It turned out, however, that he did not keep his word—but whether his breach of it arose from "the grey mare being the better horse," or from his being himself overcome by a childish curiosity, I cannot tell; perhaps a little of both prevailed; at any rate I heard that my friend and all his family went to Portsmouth, to see the Royal sight, and get a squint at Blucher's whiskers and mustachios. My friend and his family swelled the number of those who suffered at Portsmouth—"ninny nanny, one fool makes many!" It was now all glory, all joy, and all seeming prosperity with John Gull, every thing was military! As a proof that it could not well be otherwise, let us look to a return, which was presented to the House of Commons, of the number of officers in the British army in the pay of John, which return was as follows: Field Marshals, 5—Generals, 81—Lieutenant Generals, 157—Major Generals, 221—Colonels, 152—Lieutenant-Colonels, 618—Majors, 612—Captains, 2960—Lieutenants, 4725—Ensigns, 2522—amounting in the whole to the enormous number of TWELVE THOUSAND AND FIFTY-FOUR officers! What think you of this, John Gull? Here is a larger army of officers than the whole number of military that was thought sufficient by our ancestors to be kept up during the time of peace. Yes, the officers alone, at the time to which I allude, actually out-numbered the whole of what our peace establishment used to be.
One of the precious effects of the downfall of Napoleon was the restoration of the bigotted, despicable tyrant, Ferdinand the Seventh, to the throne of Spain; and one of his first acts was to restore the hellish Inquisition, with all its horrors, which had been abolished during the sway of the French, and which had also been suppressed by the Cortes. The amiable Pope Pius the Seventh being restored to the see of Rome, he performed his part in the scene of mummery and tyranny, by issuing a Bull for the restoration of the order of the Jesuits. So it will be clearly seen that the canting Boroughmongering Protestant Parliament of England, while it pertinaciously refused to grant emancipation to the Catholics in Ireland, contrived to restore the Pope, Popery, the Inquisition, the Jesuits, and every species of superstition and intolerance upon the Continent!
About this time two fanatics, of the names of Johanna Southcote and Hannah More, were much followed in the West of England. Somersetshire could boast of possessing two female saints, Mrs. Hannah More and Mrs. Johanna Southcote, at the same time; which of the two was the greatest imposter it would be very difficult to decide, although the former appears to have borne off the palm of successful fraud and imposition. Miss Hannah, who, in her younger days, had been a very frolicsome lass, became all at once converted into a saint, and set up for a severe and rigid moralist; and she had the merit of establishing the gang generally known by the title of the SAINTS, amongst our politicians. In her train she had the Sidmouths, the Wilberforces, the Babingtons, the Dickensons, and others of that puritannical cast; although it has been whispered, but that, of course, must be a calumny, that, from the well-known character of some of these gentry, who were very frequent in their visits, the buxom dame (who had now assumed the title of Mrs.) contrived, like the friars of old, to indulge in the gratification of those passions to which it is said real saints are not prone. Some of her neighbours were in consequence so ill-natured as to say, that her conversion was not sincere, but that it was a mere cloak to cover certain practices. But my readers are aware that we must not believe all that the world says. Mrs. Johanna was an illiterate woman, whose fanaticism was carried to full as high a pitch as that of Mrs. More; but as her doctrine did not suit "the powers that be" quite so well as the doctrine of the other did, she could not boast of having Ministers of State and many of the Nobility as her disciples, although amongst her numerous followers she did not want for men of talent and education. Dr. Ash, under whose care the VERY VENERABLE JUDGE BEST received his education, was a staunch disciple of Johanna's, and it is said the venerable Judge himself at times discovered a little hankering after the prophetess; but whether his attachment was to her person or her principles, is not clearly decided.
During this period the British troops were carrying on a marauding, petty warfare in America, and on the 24th of August they burnt the newly-built, half-finished city of Washington, and magnanimously destroyed the city printing-press, and threw the types into the streets, that they might be trampled under the horses feet. England being at peace with all the rest of the world, the Government had nothing else to do but to direct its whole force against the Americans, both by sea and land, and I believe it was Mr. Charles Yorke, the First Lord of the Admiralty, who put forth a speech in his place in Parliament, to the following effect:—"That now Napoleon was deposed there was another example of democratic revolution, and it was necessary to depose James Madison, the President of the United States of America." This speech was hailed and cheered by a great number of the Members of the Honourable House, many of whom seemed to think that it was no very difficult matter to carry it into effect. But they reckoned without their host; for the news having arrived of the total defeat of the British fleet, on Lake Champlain, matters began to wear a different aspect, and the boasters were compelled to draw in their horns a little. Sir James Yeo had the command of the English fleet upon the Lakes, and Commodore Downie, in the Confiance, of 38 guns, had the command of the British squadron upon Lake Champlain, supported by Captain Pring, in the Linnet, of 16 guns; Lieutenant M'Ghee, in the Chub, of 11 guns; and Lieutenant Hix, in the Finch, of 11 guns. Lieutenant Raynham and Lieutenant Dual had the command of twelve gun-boats. The American squadron was commanded by Commodore M'Donough, in the Saratoga, of 26 guns; Captain Harley, in the Eagle, of 22 guns; and Captain——, in the Ticonderoga, of 18 guns, with 1 sloop, and 10 gun-boats. The English fleet had 90 guns and 12 gun-boats; the American fleet had 83 guns and 10 gun-boats—so that the British fleet had the superiority in number of guns and weight of metal. The American fleet was anchored opposite an American battery, commanded by General M'Coomb, at the head of 800 men. The British troops, under the command of Sir George Prevost, amounting to thirteen thousand men, were all drawn up on shore ready to take the battery, if the English fleet had succeeded in beating the Americans. It was communicated to Sir George Prevost that the English fleet would attack the Americans that day. Commodore Downie called all his officers on board, and communicated to each the order of battle, and his last words were, "Lieutenant M'Ghee will lead into action; let it be close quarters, MUZZLE to MUZZLE." He doubled a point of the American coast with a fair wind, and came in full view of the enemy lying at anchor; the signal was then given to bear up, and commence the action. Mr. M'Ghee carried in the Chub, of 11 guns, and placed her gallantly close alongside of the Eagle, of 22 guns, agreeable to orders, having sustained the fire of the gun-boats as he passed; he blazed away at the enemy and received their fire in return, till he himself was wounded in three places, and every man out of his complement of sixty was either killed or wounded, with the exception of six. In fact, the Chub was made into a cullender, and completely disabled, before he struck her colours. The same fate attended the Confiance, the Linnet, and the Finch, the latter of which grounded on a reef of rocks about the middle of the engagement. The gun-boats appear absolutely to have run away. Thus was the British fleet captured by an inferior fleet of the Americans. Commodore Downie was killed by a ball from the American gun-boats very early in the contest, and the Confiance is said to have struck her colours without coming fairly into action; the result was, the British fleet was lost, and the officers were tried by a Court Martial. All the others were promoted, and the gallant Lieutenant M'Ghee was reprimanded for taking his ship prematurely into action. This is a pretty specimen of British justice in the naval department, and a melancholy example of the reward bestowed upon the gallant officers and men who fought our battles and maintained the British character.
