3381. [Robert Southey] to Henry Brougham, [before 6 November 1819]

3381. [Robert Southey] to Henry Brougham, [before 6 November 1819]⁠* 


You have had your day at Wigton and at Kendal, and sufficiently elated you seem to have been at having had the field to yourself. [1]  Wherever you obtain that fit audience which you lose no opportunity of seeking, it would not be easy for an opponent to gain a hearing; and certainly no person who regards his own character as a gentleman would expose himself to a personal altercation with one who cares so little in all his public conduct for the urbanities of life. There is one requisite of a demagogue, Mr. Brougham, which you possess in perfection: when you address the rabble you address yourself admirably to their humour, and cast aside every thing in feeling or manner by which they could possibly distinguish you from one of themselves. The press, however, is open to your antagonists, and in bringing you by this means before the tribunal of sober minds, they run no risqué of being silenced by the clamour of your friends, or the brickbats of your partizans.

You have insisted that the Loyal Address of the County of Cumberland was privately prepared, and clandestinely circulated. Privately prepared any paper must be which is not got up at a public meeting; but how that which was circulated by the Lord Lieutenant, and lay publicly for signatures can be said to have been clandestinely brought forward, it would be difficult to understand if we did not know that political orators sometimes indulge in bolder licences of speech than have ever been claimed by the poets.

The Address you are pleased to say is very long indeed and extremely dull. In a matter of taste, who shall presume to dispute the sentence of a Scotch Reviewer? [2]  but with regard to the length of the paper, that point may be determined by a six inch rule, and your own speech, which is precisely upon the same subject appears even in its abbreviated report to be more than thrice as lengthy. Let that pass. Whether the Address be long or short, ill-written or well, is of no moment: you are welcome to display your own skill in the niceties of composition by animadverting upon its style, – but you shall not misrepresent its meaning as you have done, without being called to an account.

It is stated in the Loyal Address, that men are now no longer disqualified for popular favor by notorious infamy, and that it matters not how profligate they may be in the relations of private life, how base in their dealings, how bankrupt in character and fortune, nor how openly they may live in habitual violation of the laws both of God and Man. You have thought proper to comment upon the expressions as if they were applied to the “noble, honorable, and respectable personages who attended the county meeting at York:” [3]  you have thought proper to say, that these personages are described in the Address as having no stake in the country and nothing to lose. Mr. Brougham, this was not, and could not be misapprehension on your part. The writer of the Address is not a fool that he should throw out such senseless aspersions; nor could you, Sir, be so stupid as thus grossly to mistake the meaning of a plain and obvious allusion to the mob-heroes of the day. If it had been possible for a man of the bluntest understanding to make the mistake, the very next sentence in the paper would have shown him his blunder, where the Whigs who have attended the public meetings in question are distinctly alluded to as persons of rank and respectability. You did not misunderstand the passage, and I accuse you, Sir, of having deliberately and wilfully misrepresented it.

But this, Sir, is not the only misrepresentation of which you were guilty, in your speech. You said – “What do you think of this paragraph, Gentlemen, that, admitting lives were lost at Manchester – yet greater and far more extensive evils must arise, if the people are allowed to assemble; – the paragraph proceeds to say, under such circumstances, in contempt of the constituted authorities, – but you cut off the last member of the sentence, make your full stop where it suits your purpose, and then proceed to argue and inveigh against the mutilated passage, as if you had given its whole meaning. You call it slavish, and base, and pitiful, and low, and cowardly, and then you ask if they are Englishmen who have said this? Truer Englishmen than yourself, Mr. Brougham, in birth, in breeding, in all their opinions, principles, and feelings. [4] 

The Radicals met at Manchester for the purpose of proclaiming once more their determination to effect a change in the Constitution of the British Government. They came in military order; they bore black flags and bloody daggers for their banners; [5]  they had been cautioned by the Magistrates not to meet at that place, on that day. – A short time before the meeting, they had attacked and nearly murdered two special constables, who went to look at them when they were performing their exercise; and in the same neighbourhood, a constable was shot for having discharged his duty in apprehending one of their leaders. [6]  There was nothing equivocal in the object of the meeting. The Radicals avowed their object, – it was Liberty, according to their acceptation of the word, or Death. It is notorious that pikes had been manufactured for their use, and that they had been regularly drilled and taught to perform military manoeuvres. [7]  They had passed resolutions for the destruction of all property in the funds; and one branch of these hopeful Reformers had declared against all landed property also. [8]  That they are unlawful as being tumultuous and in terrorem populi [9]  I, for one, maintain, and rely upon the best legal authorities for the opinion. Nor is there any man of common sense who can doubt but that worse evils than those which resulted at Manchester would ensue, if the people are allowed to assemble under such circumstances as these, and in contempt as they then and there did, of the constituted authorities. These circumstances, Mr. Brougham, you have overlooked, you have mutilated the paragraph in the Address, for the sake of keeping them out of sight; and you have then represented the promotion of that Address, as saying, that no meetings of the people ought to be allowed.

