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Part II - Radical personalities

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2016

Jon Mee
University of York
Print, Publicity, and Popular Radicalism in the 1790s
The Laurel of Liberty
, pp. 111 - 187
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2016
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This content is Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence CC-BY-NC 4.0

Chapter 3 ‘Once a squire and now a Man’: Robert Merry and the pains of politics

Popular radicalism was the creature of print. It coincided with a period when newspapers, periodicals, and pamphlets, not to mention the theatre, promised to open politics up to the scrutiny of a wider public than had hitherto been known. Print was also literally understood to offer the opportunity to make a name for one’s self. The pages of the World made Robert Merry a celebrity as the love poet ‘Della Crusca’. He put this fame aside in 1790 to write high-flown odes on freedom under his own name, but continued to purvey newspaper satires in the cause of reform, either anonymously or as ‘Tom Thorne’ in the Argus. But he was not simply free to remake himself in any way he chose. ‘Robert Merry’ was denied the right to the ‘freedom of the mind’ he asserted in his poetry when he put his name to the service of popular radicalism. To write in this cause was deemed by the conservative press to be resigning the independence only a gentleman could presume to own. ‘The poet and the gentleman vanished together’ to become a creature of print in a sense his former friends thought entirely servile.1 Merry did eventually find a realm of comparative freedom in the United States shortly before he died in 1798, aged only forty-three, although even there his name drew opprobrium from loyalists like William Cobbett, who represented him as ‘poor Merry’, a man whose political enthusiasm had forced him to sacrifice his independence to the theatrical career of his wife.

Odes, dinners, toasts, and plays

On 14 July 1789, ever the cosmopolitan, Robert Merry was in Switzerland, taking a break from the reputation he had created as ‘Della Crusca’. Two weeks later, he wrote a melancholy poem ‘Inscription written at La Grande Chartreuse’. When it was published the following year, it appeared simply over the name ‘R. Merry’.2 The Della Cruscan craze had been incubated in a period of exile in the early 1780s, when Merry had struck up a friendship with various literary figures, including Hester Lynch Piozzi.3 Piozzi continued to keep an eye on his career, although she was on the watch for deficiencies of character and increasingly despaired of his radical politics. In January 1788, she had written in her journal:

Merry is a Scholar, a Soldier, a Wit and a Whig. Beautiful in his Person, gay in his Conversation, scornful of a feeble Soul, but full of Reverence for a good one though it be not great. Were Merry daringly, instead of artfully wicked, he would resemble Pierre.4

The mention of Pierre, the conspirator from Otway’s Venice Preserved, a play that proved to be controversial in the 1790s, hints at the subversive proclivities of a man who Piozzi understood as unmoored from any stake in his country’s established order. Over the winter of 1788–9, Merry dabbled in the print politics of the Regency crisis. His ode on the recovery of the king – co-written with Sheridan and recited by Sarah Siddons for a Subscription Gala at the Opera House on 21 April – was an exercise in opportunism that he tried to disown, at least to Piozzi.5 The French Revolution gave him a new direction, although the ‘Inscription’, written in July 1789, only returned to themes that had run through his earlier poetry: the condemnation of the hierarchies of the old order (‘the sumptuous Palace, and the banner’d Hall’); the illusions of Christianity (’deluded monks’), and the need for writers to champion the cause of liberty (‘But still, as Man, assert the Freedom of the mind’). Such commonplaces of the European republic of letters were easy to write in 1789, but whether they were to translate into anything more was the challenge of the Fall of the Bastille.

Perhaps the first substantial expression of Merry’s intention to take up this challenge was The Laurel of Liberty (1790), the poem that appeared under the name ‘robert merry, a. m. member of the royal academy of florence’. Published by John Bell, ‘bookseller to His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales’, and at this stage at least, owner of the World, there was no necessary break here with the world of the Whig and the wit. The elegant format of the slim volume hints at Merry’s connections in the bon ton, but its dedication is ‘to the National Assembly of France the true and zealous representatives of a Free People, with every sentiment of admiration and respect’.6 Around this time, Merry started to lose interest in his connections with the World. Merry and its editor Edward Topham had shared a mutual interest in the Literary Fund in 1790, but Topham was soon begging Becky Wells, the actress who effectively managed the paper for him, to do what she could to keep Merry on board: ‘In regard to public business, you must see Merry, for he appears to me now to be doing nothing.’7 More telling of Merry’s direction of travel at this point were those he joined on the board of the Literary Fund, including David Williams and Godwin’s friend Alexander Jardine. The change was also registered in the reception of his writing. Despite some reservations about the ‘pomp of words’ in the Laurel of Liberty, the Monthly and Analytical reviews were becoming enthusiastic supporters of his work. In November 1790, Horace Walpole’s traced Merry’s political enthusiasm to ‘the new Birmingham warehouse of the original maker’. ‘Birmingham’ here is a metonym for Joseph Priestley and Dissent more generally. By 1793 the author of Political Correspondence or Letters to a Country Gentleman – tellingly a Joseph Johnson publication – could feel confident enough to list Merry among the ‘ablest pens … employed, on this occasion’, Priestley among them, ‘in vindicating the cause of Truth and Liberty’.8

Merry’s political enthusiasm always had to contend with his need to generate an income sufficient to support a fashionable lifestyle. Although he began to publish over his own name in the early 1790s, his social status and independence were threatened by his precarious financial position. Having squandered his inheritance in the 1770s with profligate habits he never entirely forsook, Merry was necessarily invested in the career open to talents, but underpinned by an assumption that he was in the vanguard of an aristocracy of nature. John Taylor had a straightforwardly economic account of Merry’s trajectory in this regard:

Merry was in France during the most frantic period of the French revolution, and had imbibed all the levelling principles of the most furious democrat; having lost his fortune, and in despair, he would most willingly have promoted the destruction of the British government, if he could have entertained any hopes of profiting in the general scramble for power.

Despite their political differences, Taylor frequented the same circle of wits that scribbled for the press. Given that Merry repudiated him as ‘the reptile oculist’ in the Telegraph in 1795, Taylor’s judgements were far from impartial, but he does indicate the way financial need coupled with political belief to force Merry to try a variety of experiments with print politics.9

Perhaps the most unlikely of these experiments was A Picture of Paris, a pantomime written in collaboration with Charles Bonner and the musician William Shield. Presented at Covent Garden on 20 December 1790, its plot shadowed the events of the French Revolution up to the Fête de la Federation of 14 July 1790, promising ‘an exact Representation of … the grand procession to the Champs de Mars … the whole to conclude with a Representation of The grand illuminated platform … on the Ruins of the Bastille’.10 The climax is the Federation Oath where Louis XVI swore to use the powers delegated to him by the National Assembly to maintain the new constitution. The theatre historian George Taylor sees the production as eager to present the Fête as consonant with British liberty. Building on the fact that the Lord Chamberlain licensed the piece, Taylor concludes ‘that the authorities in England shared the belief of French moderates that the Fête marked the end of the French revolution’.11 David Worrall rightly suggests that Taylor neglects the fact that the script would not have given Chamberlain too much sense of what happened on stage in the pantomime.12 Presented only a few weeks after the publication of Burke’s Reflections, A Picture of Paris was entering a rapidly changing scene. The Argus (20 December 1790) thought that ‘the Managers of the house deserve equally the thanks of the several authors, and of the public at large, for the uncommon liberality displayed in the getting up every scene of this Piece’, but then its editor, Sampson Perry, was a sworn enemy of Pitt’s. In its review of the pantomime, The Times (20 December 1790) questioned ‘the propriety of such scenes on British ground’. The theatre, it thought, ought ‘to steer clear of politics’. British liberty, it insisted on 30 December, was quite distinct from what had been celebrated on the Champs de Mars:

We should be glad to be informed what reference the statues of Truth, Mercy, and Justice, exhibited in the new Pantomime of the Picture of Paris, has to the subject of it. – Surely the author of this incoherent jumble of ideas does not mean to affirm that the Revolution in France is founded on any of these godlike virtues.

Unquestionably, The Times continued, representation of a monarch as merely the delegate of the National Assembly did not pass muster with George III: ‘As far as we could collect from looks, the Royal Visitors were certainly not of the opinion with sterne in the instance of debates at least – that “They manage these things much better in france”.’

Merry was starting to exploit any means he could to disseminate his enthusiasm for the Revolution. The preface to the Laurel of Liberty (1790) attacked complacent members of the elite ‘so charmed by apparent commercial prosperity, that they could view with happy indifference the encroachments of insidious power, and the gradual decay of the Constitution’. He was confident that the ‘progress of Opinion, like a rapid stream, though it may be checked, cannot be controuled’.13 If Merry represented ‘Opinion’ as an occluded species of print determinism here, he was also doing everything possible to shape it through the newspapers. He told Samuel Rogers in 1792 that Sheridan had asked him to write for the Morning Post during the Regency Crisis: ‘No man can conceive says he the effect of a daily insinuation – the mind is passive under a newspaper.’14 Merry was already aware of print magic as a dark art and not one to which he readily put the name of ‘Robert Merry’. In 1794, Godwin recorded that ‘Sheridan fills Merry’s hat full of arrows’, that is, Sheridan was feeding Merry with information to use as anonymous newspaper ‘paragraphs’.15 Usually biographical information of one sort or another, blackmailing or satirical ‘paragraphs’ were frequently used as political weapons. Writing in 1803, David Williams traced the use of ‘fleeting arrows’ to Fox’s manipulation of the newspapers to bring down the ministry in 1783.16 Plenty of the insider gossip useful to paragraph writers circulated at theatrical clubs where Merry mixed with Sheridan, Taylor, and others. By early 1792, however, Merry was starting to make radical connections beyond this world and becoming what his friend Samuel Rogers, not altogether approvingly, described as ‘a warm admirer of Paine’.17

Merry’s name added lustre to the political dinners discussed in Chapter 1. His Ode for the fourteenth of July – again elegantly published by Bell – was written for performance at the dinner for the friends to the French Revolution held at the Crown and Anchor, as we saw earlier. The festivities were presided over by the Whig MP George Rous. William Godwin seems to have been there, but only as part of the crowd. By this stage, the World was no friend to Merry. He was probably intended as a target of its hostile description of the diners as ‘men whose profligacy has become proverbial – whose fortunes are desperate, and whose minds are daring and corrupt’.18 The remark may have been provoked by a provocative jibe at his former colleagues in the opening stanza of the ode:

friends of the world! This festive day,
Might sure demand a prouder lay,
Than ever bursting from the Theban’s heart,
Taught o’er the victor’s lids the impassion’d tear to start.19

The pun on the name of the newspaper may affirm Merry’s new disposition towards an audience beyond the fashionable daily, but more generally the ode retains the high poetic mode of the Laurel of Liberty. This was the poetry of liberty to which Merry lent his proper name. The ode, especially the stanzas celebrating the ‘animating glass’ discussed earlier in the context of the dinner, was reprinted in the newspapers soon after it was performed and later in various anthologies.20 It provided a vibrantly positive rebuttal of Burke’s fear of electric communication everywhere, but sublimates the medium of print it wishes to exploit into an immediacy that moves from ‘hand to hand’ and then from ‘soul to soul’. In its obituary for Merry in 1799, the Monthly represented him as ‘one of those susceptible minds, to which the genius of liberty instantaneously communicated all its enthusiasm’.21 In the poetry published in his own name, Merry continually presented himself as the authentic conduit of this genius of communication overleaping the complicated terrain of print transmission.