On the 1st of November was opened the Congress at Vienna, where Lord Castlereagh, as the representative of the King of England, attended, and where it is generally believed he played second fiddle to Prince Metternich.
In consequence of the peace, and the Bank of England having drawn in a considerable quantity of its paper, preparatory to the payment in specie, which, as the law stood, they were compelled to at the end of six months after the peace had been proclaimed; in consequence of this, and there having been a good crop of wheat and a fair harvest, the average price of wheat during the year was seventy-four shillings per quarter, and the price of the quartern loaf was reduced to one shilling. Notwithstanding this, many riots took place in Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire, by the Luddites, who continued to set the laws at defiance, and to break the frames in the most lawless and unwarrantable manner. Their hostility was directed against all sorts of machinery, but particularly against the looms and frames used for weaving and knitting in the stocking trade.
The supplies voted this year amounted to seventy-five millions six hundred and twenty-four thousand five hundred and seventy-two pounds. By a return, it appeared that the amount of Bank of England notes in circulation was between twenty-eight and twenty-nine millions, and that the number of private banks was seven hundred and twenty-four.
The Parliament had met late in the fall of 1814, but little was done of importance, except passing the address, and a Bill called "the Preservation of Peace Bill," to put down by force the disturbances in Ireland. The state of Ireland had become very alarming, as the poor Irish were suffering the greatest privations from bad government and severe laws; which laws were exercised with the greatest severity, to support an infamous tithe system and a national church, the most profligate, the most expensive and rapacious that ever existed; a church in every respect hostile to the religion of four-fifths of the inhabitants, and a priesthood proud, overbearing, and intolerant.
In the higher circles it was now confidently given out that the Princess Charlotte, the heir apparent to the throne of England, was to be married to the hereditary Prince of Orange; but the disposition of her Royal Highness had been greatly soured by the infamous treatment of her poor mother, and, conceiving that this said young Dutch upstart had not paid her mother proper respect and attention, but that he was more disposed to fawn and cringe to the will of her father, it is said that she dismissed him from her presence, and peremptorily refused to marry him. This drove her Royal Papa into a great passion, and our magnanimous Prince Regent went suddenly to Warwick House, the residence of his daughter, and discharged all her servants. She, however, proved herself a legitimate Guelph, in obstinacy, at any rate; for she refused to see the young Orange afterwards. This young lady had secured the affections of every honourable and unprejudiced person in the kingdom, by her undeviating attachment to her mother, and she gained the hearts of thousands by her firm and undaunted opposition to the arbitrary mandates of her father, with respect to that mother.
The Parliament met very early after the adjournment, and the first Act they passed was to renew the restriction of cash payments by the Bank of England; another violation of a positive pledge of the Honourable House, another gross breach of faith committed upon the people by a corrupt Parliament, which had solemnly declared by an act that the Bank should be compelled to pay their notes in specie at the end of six months after peace was made.
Accounts were now brought to England that Napoleon was reigning in full sovereignty at Elba, and all the corrupt writers in the Ministerial and daily press were sneering at the idea of his fancied sovereignty. But by the solemn treaty of Paris, Napoleon was as much an Emperor as he ever had been as much a Sovereign as the Emperor of Russia; and, by the law of nations, quite as much entitled to make war or peace with other powers as was the King of England, the King of France, or any other Sovereign. But these writers, as I have before said, were daily ridiculing his sovereignty, and holding his power in derision. But it will be seen hereafter, that it is a very dangerous thing to treat with contempt the hostility of an enemy, however weak that enemy may be. In the meantime Louis the Desired, the contemptible King of France, decreed that the property of the Buonaparte family should be sequestred; the old Bourbon tyranny was making the most rapid strides; the press was much more enslaved than under the reign of Napoleon; disturbances had broken out in many parts of France; yet such was the dreadful, enthralled state of the press, that no one dared to mention them, nor were they ever known but by the proclamations of the King, to restrain and repress them. The finances of France were, nevertheless, in a flourishing state; their trade was fast reviving, and every means that ingenuity could devise were resorted to, to induce the people to feel for royalty; and, amongst other things, a solemn funeral for the late King and Queen of France took place, which was conducted with great pomp and ceremony.
In America, the English were routed at New Orleans, by General Jackson, who, with an undisciplined militia, and very inferior numbers, caused great slaughter amongst the British troops; in fact, the number killed in the English ranks amounted to more than the whole number of the American troops, so expert were the riflemen, and so superior were the abilities of the American General Jackson. This was a death-blow to the hopes of the English, for the bravery of the Americans appeared to be invincible; they were in truth fighting for Liberty, for themselves and their country, and not for any despot or any despotism. This fine spirit gained them a peace, which it may fairly be said they fought for, bled for, and ultimately obtained by conquest; and James Madison remained, in spite of all the threats of deposing him, President of the only free people upon the habitable globe. Thus, as I hope and trust, have they secured and placed upon an imperishable basis, the liberties and just rights of their people. They had a right to be proud of their success. England, at peace with all the rest of the world, carried on a war with America; yet the latter, single-handed, not only met and contended with, but repelled the mighty power of her adversary, and by the equity of her cause, and the bravery of her citizens, she conquered a peace, in spite of the threats of England's haughty, bullying, ignorant, and intolerant Ministers, who had declared that the right of search was a sine qua non which must form the basis of any negotiation. Ultimately, however, these very Ministers were glad to make peace with the Americans, by saying nothing about the sine qua non, the right of search, for which they had gone to war. England went to war almost solely to maintain the right of search; the Americans went to war to resist that right; and England having made peace, and suffered the right of search to be passed over in silence, the Americans have gained their object, and the English have lost the point which was the cause of the war.
On the 17th of January in this year, 1815, a Catholic meeting was held in Dublin, at which it was determined to petition Parliament for an unqualified emancipation.
The price of wheat and all sorts of grain having been reduced, the great landholders had been for some time raising a cry, that the landed interest was in danger, and that the farmers would be ruined unless some law was made to keep up the price of grain to the war standard, which, on an average, was from twelve to fifteen shillings a bushel. The Ministers had been pressed hard by the great landholders, in both Houses of Parliament, to bring forward such a measure; but, knowing and feeling the unpopularity to which it would expose them, they had, from time to time, put them off, and they appeared to discountenance any such proposition, whenever it was mentioned in the House. At length, however, the Ministers gave way to the urgent demands of the landholders, although apparently with great reluctance and considerable doubts. In several districts the landholders urged the farmers and their tenants to petition the House for a Corn Bill. Amongst the number of these landholders, the most active and the most forward to promote such petitions in Wiltshire and the West of England, was Mr. John Benett, of Pyt-House, near Shaftesbury, the present Member for that county. Committees of both Houses of Parliament were appointed to inquire into the state of agriculture, for the purpose of ascertaining what measures it were necessary to take, or what Act to pass to keep up the price of corn, or rather to keep up the price of the quartern loaf to the war standard. Mr. John Benett was one of the witnesses who volunteered to be examined at great length before both of these Committees, that of the House of Lords as well as that of the House of Commons.
