Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Bring the Prisoner Here

On February 1, 1817, the first issue of William Hone's Reformists' Register was published, documenting the trajectory of official bullying.  From a prince's broken carriage window to the use of religion to suppress political dissent and the press, Hone's Register showed, step-by-step, the lengths to which the executive power of a government might go to shield itself from mockery.

Three weeks after general alarm over an unruly mob that threw stones, England officially suspended habeas corpus, the shorthand term for a person's right to appeal imprisonment.  The term came from the phrase "habeas corpus ad subjiciendum" (produce or have the person to be subjected to [examination]), used in 14th century documents that ordered state-run prisons to answer to the court system.  Habeas corpus describes the principle of even state powers having to justify their actions; you can't just lock a person up and throw away the key.  In late February, 1817, the government of England said it would do exactly that for as long as it wanted to.

By May of 1817, William Hone was in prison, following the publication of his parodies ridiculing the Prince Regent (later to be George IV).  His parodies, based on well-known Church of England texts, used the format and key words of every-day religious ritual to point out just how irreligious and immoral the Prince Regent was: his lavish lifestyle and indulgences, set against the general populations struggles with high taxes and poverty, for instance.

The Prince Regent, as illustrated by James Gillray (1792)

Hone was finally given an opportunity to defend himself in court, in December, although in this case the court hardly acted like a separate branch of government.  Hone, representing himself, battled a biased judge and old customs that had effectively made the jury a group of official yes-men.  These challenges had to come well before he could answer the actual charges against him.  He couldn't hope to win his trials with a jury stacked against him.

Because there were three pamphlets the government objected to, Hone had to defend himself at three separate trials.  Hone's presentations, in large part, consisted of a history of parody, including specific examples and their strategies.  One major point was that the original work itself is often not the target of the parody; sometimes, the target is a political figure or others who have come to be fair game.  Since the line between religion and government was still rather blurred in 19th century England, this was a major distinction.  Hone wasn't making fun of the religious texts.  He was criticizing the excesses of the Prince who sat upon the throne.  

Hone was acquitted by the jury in all three trials.


Entry on Hone's Reformists' Register and Weekly Commentary

Text of Hone's Reformists' Register [published as "Proceedings against William Hone before his trials. Complete"]

Entry on William Hone

Introduction to exhibit about William Hone (http://libraries.adelphi.edu/bar/hone/intro.html)

Meaning and translation of "habeas corpus" (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=habeas%20corpus)

Biographical sketch of the Prince Regent (later George IV) (http://www.historyhome.co.uk/people/george4.htm)

James Gillray's illustration of the Prince Regent

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Toad Eat Toad

In his Year Book, Hone plucks out an ornery diary entry from the collected manuscripts of Reverend William Cole.

Cole's notebooks, withheld from public view until 30 years after his death (by his order), contained a hodge-podge of historical research and personal notes.   

One item, dated July 23, 1772, complains about his live-in maid's lack of devotion.  She refused to work for him for a stretch of nine weeks, so he turned her out of the house.  But he couldn't find a replacement:    

...very inconvenient to me as I don't know where to provide myself of one in her room: but 'Wilkes and Liberty' have brought things to that pass that ere long we shall get no one to serve us.

"Wilkes and Liberty" was the battle-cry of those who resented the custom of holding the privileged and ruling classes above reproach.

John Wilkes became the champion of many in 1763, when he was prosecuted for criticizing King George III.  Vague warrants and arbitrary arrests by law enforcement were scrutinized during his trials (he prevailed).

Rev. Cole, also put out in his own way, wasn't completely cold-hearted.  He gave his maid enough money to pay for a room elsewhere.

Hone ends his own July 23 entry by describing Cole's papers as "amusing," and the man himself as a toady to a true member of the upper crust, Horace Walpole, historian, politician and son of a Prime Minister.