Neither Merry’s reputation for homosocial conviviality, nor the popularity of his ode, protected him from the charge that he was losing his identity as a gentleman in his new political personality.22 On the contrary, he seemed in some quarters to be daringly dispersing his social identity into the mob through the medium of print. In his satires the Baviad (1791) and Maeviad (1795), William Gifford spatialised Merry’s poetry as a ‘Moorfields whine’.23 The tendency of his journalism, not issued over his own name, was also starting to trouble those who wished for moderate reform under aristocratic leaders. At the end of November 1791, Fox reportedly complained that ‘our newspapers … seem to try & outdo the Ministerial papers, in abuse of the Princes, the Morning Chronicle is grown a little better lately, but the others are intolerable, the Gazeteer [sic] particularly, Mr Merry has got that I am told’.24 Merry was certainly still networked into the overlapping worlds of newspapers and theatre. The Times noted (10 January) that a new comic opera called The Magician No Conjuror was in rehearsal at Covent Garden.25 The play did not appear until 2 February, but ran for a respectable four nights, garnering Merry a substantial benefit. The songs sold in pamphlet form, and remained popular enough to be republished in periodicals and anthologies over the course of the year.26 The plot is a standard tale of young love thwarted by old foolishness in the guise of Tobias Talisman, who has retreated to the country to practice the art of necromancy, keeping his daughter Theresa under close confinement. The Gothic possibilities of the female incarceration plot were a favourite of Merry’s, one he scouted in his first play the tragedy Lorenzo (1791), where the heroine is forced into a loveless marriage by her father, and even earlier in A Picture of Paris where it is played for comedy. Much of his writing fantasises about the release of female sexual energies into the arms of a hero somewhat like himself. The hero’s victory in the Magician – where the incarceration plot is again given a comic twist – is guaranteed when he saves Talisman from a resentful mob. There seems to be a loose commentary here on the role of the government provoking the loyalist mob against Priestley, with Merry projecting an idea of himself as the dashing saviour of the situation for the benefit of all.

Most of the newspapers expressed a dim view of the proceedings in their 3 February editions.27 Werkmeister believes that Thomas Harris, the manager of Covent Garden, stopped the play because of its ‘stinging ridicule of Pitt, who, it was all too evident to the audience, was in fact “The Magician”’.28 Although she provides little evidence for this assertion, the idea of Pitt as a conjuror was familiar from earlier Opposition satires. Political Miscellanies (1787) compared him to the popular Italian conjuror Signor Guiseppi Pinetti who had performed in London from 1785.29 Contemporary newspaper commentary does not seem to confirm so specific an identification, but it is clear that responses to it were ideological in general terms. The Earl of Lauderdale’s support for the play, for instance, was noted in the press. Anne Brunton, married to Merry early in 1792, was not re-engaged at Covent Garden after the 1791–2 season, despite her great success in Holcroft’s the Road to Ruin in the spring. By this stage, anyway, the couple were being increasingly drawn towards France. Merry was throwing himself into the radical societies and writing for the radical newspaper the Argus rather than the fashionable pages of the World.

Political societies, 1792–3

‘The Argus is the paper in their pay’, wrote an informer on an LCS meeting at the end of October 1792, ‘and they will have nothing to do with any other.’30 Although the Argus increasingly supported the LCS, its closest relationship was with the SCI. On more than one occasion the Society ordered a copy of the paper to be sent to each of its members. Paine, Horne Tooke, and Merry, who joined the SCI in June 1791, all wrote for it; ‘in short’, remembered Alexander Stephens, ‘it was the rendezvous of all the partizans and literary guerillas then in alliance against the system of government’31. Perry had launched the Argus in 1789 as editor and proprietor: ‘a scandalous paper’, reported the Gentleman’s Magazine in his obituary, ‘which, at the commencement of the French revolution, was distinguished for its virulence and industry in the dissemination of republican doctrines’.32 The Argus certainly insisted that the political elite was betraying the people in terms that echoed Merry’s Laurel of Liberty: ‘You have suffered your Constitution to be gradually invaded, till you are now reduced to a state of the most abject slavery.’33 Pitt was the target of particularly fierce attacks, not least from the satires Merry published in the paper as Tom Thorne:

When pitt was out of place, He thought
It wrong that Boroughs should be bought;
And solemnly declar’d, the Nation
must have a fair representation.
BUT now, become a Courtly Minion,
WE find he alters his opinion;
And shews, in language rather warm,
he loves his place, and hates reform.
This proves a difference, no doubt
’Twixt being IN, and being OUT.

On 8 May 1792, the same day it printed this squib, the Argus published a paragraph arguing that ‘the present House of Commons … is not composed of the real representatives of the people’. An ex officio information was served on Perry for libelling the House of Commons within the fortnight.

Perry was still in the King’s Bench serving time for previous libels. The date of his release is not clear, but Merry and Perry seem to have collaborated on the paper from at least spring 1792. The poet had successfully proposed Perry’s SCI membership in April 1792.34 ‘During the last months of that paper’s existence’, remembered Merry’s obituarist in the Monthly Magazine, ‘a certain rose was never without a thorne’. The reference was to the controversy surrounding George Rose’s management of elections for Pitt, a row that the Argus covered closely. Merry’s obituary reprinted several of his contributions:

The rose is called the first of flow’rs
In all the rural shades and bow’rs;
But O! in London ’tis decreed,
The rose is but a dirty weed.


From genial hear, the hot-house rose
Expands and blushes, thrives and blows,
But the poor rose will fade and rot
Whene’er the House becomes too hot.

The loyalist press even tried to appropriate the Tom Thorne pseudonym to Merry’s evident delight:

The slavish print, that’s dead to shame,
In fury for departed fame,
Has even robb’d me of my name:
Alas! My nose is out of joint;
Yet what’s a thorne without a point?35

The appropriation of the ‘tom thorne’ pseudonym by loyalist newspapers points to difficulty of controlling such shape-shifting productions. ‘His native power’, observed Merry’s obituary, ‘flames out in his odes’, assigning his authentic voice to the poetry that came out under his own name.36 Perry finally fled to Paris before his trial commenced on 6 December to the glee of the World:

The Sampson of the Argus was found too weak to carry off the pillars of the Constitutional Fabric, although he made several ineffectual attempts.37

There he rejoined his colleagues from the SCI, Merry and Paine, among the group of expatriate radicals that met at White’s Hotel. 38

Over the course of 1792, Merry had traced his own uneven course from the Society of the Friends of the People to this much more radical set of associates, some of whom had made similar journeys. Merry’s name is included in the list of those who signed up at the first meeting of Charles Grey’s group of reform Whigs on 11 April, but does not re-appear in later accounts of any of their meetings.39 By May 1792, Grey’s Society had become emphatic in repudiating any association with Paine. On 28 May, Godwin’s diary records that his friend Holcroft was dining with Paine and Merry, although he seems not to have met the poet by this stage himself. Merry was at the SCI on 1 June, when the society received a letter from the LCS recording its ‘infinite satisfaction to think that mankind will soon reap the advantage …[of] a new and cheaper edition of the Rights of Man’. SCI minutes show Merry to have been a very visible presence in the intense period of cooperation between the two societies.40

Merry was working equally hard to open channels of communication between the British and French societies. The Oracle of 15 June reported that ‘Mr and Mrs. merry have taken the Laurel of Liberty with them to France. – The Poet presents his Ode to the national assembly.’ Sounding a note that was to echo across many hostile accounts of Merry that followed, the paper commented: ‘The merry poet has now dwindled into a sad politician!’41 On 28 September, he was present at the SCI meeting when another LCS letter proposed a supportive address to the National Convention. Merry was elected to the committee asked to consult on a joint version. In the same month, he also seems to have begun actively supporting the French move towards a republic in the British press. Advertisements appeared for an apology for the August days and the September Massacres: “a particular account of the Rise, and also of the Fall of Despotism in Paris, on the 10th of August, and the Treasons of Royalty, anterior and subsequent to that period. By Robert Merry, Esq.” I have not been able to trace any pamphlet under this exact title, but it may be A Circumstantial History of the Transactions at Paris on the Tenth of August, plainly showing the Perfidy of Louis XVI. LCS members Thomson and Littlejohn published it from their Temple Yard press with H. D. Symonds. Symonds was given as the publisher of the Merry pamphlet advertised in the newspapers.42

In October, Merry wrote from Calais to his ‘friend and fellow labourer’ Horne Tooke to tell him that the armies of the Republic needed shoes more than muskets.43 In Paris, Merry seems to have been part of the most radical faction of the British Club – opposed by John Frost – calling on the Convention to invade Britain and provoke a popular uprising in support. Frost thought it a misjudgement of the political mood in Britain. Merry’s universal enthusiasm for a democratic republic extended to making his own proposals for the new constitution of France. His obituary in the Monthly Magazine mentions ‘a short treatise in English, on the nature of free government … translated into French by Mr Madget’, almost certainly Merry’s Réflexions politiques sur la nouvelle constitution qui se prépare en France, adressées à la république (1792).44 Understandably enough never published in Britain, Merry’s pamphlet calls for popular participation at every level of the political process, recommending a role for primary assemblies in confirming laws (an issue debated in France that found an echo in LCS discussions of the relation of the divisions to the central committee). There is also a section on the neglect of literary men under despotism, a personal concern expressed in his work for the Literary Fund. The pamphlet leaves the reader in no doubt that Merry thought Britain just such a despotism. Merry shows little patience for the mixed British constitution. The proposed constitution is based on the classical virtues of an active citizenship. If its foundations were formed by a classical education under Samuel Parr, then the pamphlet was unequivocal about the democratic example of France as the only hope for the regeneration of Britain.

Internal exile, Godwinian, and satirist

At the end of 1793 the European Magazine published a pen portrait of Merry:

Having passed the greater part of his life in what is called high company, and in the beau monde, he became disgusted with the follies and vices of the Noblesse, and is now a most strenuous friend to general liberty, and the common rights of mankind.45

Compared with most accounts of Merry published by the polite press in 1793, this one is curiously sympathetic. By the time it appeared in print, Merry had been back in Britain for nearly six months. As France under Robespierre became increasingly suspicious of foreigners, the situation had become hostile for cosmopolitan radicals who had made the pilgrimage to the Revolution. His friends Paine and Perry were in prison in Paris. Merry had managed to get back to London in May with the help of Jacques-Louis David.46 Having kept their readers apprised of Merry’s activities in France, the English newspapers took particular delight in retailing the story of his retreat back to Britain, but other circles were making Merry more welcome. Godwin’s diary records that he and Holcroft dined with Merry on 11 August, but despite these budding support networks Merry had no obvious source of income and the derision of the press must have made life in Britain insupportable. He borrowed money from Maurice Margarot against a bill for £130.47 In September, Merry decided to flee for Switzerland with his wife and Charles Pigott, funded by a bank draft for £50 from Samuel Rogers. On 2 September, still keeping their erstwhile star contributor under surveillance, the World reported that the trio had crossed to the continent. The information was false. They had turned back at Harwich before even boarding ship.