As soon as the evidence given before these Committees was published, I rode over to Botley, to my friend Cobbett, to urge him to take a more decided part against the measure; for I thought I discovered in his Register a leaning towards a Corn Bill, or rather the doctrine was maintained that it was necessary to protect the farmer as well as the merchants and other trades. When I arrived, I found him endeavouring, by arguments the most powerful, to shew the injustice of leaving the farmer open to the competition of foreign growers, who could raise the grain at half the expense which must be incurred by the native growers. Perhaps this was said to ascertain my sentiments upon the subject, which I immediately, and in the most unequivocal manner, stated to be in direct opposition to the measure. I argued against the injustice of making the mechanic and the labourer pay a war price for his bread in time of peace, and I maintained that it was the duty of the farmer and the landholder to petition for a reduction of taxation, so as to enable him to compete with the foreign farmer, instead of petitioning for a monopoly by his exclusion. In five minutes my friend Cobbett was either convinced of the propriety and justice of my remarks, or at any rate he professed to be so; and he concurred with me in the necessity of calling upon the public to come forward to oppose so injurious and ruinous a measure as that which was contemplated. I pointed out to him the fallacy and the hypocrisy of those who pretended to be anxious for the good of the farmer, and we both very soon came to this conclusion, that a Corn Bill would be ultimately injurious to the farmer, and that the only result of it would be, to raise the price of the staff of life, and to grind the face of the poor, to enable the farmer to continue to pay high taxes, for the support of an unconstitutional large standing army in the time of peace, and to enable the lazy sinecurist and the unmerited pensioner to wallow in wealth and riot in luxury, drawn from the sweat of the poor man's labour. From this time forward Mr. Cobbett took the most decisive part in opposition to every movement of the Corn Bill gentry.
Sir Henry Parnell, an Irish Member, ONE OF THE OPPOSITION, brought forward the measure in the House of Commons, and I believe he was Chairman of the Committee. I will now put upon record a few questions and answers, extracted from the evidence of the aforesaid John Benett, Esq. of Pyt-House, voluntarily given before the Committee of the House of Lords, in favour of a Corn Bill, which evidence was printed by order of the Right Honourable House:
The Evidence of JOHN BENETT, Esq. of Pyt-House, voluntarily given lefore the Committee of the House of Lords, in favour of the Corn Bill.
You hold a considerable quantity of land in your own hands?—I do.
What number of acres?—I believe upwards of 2000 acres, in various parishes in the western part of Wiltshire, about twelve miles from Warminster.—My residence is Pyt-House, in Wiltshire.
Have you any general information about the state of that quarter of the country, or can you speak only to the particular district in which you reside?—I can speak to the county of Wilts; for I am in the habit of riding through it very often, and am in the habit of meeting with the farmers in the county, from having been for some years a farmer, and am now President of the Agricultural Society of that county. Can you give the Committee any account of the increase and alterations that have taken place in the value and prices of the different articles of produce from land, and the expenses of cultivation, and from what period?—I can speak to nearly twenty years. The price of wheat has varied so very materially, it is more easily ascertained from the returns of the markets than from recollection.
In the present state of the improved cultivation of those parts of the county of Wilts with which you are acquainted, can you state the various prices which it will be necessary for the farmer to receive for the different species of grain he rears, in order to remunerate him for his expenses?—Taking the taxes, the price of labour, and all outgoing expenses of the farmer as they now stand, and the rents at which land has lately been let, I do not conceive the farmer can possibly raise wheat, and remunerate himself with ten per cent. interest upon his capital, under 12s. a bushel, or 96s. per quarter.
If the farmer was to receive only 75s. per quarter, would he be capable of paying any rent at all?—No, he certainly would not be able to pay his rent, and get his ten per cent. upon his capital.
Is land generally let in Wiltshire upon the supposition that wheat will stand at 96s. and barley at half the price of wheat?—I believe that lands have been let even at a higher calculation than that; I am in the habit of valuing estates of my own as well as of others, and of giving opinions to my friends; and I have always calculated upon 12s. a bushel, and I believe surveyors do the same; many of the estates let by survey let at a much greater calculation, or rather, I believe, without any.
Do you believe there is any surveyor who practises the surveying of estates for the purpose of fixing rents, who proceeds on the calculation of wheat being at a higher price than 12s. per bushel, or 96s. a quarter?—I believe no estates have been let in Wiltshire, by our first-rate surveyors, on a calculation of more than 12s. per bushel, or 96s. per quarter, for the last eight years, since the high price of corn and the competition for estates.
If wheat should be at 80s. and other grains at a proportionate price, do you believe the farmers would continue in the cultivation of their land at the expense of the present mode of culture?—Certainly not; I think less wheat would be sown, and less money would be expended in the cultivation of land. From your knowledge of the general ideas of farmers, do you believe that the same opinion you have expressed to the Committee upon this subject is generally entertained?—With respect to renting farmers I believe the same opinion prevails with those who have leases they cannot get rid of; but where they have not leases, or their landlords will permit them to surrender them, they are not under the same alarm, because they will quit their farms altogether, unless they can get a reduction in their rent in proportion to the price of corn; but no reduction of rent will answer as it stands now, it will exhaust the whole rent.
Do you know of any farmers who have actually withdrawn their capital from agriculture?—No, I do not; but a tenant of my own surrendered a beneficial agreement, of which there were seven years to come. I gave my tenants notice that I would not promise to sink their rents, but that they might surrender their leases altogether.
At what value of wheat did you compute the rent which the tenant paid you under the lease, of which only one year has run?—I made no particular computation for that; I have been in the habit of making valuations of my own farms; I have generally taken it at 12s.; I could have got more for this estate, it being a particularly valuable farm; I made no particular calculation as to this farm. I have another tenant, whose term of seven years only has expired; I expected to have raised his rent nearly 400l. per annum, upon a rent of 870l.; I have not raised him a farthing; I dare not propose to raise him; I think he would quit me if I should attempt it; and I doubt my power of letting it, if he should quit me. I directed my surveyor to look over his farm, and let me know the price he thought I might put upon it, and if he thought it would bear raising, to let me know; and I have not heard from him, though he looked over it about two months ago.
How long had he possessed it at the rent of 870l.?—Only seven years.
