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Letters to the Mob. Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
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LETTER I.

I THOUGHT to head this, “A Letter to the People,” but you are not people. You usurp their name; you represent yourselves as acting on their behalf; but they disown you and fear you. They look with alarm on your tumultuous gatherings. They stand on the defensive against your attacks. They distrust you. They know you to be sections, more or less dangerous, of disturbers of the public peace.

“By obedience,” says good old Jeremy Taylor, “we are distinguished from herds of beasts and heaps of flies, who do what they list, and are incapable of laws, and obey none.” So convinced are the majority of your countrymen of the truth of this axiom—so persuaded that the throne of true liberty stands on that boundary line where due obedience is met by just protection, that they dread the very sound of your riotous assembling; your tread seems to shake the foundation of every man’s home as you pass! page: 4 And it is so. But this you do not believe: you are led by men in whose minds the instinct of restiveness has been awakened by late events abroad, as some horses become unmanageable when others gallop rapidly by them. You are so transformed into monkeys and parrots, that you raise the banner and shout the motto of a foreign people in our streets, as if you had no country and no language of your own. You are so drunk with the spirit of revolt as to think it admirable that Irish delegates should cross the sea to whine and crouch, like beaten hounds, at the feet of a foreign Government, declaring themselves slaves, and supplicating aid to enable them to raise the standard of rebellion at home. You speak of kings and rulers as if they were all so many Belshazzars, who, in the hour of their feasting, had seen the hand come out and write on the wall that their kingdoms had departed from them. You are full of vague hopes and expectations. In the general scramble for concessions now going on all over Europe, surely something can be granted or seized for you! What?—that is the question. What do you want? “We want Repeal,” say the Irish. “We want the Charter,” say the Chartists. “We want Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!” say the mob. These are dazzling words—dazzling especially to poor men—to those classes who labour always, struggle often, and seldom enjoy. Will you test their translation among the people we import them from? Can you read it in the banishment of our workpeople, driven destitute from their shores, page: 5 to the embarrassment of the employers, the ruin of the employed?—in the election proclamations of Ledru‐Rollin, where the shadow of the blind giant Despotism already darkens the path so lately levelled for Freedom?—in the fierce attempts to smother the voice of the one courageous journalist who spoke of the errors of the new Government?—in the interference with the possession of all property, and the profits of all trade?

In no spirit of rebuke, but with earnest sympathy, I say to you—Beware of these cries. “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, And these are of them.” The Chartist dream of equality is the most cruel of all the temptations with which mob‐traps are baited; for it is at once the most specious and the most false. There can be no equality, any more than there can be a sea without a shore! Superiority is not a thing of man’s devising, but of God’s appointing. Gradation is His law. Let any honest, intelligent man examine, or stand by while others examine, a class at one of the national schools. He will there see “the common brotherhood of man” as God ordained it. He will see, ranged side by side, the weak and the strong, the teachable and the stubborn, hopeless stupidity and wonderful clearness of intellect; and the conviction of the consequent future inequality of their positions in life will be a self‐evident proposition in his mind. The only verification that exists of the fabled phœnix is the necessity of rulers. From the ashes of that page: 6 nondescript thing called “Government” for ever rises the living principle, if not the bodily copy, of the past. From the fragments and dust of broken thrones, or desecrated scaffolds, it shapes itself anew; an emblem of the great fact necessary for the constitution of human society. Call it King, Emperor, Dictator, President—or, by a noun of multitude, the National Assembly, the Sovereign People—call it what you will, it is there—the evidence that equality cannot subsist, is not expected to subsist; that the mass must be governed; that a change of governors is all that the most complete revolution can achieve. Is it not, then, a melancholy thing to see the perverted submission with which men who disdain to be subjects to law are content to be slaves to faction—men who raise an outcry against the control of a class, and will yet be led to destruction by an individual? If I could preach to the people one text, brief as their respite from toil, and simple as their needs, it would be this:—“Fear your governments less and your leaders more.” Beware that your so‐called leaders be not mis‐leaders. Do not be made blind sacrifices to one man’s vanity, another man’s anger, or the ambition of a third. When Coriolanus led the Volscians, he led them not for their advantage, but to avenge the wrongs he himself had suffered. Gray, in his perfect Elegy, has made touching allusions to “village Hampdens.” We have the converse of the image in many a Brummagem Coriolanus! In a celebrated work on the art and strategy of war, page: 7 while giving directions for sieges, &c., the expression perpetually occurs, “If you can afford to expend men” (that is, if the loss of a few hundred lives will not cripple your power to work out future plans) “take the town or fort thus,” &c. The Brummagem Coriolanus can afford to expend men ad libitum. He is not called upon to endure in the aggregate those several terms of imprisonment allotted to such of his followers as are snatched, at hazard, by the police from the throngs of a turbulent mob. No income‐tax, or absentee‐tax, can be deducted from his means to support the families of men whom his oratory has sent to the gaol or the hospital. Character, liberty, earnings, and savings, may have been “expended,” but in vain! Men may be paid meanly,—God knows, often too meanly,—for hard labour; but rioting is the one employment for which no wages can be had; for the capital expended in which there is no return! I write this, not because I do not sympathize with the people, but for love of them. To remind them that to overshoot a mark is as fruitless an aim as to come short of it; that to revolt is to overshoot the mark of reform. I write, not to check their advance, but in dread of their failure. Heart and soul with them, not against them. Desirous that they may not be, to leaders and workers‐out of theories, what their own tools are them; neither less or more: some broken and destroyed, some worn out in doing or attempting the work in hand. I write, because I feel ashamed as an Englishman of the recollection of that paltry riot which page: 8 lately sent pickpockets and lamp‐breakers to shout at the very gates of the palace where a Queen and her new‐born babe lay sleeping; and yet more ashamed of the distrust evident among the most respectable classes as to the expected conduct of the masses on Monday.

“Stands England where it did,” that such distrust should gain ground? Are our people unlinked from, or oppressed by, our aristocracy? Are they unrepresented, any section of them, in Parliament? Are they compelled, from the utter want of sympathy and justice in those above them, to seek assistance from those beneath them? Let the mob‐leaders themselves reply.

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