Merry separated from Pigott and retreated to Scarborough. He wrote to Rogers asking for more money and begged that his presence be kept secret, but by mid-October the newspapers had found him out.48 Merry outlined his current projects in a series of nervous letters to Rogers and asked for help finding publishers. He seems to have been in a state of shock, not least about the prospects for political change. On 3 November, mentioning fears that his letters were being opened, he was writing an ‘Elegy upon the Horrors of War’. A month later, he provided an insight into the mental turmoil caused by the dashing of his political hopes:

Yet still am I troubled by the Revolutionary Struggle; the great object of human happiness is never long removed from my sight. O that I could sleep for two centuries like the youths of Ephesus and then awake to a new order of things!

Then on 18 December, Merry sends ‘a little theatrical Piece, which I mean to conceal being Mine not to be exposed Aristocratical Malice’. He described it as ‘a free translation of the French Play, of Fenelon, reduced to three Acts’, but suspected its subject and his name would prevent it being staged:

I do not suppose it will be performed, on account of its coming from that democratic country … if you think it has any merit – get it published for me I beg of you not to mention my being the Translator in case it should be played – as the name of a Republican would damn any performance at this time.49

The Godwin circle provided succour in these difficult months. Merry appears regularly in Godwin’s diary from summer 1794, especially in the vicinity of the radical stronghold of Norwich. Anne Brunton had family connections with the area. Her father, John Brunton, managed the theatre. Thomas Amyot reported Merry’s presence there in May.50 By 15 June at least Merry was ranging further afield, dining with Godwin and Holcroft in London. Merry also started to exert a particular fascination on Amelia Alderson, brought up in these Norwich circles. Her ‘curiosity’ was raised to a most painful height’ when in 1794 Charles Sinclair revealed that Anne Brunton was a ‘firm’ democrat and ‘a great deal more’. Two years later, in November 1796, she admitted to Godwin

Poor Merry! – Will you not wish to box my ears when I venture to say, that I do not think his mind at all matched in his matrimonial connection? Mrs. Merry appears to me a very charming actress, but, but, but – fill it as you please.

Godwin seems to have been scarcely less fascinated, particularly by Merry’s connections with Sheridan and his easy facility as a writer. ‘Mr. Merry boasts that he once wrote an epilogue to a play of Miles Peter Andrews, while the servant waited in the hall’, he told Wollstonecraft in 1796, ‘but that is not my talent.’51 According to his diary, on 26 June Godwin read an ode by Merry. Two days later, the pair dined at the Alderson home in a company associated with Norwich radicalism. Merry read to Godwin ‘specimens of 2 novels’ on 30 June. Merry’s pressing need to make money from his writing drew scornful commentary in the press. Former friends like Piozzi described him as begging for subscriptions, but Godwin seems to have taken his talk seriously, listening to his opinions of Political justice while revising it in July 1796.52 Quite possibly Godwin also helped Merry place his final major poem, Pains of Memory (1796) with his publishers, the Robinsons. During this period, Holcroft wrote a joshing letter to Godwin mentioning ‘our good friend Robert Merry, once an [sic] squire and now a man’, pointing up the poet’s social and political journey from Whig gentleman to radical democrat.53 If Holcroft was celebrating a political butterfly emerging from the pupae of the fashionable Whig, then the oncoming treason trials were reason for alarm to both men. Merry’s name appeared in the SCI minute books used as evidence in the prosecutions of Hardy and Horne Tooke.54 On 11 October, Merry told Rogers that ‘existing circumstances … appear to me hastily advancing to some great catastrophe’. Only four days earlier, Holcroft had surrendered himself in to the court. ‘As things now stand’, Merry told Rogers, ‘I feel some inclination for going with Mrs. Merry to America, and perhaps if I should do so you would put me in a way how to proceed.’55

The acquittals of Hardy and Horne Tooke seem to have given Merry a new lease of life as a satirical journalist, just as they powered a surge of activity in the LCS. Although it is impossible to know exactly what part he played in the cheap productions that poured off the radial presses in 1795, he was remembered long afterwards for the great triumph of Wonderful Exhibition!!! Signor Gulielmo Pittachio, the first in a series of pasquinades that followed the acquittal of Horne Tooke on 22 November (Figure 5). ‘No minister in any age had been so ridiculed before’, Merry’s obituary in the Monthly remembered. First appearing in the pages of the Courier on 28 November, Pittachio exploited a trope that went back to the Political Miscellanies (1787) and Merry’s own Magician no Conjuror (1792).56 Developing the satire on Pitt’s ‘surprising tricks and deceptions’ from Political Miscellanies, Pittachio presents Parliament in thrall to Pitt’s ‘magical alarm bell’:

upwards of two hundred automata, or moving puppets, Who will rise up, sit down, say Yes, or NO, Receive Money, Rake among the Cinders, or do any Dirty Work he may think proper to put them to.

‘Unaccountable mismanagement’ means Pittachio is unable to bring forward ‘several Capital Performers … for the Purpose of exhibiting various Feats of Activity on the tight rope’. Pitt had not been able to manage the guilty verdicts against Hardy and Horne Tooke, but the satire ends by flipping this scenario and imagining that he would instead ‘close his Wonderful Performances by exhibiting his own Person on the tight rope for the benefit of the swinish multitude’. The Pittachio series was part of a proliferating number imagining the Prime Minister being hanged for his crimes against the people.

Fig 5 Wonderful Exhibition!!! Signor Gulielmo Pittachio (1794). Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

The most striking of these were the death and dissection of Pitt satires that appeared first in the Telegraph in August 1795. Whether Merry had a hand in these is unknown, but on 27 June 1796 Godwin recorded visiting the offices of the Telegraph, where he found ‘Merry, Este, Robinson, Chalmers & Beaumont’. Founded in December 1794, the Telegraph had succeeded the Argus and joined the Courier as the most radical of the English dailies.57 Merry’s obituary in the Monthly Magazine claimed ‘some of the best poetry in the Telegraph was the production of his pen’.58 D. E. MacDonnell, the editor, acted as go-between for Merry with John Taylor in the dispute over the satirical paragraph attacking ‘the reptile oculist’.59 If Merry didn’t write the Death and Dissection of Pitt satires, then he was certainly in the thick of the group of collaborators closely involved in the Telegraph where they first appeared.

Fenelon and The Wounded Soldier – the play and the poem he had told Rogers about late in 1793 – were also published in 1795. Fenelon was never produced, but it was published under Merry’s name and dedicated to Rogers. A partial translation of a play by Marie-Joseph Chénier, Fenelon saw Merry return to the Gothic incarceration plot. Release for the heroine is obtained by the intervention of Archbishop Fenelon, an interesting switch from the dashing hero of the Magician. The choice may indicate the shared interests of the Godwin circle, since Fenelon was one of their acknowledged heroes. In Political justice, it is Fenelon who Godwin imagines saving from a fire – in the interests of humanity – in the famous passage that caused a storm over his utilitarian version of universal benevolence. Holcroft’s account of Merry’s play in the Monthly Review began by praising the role of Fenelon’s book ‘in enlightening mankind’.60 Merry was writing The Wounded Soldier at about the same time Wordsworth was first addressing the same themes in his ‘Salisbury Plain’ poems. Hargreaves-Mawdsley notes that Merry's language ‘is like that of a tract ... intended for the simplest reader’. The effect is surely intentional, even if Merry described his poem to Rogers as ‘to avoid offence … very tame’.61

The Wounded Soldier enjoyed a fairly wide circulation, but first appeared as a penny pamphlet from T. G. Ballard, the author’s name appearing only as ‘Mr. M–y’. By 1795 Ballard was becoming one of the LCS’s regular printers, advertising ‘a great Variety of Patriotic Publications’.62 Ballard also brought out a late version of the Death and Dissection of Pitt satire as Pitt’s Ghost (1795). Citizen Lee also published many of the Pittachio broadsides and various editions of the Death and Dissection of Pitt. He attributed one satire – Pitti-Clout & Dun-Cuddy (1795) – to ‘Mr. M-r-y’, but then later acknowledged an error of attribution.63 Lee’s mistaken use of Merry’s name may have been an over-eager attempt to exploit what glamour, at least in radical circles, remained of it. These publications were probably as close to the LCS as Merry came after he returned from France in 1793. 64 He never took sanctuary there, unlike his friend Charles Pigott. Merry may have felt safest among journalists like those in the offices of the Telegraph, or Dissenting literati like the Aldersons, Godwin, and Holcroft. Such groups often flowed into each other, as Godwin’s visit to the office of the Telegraph suggests, but ultimately they could not provide him with a context to continue writing in Britain.

Transatlantic laureate

Merry continued to see Godwin, especially with Holcroft and sometimes with the moneylender John King, financial troubles making Merry’s residence in England increasingly untenable. The pattern of sociability intensified in January and February 1796 – Godwin seems to meet Merry at a Philomath supper on 12 January – and they see each other several times in April and in June, leaving together for East Anglia on the Ipswich mail on 1 July. A week later Merry was arrested for debt in Norwich. Godwin and James Alderson helped extricate him, but the episode may have determined Merry to leave for the United States.65 Although the emigration of the Merrys had been trailed in the press for some time, it still came as a surprise to Godwin and Amelia Alderson when they left in September 1796. Godwin wrote to Merry too late:

Yesterday evening I heard of your expedition, & heard of it with much pain. I could not forget it all night. I cannot endure to think that a man, whom I regard as an honour & ornament to his country, should thus go into voluntary banishment. If you had thought proper to consult me, I would have endeavoured to dissuade you.

Alderson’s letters to Godwin in October and November 1796 advert to the matter more than once. She found it hard to believe that Merry could possibly be happy in the United States:

I wish much to know how he looked & talk'd when he bade you adieu - whether he was most full of hope, or dejection – My heart felt heavy when I heard he was really gone, & gone too where I fear the charms of his conversation, and his talents will not be relished as they desire to be.

Alderson’s estimation of Merry’s chances of happiness was not untypical of opinion even in progressive circles.66 Writing for prospective emigrants in 1794, Thomas Cooper took the view that ‘literary men’ did not yet exist there as ‘what may be called a class of society’.67 The question of whether the new republic could sustain a literary career was an issue Merry had debated for several years before finally deciding to go. He seems to have seriously considered the option at least twice before he set sail: first, in the summer of 1792, according to the actor James Fennell, when Merry expected the forces of counter-revolution to succeed in their invasion of France; secondly, on the eve of the treason trials, when he asked Rogers for advice about the move.68 His friend Holcroft’s opinion that the United States remained ‘unfavourable to genius’ and uncongenial to ‘energy and improvement’ must have weighed on his mind, but his hand was forced by financial necessity compounded by the political context after the Two Acts had passed into law.69

As it transpired, there was literary culture enough to greet Merry’s arrival with great enthusiasm. Della Cruscanism had been and was to continue to be an important influence on the poetry of the early republic. Pains of Memory was to become one of its most reprinted poems and guaranteed that his arrival garnered various poems of acclaim in response:

With our accord your voices join,
Let your just rewards be known,
The laurel’d chaplet for his brows entwine,
And place him on the laureate’s throne.70

Fleeing Britain only a few months before Merry, Citizen Lee published these lines in his American Universal Magazine. Not everyone was as pleased to see him. Bristling in the American press as Peter Porcupine, William Cobbett attacked both men as part of a conspiracy intent on spreading Jacobinism to the United States:

Poor Merry (whom, however, I do not class with such villains as the above) died about three months ago, just as he was about to finish a treatise on the justice of the Agrarian system. He was never noticed in America; he pined away in obscurity.71

The last claim is debatable to say the least.