At what rate did you calculate the value of wheat at that time?—At 12s. a bushel.
At what would you have calculated the price of wheat if you had raised it?—It is proper I should explain that; I did not in fact fix the rent; I agreed he should take it at the Commissioners' valuation, it being then just laid in under the act of inclosure.
Do you know whether the Commissioners fixed the rent, calculating wheat at 12s. a bushel?—I do not; but I told him at the time I considered the Commissioners' valuation would be a certain price; that if the valuation was lower than the price, he should have it at the lower rate; the Commissioners' valuation exceeded my price, therefore he has it at the price named by me, though I thought it too little.
Is it a farm which requires the application of much capital to render it productive?—Yes, it does.
When you had in your own mind settled that you would get an advanced rent of 400l. a year, what did you take the price of wheat at in forming that calculation?—I conceived wheat was higher than 12s. a bushel, not more than 13s. a bushel. I have not valued this farm particularly at 400l. a year more, but I felt that the farm was worth 400l. a year more than I had let it at.
You have said that at the time the Commissioners valued it, you believe they proceeded on the idea that wheat was worth 12s. a bushel?—No, I do not know what calculation the Commissioners made; they were three eminent surveyors.
When it passed in your mind that you would get 400l. a year more, was not that in consequence of your having an opinion that the Commissioners had fixed the land at a lower rent than if wheat were calculated at 12s. a bushel?—Certainly it was.
And your idea of getting 1270l. was in consequence of what passed in your mind as to wheats being fairly to be valued at 12s. a bushel?—Certainly it was.
Having stated your knowledge to be general over the county of Wilts, and having stated your calculation of wheat to be at 12s. for the last seven years, do you apply that to the farms within your own immediate knowledge, or over the county of Wilts generally?—I believe that generally over the county of Wilts, 12s. is the lowest calculation which has been made by surveyors in letting land.
If a free importation should take place, how many rents do you think the farmer will be able to make then?—It depends entirely upon what effect the free importation may have upon the price of corn; taking wheat at 8s. a bushel, and taking all agricultural expenses to stand as they now do, I conceive the farmer with an average crop; cannot pay any rent at all. You conceive a proprietor farming his own estate, with a competent share of skill and capital, would be a loser if the price of wheat was 8s. a bushel?—Yes, I do.
Has any proportion of the value of daily labour been made up to the labourers out of the poor's rates?—Yes, it has; the weekly income of every family is made up to the gallon loaf and three-pence per head. Supposing the father to earn 9s. one of the children 3s. another 2s. and another 1s. od. the magistrate conceiving they are able to earn that, or the overseer being willing to give them the money for their labour, whatever the deficiency is, is made up to the amount I have stated. I must explain, that I give this evidence as a magistrate more than as a farmer; for I act for a very large district, and am in the habit of making this order. The gallon loaf per head per week is what we suppose sufficient for the maintenance of every person in the family for the week; and the 3d. is for clothes; and if the parish think proper to find clothes, the 3d. is deducted. This practice goes through all the western parts of Wiltshire, and I believe throughout the county.
Have you, from your situation as a Magistrate, any connexion and knowledge of the condition of the lower class of manufacturers?—I have; I live within nine miles of a great number of them, and act for several manufacturing parishes as a Magistrate.
Can you state the average consumption of a family?—The manufacturers live better than the farming labourers, but they need not live better; when they come to the parishes they have only the same allowance from us as paupers of every class.
Do you expect the labouring manufacturers will consume a greater proportion of farm produce than they have hitherto done?—I conceive greater waste will be made of farm produce when it is at a low price than when it is at a high price, and, in fact, they must consume more: they live upon wheat instead of barley; they lived upon barley formerly, and now they live upon wheat, and eat fewer potatoes probably.
Do you think it would be possible for landlords to reduce their rents so as to enable the tenant to make a fair profit, according to the present price of corn?—No; I do not think it is in the power of landlords, it must depend upon the riches of the landlord; but if he reduces the whole rent upon some farms, it would not be sufficient according to the present price of corn; taking the present price of wheat at eight shillings a bushel, and all other grain following the same scale.
The price is high abroad at present?—It is.
The case of a peace with America, and of our receiving corn from thence, do not you conceive, in case of a great influx of corn from the continent, the price must fall considerably?—Certainly, as the price falls upon the continent, it will fall here, if free importation is permitted; but I would wish to be understood here as to the price of corn, it must very much depend upon the crop of the year, because I do not believe it possible to import sufficient to feed the people of Great Britain, and very much must depend upon the quantity of corn grown; and my own belief is, that the price of corn will be very high indeed in three years, higher than it has probably been known for the last ten years. I think the importation is an uncertain sort of supply; there may be a bad crop upon the continent, or a thousand interruptions may stop the importation.
On what is your opinion founded, that it will be at a high price?—Because a great deal less wheat will be sown in consequence of the low prices; I believe the defalcation in the number of acres sown will be very great indeed.
Do you think that the present rents are the cause of the tenants not being able to obtain a fair profit, corn being at eight shillings a bushel; or does it arise from the price of labour, the amount of poors' rates, taxes, and other expenses?—I do not myself think the rents are too high, taking them at a general average; in fact, I do not think the gentlemen of landed property can now live at the present rents with the same comforts their forefathers have done on the same estates; that if the rents are to be lowered, the gentlemen of landed property must be sunk in their scale in society.
Do you conceive that the existing rents bear a greater proportion to the produce than formerly?—No; not so great by a great deal; I conceive that rents have not risen in the same proportion that all the articles of life, which we are compelled to have as country gentlemen, have risen.
The following requisition was published in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal, on the 2d of January, 1815, calling a public meeting of the landholders and farmers of the county of Wilts, to be held at Warminster, on the 6th day of January following:—
WE, the undersigned Land-Owners and Occupiers of Land, in the county of Wilts, conceiving it to be impossible that the British farmers should ever contend on fair or equal terms with foreign growers of corn, even in British markets, as long as the former shall have to bear such heavy charges of rates, taxes, assessments, and other expenses attendant on their cultivation, of which the latter know nothing: Being also convinced that the farmers of this kingdom have already suffered severely, even to the ruin of many of those who have had small capitals; and also that the evil is fast approaching to the land-owners; and must (if no relief be given to the agriculturists) evidently fall on the country at large: Feeling it also to be a duty incumbent on as many of us as are landlords, to exert ourselves for the protection of our tenants, and on us all jointly to exert ourselves, for our mutual protection:—Do hereby give Notice, That we intend to meet at the Lord's Arms Inn, at Warminster, in the county of Wilts, on Friday the 6th day of January next, at 12 o'clock at noon, for the purpose of considering of the propriety of preparing Petitions to the two Houses of Parliament, on behalf of ourselves and others; and we invite all Land-Owners, and Occupiers of Land, in the county of Wilts, who may wish to unite with us in forwarding this our object, to meet us on that day, and to co-operate with us, in adopting such measures as may then and there be thought necessary, for our mutual relief and preservation.
