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return he was still followed by the crowd, who threatened to pull him out of his carriage, which, it is thought, they would have done but for the timely arrival of the Guards. But still the moral effect of this mob was absolutely nothing except in so far as it stimulated the friends of order. Out of sympathy with the nation at large, and unsupported by any aristocratic party of any weight in the country, the mob was powerless. The only result of their behaviour was that two Bills, called the “ Treason Bill" and the “ Sedition Bill” were passed through Parliament by overwhelming majorities, and though they were never put in force, the evidence which they supplied of the strength and determination of Government cowed the leaders of agitation, and caused it gradually to wither.
Before we quit the eighteenth century we must notice the famous Birmingham riots, where the mob, as if to show their impartiality towards sectaries of all denominations, proceeded to cap the doings of the Gordon rioters by a like display of rancour towards the Dissenters. The origin of the disturbance was a sermon preached by Dr. Priestly, a Unitarian, in which he upheld what had then come to be called “ French principles." While the people were still in a state of much irritation at this discourse, notice was given that the Unitarian Society intended to celebrate the anniversary of the destruction of the Bastile by a public festival and dinner, to be held at one of the chief hotels. Popular feeling rose so high at this announcement that the more prudent of the propagandists declined to attend the celebration. About eighty, however, did assemble on the 14th of July (1791); but were soon surrounded by an immense mob who shouted “ Church and King” with much ferocity of demeanoar till the company separated. They then proceeded to reward themselves for their own loyalty by demolishing Dr. Priestly's house, which contained a valuable laboratory and fibrary. From this they went on to other acts of violence of the like kind, and even made raids into the country, where they burned or ransacked several gentlemen's houses. They had their own way entirely from Thursday to Sunday, and committed damage for which the sufferers recovered about thirty thousand pounds from their respective hundreds. It was said that they were encouraged by the clergy and at least winked at by the magistrates. But this we must presume to be a calumny. Only three of the rioters were hung, but great numbers perished in the flames.
We now take a great leap into almost a new world, passing orer nearly a quarter of a century before mobs again become formidable. It was not till after the peace, when invasion had ceased to have any terrors for us, and the exultation of victory was forgotten in the distress which prevailed among the people, that political agitation revived. The source of this distress we are not called upon to explain ; that it existed is a well-known fact; and that the enactment of the Corn Laws about the same time formed a useful weapon in the hands of agitators, is equally notorious. From 1816 to 1820, London was honeycombed with conspiracies, none of them perhaps very formidable, but the mere consciousness of which was harassing and irrita
ting to Government. The Luddites were still active in the manufacturing districts. The agricultural labourers rose in gangs, burning ricks, destroying shops in the country towns, and keeping even the most retired parts of the country in constant trepidation and anxiety. A number of associations called Hampden clubs were formed at this period for the purpose partly, or at least ostensibly, of diverting the people from these outrages by organizing a peaceable agitation in favour of Parliamentary Reform. They did to some extent succeed in diverting popular indignation from one class of offenders to another; from butchers and bakers and machineowners, to parliamentary borough-mongers. But they did not do much towards making the people more peaceable. Large public meetings now began to be held all over the kingdom, and the “ demagogue " rose again into such importance as he had not enjoyed since the days of “ Jack Wilkes." Gentlemen again took up the part, and the mob again became formidable. In December, 1816, there was a serious riot in the City, which was nipped in the bud by the firmness of the Lord Mayor and City magistrates. But all these things were but preludes to the great meeting at Manchester, in 1819, when ensued what is commonly known to the public as the “ Peterloo Massacre,” but which was attended in reality by rather less bloodshed than might reasonably have been apprehended beforehand. On the 12th of July a monster meeting was held at Birmingham (then, as our readers know, unrepresented), when Sir Charles Wolselv, of Wolsely Park in Staffordshire, and descended of a very ancient county family, was elected Member for the town. He had told his audience at a previous meeting at Stockport that he had takon part in the storming of the Bastile, and that what he had done for France he would not hesitate to do for his own country. Sir Charles was arrested for this speech shortly after his “ election,” at his house in Staffordshire. But the people of Manchester, fired by the example of their brethren at