Friday, April 10, 2009

Chartists in London, April 10, 1848

In a letter to his wife on April 10, 1848, Emerson wrote: "A good deal of time is lost here in their politics, as I read the newspapers daily, and the revolution, fixed for the l0th instant, occupied all men's thought until the Chartists petition was actually carried to the Commons."

One of Emerson's American friends in London, Elizabeth Davis Bancroft, wrote somewhat more on the subject (to an unknown recipient called I. P. D.):
April 10.

This is the day of the "Great Chartist Meeting," which has terrified all London to the last degree, I think most needlessly. The city and town is at this moment stiller than I have ever known it, for not a carriage dares to be out. Nothing is to be seen but a "special constable" (every gentleman in London is sworn into that office), occasionally some on foot, some on horseback, scouring the streets. I took a drive early this morning with Mr. Bancroft, and nothing could be less like the eve of a revolution. This evening, when the petition is to be presented, may bring some disturbance, not from the Chartists themselves, but from the disorderly persons who may avail themselves of the occasion. The Queen left town on Saturday for the Isle of Wight, as she had so lately been confined it was feared her health might suffer from any agitation. . . . I passed a long train of artillery on Saturday evening coming into town, which was the most in earnest looking thing I have seen. . . . To-day we were to have dined at Mrs. Mansfield's, but her dinner was postponed from the great alarm about the Chartists. There is not the slightest danger of a revolution in England. The upper middle-class, which on the continent is entirely with the people, the professional and mercantile class, is here entirely conservative, and without that class no great changes can ever be made. The Duc de Montebello said of France, that he "knew there were lava streams below, but he did not know the crust was so thin." Here, on the contrary, the crust is very thick. And yet I can see in the most conservative circles that a feeling is gaining ground that some concessions must be made. An enlargement of the suffrage one hears now often discussed as, perhaps, an approaching necessity.
Emerson's friend, Thomas Carlyle, also wrote at greater length, in a letter to his wife:
. . . How can I tell you of the “revolution,” in these circumstances?[1] I did go out earlier than usual, to see it; or at least all buttoned up, and decided to walk myself into a glow of heat: but—but the venomous cold wind began unexpectedly, in Cadogan place, to spit rain, and I had no umbrella! At the Burlington Arcade[2] things had grown so questionable in that respect, I resolved to step in and look at the caricatures for a few minutes; which done, I found the rain had commenced pouring; and I had nothing for it but to hail a Chelsea Omnibus, and come home again, where I still am. Judge whether I can tell you of the “revolution”: my sole knowledge of it is from my eyes in the above short distance, and from a kind of Official individual, a “Paisley Lawyer bodie”[3] (not known to you, I think) to whom I put three words of question, and got an answer of inordinate length,—indeed longer than I would take, with the rain just beginning to be serious.

Know however, O Goody, that there is no revolution, nor any like to be for some months or years yet; that the City of London is as safe and quiet as the Farm of Addiscombe; and that empty rumour, and “150,000” oaths of special constables, is hitherto the sole amount of this adventure for us. Piccadilly itself, however, told us how frightened the people were; directly at Hyde Park Corner one could see that there was something in the wind. Wellington had his iron blinds all accurately down;[4] the Green Park was altogether shut, even the footpaths of it; the big Gates of Constitution Hill,[5] and in the inside of these stood a score of mounted guardsmen, privately drawn up under the arch, — dreadfully cold, I dare say. For the rest not a single fashionable carriage was on the street; not a private vehicle, but I think two surgeons' broughams, all the way to the Egyptian Hall[6] omnibuses running, a few street cabs, and even a mud-cart or two; but nothing else. The flag-pavements also nearly vacant; not a fifth of their usual population there, and those also of the strictly business kind; not a gentleman to be seen; hardly one or two of the sort called gents.[7] “Most mysterus!”[8] Happily, however, the “Paisley bodie” explained it all to me: A meeting, some kind of meeting, had been allowed to take place at Kennington common; but Feargus O'Connor had there warned the said meeting, that there would and should be no “procession,” but that everybody, under pain of broken crown, must now make for home in a detached capacity.[9] Which, said the Paisley bodie, is at this time, as an orderly has just announced at Hyde Park corner, being peaceably done. And, continued he, the people of these streets are all gone to the New Road,[10] to &c, in hopes of seeing the “procession” pass. And there is no procession! And — I started off here, waving my adieus, and took shelter in Burlington Arcade. This, Dear, is all I know about the No-revolution we have just sustained; and if you want farther particulars, I have no doubt they are abundant and redundant in the Times, which of course has reached you as soon as this surprising Private Historical Account can. And so may the Lord put an end unto all cruel wars.[11]

Notes of the editor of the Carlyle letters:

1. Because of the revolutionary fires spreading across the Continent it was widely feared that a spark might ignite in England at any moment. In response to massive unemployment rather than to continental revolutionary fervor, Chartism was revived in early 1848 and a petition was circulated that allegedly received 5,706,000 signatures. On 4 April a convention opened in London and called for a meeting, 10 April, S of the Thames at Kennington Common, followed by a procession to Parliament to present the enormous petition. Fearing insurrection, the govt. stationed army troops, police, enrolled pensioners, and about 85,000 special constables to prevent disorder.

2. A covered passage with fashionable shops on Piccadilly, ca. 2 mi. from Cheyne Row.

3. Probably the lawyer A. H. Simpson, whom TC called “a long-winded Paisley writer” in 1840.

4. The duke's home, Apsley House, is at Hyde Pk. Corner, at the W end of Piccadilly.

5. Which leads from Buckingham Palace to Hyde Pk. Corner. Green Pk. is between Constitution Hill and Piccadilly.

6. In Piccadilly, used for shows and public performances.

7. Would-be gentlemen.

8. Coterie speech.

9. Feargus O'Connor (1794–1855; DNB), Irish Chartist leader. The proposed procession was forbidden, and he urged his followers to disperse. The petition was then delivered in three cabs.

10. S of the Thames, in Lambeth.

11. A Carlylean tag
From The Illustrated London News, 15 April 1848:
The long-expected “monster meeting” of the Chartists on Kennington Common, and their procession with a petition to the Legislature in favour of “the people's Charter,” took place on Monday last. Notwithstanding the fineness of the morning, during which a hot and brilliant sun shone forth, the demonstration was in every respect a failure, when measured by the standard of the vauntings and grandiloquent sayings of the delegates at the Convention during the preceding week. . . . [continue reading here]

{Chartists on Kennington Common, April 10, 1848}

{Cartoon from Punch depicting delivery of the Charter to Commons

Some sources:

Journals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848 (London, Constable & Co.; Boston And New York Houghton Mifflin Company, 1913)

JJournals Of Ralph Waldo Emerson 1820-1872, with Annotations, edited by Edward Waldo Emerson and Waldo Emerson Forbes; Vol. VII, 1845-1848, (New York, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1912)

Letters from England, 1846-1849, by Elizabeth Davis Bancroft (C. Scribner's Sons, 1904) Internet Archive

Letters from England, 1846-1849, by Elizabeth Davis Bancroft (C. Scribner's Sons, 1904) Google

Thomas Carlyle; the Collected Letters, Volume 23, edited by Ian M. Campbell et al (Duke University Press , 2009)

Twenty questions and answers about the Chartist movement

Chartist demonstration What happened on 10 April 1848? From The Illustrated London News, 15 April 1848

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