3365. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 15 October 1819

3365. Robert Southey to William Peachy, 15 October 1819⁠* 

May it please your Royal Highness

We the undersigned Nobility, Magistrates, Gentry, Clergy & Freeholders of the County of Cumberland; feel it our duty at this time to approach the Throne with a declaration of our loyal attachment to the established Institutions of these Kingdoms, in opposition to the principles & practises by which their security is endangered & the peace of society disturbed. [1] 

It is the direct & undisguised object of those demagogues, by whom the multitude are misled, to bring about a revolution by force. For this purpose men are openly trained to arms, & assembled in bodies which bid defiance to the civil power: assassination has been recommended, & in more than one instance attempted; & lists are avowedly kept in which the loyal members of the community are marked for proscription. The rights of property are threatened; & the deluded populace are taught to believe that the administration of public affairs ought to be taken from persons who are qualified by their education & station in life, & whose stake in the country is a pledge for their good intentions, & transferred to the ignorant & needy, who are necessarily incompetent, & who have nothing to lose. The liberty of the press is daringly abused to the most flagitious purposes; it is employed with unremitting activity to efface from the minds of the people all respect for the laws, all sentiments of loyalty & religion, & all the old honourable feelings by which Englishmen heretofore have been distinguished. And unhappily this has been so far successful, that men are now no longer disqualified for popular favour by notorious infamy: it matters not how profligate they may be in the relations of private life, how base in their dealings, how bankrupt in character & in fortune, nor how openly they may live in habitual violation of the laws both of God & man.

Regarding these things with just apprehension we must express our sorrow that any persons of rank & respectability should be induced to take measures which obviously tend to encourage wicked & desperate men in their rebellious purposes. For however much we regret the lives which were lost at Manchester, we cannot but see that greater & far more extensive evil must arise, if multitudes are allowed to assemble under such circumstances, in contempt of the constituted authorities. And we perceive in the attempts which are made to misrepresent the transactions of that day, a manifest design of diverting public indignation from the real authors of the mischief, the effect of which would be so to pervert the laws as to make them protect those whom they ought to punish, & intimidate those whom they ought to protect.

As Englishman therefore who rightly appreciate the blessings which we enjoy, & desire that the free & happy constitution which we have inherited from our fathers may be transmitted to our children, we feel it our duty thus to address your Royal Highness. And should your Royal Highness be advised to recommend to Parliament the adoption of restrictive measures to check the diffusion of licentious principles, & curb the audacious spirit of blasphemy & treason, we beg leave to assure your Royal Highness that much as we deplore the necessity for such measures, we will chearfully submit to them, with a full sense of that necessity, as the natural consequence of excesses which have at all times produced similar results, & as the indispensable & only means of saving the country from the worst of all evils.

My dear Sir

I lose no time in transcribing for you the preceding Address, – in the belief that you will authorize me to have your name subscribed to it. It is not necessary (as in case of a petition) that it should be in your own handwriting. – You will be surprized – but not displeased to hear that this step has originated with Calvert. James Brougham [2]  invited him to join at a meeting where they were to censure the Manchester Magistrates, – & Calvert after writing an honest refusal, con came to consult with me about the best means of expressing his sentiments upon the subject. Lord Lonsdale has been over with us this morning, & some slight alterations have been made in the Address conformably to his suggestions. Every thing will now be done in due form, & we hope to beat the enemy as much in our list of names, as we have the advantage in our cause.

It would not surprize me if the Opposition were to be divided upon this occasion, as they were in 1793. [3]  The only thing to be feared is that Ministers may content themselves with half-measures, when they may carry whole ones without any more difficulty. The two most necessary things are – to repeal Mr Fox’s law of libel, [4]  – & to make transportation the punishment for sedition & blasphemy.

The Ladies desire their kindest remembrances to Mrs Peachy

Keswick. 15 Oct. 1819


* Address: To / Major-General Peachy/ Yarmouth/ Norfolk
Stamped: KESWICK/ 298
MS: British Library, Add MS 28603. AL; 4p.
Previously published: Kenneth Curry (ed.), New Letters of Robert Southey, 2 vols (London and New York, 1965), II, pp. 202–203 and n. 2.
Note on MS: The loyal Address which prefaces the letter is written on a separate leaf. BACK

[1] Following the ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 16 August 1819, in which local magistrates ordered the dispersal of a public meeting in Manchester, resulting in at least eleven deaths, Whigs in Cumberland started to organise a County Meeting, held on 13 October 1819, to protest at the magistrates’ actions and send an Address to the Prince Regent. The conservative response drawn up by Southey – an Address to the Prince Regent denouncing the radicals and calling for curbs on the press – follows. It was not proceeded with, and the government’s supporters in Cumberland produced instead a more moderate document. BACK

[2] James Brougham (1780–1833), younger brother of Henry Brougham and one of the main organisers of the Whig cause in the Lake District. BACK

[3] The opposition Whigs were increasingly divided after 1791 over their attitudes to the French Revolution and radicalism at home. In 1794 a group of Whigs joined the government, leaving Charles James Fox in opposition with the support of only about 60 MPs. BACK

[4] The Libel Act (1792), promoted by Charles James Fox, gave the main responsibility for deciding whether a publication was libellous to the jury in a trial, rather than the judge. BACK

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Keswick (mentioned 1 time)