John Bernard knew Merry from his pomp in the convivial clubs of London, but thought he thrived in America, even enjoying the rough and tumble of electoral politics: ‘exposed to actual collision with the crowd … Merry was the only man I knew for whom it had a relish.’72 A page Merry added to the Philadelphia edition of Pains of Memory suggests he saw the possibilities of a democratic literary culture in the new republic:

With her free sons the social converse share
See grander scenes and breathe a purer air!73

Merry seems to have been engaged in thinking about these issues when he died suddenly in 1798, leaving behind him his own dissertation on ‘the State of Society and Manners’, addressed to ‘the curiosity of the European reader, respecting the comparative situation of the United States’.74 Over the course of the 1790s, Merry’s experiences in Britain, France, and the United States had given him ample material for such a study. In the process, Thomas Holcroft thought, he laid aside his elite identity as a squire and emerged as a properly independent man. His remaking of himself as he engaged with the implications of the French Revolution was somewhat more complex than Holcroft’s perspective allowed. If the poet and the gentlemen were not entirely sacrificed to the politician, as his enemies proposed, then they did become part of a complex process of self-fashioning in print that ended only with his death in exile.

Chapter 4 ‘The ablest head, with the blackest heart:’ Charles Pigott and the scandal of radicalism

Few people denied Robert Merry’s charm. Years after his death, John Bernard still celebrated him from among all those who gathered at the Beefsteak Club, Fox and Sheridan included, as the one with the most ‘benevolent mould of mind’.1 This reputation underwrote Merry’s political credentials for many sympathisers, confirming that his character was grounded in right feeling. For others, as we have seen, his political enthusiasm warped and, ultimately, betrayed his sociable nature. Hardly anyone ever made either claim for Charles ‘Louse’ Pigott, despite the fact that he and Merry were friends from similar backgrounds. Pigott had a lasting image as a man who had ‘robbed his friends, cheated his creditors, repudiated his wife, and libelled all his acquaintance’.2 Nevertheless, he made two of the most influential contributions to the popular radical literature of the 1790s. The anonymous The Jockey Club (1792) rivalled Rights of Man, at least in the alarm it spread among the government’s law officers. His posthumous Political Dictionary (1795) was endlessly recycled in the contest over the legitimacy of the traditional language of politics. Both books made great play with the politics of personality without making much of Pigott’s own. He did publish some things under his own name, but never created a print personality after the manner of Merry. ‘Louse’ was the derisive nickname known to the relatively closed circle who shared his elite background. Generally, he proved as adaptive as the insect he was named after, thriving in the crevices of print culture, mixing political theory and French materialism with scandal and blackmail, unevenly espousing a radical politics while continuing to insist on his independence as a gentleman, until the government caught up with him and gaol fever killed him.

Cracking the louse

Pigott was the youngest son of an old Jacobite family whose family seat was the manor of Chetwynd Park, Shropshire.3 His eldest brother Robert was a member of the exclusive Jockey Club, who became High Sheriff of the county in 1774, but two years later sold the family estates and moved to the continent. Robert played a direct role in the political clubs of Paris during some of the headiest days of the Revolution before settling in Toulouse in 1792 (dying there in 1794). Probably an important conduit of French ideas to Charles, his remittances also bankrolled his younger brother, at least until politics in France blocked this supply line. Charles went to Eton and in 1769 matriculated at Trinity Hall Cambridge. Soon afterwards he lost a fortune on the turf, mixing in high-rolling Foxite circles. His friends, Fox among them, apparently subscribed to help him out of debtor’s prison. Nevertheless, Pigott felt free to attack Fox’s pose as ‘Man of the People’. In the first of two letters that appeared in the Public Advertiser in March 1785, he berated Fox for stooping to exploit every ruse available in the unreformed electoral system. Their tone confirmed Pigott’s own status as a gentleman of independent mind even as it mourned Fox’s manipulation of the mob:

In committing my thoughts to the public, I am instigated by no other motives, than, I fear, a vain desire of convincing them of their error, and of lamenting those fatal prejudices in many great and exalted characters which have induced them to display such indecent exultation upon a triumph wherein every sensible dispassionate person, who was an ocular witness to the infamous disgraceful proceedings of the Westminster Election, must be affected with the deepest sorrow and indignation.

The second on Fox’s position on Irish affairs hints at Pigott’s adaptive response to print:

Newspapers are the great extensive vehicles of general intelligence; and as the Public Advertiser is universally read, I have selected that publication as best adapted to my purpose.4

Fox and his friends were ambivalent about newspapers as places to argue out political principles, but they were far from slow to respond to Pigott on the field of satire.5 Between the two letters, the Morning Herald – a vociferous supporter of Fox – published four epigrams, headed ‘Reason for Mr. Fox’s avowed contempt for one pigot’s Address to him’, all playing on the idea of the louse as an inhabitant of a vermin-infested (debtor’s) prison:

who shall expect the country’s friend,
The darling of the House,
Should for a moment condescend
To crack a prison louse.6

Despite these slap downs, an antipathy to the hypocrisy of Fox’s pose as ‘Man of the People’ was to remain a more or less consistent part of Pigott’s rhetoric as he made an uneven and incomplete journey from the elite language of independence to the natural rights arguments associated with Thomas Paine and the French Revolution.

Robert Pigott had published in English on French affairs in the 1780s, including New Information and Lights, on the Late Commercial Treaty (1787), which the Critical Review dismissed as ‘the refuse of political rancour, poured forth with petulance, and in language that violates the plainest rules of English grammar’. In the early stages of the Revolution, he addressed the National Assembly in another pamphlet, also published in English, on the liberty of the press.7 Charles made his first intervention in the British ‘debate’ over the French Revolution in Strictures on the New Political Tenets of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke (1791). Published by Ridgway, it was designed as an answer to Burke’s Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs (1791) and Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791). The pamphlet initially presents itself as an attack on Burke’s defection from ‘every idea of friendship and party attachment’, but shows some sensitivity to Pigott’s own vulnerability in this score, given his newspaper letters to Fox. Those attacks, Pigott implied, had been based on policies not persons, but went on to suggest – in relation to the account of Burke – that ‘every trader in politics should be scouted’.8 His most influential contributions to the popular radical cause from 1792 were all to develop just such an unstable mixture of personal muckraking and republican principles for an increasingly popular audience.

Pigott’s representation of Burke as a ‘deserter from an honourable cause’ proposed that ‘the principles that provoked and justified American resistance, are exactly similar with those that brought about the French revolution’. Burke was reneging on a conception of inalienable popular sovereignty that he had defended in the case of the American revolutionaries. These differences might be construed as an in-house dispute about the meaning of the Whig tradition, not least because Burke is represented as deserting the social network associated with Fox, except that as Strictures progresses a different kind of language emerges. Expanding upon the hints in his earlier letters to the Public Advertiser, Pigott dismisses the distinction between Whig and Tory as illusory: ‘From the instant either one or other approach the throne in a ministerial capacity, they must, like camelions, change their natural colour.’9 Even these opinions might be seen as an assertion of pure Whig values, Pigott represents the National Assembly as primarily concerned with the ‘correction of abuses’, but towards its close Strictures starts to invoke Rousseau’s notions of the general will.10 Thomas Paine is lauded as ‘the distinguished and successful rival of Mr. Burke’. The language of traditional rights is to be abandoned in favour of ‘the lights of reason and truth … and … that theory, whose basis is fixed on the natural and untransferable rights of Men and Citizens’.11

Given the French connections he had through his brother, the appearance of this kind of language in Strictures is hardly surprising. Even so, while ‘the natural and untransferable rights of man’ may dominate the later parts of Strictures, it would be misleading to suggest that it entirely effaces the vocabulary of English liberty. Even his later pamphlet Treachery no Crime (1793) is still loath to abandon the idea of the excellence of the original constitution despite the ‘polypuses and rotten excrescencies that have grown upon it’.12 What does newly appear there is the influence of Political Justice, which it quotes regularly, for instance in representing utility – ‘the comparative benefits or injuries which it yields’ – as the best gauge of a constitution. Far less reminiscent of Godwin are the personal attacks in Treachery no Crime on the ‘lazy effeminacy and luxury of courts’.13 Where for the most part Strictures reads as a discussion of political principles, underwritten by the author’s name, Treachery no Crime (1793) – with ‘all the signs of hasty composition’, as the Analytical complained – is full of scurrilous barbs, but it looks like a pale shadow of the Jockey Club, the pamphlet that Pigott had brought out over the course of the previous year. Both were published anonymously, unlike Strictures. If ‘debate’ seems a poor description for the guerilla war being conducted in print over the French Revolution by the end of 1792, then Pigott and the Jockey Club played a major part in the transformation from disquisitions on principles to a fight – with the gloves off – over the legitimacy of the ruling classes.

Riding the aristocracy

Pigott had given notice of a willingness to bring the political elite – of whatever party – to the court of the popular press in 1785. The promise was more than made good in the Jockey Club, published in three parts as it expanded over the course of 1792. Strictures insisted that the author still preserved ‘the utmost respect for the personal and political character of Mr. Fox’.14 The personal affiliations of elite politics survive reasonably intact there, not least because Burke is chastised for reneging on them, but in the Jockey Club, or A Sketch of the Manners of the Age (1792) personal knowledge of the Whig oligarchy as well as the Crown and its allies was used with devastating effect to present the ruling elite as morally bankrupt. Taking the form of a series of brief and deeply scurrilous potted biographies, starting with the Prince of Wales, but moving on to his Whig connections, the Jockey Club proposed to show ‘that a revolution in government, can alone bring about a revolution in morals; while it continues the custom to annex such servile awe and prostituted reverence to those who are virtually the most undeserving of it’.15

Unaware of Pigott’s identity, John Wilde, Professor of Civil Law at Edinburgh University, saw the pamphlet as following an example learnt from the French:

The present state of France is, in no small degree, owing to the calumnies circulated against the higher orders, and especially the criminalities forged against the Court. The same game is playing in this country. No instrument employed in it can be contemptible. Vice certainly ought to be justified no where; among the higher ranks perhaps less than anywhere. But he is blind, indeed, who does not see why real vices are exaggerated against them in this age, and others pretended that do not exist. And that man has, in truth, little foresight who does not see the consequence of such publications being much read and believed.16

Wilde’s assumption was not unreasonable. Pigott had defined his aim as taking ‘the dust out of the eyes of the multitude, in lessening that aristocratic influence which so much pains are now taking to perpetuate’.17 Be that as it may, the patriot idea of a moral crusade in the name of reform in the preface is scarcely preparation for the coruscating and often indecent satire of the sketches themselves. One of the earliest attacks on the Jockey Club, the British Constitution Invulnerable (1792) identified a division of labour between Paine and Pigott: Paine engaged with principles, the author claimed, where Pigott used his personal knowledge of the political elite to attack their persons. An Answer to Three Scurrilous Pamphlets (1792), seemingly written by someone from within or familiar with Pigott’s old gambling circles, provided a much fiercer rebuttal. Using Pigott’s own satirical tactics, personal knowledge of his past is flourished to claim that he had robbed his friends and repudiated his wife. The author chronicles Pigott’s education at Eton, where he was started to be known as ‘Louse’; his political disaffection is represented as the result of an unhappy fashionable marriage and gambling debts; his ingratitude to Fox is framed via an anecdote about the subscription to release him from debtor’s prison. An Answer also claims some paragraphs had first been offered to his victims as blackmail threats: ‘Copies of these libels he has occasionally sent to several ladies; some of whom have deprecated his menaces, with presents of Bank paper.’18