Dated this 30th of December, 1814. (Signed.)
Thomas Grove. John Benett. James Everard Arundel. George South. J.H. Penruddocke. Alexander Powell. H. Linton. T. Davis, Jun. S. Card. John Davis. J.E. Strickland. G.J. Kneller. John Gordon. H. Biggs. J. Slade. William Smith. Robert Smith. Richard Rickword. Henry Hubbard. Robert Candy. John Neat. John Pearce. George Young. James Burges. Richard Pocock. James Pearce. William Glass. Robert Payne. J. Howel. John Folliott. William Marsh. Thomas Chandler. Thomas Burfitt. John Barter. John Phillips. Henry Phillips. Thomas Burge. John Mitchell. J.C. Burbidge. John Willis. Robert Rumsey. James Chaiman. E.F. Seagram. James Goddard. John Goddard.
This was short notice, as many people of the county of Wilts did not get the Salisbury paper till the 3d or 4th of January. In fact, I myself, who was living in Hampshire, did not get it till the 4th in the evening, nor should I have seen it at all, if a friend had not sent it to me. As I had a small freehold in the county of Wilts, and also occupied a considerable farm at Upavon, in that county, I made up my mind, within five minutes after I saw the above advertisement, that, although I was living at a distance of nearly forty miles from the scene of action, I would make one at this intended snug meeting. I mounted my gig the next day (the 5th), and drove as far as Deptford Inn. I had heard of a Mr. Gourley, who lived at Deptford, upon an estate of the Duke of Somerset's; and, as he had acquired the character of being at least an eccentric, if not an independent man, I called at his house with the intent to have some conversation with him upon the proposed meeting. Fortunately, however, he was from home, or I might have been hampered with a very troublesome and a very disagreeable companion; for I afterwards found that Mr. Gourley, though perhaps a very well-meaning person, was so flighty, so confused, and so opinionated in his wild and visionary notions, that he was a very dangerous man to have any thing to do with; at any rate, he was a person that it was impossible to go hand in hand with. I slept at Deptford Inn, and proceeded through Heytesbury to Warminster in the morning, calling upon my old friend Cousens in my way thither; I knew that he was staunch to the back-bone, and that, in case he was at home, I should be sure of his support to second any amendment that I might find it necessary to propose. When I drove up to his door at Heytesbury, I was surprised to find all the window-shutters closed, although it was nearly ten o'clock. Upon hailing him, he popped his head out of the chamber window with a night-cap on, in one of the severest hoar frosty mornings I ever beheld. I told him where I was going, and he promised to follow me instantly, without fail; and he kept his word, for he overtook me upon his grey poney before I reached the town.
When I drove into Warminster, the town was as still and as quiet as possible, without any of those bustling indications which I had been accustomed to witness at a public meeting. While I was taking my breakfast at the Lord's Arms Inn, some of the requisitionists made their appearance, and they were soon followed by the remainder, and a considerable number of the landholders of the county, amongst whom, as I sat at an up-stair window, I recognised Mr. Wyndham, of Dinton, the High Sheriff; Paul Methuen, Esq. one of the Members for the county; and the said John Benett, surrounded by a few of the requisitionists. I sat very quiet while my friend Cousens reconnoitred their forces, and communicated their arrival. At length we saw them all proceed to the Town-hall, perhaps twenty-five or thirty of them at the outside—as pretty a little snug cabal as ever was mustered upon any occasion. They passed my window and went smirking along, little dreaming that they should meet with the slightest interruption or opposition to their measures, which were all ready cut and dry, and safely deposited in the pocket of the celebrated attorney, Mr. Charles Bowles, of Shaftesbury. As the train passed up the street, the town's-people took little other notice of them than by now and then eyeing them askance with a jealous look. I had remained the whole time snug in my room, without one soul of them knowing or suspecting that I was in Warminster; but, as soon as I saw them all safely housed, out I bolted into the street, and made my way after them. As we walked up the street, my friend Cousens intimated to two or three of the shopkeepers who I was, and the news flew like wildfire round the town, that Mr. Hunt was arrived, and gone up to the Hall. As, therefore, something like fair discussion was likely to take place, the said meeting, which, ten minutes before, excited no interest whatever amongst the town's-people, was, in a very short space of time, crowded by the shopkeepers, and attended by almost every respectable man in the town. When I entered the Hall it was very evident that I was not a very welcome guest, and that I had not been expected by any one. As, however, I was a landholder of the county, and one of those who were invited, it was impossible to make any objection, as I was as much entitled to be present as any man in the room. Mr. Grove, whose name stood at the head of the requisition, was called to the chair. This gentleman, who is descended from one of the most ancient families in the county, having shortly stated the object of the meeting, Mr. Benett arose, and, after some wriggling and twisting, addressed them. As the following report, which was published in Keene's Bath Journal, on the Sunday following, contains a brief outline and an impartial account of the proceedings, I will insert it verbatim, as it was afterwards copied into almost every newspaper in the kingdom:
On the 6th of January a Meeting of "Landholders and Occupiers of Land," was held at the Town-Hall, Warminster, convened by public advertisement, signed by John Benett, Esq. of Pyt-House, (the gentleman who gave such long and strong evidence before the Committees of both Houses of Parliament in favour of the Corn Bill), and several other respectable land-owners and farmers of the county of Wilts, to take into consideration the propriety of presenting Petitions to both Houses of Parliament, on behalf of the proprietors and occupiers of land. Thomas Grove, Esq. of Fern, one of the gentlemen who called the meeting, having taken the chair, Mr. Benett addressed them at a very considerable length in favour of a petition that he submitted for their adoption, expressive of the serious injury already sustained by the farmer, and the probable result likely to fall on the landholder, arising from the reduced and low price of corn, owing particularly to the importations from France, &c. The Petition further stated, that as the agricultural interest was blended with that of the tradesman and mechanic, the latter were invited to join in its support, and add their signatures thereto. Mr. Benett insisted that, as the evidence given before the Corn Committees had never been contradicted, the legislature were bound to afford the agricultural interest their protection; and, enforcing the necessity of Parliamentary interposition in favour of the landed interest, he said, that unless some measure were devised to enable the farmer to pay his present rent and taxes, the landholders would be completely ruined; and he solemnly declared, that, unless this desirable object was carried into immediate execution, he for one would be under the absolute necessity, before that day twelvemonth, of leaving the country with his family, to reside where provisions and all the necessaries of life were to be obtained at a rate within the reach of his fortune.
[Footnote: Quere.—If this solemn asseveration of Mr. Benett's be correct, (who, by the bye, is a Land-owner to the amount of 10,000l. a year,) what will be the fate of those who are left behind, without the means of flying from the evil?]