Villagers inspect and display "An Ode to Wilkes & Liberty."
"The City Chanters,' a scene from the 'Wilkes and Liberty' riots, 1768.
After an engraving, 1775, by S. Okey of a picture by John Collett.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Week of August 8 (Mini-Update)

One August day, a contagious wave of destruction, spreading outwards from London, landed in a northern Derbyshire village.
Eyam, August, 1666.
Dear Hearts,—This brings you the doleful news of your dear mother's death— the greatest loss which ever yet befell you! I am not only deprived of a kind and loving consort, but you also are bereaved of the most indulgent mother that ever dear children had.
Thus begins the letter relating the death of Catherine Mompesson to her young children, George and Elizabeth. Its composer: husband, Rev. William Mompesson. The Great Plague had arrived a few months earlier, hidden in a box of infested cloth, but the Reverend and his wife, after some mutual pleading for the other to flee, both decided to stay. They sent their children away.

In Hone's Table Book, verse and prose detail Mompesson's concern for his flock and the new arrangements made for addressing them and delivering his regular sermons. One letter he wrote at the time reveals his personal commitment.
I intend (God willing) to spend most of this week in seeing all the woollen clothes fumed and purified, as well for the satisfaction, as for the safety of the country.

Tomb of Catherine Mompesson [d. August 1666], and nearby ancient cross

Over 7 months of misery, 259 Eyam villagers--four-fifths of the total population--suffered and died. Yet no one fled, and the contagious disease spread no further. Hone reports that Mompesson imported necessary supplies, thereby tempering the desperation with goods, as well as his persuasive words. In their notes to The Desolation of Eyam, William and Mary Botham Howitt suggest that the subject of their poem was more efficient than an army.

What a cordon of soldiers could not have accomplished, was effected by the wisdom and love of one man.* This measure was the salvation of the country. The plague, which would most probably have spread from place to place, may be said to have been here hemmed in, and, in a dreadful and desolating struggle, destroyed and buried with its victims.
Hone concludes his narrative with the following lines.

William Mompesson exercised a power greater than legislators have yet attained. He had found the great secret of government. He ruled his flock by the Law of Kindness.
Since then, a few have had luck with those infected and disaffected, by insisting on living and working in the midst of social crisis.

BBC interview with James Cook [August 2011]

*Another individual, the Rev. Thomas Stanley, also aided his fellow residents of Eyam in their distress. After being forced into retirement for his beliefs, 4 years earlier by the Act of Conformity, Stanley received monetary support from most of the community.

[Table Book, pp. 655-661; 729]

Photos: from Jeffandi and Torchythetourist, via TripAdvisor; Associated Press

Audio: The World Today (BBC World Service), August 10, 2011, 02:00 GMT

Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26, 2010

For many, once Christmas Day has drawn to a close, so does the merrymaking and special activities. This is not mandatory, however, as Hone hints. Just as modern celebrations emphasize Santa Claus' arrival between the late night news on Dec. 24 and 3am, certain obscure customs were once carefully observed in the days following Christmas.

December 26 is called both St. Stephen's Day and Boxing Day. The former designation marks the death of the first Christian martyr, and includes ancient traditions involving horses. "S. Stevens-day it is the custome for all horses to be let bloud and drench'd," reads one old book. Yet there is a record of at least one gentleman refusing the bloodletting offer. "He answered, no, sirra, my horse is not diseas'd of the fashions." By the end of the 19th century, this gentleman's skepticism had spread to the medical community, both horse and human.

Less gruesome customs are connected with the day, perhaps best remembered in the Good King Wenceslas carol. Acts of charity are shown to the poor man gathering fuel, and this tradition was cemented into place by the second term for Dec. 26. Historically, Boxing Day was a day for distributing gifts specifically to tradesmen and the poor. Sometimes, the presents and money would flow forth as a matter of course. Other times, a little prompting helped to open the coffers.