Certainly Pigott was a master of insinuation and titillation. Many who sympathised with the Jockey Club’s politics could not accept its method. Reviewing a fourth edition of Part I in May 1792, the Analytical Review could approve of the political sentiments, but judged much of its content ‘too personal for us to attempt to accompany the author in his biographical sketches’.19 With no sympathy for Pigott’s politics, the author of the British Constitution Invulnerable was much blunter: ‘gross ideas are concealed under equivocal expressions and indecent subjects amplified’.20 Colonel George Hanger was already a staple figure of newspaper gossip and satirical prints.21 The fact that he had been Fox’s agent at the Westminster election of 1784 made him irresistible for Pigott’s amplifications. The description starts relatively mildly: ‘The person in question is admirably calculated to have shone a conspicuous figure in courts, when it was the custom to keep a f—l.’ Typically insults turn to accounts of sexual peccadillos in the Jockey Club. Hanger was no exception:

The M-j-r has of late connected himself with a lady of very amiable accomplishments; – none of your flimsy, delicate beauties; she is composed of true substantial English materials, and what there is plenty of her, cut and come again.22

Many of the entries show a libertine delight in obscene punning that was a familiar part of the masculine ethos of aristocratic clubs. The description of General William Dalrymple, for instance, notes that he had married ‘a young lady who had been much celebrated for the admirable dexterity of certain manual operations, still remembered with a kind of pleasing melancholy by several gentlemen now living’.23

Many of the stories had already appeared in newspaper paragraphs. Wilde assumed that the pamphlet had been ‘pilfered almost entirely from magazines and former scandalous chronicles of the times’.24 Pigott was supplying a ‘daily insinuation’ to the press before he gathered the paragraphs into his book. ‘Characters from the Jockey Club’ appear in the Bon Ton Magazine early in 1792, probably to extort money from their targets. Certainly, Ridgway, one of The Jockey Club’s publishers, had been using this kind of technique for a while.25 Material that later surfaced in the Jockey Club’s paragraphs on Charles James Fox appear without acknowledgement in the April issue of the Bon Ton, but nothing from the two later parts of the Jockey Club, where the affiliation to Painite politics is much clearer. Events in France were regularly featured in the Bon Ton’s pages, but only as warning tales of the violent excesses of the crowd.26 Stories of aristocratic debauchery could be a source of amusement in the Bon Ton Magazine, but when they were hitched to a republican political programme, then it was another matter.

The first part of the Jockey Club, published at the end of February, was relatively mild on Fox and the Whig party. The Prince of Wales is execrated as an example of how ‘disgraceful it is to pay homage to a person merely on account of his descent’, but the possibility that Fox and, especially, Sheridan might live up to their reputations as friends of liberty is kept alive. At this stage still professing an attachment to ‘limited monarchy’, Pigott calls upon Fox to rouse himself, live up to his initial welcome for the French Revolution, and exert himself against the encroachments of the Crown. Pigott sees Sheridan as the more principled of the two politicians. If he lives up to his reputation, ‘he will be adored while living, and his name enrolled on the register of immortality, amongst the most distinguished patriots and benefactors of mankind’.27 The superiority of Sheridan over Fox is more pronounced in the second part, published in May, where he appears as the only politician ‘whose public principles stand unimpeached’. Fox is castigated for his deference to ‘aristocratic connections’.28 The third part written after the events of 10 August and the September massacres in Paris, published on 15 September, is openly republican, beginning, to the astonishment of the Analytical Review, with a deeply unflattering comparison of George III and Louis XVI that implied that the deposition of the latter in August would and ought soon to be the fate of the former. Where Sheridan is the presiding genius of the first two parts, Paine is now praised as ‘a real great man’. Fox is dismissed as ‘this time-serving leader of a self-interested faction’. The Society of the Friends of the People is attacked for speaking ‘the same puny enervating language’ and forming a ‘barrier between a corrupt government and the real friends of the people’.29 No doubt Grey’s club would have included Pigott among those it believed had ‘gone to excess on the subject of universal representation’.30

Whereas the first edition had opened its attack on the Duke of York by mocking the English for being ‘stupidly rooted in admiration of the glare and parade of royalty’, now the very institution of the monarchy is represented as irrelevant.31 Little deference is given even to the idea of an original unblemished British constitution. After a lengthy quotation from Junius in Part III, Pigott dissents from the earlier satirist’s ‘hyperbolical eulogium on the English constitution’.32 The French Convention is presented as the proper model of government:

Most of our celebrated English laws were framed in times of Gothic barbarism. The regenerated government of France will present itself to our admiration at the end of the 18th century, under the combined auspices of patriotism, experience, and philosophy.

Instead the absolute authority of the will of the people is insisted upon in the third and final part:

The sovereignty at present resides in the creator, the people, who have a natural interest in their own happiness and preservation; where as before it was lodged in the creature, the thing of their own creation, which as we have shown, had an interest directly contrary to, and subversive of them.

Pigott’s praise of Robespierre, Marat, and other ‘worthy gentlemen … members of the Jacobin Club’ brings him as close to being an ‘English Jacobin’ as anyone could be.33

Perhaps because it is not framed as a treatise on political principles as such, historians have tended to overlook the Jockey Club’s contribution to the Revolution controversy. Even politically sympathetic journals of the time, as we have seen, blanched at the personal content and indecent tone, but neither they nor the government ignored it. On 24 September 1792, the Prince of Wales wrote to Queen Charlotte in a state of high anxiety about the likely effects of Pigott’s work. He may have been writing out of a particular fear that the stories told about his circle were likely seriously to compromise his attempt to have his debts paid off by Parliament, but he was right to see that Pigott's pamphlet was not simply a scandal sheet. John Wilde believed it to be dangerously ubiquitous in Edinburgh: ‘I know not how it is received in London. Here it is rather a fashionable companion; and even in the lower and middling ranks of life you have as much chance to meet with it, as with a bible or an almanack.’34 The government took the same view, and may indeed have been keeping a watch on the pamphlet since the publication of Part II. The prince told the queen that it was ‘the most infamous & shocking libelous production yt. ever disgraced the pen of man’. She quickly forwarded it to the ministry.35 Henry Dundas immediately put the copy into the hands of the Attorney General. The Treasury Solicitor instructed magistrates to prosecute its publishers wherever they could, not just in London, but countrywide.36 Within a few weeks of the prince’s letter, prosecutions were underway against Ridgway and Symonds. Both were found guilty of sedition, forced to pay large fines, and confined in Newgate in 1793. Before the year was out, they had been joined there by their author, but not for publishing the Jockey Club.37

Prison and the LCS

By the time Treachery no Crime was published early in August 1793, Pigott was closely involved with London’s radical circles. Godwin’s diary for 7 August 1793 records dining in John Frost’s room in Newgate with Pigott, Holcroft, Gerrald, Thomas Macan, and a ‘Macdonald’ who was probably D. E. MacDonnell.38 Pigott found a place in two of Richard Newton’s prints of the inmates and their visitors on the state side of the prison (Figures 6 and 7). Published on 20 August, Soulagement en Prison, or Comfort in Prison pictures the inmates and their visitors enjoying a convivial meal in Lord George Gordon’s rooms with various figures already mentioned several times in this book, including Frost, Gerrald, Ridgway, and Symonds.39 By the time Newton published Promenade on the State Side of Newgate in October 1793, Pigott was a prisoner there himself, awaiting trial. He was probably aware that the government would be watching his movements after the publication of the Jockey Club. To mitigate the charges against him, Ridgway had ‘authorized and directed his Attorney to give up the name of the Author of the Work’.40 In September 1793, presumably feeling the net closing in and short of funds, Pigott attempted to flee the country with Robert Merry, but they turned back at Harwich. Merry went into his exile in Scarborough, but Pigott returned to London, planning to reunite with Merry shortly, not least because his friend was now his main source of money.

Fig 6 Richard Newton, Soulagement en Prison, or Comfort in Prison. Lewis Walpole Library (1793).

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.

Fig 7 Richard Newton, Promenade on the State Side of Newgate (1793).

Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

On 30 September, Pigott was arrested after an incident at the New London coffee house involving the physician William Hodgson. The official indictment claimed that the two men began proposing republican toasts in their private box after a bout of drinking. The charge revolved around the accusation that Hodgson had denounced George III as a ‘German hog butcher’.41 The proprietor of the coffee house sent for the constables. Hodgson and Pigott were arraigned for uttering seditious words. Unluckily for Pigott, the duty magistrate was Mr Anderson, a target in Treachery no Crime.42 Anderson had Hodgson and Pigott committed to the New Compter gaol. Early in October, Pigott’s lawyer, John Martin, discovered mistakes in the warrant. Pigott also complained to the bench that the excessive amount of bail set contravened the Bill of Rights. A jury at the Old Bailey threw out the charges against Pigott on 2 November, but Hodgson was committed to Newgate, and eventually tried and found guilty in December.43

While in confinement, Pigott wrote his defence, later published as Persecution!!! His account of his evening with Hodgson was of two friends indulging ‘in that openness and freedom of discourse natural to persons, who harbour no criminal or secret intentions’. Hinting at an aspect of the defence Erskine had used in John Frost’s case, Pigott admitted they were ‘affected by liquor, when the temper is consequently more irritable than in moments of cooler reflections’.44 More generally, he staked his defence on Whig principles: ‘freedom of speech is an english man’s prerogative, engrafted on our Constitution, by magna charta and the bill of rights.’ When it came to issues of freedom of speech and the liberty of the press, as in the campaign against the Two Acts at the end of 1795, Foxite Whigs and the LCS could work together relatively closely using the same language of liberty. When pleading to a jury, it made sense to appeal to the shades of Russell and Sidney rather than natural rights, but Pigott’s defence does not always manage to hold to this line. Although he asserted that his republican principles were derived from perfectly constitutional notions of the ‘public good’, Persecution!!! went on to declare ‘that my fervent wishes shall be daily offered up for the success and final establishment of the french republic’. These were not words calculated to win an acquittal from an English jury had the case come to trial, but they should not simply be read as Pigott’s ‘real’ opinions emerging from beneath a tactical use of Whig vocabulary. They might better be seen as a snapshot in the process of Pigott rewriting his political lexicon in response to the fast-changing personal and political context, not least the need to save himself from gaol. Even in the ‘Preface’ to Persecution!!!, written after the charge had been thrown out, when he had no need to pander to the prejudices of a jury, Pigott fashions an idea of his sufferings against the backdrop of the pantheon of English liberty:

During the period of our history, when a Stuart reigned in England; when a Jefferies presided in the court of King’s Bench the source of justice was polluted, Judges were venal, and juries corrupt, Virtue and Crime were confounded; or rather Virtue was proscribed and punished; Crime rewarded and triumphant. A pander ennobled by the title of Duke of Buckingham, was the favourite of the prince. Jefferies, whose very name is synonymous with oppression and cruelty, was the protected Judge, under whose sentence and authority, a SIDNEY and a RUSSELL died on the scaffold.45