The motion was briefly seconded by Mr. BOWLES.—Mr. HUNT began by stating his objection to the meeting altogether, asserting, that if the meeting was not illegal, it was highly improper for a few individuals of a particular class to call a meeting to petition Parliament in favour of tradesmen and mechanics, without giving them an opportunity of attending to decide upon its propriety. This was a close meeting of landholders and farmers; many respectable tradesmen, inhabitants of the town, would have attended, but they were told they had no business there, not being landholders or farmers. This meeting, therefore, bore a resemblance to a "Conclave of Cardinals with closed doors."—Instead of calling a meeting like this, why not call a public county meeting, and meet the question manfully and openly? One reason against this was, that at an open county meeting, even Mr. John Benett would not be so hardy as to bring forward a petition, the sole object of which was the keeping up the price of corn, under the cloak of its being a petition in favour of the tradesman and the mechanic.—
In fact, this was a petition especially to benefit the landholder; even the farmer was of secondary consideration, and it was decidedly hostile to the interest of every other class of society; and if acted upon would prove ruinous to the little tradesman, the mechanic, and the labourer. The landlord had met with no reverse since the commencement of the war; his rents had progressively increased, in proportion as the rest of the community had suffered privations; the nearer the mechanic and the labourer had approached to starvation and beggary, the higher were the profits and the more efficient the means of the landholder. This was no theoretical proposition, hastily introduced, it was a practical truism, the result of careful and recent inquiry. He would read to the meeting an account of the population of the parish of Enford, a large parish in the centre of the county of Wilts, with the comparative statement of the rise in the price of labour, the price of bread, and the price of land, within the last 30 years. The number of houses were 143, population 656, farmers, &c. 250, labourers 406, labourers (not paupers) 201, labourers (paupers) 205. About 30 years back, the labourers in this parish received 6s. per week; at this time they received 8s. per week—30 years back, the quartern loaf averaged about 5d. at this time it is 10-1/2d.—30 years back, the labourer could purchase with his week's pay, 6s. fourteen quartern loaves; now he can only purchase with his week's pay, 8s. nine quartern loaves—about 30 years back, the principal farm in this parish, then belonging to the late Mr. Benett, of Pyt-house, in this county, was let for 400l. a-year; at the present time this farm, the property of Mr. John Benett, of Pyt-house, is let for 1,260l. a-year. Thus it clearly appears in this parish, within the last 30 years, labour has risen from 6s. to 8s. per week, 33 per cent., the quartern loaf from 5d. to 10-1/2d., 105 per cent., the rent of land from 400l. to 1,260l., 212 per cent. This proves that bread has risen within this period more than three times as much as labour, and land more than twice as much as bread, and more than six times as much as labour. At the present price of land, corn, bread, and labour, the landlord is benefited three times as much as the farmer, and six times as much as the labourer. Mr. Benett said, that he had, since the period mentioned by Mr. Hunt, purchased the tithes, and added them to the farm, which was included in the present rent. Mr. Hunt replied, that he was perfectly aware of this circumstance, as well as of another circumstance equally important, which was this, that Mr. Benett bad taken a considerable portion of the best land from his farm, and added it to another, which produced a greater rent than the value of the tithes, therefore the balance was more in favour of the landlord than be had stated. He had mentioned this particular farm, as it belonged to Mr. Benett, the proposer of the present measure; but from his own knowledge (having an estate himself in the same parish) he could state, that the land had risen in the same, and, in some instances, in a higher proportion. He, therefore, particularly enjoined the farmers to pause before they gave their sanction to a measure, which had only for its object the benefit and aggrandizement of a few rapacious landholders, whilst it was calculated to shift the odium of a dear loaf off their own shoulders, and fix it upon the back of the farmer. Let the odium rest where it was due, upon those who were the supporters of the war, upon those who have fattened upon the miseries of the people.—Mr. Bleeck followed on the same side with Mr. Hunt, exposing the fallacy of attempting to palm upon the meeting a petition, professing to have for its object the welfare of the tradesman and the mechanic, whilst the operation of it would tend to perpetuate the misery they had so long endured; he called to the recollection of many of the meeting, the scenes which they had been in the habit of witnessing in that hall, the walls of which had so often resounded with the professions of those gentlemen who were now complaining of the present times, the effect of that war, to support which, they had so often solemnly pledged, not only their last guinea, but their last drop of blood. He called upon the Chairman not to blink the question, because the majority of the meeting appeared against the petition, but let it fairly meet its fate.—Paul Methuen, Esq., one of the representatives for the county, said, that seeing a meeting called, signed by a number of respectable individuals, he felt it his duty to attend it; but if he had known that it was to have been a close meeting with closed doors, he certainly would not have come near the place. If the meeting decided upon petitioning the House of Commons, whatever that petition may be, he should feel it his duty to present it; although he would not pledge himself to support the landed interest, to the injury of the tradesman and the mechanic. The Chairman having hinted that it was going a little too far, to say that this petition was in favour of the tradesman and mechanic, and as they would not have an opportunity of voting upon the subject, he thought they had better be left out of the petition. The whole meeting appeared to concur in this, and Mr. Benett proposed to draw the pen through the words "tradesman and mechanic;" which being done the Chairman desired all those who were for the petition to hold up their hats. The Chairman declared a decided majority kept their hats on; which was followed by a symptom of approbation, whereupon the Chairman asserted, that the meeting was so tumultuous, he would not take the sense of it against the petition. Upon this, the Chairman, with Mr. Benett and a few of his friends, retired to a private room at the inn, but whether to sign this petition in secret, which they could not carry in public, or to abandon it altogether, we do not know.— A statement of the fate of the petition was announced to the inhabitants of the town by the bellman, amidst the becoming cheers of the populace.
I have no hesitation to say, that the publication of this report in all the London newspapers, and in almost every country newspaper in the three kingdoms, first roused a general feeling aginst the proposed Corn Bill. Meetings were afterwards called in London and in Westminster, and petitions were presented against the measure from almost every town and district throughout the country. Sir Francis Burdett attended the meeting of his constituents in Palace-yard, where they passed strong resolutions, and sent a petition to the House against the measure; but Sir Francis took a different view of the question, and appeared to think it was necessary that the English farmer should be protected, and I believe he said that he cared not whether the Bill was passed or not, and that it would make no difference to him personally whichever way it was decided. This certainly was not viewing the question with that liberality and sound judgment with which the Baronet was accustomed to act. For the moment, his speech threw a considerable damp upon the ardour of a great many persons, who had before been very sanguine against the adoption of the said Corn Bill, and so completely were the affections of the people riveted to the opinions of Sir Francis Burdett, that his constituents cheered him, and drew him home in his carriage afterwards, amidst the acclamations of the populace.
