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[Published March, 1316, by S. W. Lores, 50, Piccadilly.
(Face p. 50.
DISTRESS AJONGST THE INDUSTRIAL CLASSES.
famous Brighton Pavilion. “Push on!” he shouts to his daughter and future son-in-law, “ Push on! Preach economy! and when you have got your money, follow my example.” “Oh! my back," groans poor John, crawling with the greatest difficulty under the weight of his heavy burdens. “I never can bear it! This will finish me.”
The two years which succeeded the fall of Bonaparte were remarkable for the distress which prevailed amongst the industrial classes in England. The glory we had reaped in our long struggle with France was forgotten in the consideration of the almost insupportable burdens which it necessarily entailed. The sufferings of the masses prompted them to seek relief by bringing their grievances before Parliament; but the reception their petitions met with, served only to show the little sympathy which existed between the national representatives, as then elected, and the people of England. Petitions were next presented to the Regent himself, while the popular discontent found expression in large meetings convened in London, Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, and other industrial centres. These meetings, it was observed, were convened, attended, and addressed almost exclusively by the working classes, the middle and upper ranks taking no share in the proceedings. The speakers pointed out in impressive and forcible language the various evils which they said had brought about their altered condition ; the waste of public money in perpetual wars, in unearned pensions, sinecures, and other unjust expenditure. The high price of provisions provoked riots at Brandon, Norwich, Newcastle, Ely, Glasgow, Preston, Leicester, Merthyr, Tredegar, and other places; a large number of the populace assembled in Spafields in December to receive the Regent's answer to their petition. While waiting the arrival of “orator” Hunt, one of the most popular of the agitators of the day, a band of desperadoes appeared on the scene with a tri-coloured flag, and headed by a man named Watson, who, after delivering a violent harangue from a waggon, led them into the city. The rioters pillaged several gunsmiths' shops, but the prompt action of Lord Mayor Wood, the strong party of constables at his back, who seized several of the rioters, and the appearance
1817. REGENT OPENS PARLIAMENT.
on the scene of the military, soon induced the rioters to disperse. In January, 1817, John Cashman, one of the Spafields rioters, was tried for burglariously entering the shop of Mr. Beckworth, a gunsmith, and hanged opposite the scene of his depredations.
The Regent opened Parliament on the 28th of January, 1817. In his address, he said that “the distress consequent upon the termination of a war of such universal extent and duration, had been felt with greater or less severity throughout all the nations of Europe, and had been considerably aggravated by the unfavourable state of the season.” Alluding to the proceedings of the popular agitators, he added : “In considering our internal situation, you will, I doubt not, feel a just indignation at the attempts which have been made to take advantage of the distresses of the country, for the purpose of exciting a spirit of sedition and violence. ... I am determined to omit no precautions for preserving the public peace, and for counteracting the designs of the disaffected.” Whether this statement was the cause or not, the Regent had a narrow escape on his return from the House; for, while passing at the back of the gardens of Carlton House, the glass of his window was broken, either by a stone or (as was supposed) by two balls from an air-gun, which appeared to have been aimed at His Royal Highness.
On the 6th of February, Lord Cockrane presented to the House of Commons the petition of the Spafields meeting, signed by 24,000 persons. It prayed for annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and reduction in the public expenditure. He presented at the same time a petition from Manchester, signed by 30,000 persons, praying for reform in Parliament and economy in the public expenditure. Sir Francis Burdett also presented a Leeds petition for the same objects, containing 7,000 signatures. These were of course only legitimate modes of expressing the wants of the people ; but, unhappily, quite independent of the action of the popular leaders, the country in some parts was so disturbed, so closely on the brink of insurrection, that ministers found themselves obliged twice during the course of the year to resort to the almost unprecedented measure
of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, on the first occasion at the end of February, and on the second in June.
At a meeting held at Manchester in March, for the purpose of petitioning the Regent against the suspension of the Act, it was proposed and agreed that another meeting should be held on the following Monday (the oth of March), with the professed intention that ten out of every twenty persons who attended it should proceed to London with a petition to His Royal Highness. The meeting took place accordingly; many thousands actually attended in full marching order (i.e. provided with a bundle and a blanket); and a considerable body appear to have made some advance on their way before their further progress was arrested. Expeditions of a similar character were simultaneously planned, attempted, and frustrated in other parts of the country.
Meanwhile, there were trials for high treason at Westminster Hall; trials of rioters at York and Derby ; and at the latter town, on the 7th of November, three miserable men were hung. Among the witnesses at these trials appear to have been two men named Castle and Oliver: and it came out that these fellows, with two other Government spies, named Edwards and Franklin, had been among the chief fomenters by speeches and writings of the seditions in the Metropolis and northern counties. The disclosures made by these scoundrels produced of course a great sensation and numerous satires. One of these, entitled, More Plots !!! More Plots !!! published by Fores in August, 1817, is “dedicated to the inventors, Lord S [idmouth] and Lord C [astlereagh].” It is divided into four compartments. In the first we see four foxes (typifying no doubt the four informers) watching the movements of a flock of geese. “'Tis plain,” says one of the former, “there is a plot on foot; let's seize them, Brother Oliver.” “I have no doubt of it: I can smell it plainly,” answers his companion. In the second, a couple of fierce nondescript beasts are regarding a number of innocent lambs: “ These bloodthirsty wretches,” remarks one of the two, “mean to destroy man, woman, and child, I know it to a certainty; for they carry sedition, privy con