Thelwall’s lectures – when they started their new season in February – were full of this sort of appeal, but his relation to this tradition was rather different from Pigott’s.46 As a member of an old family, Pigott was not above asserting his independence as a gentleman over informers he represents as mere men of trade. It was not so easy to jettison patrician values as to take on the language of natural rights. Pigott loftily dismissed his two chief accusers – ‘this political pickle merchant’ and ‘formerly in the linen trade at Bristol’ – on the basis of their social inferiority. The language of gentlemanly independence would have been part of Pigott’s education at Eton and Cambridge and the common currency of his erstwhile friends in the Jockey Club when the talk turned from the turf to politics. As he insisted in his defence, ‘to declare my sentiments without reserve’ was ‘a habit in which I was bred, and which is rooted in me’. Anything else would be to cover English traditions of liberty with ‘our modern servility, transplanted’, as he put it with typical sarcasm, ‘from the old despotism of France’.47

On his release, Pigott appeared at meetings of the Philomath Society attended by William Godwin. Godwin’s diary for 14 January reads: ‘Tea at Holcroft’s: Philomathian supper; visitors Gerald & Pigot’.48 Gerrald at this stage was on bail. Eaton, who appears with Pigott in the October Newgate print, published Persecution!!! in December and announced at the end of March that he had copies of Strictures and Treachery no Crime available.49 Pigott became closely enough involved with popular radical circles to join the LCS (a path his friend Merry never took). February 1794 sees his name on a list of the members of division 25 on which Eaton and Thelwall also appear.50 Exactly when Pigott joined the LCS is not clear. He associated with members like Gerrald and Hodgson from at least mid-1793, but it may be that he only actually joined on his release from Newgate on 2 November. Certainly, there is desperation in the letter he wrote to Samuel Rogers a week later. The letter makes a disingenuous mention of the incident with Hodgson (‘the stupid accident with which I presume you have been made acquainted by the papers’). His financial situation had been worsened because events in France had cut him off from the ‘remittances’ he relied upon from his brother. Merry could not supply the loss:

It is only real want & a reluctance to apply to the Great World that could prevail on me to request a service of this nature from you, to whom I am unknown, but if you will be kind enough to advance me ten guineas, I think I may venture to aver with confidence that my Friend will make it good or otherwise, if you should have sufficient faith in me I have a French translation of the System of Nature in the Press which on being concluded a Bookseller has agreed to advance me 60L, when I should return the money, should Merry (which I think impossible) not have done so.51

The author of the System of Nature was the Baron d’Holbach, although editions of the time routinely attributed it to ‘Mirabaud’.52 The promotion of such texts in the LCS infuriated ‘saints’ like Bone and Lee. W. H. Reid later claimed that the System of Nature was ‘translated by a person confined in Newgate as a patriot, and published in weekly numbers, its sale was pushed, from the joint motive of serving the Author, and the cause in which the London Corresponding Society was engaged’.53 Intriguingly, an edition of the System of Nature was brought out by Pigott’s prison-mate William Hodgson in 1795–6 (embellished with engravings by Henry Richter). Hodgson is the most obvious candidate for Reid’s ‘person confined in Newgate,’ but he and Pigott may have worked together on a translation in prison.54 Pigott was obviously desperate to make money by selling books on his release. Apart from the mooted translation of Holbach, he seems to have drawn on his gaming past to edit New Hoyle, or the general repository of games, eventually published after his death by Ridgway in 1795, with rules for the fashionable card games of faro, cribbage, and rouge et noir added to the traditional compilation.55 More immediately, though, he seems to have looked to repeat the success of the Jockey Club, exploiting the general interest in the scandals of the aristocracy and even, in one instance, posing as a woman in print.

Scandalmonger and lexicographer

Margaret Coghlan had been born into a wealthy military family in 1762. She married the army officer John Coghlan during the American War, but her husband and then her father cast her off.56 Crossing the Atlantic, she embarked on a career as actress and courtesan, with lovers who included Fox and the Duke of York. She wrote a scandalous memoir naming many names, but reportedly died in London in 1787 before it could be published. The memoir finally appeared in January 1794, published by George Kearsley, ‘interspersed’, the title page informs us, ‘with anecdotes of the American and present French Wars, with remarks moral and political’. There was also a radical preface, extensive remarks on the moral laxity of the elite, and a second volume that celebrated ‘the glorious Epoch, the 14 of July, 1789, when Frenchmen threw off for ever, the yoke of slavery’.57 Throughout Coghlan’s Memoirs elite marital relations are represented as a form of tyranny in constraint of the natural affections, ‘an honourable prostitution’, as Coghlan describes it, that introduced her ‘to libertines, and to women of doubtful character’.58 The British Critic read the book, not very attentively, simply as a moral critique of ‘the licentiousness of elevated life’. Usually among the fiercest critics of radical opinion, the journal assumed Coghlan was still alive, and ‘now a prisoner for debt’, missing the appropriation of her voice to a radical critique. The author of the interspersions was Charles Pigott.59 Pigott’s amplifications of Coghlan’s memoirs returned to some favourite targets of the Jockey Club, including, for instance, General Dalrymple. Sarcastically described there as ‘equally distinguished for gallantry in love … as for bravery in war … this son of Mars, this favourite of Venus … equal to both and armed for either field’, he reappeared in the Memoirs as ‘this favourite of the fair sex, that renowned Warrior, equal to both and armed for either field’.60 Pigott often returned to the idea that the officer class was barely more effective – if busier – in the bedroom than on the battlefield. Their commander-in-chief the Duke of York was a favourite target. Pigott had reportedly been discussing the duke’s character with Hodgson just prior to their arrest.61 Coghlan’s Memoirs drily comments on the duke: ‘if this princely Lothario shines not with greater advantage in the plains of Mars than he excels in the groves of Venus, the combined forces have little to expect from his martial exertions.’62 On 10 February 1794, The Times noted that

the publication of Mrs. Coghlan’s Memoirs just on the eve of a Royal Duke [of York]’s return, will not prove very acceptable to him; anecdotes there are of a singular nature; nor should we wonder if on that account they were to be suppressed.

The duke soon had even more to annoy him when Eaton published Pigott’s the Female Jockey Club on 8 March.63 In an arch piece of self-promotion, Coghlan appears in its cast on the basis of her ‘literary merit’. ‘If her soul really breath the sentiments contained in the memoirs,’ wrote Pigott praising his own amplifications, then ‘she possesses titles far superior to any, which all the kings in the world have it in their power to bestow.’64 ‘This author’, claimed Erskine,

libelled all those who were entrusted with the Government of the Country, and all those, whoever they were, who were placed in the most respectable situations [in the Jockey Club]; and after having exhausted that sex, he then fastened on the weaker sex, (whom all agreed to protect) beginning with the wife of the Sovereign, [and] the royal princesses.65

There are plenty of examples to choose from. Pigott claimed, for instance, that Lady Archer was as ‘adept in certain manual exercises’, including ‘raising a cock at faro’.66 Condemning aristocratic women for publicly displaying themselves at routs and gaming tables was becoming a familiar part of the growing moralism of public culture, but Pigott’s heady cocktail was far from usual. Throughout the main culprit in terms of public display – the reader is reminded from the Jockey Club – are ‘the stupid barbarous prejudices of Royalty’.67

The Female Jockey Club opposes an enlightenment celebration of natural energies to aristocratic artifice in a way that echoes Holbach’s materialism. Libertine punning often shares the page with a critique of ‘superficial delicacies and luxuries’ opposed to ‘those heavenly enjoyments, which Nature has indulgently yielded, to make the bitter draught of life go down’. The opening entry in the Female Jockey Club condemns the enslavement of the royal princesses to ‘the sterile solitude of celibacy’, reading the royal household in terms of the paternal tyranny regularly attacked in sentimental fiction and the Gothic novel, not to mention much of Robert Merry’s writing. ‘Nature will prevail’, as Pigott puts it in his discussion of the princesses, becomes an over-determined motto as sentimental moralism meets libertine insinuation.68 The collection ran into several editions, including a fourth edition of five thousand copies Eaton claimed, but the publisher did not escape trouble.69 Lady Elizabeth Luttrell brought a libel case against the book for a passage claiming she received ‘select visitors in her private apartments’. There, Pigott claimed, she ‘employed to make herself agreeable … forget her age, and act again the joys of voluptuous youth’.70 A lengthy report of the trial appeared in The Times on 31 July. Erskine, appearing for the prosecution, described Pigott’s book as a ‘supplement to another work of malice [The Jockey Club], which had for its object to libel everything that was virtuous, honourable, and respectable in this country’. Erskine’s role is an indication, if one is needed, of just how far Pigott had become alienated from his old Whig networks. Eaton was found guilty at the end of July, but settled out of court.71 Pigott was beyond such mercies, as several newspapers noticed. He had died in his apartments on Tottenham Court Road at the end of June. John Gurney, Eaton’s lawyer, described him as ‘possessing the ablest head, with the blackest heart … gone to answer for this and all other offences at a higher Tribunal’.72

The gaol fever that had killed many others held in Newgate probably killed Pigott. His body was interred in his family vault in Chetwynd, but his legacy was not so easily claimed by the proprieties of the landed gentry. After his death, Eaton brought out a posthumous copy of his Political Dictionary (1795).73 There are fewer better illustrations of John Barrell’s claim that political struggle in the 1790s was often about the meaning of words.74 In the Political Dictionary, the vocabulary of customary rights and traditional liberties that conditioned most eighteenth-century political discourse is presented as a smoke screen designed to exclude the people from political participation. The attachment to constitutional monarchy is defined in terms of a Whig preference for closed networks of ‘influence’ over democratic transparency:

Whig, - a person who prefers the influence of House of Hanover to the prerogative of the Stuarts. I am an enemy to both; but if we must languish under one or the other, I would, without hesitation, prefer the prerogative of the Stuarts, and for this reason – where prerogative is, the defence and justification of an arbitrary act, all the odium which such an act would, is attached to the king himself; whereas, when this same arbitrary act is induced, through the medium of influence, the odium rests on no one in particular.

Every part of the church and state is subjected to pithy evaluation and dismissal.

The Opposition fares little better than the Ministry. The entry under so innocuous seeming a word as ‘Fulsome’ gives a sense of Pigott’s disdain for the manners of the great. The image of Fox as the ‘Man of the People,’ a target of Pigott’s from at least 1785, is reduced to a public show masking private vice:

Charles Fox eternally passing compliments in his parliamentary speeches on the infamous B-ke. The manner in which members of both Houses of Parliament address each other. Noble Duke, Noble Lord, Right Honorable Gentleman, Learned Friend &c &c &c. This language may very properly be styled fulsome, since it is generally applied to the most unfeeling and corrupt beings of the human race.75

Whig principles are implicitly being opposed to the genuine man of feeling who makes an appearance in the ‘Preface’ provided with some editions. ‘Liberty and Property’, the twin peaks of Whig ideology, he scornfully defines as ‘an indispensable necessity for keeping game for other people to kill, with pains and penalties of the most arbitrary kind, should we think of appropriating the minutest article to the use of our own families’.76

From a Burkean point of view, of course, Pigott’s defection would have illustrated the dangerous moral relativism unleashed by the enlightenment faith in ideas.77 From this perspective, he proved himself ‘the Louse’ who abandoned his class for self-interest masking itself as philosophy. Cut off from the culture to which he was born, Pigott provided a morality tale of the fate of talents and energies unmoored from those English traditions and customs ceaselessly mocked in the Political Dictionary. Eaton presented the case rather differently. Some copies under his imprint publish a first-person preface presenting Pigott as a hero of benevolence, who had sacrificed Gothic manners to republican virtue and human natural feeling. The preface comes complete with Richardsonian asterisks, breaking up the text, as if to indicate that sickness is undermining the author’s sensitive frame. ‘Inequality of style’ is excused by ‘the capricious and fluctuating temper of mind of the author’.78 Whether Pigott intended these words for publication cannot be known, although Eaton published the preface with manuscript directions to the editor. Eaton may have been appropriating papers left by his fellow member of division 25, but he was also presenting his late colleague as a man of feeling ruined by a cruel and unjust system. Certainly this kind of self-revelation has more of the libertinism of Rousseau’s Confessions than Richardson’s Clarissa. The modesty and polite self-command essential to the Richardsonian ideas of sensibility are flouted in the pages of the dictionary itself. A Political Dictionary breathes the spirit of an anti-clerical freethinker, dismissive not only of the moral authority of the elite, but all the institutions of the church and state. The Dictionary displays the same disposition that freethinking members of the LCS were pleased to find in the System of Nature.