Is this fair dealing, Sir? is it honorable? is it consistent with the principles of a Gentleman, or of an honest man? if you are insensible to these considerations, I ask you whether it is good policy for the sake of a momentary triumph, to avail yourself of artifices so easily detected; and so sure to be exposed? By what unhappy obliquity of intellect is it that you should not perceive the extreme impudence of this dishonesty in public life? Have you lived so exclusively among Scotch critics and factious Englishmen as not to know that the Laws of Honor allow no benefit of Clergy for a breach of truth? And are you so utterly incorrigible that you still persist in bringing false accusations for personal or party purposes, convicted as you recently have been of such practices, and still “flagrant from the scourge” of the Quarterly Reviewer? [10]  – Take heed, Sir, errors of opinion may be outgrown, errors of judgement may be repaired, errors of conduct may be forgiven: to all these things the world is charitable, as it ought to be; but he who has been branded for unfair conduct bears about with him a stigma which nothing can efface.

VINDEX. [11] 


* MS: MS has not survived; text is taken from the letter published in the Westmorland Gazette
Previously published: Westmorland Gazette, 13 November 1819, signed ‘VINDEX’
Dating note: The letter was written before 6 November, when it should have appeared in the Westmorland Gazette. An editorial comment affixed to the letter as it was published on 13 November 1819 explained that ‘The following Communication was unavoidably omitted in our last publication’. As the Westmorland Gazette was published weekly, the ‘last publication’ was that of 6 November 1819. BACK

[1] Following the ‘Peterloo’ Massacre of 16 August 1819, Whigs in Cumberland organised a County Meeting at Wigton on 13 October 1819, addressed by Brougham, to protest at the local authorities’ actions and send an Address to the Prince Regent. Southey drew up a conservative response – an Address to the Prince Regent denouncing the radicals and calling for curbs on the press. This Address was circulated by Lord Lonsdale, the Lord Lieutenant for Cumberland, and a copy was leaked to the Morning Chronicle, 23 October 1819. However, the Chronicle correctly reported that ‘several of the most respectable of the LOWTHER party have refused to sign the Loyal Address, and cry out against it as ultra’. The Address was not proceeded with, and government supporters in Cumberland produced a more moderate document. A further County Meeting for Westmorland was held at Kendal on 21 October 1819 to protest against the authorities’ actions at the ‘Peterloo’ meeting. Brougham was present, and read out and denounced the rival pro-government Loyal Address which Southey had written (though Brougham was unaware of its author). He remarked that the Address ‘is very long indeed, and extremely dull’, and described its authors as ‘fawning sycophants’ who had produced a ‘slavish’ document, Morning Chronicle, 26 October 1819. BACK

[2] Brougham had written regularly for the Edinburgh Review (1802–1929), the main Whig quarterly journal. BACK

[3] The York County Meeting on 14 October 1819, to denounce the local authorities’ handling of events at St Peter’s Fields in Manchester on 16 August 1819, was attended by many Whig landowners, including William Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam (1748–1833; DNB), Lord-Lieutenant for the West Riding of Yorkshire, and Bernard Howard, 12th Duke of Norfolk (1765–1842; DNB). BACK

[4] Brougham had been born and educated in Edinburgh, and his mother, Eleanor Syme (1750–1839), was Scottish, so Southey may well have felt more ‘English’ than his critic. BACK

[5] The banners at the St Peter’s Field meeting at Manchester on 16 August 1819 were much commented on by conservatives; here Southey paraphrases the Manchester magistrate, James Norris’s (c. 1774–1838), speech committing Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt (1773–1835; DNB) to trial for conspiracy on 27 August 1819, which condemned ‘the black flag, the bloody dagger, the words equal representation, or death’ on the crowd’s banners. BACK

[6] Southey here refers to two separate incidents. Firstly, on 15 August 1819, two special constables, James Murray and William Shawcross (dates unknown), had observed radicals drilling at White Moss, near Middleton, and had been attacked and beaten. Secondly, Joseph Harrison (1779–1848), one of the organisers of a radical meeting in Stockport on 28 June 1819, was arrested in London and when he was being escorted back for trial in Cheshire, the constable, William Birch (b. 1792), accompanying him was shot and wounded on 23 July 1819. BACK

[7] Pikes had certainly been collected by various radicals, but they were not in evidence at the meeting at St Peter’s Fields. Many of the contingents had been drilled, though. BACK

[8] William Cobbett was particularly associated with hostility to investors in the national debt; and the Society of Spencean Philanthropists, some of whom had instigated the attempted revolution at Spa Fields on 2 December 1816, wished to redistribute landed property. But neither Cobbett nor the Spenceans were connected to the ‘Peterloo’ meeting. BACK

[9] ‘To the terror of the people’; a legal phrase used in indictments for riot. BACK

[10] Alexander Pope (1688–1744; DNB), The Dunciad (1728), Book 2, line 148. There had been a sustained attack on Brougham’s recent political activities, including his criticisms of particular individuals and institutions, in ‘Mr Brougham. – Education Committee’, Quarterly Review, 19 (July 1818), 492–569, published 2 February 1819. Southey was particularly sensitive to the charges that Brougham made against people in public life, as it had been reported that Brougham had attacked Southey from the hustings during the Westmorland election, on 30 June 1818. Southey had drawn up a list of similar criticisms that Brougham had made, and which he intended to use in his planned (but uncompleted) published response to Brougham; see Southey to Grosvenor Charles Bedford, 1 August 1818, The Collected Letters of Robert Southey. Part Five, Letter 3175. BACK

[11] ‘Vindicator’. BACK

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