This was the first instance that I recollect, for many years, in which I acted in opposition to the opinions of Sir F. Burdett; but, as I was thoroughly convinced of the mischievous intention of the supporters of the measure, as well as of the fatal result that must follow its adoption, I persevered in my opposition to it with all my power. I was not contented with having attended the Common Hall, as a Liveryman of the city of London, to protest against the Bill; I was not satisfied with having blown up the cabal at Warminster, and compelled the parties to sneak off with their resolutions and petitions, to pass them and get them signed in holes and corners; but I personally procured a requisition to be signed by the freeholders of the county of Wilts, and presented it to the High Sheriff for the county, my old school-fellow, William Wyndham, Esq. of Dinton, who was then residing at Marshwood, near that place, while his house was building at Dinton. The Sheriff was just upon the point of going out of office, and said the day was fixed for him to meet the new Sheriff, at Salisbury, for the purpose of the latter being sworn in. He, however, undertook to transmit my requisition to him, and recommended that he should give notice of the meeting in the first Salisbury paper after he had entered into his Sheriffalty. I ascertained that a Mr. GEORGE EYRE, the King's printer, of the house of Strahan and Eyre, printers in London, was to be the new Sheriff, and, not choosing to trust to this mushroom gentleman, I appointed to meet Mr. Wyndham at Salisbury, with the requisition, that I might see the old and new Sheriff together; telling him, at the same time, that I was determined not to be shuffled out of the county meeting, for, in case the new Sheriff did not choose to call it, I should go to the expense of calling it myself; and in the propriety of doing so Mr. Wyndham concurred with me. (My elder readers will recollect, and it is necessary to inform my young friends, that there was no law at that period to prevent my calling the county together, to consult upon the propriety of petitioning the Parliament; at least as many of them as chose to assemble for that purpose.)
I had drawn up a requisition, and procured a number of respectable signatures, and if the Sheriff, by refusing to call the meeting, had dared to neglect his duty and abuse the high trust reposed in him by his office, it was only necessary to advertise the requisition, and call the meeting in the name of the requisitionists. When the day arrived I was punctual to my appointment, and met the two Sheriffs at the office of their Deputy, Mr. Attorney Tinney, who would as soon have seen the devil as me; but, as he knew that I was not to be put off with any of his usual quibbling tricks, upon demanding an interview with his principals, I was admitted forthwith. I found this Mr. George Eyre just such a Jack-in-office as I should have expected a King's printer, or a King's lacquey, or a King's hairdresser to be; as unlike Mr. Wyndham, both in appearance and manner, as a sneaking upstart could be unlike a respectable country gentleman. The latter was unassuming, free, easy, and gentleman-like, willing and anxious to do his duty in such a way as was at once consistent with the character of his high office, and accommodating to the requisitionists; whilst the former was jealous of his authority, and appeared only to consider how he could get over the task which he had neither the courage to decline, nor the address to manage with common urbanity. The day, however, was at length fixed, but at the greatest possible distance of time, evidently for the purpose of frustrating the object of those who signed the requisition, as in all probability the Bill would be passed the House of Commons before the day of meeting, or at least before the petition could be presented. In fact, both the Sheriff and his hopeful Deputy declared with a sneer, that the necessity of holding the meeting might possibly be set aside, by the House of Commons passing the Bill. Old birds, however, are not to be caught with chaff, and therefore the requisition was drawn too general to allow of practising a trick of this sort; it said not a word about the House of Commons; it merely requested that a county meeting might be called, to consider the propriety of petitioning PARLIAMENT against the proposed Corn Bill; and I sarcastically observed to these wiseacres, that it depended upon the feeling of the meeting, when we were assembled, which branch of the Parliament we should petition, whether King, Lords, or Commons, and it would be quite time enough to consider that point when we were assembled. It always required considerable address and presence of mind to keep the upper hand of these legal quirk-dealers, these impudent under-strappers, whose whole trade consists in trick and chicane; but I do not recollect ever having been outwitted by any one of them as to the proceedings of a public meeting.
In the interval between the presenting of the requisition and the coming together of the meeting, there were great riots in London, each night that the measure was discussed in the House of Commons; great multitudes had assembled about the House in a menacing manner; the military were called in, and the Bill was passed while the House was guarded with an armed military force with bayonets fixed. Many of the Members of the Honourable House were hooted and hustled as they passed into the doors; and Mr. Garrow, the then Attorney-General, had rather a narrow escape. It is said that he was surrounded, and the mob were just upon the point of claping a halter round his neck, supposing him to be one of the obnoxious individuals who had been pressing the Bill through the House with the most indecent haste, when some one in the crowd sung out with a loud voice that it was Garrow, the Attorney-General, who had not prosecuted any one for a political libel since he had been in office; upon which they gave him three cheers and let him pass.
The day for the meeting at length came. When we arrived at Salisbury, where the meeting was called, the news was brought down that the Bill had passed the House of Commons the night before; but we were not thrown off our guard by this event, as we had in some measure anticipated it. It was, however, necessary to draw up fresh resolutions, and a petition to the Lords instead of the Commons, which Mr. Cobbett and myself had scarcely time to half accomplish before a messenger entered out of breath, to say that the Sheriff and his party were gone to the Hall, whither they had proceeded the moment the clock struck twelve, instead of waiting, as usual, till it was one; the county meetings having always been called at twelve, under an understanding that one was the hour at which business was to be commenced. In another minute or two a second messenger hurried to us, to say that the Sheriff had opened the proceedings, and the meeting would be instantly closed if we did not proceed to the spot with all possible expedition. In consequence of this, Mr. Cobbett and myself packed up our half-finished resolutions and hastened to the scene of action, yet still conceiving it impossible that any thing assuming the character of a gentleman could be guilty of such a mean, pitiful, and underhanded trick as that which we were told would be played. Scarcely, however, had we reached the door of the Hall, when we met Mr. Sheriff, Mr. Deputy, and a pretty little knot of sycophants and dependants, coming out; and Tinney informed us, that, as no one had come forward when the requisition was read, the Sheriff had dissolved the meeting. We expostulated against such an ungentlemanly like trick, but our expostulations would have been in vain if the tricksters had happened to have got without the door of the Hall; but, fortunately, we got into the entrance passage, and met them face to face, where our arguments were supported by such an overwhelming power in the rear, that they were quite irresistible. The fact was, there happened to be no back door, and with a little gentle force we conveyed, or rather wriggled, these worthy men in office back again, step by step, and inch by inch, till the worthy Sheriff once more took the chair, amidst the deafening shouts of the largest county meeting that I ever witnessed. To tell the truth, they found it impossible to get out of the Hall, and at length, after having made as many shifts and feints and shuffles as an old fox would to avoid the well-trained, true-bred pack, and finding that we neither yielded to coaxing, bullying, nor wheedling, they ultimately made a virtue of necessity, and the high-bred High Sheriff turned-to very kindly, and once more opened the proceedings of the meeting, by reading the requisition. I then moved an adjournment into the open air, and two carpenters' benches (the very best temporary hustings) being at hand, the business went on and passed off in a most regular and satisfactory manner. After I had moved and Mr. Cobbett had seconded the resolutions, and a petition to the House of Lords, praying that they would protect us from the rapacity of the Commons, and not pass the Corn Bill, and after an amendment had been proposed by the Reverend Mr. Hill, supported by Mr. Gourley, our resolutions and petition, which also prayed for a Reform of the House of Commons, a reduction of all useless places, and an abolition of all unmerited pensions and sinecure places, were carried unanimously, or at least with only a few, very few dissenting voices. Sheets of parchment and pens and ink were provided, and the people began to sign their names instantly. Mr. Cobbett returned to his home, while I sent messengers or went myself into every town in the county, and collected signatures, which amounted, at the end of four days, to TWENTY-ONE THOUSAND, and were forwarded with the petition to Lord Stanhope, who presented it on the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords. I reckoned that it cost me upwards of fifty pounds, out of my own pocket, to accomplish this county meeting and petition; no one soul but myself having contributed a single sixpence towards the expense.