One of the few radical writers who had much to say on Pigott’s behalf was Robert Watson, Lord George Gordon’s secretary. Watson never shared his employer’s religious fervour.79 He was very much a marginal figure in the LCS, partly because of his association with Gordon, but he praised Pigott as ‘a patriotic writer’ and his brother Robert as ‘a philanthropist’. No doubt Watson considered Pigott, like his former employer, ‘a martyr to cruel and sanguinary laws’. Watson showed no compunction about identifying the body of Marie Antoinette with corruption and would scarcely have baulked at the Female Jockey Club.80 Others defended Pigott’s principles in the context of reform politics, including George Dyer and Benjamin Flower, but found the personal mode of attack hard to equate with their ideas of benevolence.81 No doubt their friend Coleridge would have included Pigott among those ‘sensualists and gamblers’, including Pigott’s companion Joseph Gerrald, whom he thought dishonoured the name of ‘Modern Patriotism’.82 Gerrald retained a place among the pantheon of radical martyrs, often identified with the daughters he left behind, thanks to the labours of Thelwall and others to consecrate his name. Pigott’s name does not easily fit into any heroic account of the development of popular political consciousness, but after his death his satirical voice became a crucial component in the explosion of radical texts that spewed from radical bookshops in 1795. His name if not his reputation was constantly before the eye of readers on the title pages of one-penny anthologies like the Voice of the People, Warning to Tyrants, and The Rights of Man, published by ‘Citizen’ Lee at the Tree of Liberty.

Chapter 5 Citizen Lee at the ‘Tree of Liberty’

The death of Charles Pigott in the early summer of 1794 coincided with the rise of Richard Citizen Lee in the LCS. The numerous 1d tracts Lee published in 1795 gave Pigott’s name a short-lived posthumous fame in the radical movement. These publications have also ensured Richard Citizen Lee frequent mention in the scholarship on popular radicalism, despite the brevity of his career. He emerged into radical print culture in May 1794 and less than two years later fled to the United States. Despite his notoriety, exactly who he was and whence he had come puzzled both his allies and enemies alike. He was one of the many who rode the wave of print that rose in the third quarter of the eighteenth century and crashed to the shore in the 1790s. More specifically, he was a product of the explosion of print as a vehicle for religious feeling. In this regard, it is hardly surprising that his fellow abolitionist Thomas Hardy remembered him long afterwards as a ‘patriot bard’, but others in the movement had no stomach for what they regarded as overzealous religious enthusiasm.1 He was either excluded or resigned from the LCS because of his warmth on such matters, but the government ensured that his name became emblematic of radicalism in the weeks that ran up to the passing of the Two Acts at the end of 1795. Citizen Lee was named several times in parliamentary debates, particularly over the question of whether he was ‘the avowed printer and publisher to the Society’.2 Members of both Houses of Parliament visited him in his shop, and even pestered his mother in order to find out more about him. If Citizen Lee was in the public eye in these weeks, he never entirely abandoned his ‘proper’ name. Richard Lee was the author of collections of evangelical, abolitionist, and radical poetry that appeared over 1794–5. Some of the most violent broadsides that issued from his shop at the Tree of Liberty contained lines by ‘R. Lee’ in them. Even his most satirical output continued to insist on the rights of God against the rights of kings, a position he maintained when he rejoined the fray of print politics in Philadelphia after 1796.

Evangelist of print

A transcription from the Treasury Solicitor’s papers of an interrogation which took place on 31 October 1795 illustrates the confusion of the authorities when trying to understand the nature of popular radicalism in the 1790s:

  • Q. Are these all the productions of Mr. Lee’s pen?

  • A. Not all, But those that have his Name to them are.

  • Q. You I suppose are Mr. Lee’s servant.

  • A. No my name is Lee.

  • Q. O, then you are Mr. Lee himself?

  • A. Yes sir.

  • Q. You must be very industrious to produce such a quantity of matter.

  • A. There are several persons employed.3

The exchange suggests the protean nature of print radicalism in the 1790s, and the government’s struggle to comprehend it. E. P. Thompson offered a brief description of Lee as ‘one of the few English Jacobins who referred to the guillotine in terms of warm approval’, but he has largely remained as much of a mystery in the historiography of radicalism as he was to the government in 1795.4 Thompson was probably unaware of Lee’s appearance in E. F. Hatfield’s the Poets of the Church (1884). Far from denouncing Lee as a Jacobin, Hatfield commends his ‘devout spirit’. Of course, he probably had no idea that his poet had also been the notorious bookseller of the Tree of Liberty. Whether those who included his poem ‘Eternal Love’ in an American collection under the name of the London Calvinist Maria de Fleury in 1803 and 1804 knew is more debatable.5 More certain is that Lee’s first ventures into print took the path of periodical publication; the route taken by John Thelwall, W. H. Reid, and others who later became involved in the LCS. Both Reid and Lee were products of late eighteenth-century networks where print and religion intertwined.6 Lee eventually flouted many of the constraints of evangelical piety, but he began writing under the patronage of the Evangelical Magazine in 1793–4 with a series of poems over the name ‘Ebenezer’.

The Evangelical Magazine was founded in 1793 by a group of dissenting and Anglican preachers of Calvinist orientation, among them David Bogue and James Steven, associates at the time of LCS-Secretary Thomas Hardy, as we have seen. The aim of the new magazine was to publish in a style ‘level to every one’s capacity, and suited to every one’s time and circumstances’, designed to protect ‘true believers, exposed to the wiles of erroneous teachers who endeavour to perplex their minds, and subvert their faith’.7 At its very inception, the Magazine was concerned to channel popular religious feeling by self-consciously exploiting a medium associated with the circulation of ideas to a new reading public: ‘on account of their extensive circulation, periodical publications have obtained a high degree of importance in the republic of letters … which produced a surprising revolution in sentiments and manners’. Bogue had already, as we have seen, anonymously addressed the court of public opinion on the repeal of the Test and Corporation Act and on the significance of the French Revolution. Like most eighteenth-century periodicals, the Evangelical encouraged its readers to become writers, especially those who were drawn from outside the ‘literate’ classes. Lee was encouraged enough to gather his poems into Flowers from Sharon, published at the beginning of 1794, now proudly using his own name as author.

Lee prefaced Flowers from Sharon with the kind of apology for its defects typical of those who had newly entered the republic of letters:

It is not from a vain Supposition of their Poetical Merit, that the ensuing Sheets are offered to the Public; but from a Conviction of the Divine Truths they contain; Truths which, I own, fallen and depraved Reason will always stumble at; and which the unregenerate Heart will never cordially receive; they are too humbling for proud Nature to be in love with; – too dazzling for carnal Eyes to behold. But they are Truths which the christian embraces, and holds fast as his chief treasure. From a real Experience of their divine Power in his Heart, he derives his only Support and Comfort in this wretched Vale of Tears.8

Here, the stress on the unmediated experience of grace provides an unstable mix of deference and self-assertion. Compare the preface attached to James Wheeler’s posthumous The Rose of Sharon: A Poem (1790). The editor makes a great deal of Wheeler ‘being with respect to human learning an illiterate (though doubtless sincere) Christian’. The apologia goes on to suggest that the poem ‘may very probably receive the censures of the critic. Yet the serious Christian Reader will ... discern so much of real experimental religion as may afford him both pleasure and profit.’9 In Lee’s case, the Evangelical Magazine provided a review of Flowers from Sharon that praised the genuinely ‘experimental’ feeling of its former contributor, but simultaneously registered a concern over his presumption that incorrectness would be overlooked in favour of the authenticity of his religious feelings:

This is perhaps more than a writer is entitled to expect, when he claims the public attention; especially as defects in grammar, accent, rhyme, and metre, might have been removed by the previous correction of some judicious friend. However, these poems, published, apparently, ‘with all their imperfections on their head’, afford the stronger evidence of being genuine; and many of them are superior, even in correctness, to what is naturally looked for in the production of so young a person, who has received little assistance from education, and whose occupation we understand to be that of a laborious mechanic.10

Such prefaces and reviews were ways of circumscribing the possibilities available in print for the ‘laborious mechanic’. Self-taught poets could be valued for their ‘genuine’ effusions of the heart, as Reid was when brought forward by James Perry in the Gazetteer, but this was not quite the same thing as valuing them as ‘poets’ in their own right. To do so would have meant encouraging them to abandon what polite commentators perceived as their proper position within the social hierarchy, a fear repeatedly sounded by reviewers. Faced with John Thelwall’s poetry in 1801, Francis Jeffrey writing in the Edinburgh Review identified the aspirations of such men in print as ‘a pleasant a way to distinction, to those who are without the advantages of birth or fortune, that we need not wonder if more are drawn into it, than are qualified to reach the place of their destination’. His review goes on to imply that such cultural pretensions had stoked the fires of the popular radicalism of the previous decade: ‘shoemakers and tailors astonish the world with plans for reforming the constitution, and with effusions of relative and social feeling’.11

Jeffrey saw Thelwall as someone who mistakenly thought a secular version of enthusiasm could compensate for birth, education, and cultural capital more generally. Lee, for his part, added a conviction of divine inspiration into this mix. Over the course of 1794, he followed precisely the trajectory that commentators like Jeffrey feared, making his conviction the basis of plans for reforming the constitution. In Flowers from Sharon that journey is only shadowed in his fierce confidence in the saving power of grace. ‘Eternal Love’, the first poem in the collection, asserts the unity of the believer with the divine, (‘one with the father, with the spirit one’) and looks to a day when the shout ‘grace! free grace!’ shall ‘re-echo thro’ the Skies!’ Lee’s collection is pervaded by a faith in the sufficiency of his own spiritual illumination. Later in his own career, Bogue and his pupil James Bennett identified such confidence as the besetting sin of uneducated men who had never actually read Calvin, ‘the popular poison, a bastard zeal for the doctrine of salvation by grace’.12 Ironically, the Evangelical Magazine itself was criticised for giving rein to such excesses of popular religious feeling. In 1800, Reid, now writing as a turncoat after his arrest at an LCS meeting, identified ‘the Evangelical and other Magazines, still in circulation’ for stirring up a popular taste for prophetic illumination and enthusiastic conversion narratives. He would have known as he had travelled this road himself.13