Birmingham, resolved to have a Member too, and pitched upon Orator Hunt as their representative. A meeting was announced for Monday, the 9th of August, for the purpose of formally electing him, to be held on an open space of ground near St. Peter's Church. The magistrates forbade the meeting, and gave notice to all loyal and peaceable subjects to abstain from attending it. The Reformers then begged that the authorities would themselves convene a meeting where the question of Parliamentary Reform might be discussed. This request they, not perhaps unnaturally, declined ; and it was imme. diately notified that the original meeting would be held. It assembled accordingly to the number of about eighty thousand with flags and bands of music. The magistrates had come to the decision not to prevent the meeting but only to arrest the ringleaders. They had at hand about two hundred special constables, forty of the Manchester yeomanry, the 15th Hussars, part of the 31st and 88th Regiments of Foot, and four hundred of the Cheshire yeomanry. The chief constable, when he received his warrant, said that it was impossible for him to execute it without military assistance. The Manchester ycomanry were then ordered
to break through the mob, and penetrate to the spot where Hunt and his associates stood. But the command was more easily given than obeyed. The soldiers did not attempt a regular charge, but more humanely endeavoured to push their horses through the mass, without using their arms. The result may be imagined. They got separated from each other, and
. firmly wedged in among the mob, unable either to advance or retreat. At this moment, and when the mob was beginning to pull some of them off their horses, the 15th Hussars came up, and received orders from Mr. Hulton, one of the magistrates, to disperse the crowd and rescue the yeomanry. This was the work of only a few minutes; the ground was soon cleared, and Hunt and ten others were arrested. Of course, no afair of this kind could take place without a good many people being hurt. Between three and four hundred are said to have been injured on this occasion. But the cases of sabre wounds were not more than twenty or thirty, while the lives lost were actually not more than six, one of these being a special constable, and the other a yeoman, who was knocked off his horse by a brickbat. The collision took place in August during the parliamentary recess; and it is rather remarkable that when Parliament assembled again in the following November, comparatively little was said upon the subject in either House. In fact, the circumstances of the case had been much exaggerated; and as the popular leaders in the legislature had been able during the vacation to make inquiries for themselves, they judged it more prudent, perhaps also more generous, to refrain from declamation.
It would be untrue to say that the agitation which culminated in "Peterloo " was followed by a reaction, but it was certainly followed by a period of comparative tranquillity. The repressive measures of a really strong Government did something ; the horror with which the Cato Street Conspiracy inspired all classes of society did more. But what did more than all towards killing the popular excitement was the return of general prosperity which commenced soon after the accession of George IV. The question of Parliamentary Reform was allowed to go to sleep again, and Catholic Emancipation and the Slave Trade took its place in public estimation ; on neither of these questions was democratic agitation possible.
We have to pass over a period of twelve years before we find the passions of 1819 again asserting themselves, or any English mob worth mentioning, in collision with the established authorities. The latter part of the autumn of 1831 was a terrible time for England. Early in October the Lords had rejected the Reform Bill by a majority of forty-one ; and that vote was a signal for the whole populace of the country to rise. Riots took place in half the large towns of the kingdom, London included, where Lord Londonderry and the Duke of Cumberland were pulled off their horses, and the windows of the Dukes of Wellington and Newcastle were smashed to pieces. But Bristol and Nottingham were the chosen spots in which the mob once more reigned supreme, and re-enacted the scenes of 1780 almost to the letter. Sir Charles Wetherell was Recorder of Bristol,
and he had been one of the most violent opponents of the Re orm Bill. Towards the end of October the time arrived at which the usual gaol delivery was to be held before him. Even many of his friends in Bristol, who understood the state of public feeling, thought it would be wise in him to postpone his visit. But Sir Charles himself and the more resolute of the Tory party deemed it unadvisable to betray any symptoms of timidity, and it was determined to proceed as usual. The results were frightful. Sir Charles made his entry into the city on the 29th, and with difficulty reached the Guildhall, where, amid the groans and hisses of a dense multitude, the commission was opened. With still greater difficulty did the Recorder make his way from the Guildhall to the Mansion House, where he was of course to dine with the Lord Mayor. But such a banquet was served up to him that night as must have haunted his dreams ever afterwards. The mob, vigorously but ineffectively opposed by the constabulary, smashed the windows and broke in the doors of the Mansion House, and forced its obnoxious guest, instead of sitting down to the dinner that was preparing for him, to make his escape as best he could over the roof of an adjoining house. The residence of the chief magistrate was ransacked, and among other booty falling into the hands of the mob was Sir Charles's own portmanteau, which, it was noticed at the time, though full of different kinds of wearingapparel, contained no braces.