Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 32

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One word more, even at the risk of offending many whom I should be very sorry to offend, and I leave this hateful discussion. Let it ever be remembered that the working classes considered themselves deceived, cajoled, by the passers of the Reform Bill; that they cherished—whether rightly or wrongly it is now too late to ask—a deep-rooted grudge against those who had, as they thought, made their hopes and passions a stepping-stone towards their own selfish ends. They were told to support the Reform Bill, not only on account of its intrinsic righteousness—which God forbid that I should deny—but because it was the first of a glorious line of steps towards their enfranchisement; and now the very men who told them this, talked peremptorily of "finality," showed themselves the most dogged and careless of conservatives, and pooh-poohed away every attempt at further enlargement of the suffrage. They were told to support it as the remedy for their own social miseries; and behold those miseries were year by year becoming deeper, more wide-spread, more hopeless; their entreaties for help and mercy, in 1842, and at other times, had been lazily laid by unanswered; and almost the only practical efforts for their deliverance had been made by a Tory nobleman, the honoured and beloved Lord Ashley. They found that they had, in helping to pass the Reform Bill, only helped to give power to the two very classes who crushed them—the great labour kings, and the small shopkeepers; that they had blindly armed their oppressors with the additional weapon of an ever-increasing political majority. They had been told, too (let that never be forgotten), that in order to carry the Reform Bill, sedition itself was lawful; they had seen the master-manufacturers themselves give the signal for the plug-riots by stopping their mills. Their vanity, ferocity, sense of latent and fettered power, pride of numbers, and physical strength, had been nattered and pampered by those who now only talked of grape-shot and bayonets. They had heard the Reform Bill carried by the threats of men of rank and power, that "Manchester should march upon London." Were their masters, then, to have a monopoly in sedition, as in everything else? What had been fair in order to compel the Reform Bill, must surely be fairer still to compel the fulfilment of Reform Bill pledges? And so, imitating the example of those whom they fancied had first used and then deserted them, they, in their madness, concocted a rebellion, not primarily against the laws and constitution of their land, but against Mammon—against that accursed system of competition, slavery of labour, absorption of the small capitalists by the large ones, and of the workman by all, which is, and was, and ever will be, their internecine foe. Silly and sanguinary enough were their schemes, God knows! and bootless enough had they succeeded; for nothing nourishes in the revolutionary atmosphere but that lowest embodiment of Mammon, "the black pool of Agio," and its money-gamblers. But the battle remains still to be fought; the struggle is internecine; only no more with weapons of flesh and blood, but with a mightier weapon—with that association which is the true bane of Mammon—the embodiment of brotherhood and love.

We should have known that before the tenth of April? Most true, reader—but wrath is blindness. You too surely have read more wisdom than you have practised yet; seeing that you have your Bible, and perhaps, too, Mill's "Political Economy." Have you perused therein the priceless Chapter "On the Probable Futurity of the Labouring Classes"? If not, let me give you the reference—vol. ii, p. 315, of the Second Edition. Read it, thou self-satisfied Mammon, and perpend; for it is both a prophecy and a doom!

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But, the reader may ask, how did you, with your experience of the reason, honesty, moderation, to be expected of mobs, join in a plan which, if it had succeeded, must have let loose on those "who had" in London, the whole flood of those "who had not"?

The reader shall hear. My story may be instructive, as a type of the feelings of thousands beside me.

It was the night after I had returned from D * * * *; sitting in Crossthwaite's little room, I had heard with mingled anxiety and delight the plans of my friends. They were about to present a monster petition in favour of the Charter; to accompany it en masse to the door of the House of Commons; and if it was refused admittance—why, then, ulterior measures were the only hope. "And they will refuse it," said Crossthwaite; "they're going, I hear, to revive some old law or other, that forbids processions within such and such a distance of the House of Commons. Let them forbid! To carry arms, to go in public procession, to present petitions openly, instead of having them made a humbug of by being laid on the table unopened by some careless member—they're our rights, and we'll have them. There's no use mincing the matter: it's just like the old fable of the farmer and his wheat—if we want it reaped, we must reap it ourselves. Public opinion, and the pressure from without, are the only things which have carried any measure in England for the last twenty years. Neither Whigs nor Tories deny it: the governed govern their governors—that's the 'ordre du jour' just now—and we'll have our turn at it! We'll give those House of Commons oligarchs—those tools of the squires and shopkeepers—we'll give them a taste of pleasure from without, as shall make the bar of the house crack again. And then to be under arms, day and night, till the Charter's granted."