About the time that the populace in London were committing great excesses, by breaking the windows of those Members of Parliament who took a prominent part in favour of the Corn Bill, Lord Cochrane, who was confined in the King's Bench prison, in consequence of a verdict given, or at least procured, against him, for the part it was pretended he had in the Stock Exchange hoax, made his escape from that prison, a circumstance which caused a very considerable sensation throughout the metropolis and the country; for it was rumoured that his Lordship had made his escape with the intention of placing him self at the head of the London rioters, who had by this time increased in numbers and daring resistance to the authorities. In descending by a rope from the top of the wall, his Lordship fell from a very considerable height, and injured himself severely, so much so, that he was for a great length of time unable to raise himself from the earth. His Lordship remained undiscovered for some weeks, and then appeared in his place in Parliament, where he was discovered sitting upon one of the benches of the House of Commons, and from thence he was taken by the civil power, and delivered once more into the custody of the Marshal of the King's Bench prison. Let the reader bear in mind what I have already mentioned, that the Parliament of England was obliged to be aided by the military; that Westminster Hall and both Houses of Parliament were encircled by troops, and all the avenues leading thereto were guarded by soldiers with their bayonets fixed, and that thus this law, this infamous Corn Bill, to enhance and keep up the price of bread, the staff of life, was passed under the protection of a military force, in defiance of the prayers, the petitions, and the remonstrances of a great majority of the people of England; a fact which clearly demonstrated that the House of Commons, where the Bill originated, were so far from being the representatives of the people, that they acted in direct hostility to them, and had no feeling in common with them, but were more like a band of venal, corrupt, profligate, dishonest, and merciless oppressors.
The landed gentry in other parts had now began to shew a disposition to shake off the income tax, called the property tax, which was an arbitrary and inquisitorial war tax, and ought to have been abolished as soon as peace was proclaimed. As, however, the Ministers were evidently not in the least disposed to give up fourteen millions a-year, which this horrid imposition produced, many meetings were held and petitions agreed to, praying for its being abolished. Amongst the number a requisition was signed and presented to the Sheriff of Somerset, George Edward Allen, Esq. of Bathhampton, requesting him to call a public meeting to take the subject into consideration, and he immediately advertised a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of the county, to be held at Wells. At the head of this requisition was Mr. Hanning, of Dillington. I saw the advertisement in the public papers, and as it appeared that the parties calling the meeting only intended to petition for a partial repeal of the tax, as far as it affected themselves, while they left the most odious and obnoxious half of it untouched, I mean that part which affected the small annuitant and fundholder, the widow and the orphan, whose income was under one hundred pounds a-year, I directly made up my mind to attend the meeting. As a preliminary step, therefore, I wrote a letter to the freeholders and inhabitants of the county, calling upon them to come to the meeting, and to support me in the endeavour to frustrate such a partial proceeding. In case of their being disposed to petition the Parliament, I urged them to support me in petitioning for an absolute repeal of the whole tax. This letter was published in one or two of the county newspapers, and I also printed and caused to be circulated five hundred copies of it in hand-bills.
When the day came, I had to drive from Middleton Cottage in the morning, a distance of fifty miles, and I reached Wells a little after one o'clock, the meeting having been advertised to commence at that hour. The news flew through the city like wildfire, and as I drove through the streets in my tandem I was hailed by the acclamations of the people. I had not been five minutes in the inn, before I received a polite message from the High Sheriff, Mr. Allen, to say that he had delayed opening the meeting till my arrival, and he would not go to the hustings till I was ready to attend. Here was a contrast to the conduct of the paltry upstart of the county of Wilts! As soon as the clock struck one Mr. Allen was urged, by Mr. Perpetual Under-Sheriff and his associates, some of the attending Magistrates, to proceed to the hustings, and to open the proceedings forthwith. With this suggestion he, however, peremptorily refused to comply, saying, "as Mr. Hunt has published a letter in the public newspapers, to say that he should attend the meeting, and propose some amendment to the petition which is meant to be submitted to the meeting by those who signed the requisition, I have not the slightest doubt but he will keep his word; and as he lives at a great distance, I should not be doing my duty conscientiously if I did not wait half an hour, to make allowance for the difference of clocks, or any accidental delay that may have arisen in so long a journey."
As he had anticipated, I arrived within ten minutes of the time; and in answer to his polite message I returned another, thanking him for his attention, and promising not to detain him five minutes. In the meanwhile I had a message from Mr. Hanning and the other gentlemen who signed the requisition, to say that, previous to our going to the hustings, they wished to consult with me upon the propriety of the resolutions, &c. that they meant to submit to the meeting. My answer was, "give my compliments to the gentlemen, and say that I am at the Swan, where I shall be happy to confer with them if they wish it." In three minutes, before I could scarcely wash my hands and face after my journey, they entered my room. They began by saying that they had seen my letter in the public papers, and as they by no means wished to act hostilely to me, or to create any division at the meeting, they had no objection to adopt my resolutions and petition, which prayed for the total repeal of the Property Tax, instead of those which they had drawn up, which only went to the partial repeal of it. I saw by this that they had fully ascertained what was the real public feeling, and that they were not willing to brave it at the meeting. I begged to see their resolutions and petition, adding, that I by no means wished to take it out of their hands; and to skew them that I wished to meet them upon liberal terms, I proposed the embodying one of my resolutions among theirs, and a corresponding clause in their petion. As these additions fully recognised the principle for which I contended, I was desirous to skew the requisitionists that I did not wish to take any advantage of the popularity that I possessed, and I therefore agreed that Mr. Hanning should propose his resolutions and petition, thus altered and amended, and that I would then give him my hearty concurrence and support.