* All this time the lower stories of the house had been laid completely bare to the gaze of the outsiders, who saw through the broken windows, and gaping doors, the whole paraphernalia of the kitchen arranged as for a grand banquet. Joints of meat were seen hung npon the spits, saucepans simmering on the fire, game ready trussed upon the dressers, but the cooks had fled, the altars were deserted, even the cellars were
to the thirsty multitude, who were not slow to avail themselves of the opportunity. Henceforth Bristol was for some days at the mercy of the mob, who drank, burned, and pillaged, right and left, without any serious interruption even from the military force, which was amply sufficient to have quelled the riot at any moment. The explanation of this disgraceful scene is almost word for word the explanation of the Gordon riots. Both the officers in command of the troops, and the magistrates in command of the officers, shrank from their duty. But it does appear that the major part of the blame rested on the shoulders of Colonel Brereton. the first place, at the very commencement of the riot, he withdrew one half of his troops from the scene of action to give them refreshment; and the mob took advantage of his absence to gain the upper
; hand, which they maintained for several days afterwards. In the second place he insisted at a later period on being allowed to withdraw his men to village two miles from Bristol, on the ground that they were not safe in the city. Thirdly, he sereral times refused to charge when ordered to do so by the magistrates, because, he said, his men were too
left a prey
* An allusion to a well-known peculiarity of the eccentric old lawyer.
fatigued. It seems beyond dispute that the most ordinary display of courage and firmness at the beginning would have crushed these riots in the cradle, as it would almost all the riots that have happened. Bat these qualities were unfortunately wanted; and what was still worse, they only returned when the mob was already exhausted, and respectable people began again to show themselves in the streets. Then the cavalry charged through the town, slashing on all sides without mercy or discrimination, and killing or maiming a considerable number of innocent and perhaps even friendly persons. An inquiry was instituted into the conduct of the military, the result of which was that it seemed likely that Colonel Brereton would be tried by a court-martial. The unfortunate officer, as is well known, destroyed himself a few days afterwards, to avoid the ordeal which he felt he could not face with credit. No one doubted his personal courage ; but personal courage is scarcely the quality most in demand against a mob.
The Nottingham riots, which occurred about a fortnight earlier, were neither so serious nor of such long duration as those at Bristol.
But they acquired an unhappy notoriety by two circumstances of more than ordinary interest which attended them. One was the destruction of Nottingham Castle, an ancient and splendid relic of past ages, then the property of the Duke of Newcastle, which possibly suggested to Mr. Disraeli his vivid picture of the burning of Mowbray Castle in Sybil. The other, and me sufficient by itself to make the memory of these riots execrable for all time, was the death of Mrs. Musters, Lord Byron's "Mary," whose bome at Colwick Hall was attacked by the mob, during the absence of her husband. She took refuge, with her daughter, in the shrubberies on a cold wet autumn night, and between the combined effects of fright and cold she died only a few weeks afterwards. The rioters extended their ravages for many miles round Nottingham, and some even penetrated to Loughborough, a market-town within the borders of Leicestershire. The present writer has often heard from relatives of his own, who were staying near Loughborough at the time, the terror they underwent on that memorable night, in a lonely country-house, with none but ladies for the garrison.
With the riots of 1831 this brief sketch of English mobs may be properly concluded. The affair of 1848 was a meeting that was likely to become a mob, but in point of fact it never did, and it would be foreign to our purpose to dwell merely on possibilities. The riots of last year are too recent to be discussed without suspicion of a political bias, which it is our express purpose to avoid. The experience of a hundred and fifty years teaches us two things, that we never need fear the mob when the better classes, and those set in anthority over them, are true to themselves; and, secondly, that the slightest want of energy, the most venial error of judg. ment, or the briefest relaxation of vigilance, may bo fraught with all the horrors which London underwent in 1780, and Bristol in 1831.