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7 - Radical writing

from Part 1 - Modes of writing and their contexts

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2010

Joanne Shattock
Affiliation:
University of Leicester
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Summary

Writing to his friend John Hobhouse from Italy in 1820, Byron commented on the term 'radical' that it was entirely new to him: 'Upon reform you have long known my opinion - but radical is a new word since my time - it was not in the political vocabulary of 1816 - when I left England - and I don't know what it means - is it uprooting?' Byron’s etymological understanding of the term is spot on, and in an abstract way tells us a great deal about the political force of nineteenth-century radicalism. The political temperature was running high in England in 1820: the 'Peterloo Massacre' of the previous year in which eleven peaceful demonstrators were killed was still fresh in the memory, and William Cobbett led a vanguard of popular protests in support of the exiled Queen Caroline. In this fevered political climate the journalist Thomas Wooler gave a characteristically witty account of the meaning of the term 'radical' in his trial parody, 'TRIAL EXTRAORDINARY: MR CANNING VERSUS THE RADICAL REFORMERS':

judge: What complaint have you to make, Mr Canning, against the men, whom I see there, behind you, looking so thin and pale, clothed in rags, and having pad-locks on their mouths and thumb-screws on their hands.

mr canning: Oh! Don't you know them? I thought all the world knew them! They are the Radicals.

judge: The Radicals, Sir! What does that name mean?

mr canning: Mean! (What a fool the man must be - aside) Mean! Why, it means everything that is bad.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2010

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  • Radical writing
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.008
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  • Radical writing
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.008
Available formats
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Send book to Google Drive

To send content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

  • Radical writing
  • Edited by Joanne Shattock, University of Leicester
  • Book: The Cambridge Companion to English Literature, 1830–1914
  • Online publication: 28 November 2010
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CCOL9780521882880.008
Available formats
×