In Malcolm's London, an anecdote from 1731 reveals the annoyance felt by one fellow. While he readily gave Christmas-boxes to his "brewer, baker, and other tradesmen," an "innumerable tribe" of those tradesmen's servants also turned up at his doorstep for their gifts, too. His disgust was complete after going into town with a friend, in order to see how the money was spent. At one alehouse, roast beef and plum pudding were on hand, but a card game ruined the good cheer when a fight broke out. At a barn, the pair of friends found themselves surrounded by a hundred people, some in costume, dancing "to the music of two sorry fiddles."

"This horrid place seemed to be a complete nursery to the gallows," writes the fellow, who rejoices when the police come to break up the party. No word on whether this Scrooge ever loosened up, but in Yorkshire, the celebration and charity of the season continued without fail:

On the feast of St. Stephen large goose pies are made, all of which they distribute among their needy neighbours, except one which is carefully laid up, and not tasted till the purification of the virgin, called Candlemas. [EDBv1]

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Week of December 19 (Mini-Update)

Weekend shopping, if not entirely consigned to gift selection, probably includes items for the pantry.

Hone records the changing customs of holiday meals, starting with a few overwhelming lines from Philip Massinger, the 17th century playwright:

Men may talk of country Christmasses,
Their thirty-pound butter'd eggs, their pies of carp's tongues,
Their pheasants drench'd with ambergris, the carcasses
Of three fat wethers bruised for gravy, to
Make sauce for a single peacock; yet their feasts
Were fasts, compared with the city's.

City Madam, act ii, sc.1.

Whether or not you have three fat sheep primed for your gravy boat, a taste of the old days may be recalled with Christmas games and stories. Traditional tales include those of Sir Thopas, Bevis of Southampton, Guy of Warwicke, Adam Bell, and Clymme of the Clough.

To conclude the day, try a bed-time posset. Part drink, part pudding, this favorite dessert has been employed by the rampaging Macbeth family (with a little poison), to dispose of the King's guards. It's also popped up in another epic adventure, where it demonstrated temporary restorative powers. [EDBv2]

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Week of November 28 (Mini-Update)

As December opens, a note from Hone about past tendencies to mark the winter months:

[Christmas] is the holiday, which, for obvious reasons, may be said to have survived all the others; but still it is not kept with any thing like the vigour, perseverance, and elegance of our ancestors. They not only ran Christmas-day, new-year's-day, and twelfth-night, all into one, but kept the wassail-bowl floating the whole time, and earned their right to enjoy it by all sorts of active pastimes.

Hone then summarizes a range of colorful and boisterous activities--which we will return to in the coming days. You, too, will learn "the way to turn winter to summer." [EDBv1]

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Week of August 2 (Mini-Update)

August 5 - You: at the coffee shop, pretending to read W.B. Yeats. Brown knitted sweater, frizzy hair, worn jeans. Me: tall, soaking wet and my nose pressed against the window. Something passed between us when you noticed me. Please call mailbox #8675309 .

Ever see those ads searching for missed connections? Here's one from this day in 1758, originally published in the London Chronicle:

A young lady who was at Vauxhall on Tuesday night last, in company with two gentlemen, could not but observe a young gentleman in blue and a gold-laced hat, who, being near her by the orchestra during the performance, especially the last song, gazed upon her with the utmost attention. He earnestly hopes (if unmarried) she will favour him with a line directed to A.D. at the bar of the Temple Exchange Coffee-house, Temple-bar, to inform him whether fortune, family, and character, may not entitle him upon a further knowledge, to hope an interest in hear heart. He begs she will pardon the method he has taken to let her know the situation of his mind, as, being a stranger, he despaired of doing it any othe way, or even of seeing her more. As his views are founded upon the most honourable principles, he presumes to hope the occasion will justify it, if she generously breaks through this trifling formality of the sex, rather than, by a cruel silence, render unhappy one, who must ever expect to continue so if debarred from a nearer acquaintance with her, in whose power alone it is to complete his felicity.

Hone comments that "a description of the various afflictions and modes of relief peculiar to the progress of this disorder would fill many volumes."

There's no word on whether A.D. ever cured his heartache, but one wonders if contemporary approaches to the same illness are more successful than his. [EDBv1]