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Letters to the Mob. Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877.
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page: 15


I HAVE said that your best friends stand in the ranks of those you would approach as foes. You demur to this: you disbelieve it. I would reason the point, as with men willing to hear both sides, but whose misfortune it is that only one side addresses you. By whom have the measures of improvement, already undertaken in behalf of the people, been urged and carried? By the aristocracy. They do not always suggest those measures; they do not always agree upon them. Matters are disputed among them, as they are disputed among you; but, as a class, they are haters of oppression, and honest pioneers of progress. They are workmen of intelligence, as you are the workmen of production. In opposing them, you break the machinery, and burn the factories, where only the work can be done which you yourselves want executed. Why should page: 16 you think you are capable of doing their work in addition to your own? Why should politics be the one trade that requires neither study nor apprenticeship? Men cheerfully acknowledge their incapacity in other matters, but no one will acknowledge his incapacity in this. A man knows he cannot make buttons, but he will not believe he cannot make laws. You are deluded by perpetual reference to France. “France has its Provisional Government! France has its sovereign people! France has its ‘Albert, ouvrier!’ France has its Government of workmen, instead of a Government of aristocrats!” Here is your mistake. France has not a Government of workmen: even “Albert, ouvrier,” does not belong to that class. You might as well say, PEEL ouvrier—making allowance for gradations of talent. Albert was educated as a lawyer, was a master manufacturer, editor of the Atelier newspaper. I do not say the gentlemen composing the French Provisional Government are not as fit for the task as any others: time will shew. A stately ruin lies cumbering the soil of France: we have yet to see what will be built in its stead; we have yet to see whether these fallible men will merely substitute their own mistakes for the mistakes of other fallible men. But I say it is not a Government of practical working men, any more than your being represented by Alfred Tennyson, Mr. M‘Culloch, Mr. Senior, Sir James South, and Jackson, ouvrier, would be a Government of working men. It is a theatrical pretence; it is an page: 17 oligarchy, an aristocracy on a different model from that to which you are accustomed—an old friend (or, if you please, an old enemy) with a new face. “Rise! shake off tyranny, and govern yourselves!” is the phrase: “Let us govern you,” is the translation. I did not think that any words of John Mitchell’s could be of use to lovers of order, but I find these:—“If ever it behoved men to look facts in the face, and neglect words which have no facts under them, it behoves us now.” The somewhat Irish proposal to “look facts in the face,” is what I also cordially advise. At this moment, in England, the advocacy of “the rights of the people” is the favourite enthusiasm of our young nobility. Their heads, their hearts, and their speeches are full of it. It is not too much to say of the great families of this country, as of the deaths of the first‐born of Egypt, that “there is not a house in which you have not one friend.” A few certainly, of our aristocracy are licentious, idle, useless;—their women, insolent, overbearing, capricious. How would you yourselves like to be judged by, as a class, the bad drunken characters among you? The majority live in the earnest and religious performance of the active duties of life. But you say they are your foes. Who tells you so? Your leaders—those men who desire to supersede them in their natural position, with you, of superiors. As dependants, you have a right to claim them as benefactors; as opponents, you can only struggle with them to your ruin. In Richard the Second’s time, when thousands page: 18 rose to avenge one man’s wrong, one man’s undeniable, undoubted wrong—after man was slain, the young King spurred his horse forward among his rebellious subjects, exclaiming, “Do you want a leader? I myself will be your leader.” Friends, do you think you could find no leaders in the class above you? leaders who would not waver in the hour of difficulty, or abandon you in the time of danger? I think you might. “Look facts in the face,” as Mr. Mitchell advises. This very metropolis, into whose armed and shielded heart you entered yesterday as a hostile demonstration—this very London, where angry delegates and excited workmen were to meet at all points to murmur and to threaten, is at present under survey. For what? That the aristocracy may be provided with fair gardens and noble buildings? That new palaces may be constructed for royalty? No. But that the poor may have a more equal share of life’s common comforts; that they may breathe pure air; that they may be more securely sheltered; that fever and sickness may sweep fewer of their numbers into a premature grave.

Was this done as a concession to you? Did you insist upon it? Did you even propose it? No. It is one small fraction of a general plan “for bettering the condition of the people,” which occupies the minds of those classes your leaders would teach you to view with abhorrence—those who, I repeat, are the only workmen to do your work. You may sneer at the comparison: but it is a true one. As there are dyes which cannot be made fast colours without certain ingredients, as there are productions incomplete till finished by the hand of a cunning and skilful artisan, so there is world‐work to be done which requires that upper class you view with so much jealousy. They work with a tool you have not got. That tool is leisure. They do what, even if you had the will, the power, and the education necessary, you could not do for want of time. I live amongst this class. I see these men working at their trade of politics. A cotton mill is not more fatiguing, nor, in some instances, more destructive to health. I have seen as much hard work and mental anxiety in this as in the conduct of any other business; and I have seen as honest men working at it as any boaster among you. What you need is, not the rising of class against class, but to grow strong by the union of classes. What would benefit you is not the overthrow or intimidation of a particular Government, but that whatever men are “in power,” as it is called, should really have the power to carry out such measures for you as the exigencies of the time require. Generation after generation grows grey, and we are still learning the fables of the “Belly and Members,” the “Dog and the Shadow,” the value of the withe that binds the fagot so that it may not break! You are workmen, and they are lords and gentlemen: their sons go out in the ships some of you build, and protect your commerce in manufactures which others of you produce. The disunion of classes, whose interests are as the warp and page: 20 woof which form the texture of one web, cannot be ruin to one class only. The intelligent middle class read a lesson to turbulence yesterday which many morrows will not banish from the minds of Englishmen. It was read calmly though sternly to the mob and to their leaders. Let us hope it will not be forgotten. “Come to us as friends to claim a service: come to us as petitioners to explain a grievance: but do not come to us as highwaymen with mortal terror as an inducement to aid: WE are THE PEOPLE, and we will not suffer the People’s Charter to be brought to our doors.”

If you must needs cast wistful looks to France, cast them for warning, and not for example. The Démocratie calculates that, by the time the Convention meets, there will be in Paris alone 800,000 persons out of work and starving. Meanwhile another of Ledru‐Rollin’s proclamations shews how that preacher of equality would fain be dictator of France. His style, indeed, is altered; his new proclamation forcibly recalls O’Connor’s “moral force” orations. He is for marching troops from “Birnam Wood to Dunsinane,” masked by a whole grove of olive boughs. But the mask is vain. With more cunning than caution, with more insolence than boldness, enough is evident to prove the determination to coerce that “universal suffrage” which the French enjoy. Let it be a timely warning to you. Watch these men and their impracticable plans. Wait. Did you ever yet give an order for goods without seeing at least a sample in a finished page: 21 state, so as to judge of its design, its probable durability, its value in the general market? Do not be ashamed to own yourselves in error. Claim help from your Government and aristocracy, instead of from those who forsake you “in the time of trouble.” The shaking of public credit, the frequency of private bankruptcy, re‐act on each other in times of popular commotion. Let disturbances begin how they will, they end by being a question of finance. The heaviest, the most unequal, the most oppressive taxes that can fall on a people, are the taxes on Revolution. The triumph of mobs, in many foreign cities, you have read in our newspapers. Their ruin as individuals you will not read there. No one will be at the pains of recording it. Be warned: when you urge your rights, or when you would enforce them, be sure that you are bartering value for true liberty and not paying forfeit for empty rebellion.

London: Printed by George Barclay, Castle Street, Leicester Square.
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