The exact details of Lee’s religious affiliations in 1793–4 are not easy to trace. One of the poems collected in Flowers from Sharon mentions a lecture ‘at the Adelphi Chapel, by the Rev Grove’. Thomas Grove had been expelled from Oxford in 1768 for ‘Methodism’. He was in London in 1793–4 acting as one of several ministers preaching at the Adelphi, which had no settled preacher at the time. John Feltham’s Picture of London (1802) mentions Grove disapprovingly as one of a group of Calvinists ‘celebrated for their zeal in addressing large auditories’.14 The list of booksellers on the title page of Flowers from Sharon further helps to elucidate his religious context. They include Jordan, Matthews, Parsons, and Terry. Jordan, of course, was the original publisher of Paine’s Rights of Man. Parsons published Merry’s Fenelon in 1795, not to mention other works related to reform, but he also sold a great variety of popular religious material. In 1792, Jordan, Matthews, and Terry had also collaborated to republish an ‘old ranter’ tract from the seventeenth century, Samuel (Cobbler) How’s The Sufficiency of the Spirit’s Teaching. Reid later cited How’s book, somewhat improbably, as the source of Tom Paine’s idea that ‘every man’s mind is his own church’.15 How’s tract stresses the sufficiency of the faith of the poor believer over the knowledge of ‘the wise, rich, noble, and learned’.16 For his part, Terry was accused of peddling Paine’s Rights of Man to the congregation of William Huntington’s Providence Chapel. By 1794 he was certainly publishing millenarian tracts feeding off the sense of expectancy generated by the French Revolution.17 Flowers from Sharon participated in and encouraged this expectation, but before 1794 was out Lee had made good on its potential by emerging as a member of the LCS.

The emergence of the citizen

Despite the potential overlaps in their religious affiliations, Thomas Hardy claimed in his Memoir not to have known Lee personally, conceivably the case since the poet did not gain any serious profile in the LCS until after Hardy’s imprisonment in May 1794.18 Nevertheless, Hardy’s arrest and the subsequent death of his wife clearly fired the uneven and incomplete transformation of the author of Flowers from Sharon into Citizen Lee. This development did not entail the abandonment of religion for politics. One version of what happened to Lee is found in James Powell’s letter to the Treasury Solicitor discussed in Part i. Powell claims that Lee had become well known in radical circles for his exertions on behalf of the patriots arrested in May 1794. The chronology hazily sketched in Powell’s letter implies he became acquainted with Lee at Eaton’s shop.19 Describing him as principal clerk at Perchard’s in Chatham Square, rather than the ‘laborious mechanic’ assumed by the puff in the Evangelical Magazine, Powell says Lee had been ‘very active in supporting the subscriptions for the persons imprisoned & very liberal himself. he was very popular in the society’. His most obvious contribution to raising money for the prisoners was the poem on the death of Hardy’s wife, discussed earlier. Lydia Hardy had died on 27 August 1794, while her husband was still awaiting trial. Lee had already published poetry under his proper name in Pig’s Meat, but after the arrests in May he may have thought it prudent to withhold it now. Two of the poems issued in Pig’s Meat also appeared in a cheaply produced four-page pamphlet under the title the Death of Despotism and the Doom of Tyrants, which does bear his name. Probably published much later in the year, after the acquittals, ‘The Triumph of Liberty’ appears recast as the title poem in the Death of Despotism, but ‘The Rights of God’ keeps its original title, with the addition of a fourth stanza.20 These poems were also gathered into the collection Lee next published, probably at the very end of 1794, under variants of the title Songs from the rock.21

Lee issued a handbill calling for subscriptions for Songs from the rock. The verso has an advertisement for Flowers from Sharon that includes a list of recommendations from clergymen with Hardy’s minister James Steven among them. Booksellers accepting subscriptions for the new volume were the radicals Eaton, Smith, and Symonds, along with Jordan and Parsons from among those who had sold Flowers from Sharon. The published volumes of Songs from the rock carry a note announcing that ‘several of the following Poems have suffered much through Omissions and Alterations, which the Fear of Persecution induced the Printer to make, though contrary to the Author’s wishes’. Probably for much the same reason the list of subscribers promised on the proposal did not appear. Several names are blanked out in the poems, but this scarcely reduces the seditious nature of the content.22 Some of these poems were to be reprinted or excerpted in the broadsides and pamphlets of 1795 that bear the imprint of Citizen Lee, but the collection in the form(s) it finally appeared seems to have been shaped by the optimism surrounding the acquittals at the treason trials. The collection opens with ‘The Return of the Suffering Patriots’ and the title page, which, whatever its final form, always mentions ‘a congratulatory address to Thomas Hardy’. There is also a ‘Hymn to the God of Freedom for the Fifth of November’, the day of Hardy’s acquittal. Neither is mentioned in the subscription flyer for the volume. Some versions of the volume describe the address to Hardy as ‘added’ and lists of publications for sale by Lee from 1795 have it listed as a separate item selling for 1d. The circumstantial evidence is that the volume had been in development before the acquittals, but was published with additional poems after Hardy was freed.

‘Tribute to Civic Gratitude’ insists on the centrality of Christian belief to radical politics. Hardy was a specifically ‘christian hero’ as Lee explained in a note where he confronts ‘infidelity’, and denies any idea that ‘pure Christianity is inimical to the Cause of Freedom’.23 No doubt the Lord Chief Justice – in the unlikely event he ever read them – would have felt that these words vindicated his summing up at Hardy’s trial, but they are directed as much against infidels in the LCS as against the established order. Given this account of Hardy as a specifically Christian hero, the persistence of themes from Flowers from Sharon in the volume as a whole is unsurprising. They include the abolitionism of ‘On the Emancipation of our Negro Brethren in America’ and the millenarianism of ‘Babylon’s Fall or the Overthrow of Papal Tyranny’ and ‘A Call to Protestant Patriots’. The last presents plans for British troops to be used to protect the Vatican against French Republican armies as a sign that the British government is in league with the Beast of Revelation. Possibly Lee was among those LCS members sympathetic to Gordon and the Protestant Association. ‘Retribution; or the Rewards of Benevolence and of Oppression’ is a celebration of the ‘rich Glories of free grace’ in a levelling vision of the Judgment Day when ‘Monarchs fall beneath thy Frown’.24 Hatred of monarchy as a human institution set up over against the freedom granted by God’s grace is a keynote of Lee’s radicalism, pushing beyond the respect for George III usually found – at least ostensibly – in most ‘official’ LCS publications. The zeal of Lee’s radicalism was clearly bound up with the warmth of his religious convictions, a fact that caused problems for him within the LCS. Most of the poems in Songs from the rock are characterised by violent language, an unequivocal statement of faith in divine power, and the claim to see and feel that power directly at work in the world.

Nevertheless, it would be quite wrong to suggest that Lee did not have ‘literary’ aspirations. ‘Reform offered a more practical kind of emancipation or empowerment’, as Mark Philp has suggested, ‘together with a degree of social mobility.’25 There was a distinctly literary aspect to these ambitions for some members of the radical societies. John Barrell has identified the pastoral bent of much of the poetry found in Pig’s Meat and Politics for the People with the literary and social aspirations of those who joined the societies.26 Lee’s references and allusions to the eighteenth-century poetic canon, including James Thomson and Edward Young, signals a similar desire to join the world of belles lettres. Complicating matters, but to similar effect, Lee’s religious poetry brought him out of the clerk’s office and into the public sphere. Flowers from Sharon, at 3s, looks as if it was intended for something like the better-off purchasers of the Evangelical Magazine.27 Devotional poetry offered Lee a form of social mobility and an opportunity for self-definition underwritten by the idea of a grace freely available even to the poorest members of society, but Songs from the rock also lays claim to a degree of cultural capital from more literary sources. The volume quotes lines from Joseph Addison, James Thomson, and Young, not to mention the fashionable religious verse of Salomon Gessner’s sacred poem The Death of Abel, translated by Mary Collyer in 1761, and reissued regularly thereafter.28 The collection also contains a number of love poems addressed to ‘Aminta’ (a name taken from a Tasso play). One of the Aminta poems, Lee acknowledged, had already appeared in a magazine. At one point in Songs from the rock, he even quotes from Della Crusca.29 Songs from the rock was available at 1s 6d, ‘in order to accommodate every Class of Readers’, but also in a de luxe edition on fine paper at 2s 6d. Even at his radical zenith, when he traded as the bookseller Citizen Lee, this de luxe edition remained available. Powell’s bitter account of Lee’s celebrity in radical conversazione suggests he also struck a figure as a poet of the people in the debating clubs that flourished in the mid-1790s.

These aspirations do not mean Lee was simply self-interested, but involved in a species of self-fashioning in print. Lee’s notion of his right to participate in the public sphere rested not simply on what we might recognise as personal improvement through education, or the universality of private judgement, or even on the power of his imagination as such, but primarily on his confidence in the gift of free grace. Lee himself described Songs from the rock as an attempt ‘to Promote the united cause of God and Man’.30 Nearly everything he later published continues to affirm the confidence in the sufficiency of his own spiritual illumination over ‘unregenerate reason’ set out in Flowers from Sharon. Thelwall usually identified such attitudes with the retrograde enthusiasm of the Civil War, but Lee cannot simply be regarded as a throwback to the 1640s. His writing is the product of a complex interaction between such tendencies and emergent aspects of late eighteenth-century print culture. The literary effects of the cult of poetic sensibility, running through his poetic references to Addison, Thomson, Young, and Della Crusca, who inspired so much magazine verse between them, informs both the love poetry and the more general celebration of benevolence in Songs from the rock.

In 1795, Lee even published a translation of an excerpt from Rousseau’s Emile, under the title The Gospel of Reason. Carefully culled and translated from the confession of faith of the Savoyard vicar, it presents Rousseau as an advocate of a religion of free grace rather than an Enlightenment philosophe:

the majesty which reigns in the sacred writing, fills me with a solemn kind of astonishment; and … the sanctity of the Gospel speaks in a powerful and commanding language to the feelings of my heart.

The initial reception of Rousseau in England had stressed the ‘heat of enthusiasm’ in Emile and often represented him as a brave defender of Protestant freedom of conscience. The Gospel of Reason goes further, presenting Rousseau as a radical apostle of the sufficiency of the spirit’s teaching, or regenerate reason.31 If Merry and Pigott presented their readers with an unstable cocktail of sensibility and French materialism in the cause of reform, Lee’s poetry combines sentimentalism with homegrown religious enthusiasm. Merry and Pigott also shared a particular and often personal animus towards Pitt, possibly because they knew and were familiar with the Prime Minister’s social world. They were capable of attacking the Crown’s encroachment on the authority of Parliament, and sometimes even the institution of monarchy itself, at their most republican, but Lee’s radical Protestant imagination provides his writing with a sense of the fundamental wickedness of monarchy. Kingship becomes a form of idolatry. Pitt is its high priest. Lee’s confidence in the voice of God speaking directly to his heart enabled him to publish some of the most incendiary material put out by radical presses in the 1790s, underwritten by what the Monthly Review called ‘the divine right of republics’:

sole king of nations, rise! assert thy Sway,
Thou jealous god! thy potent arm display;
Tumble the Blood-built Thrones of Despots down!
Let Dust and Darkness be the Tyrant’s Crown!32

Spence printed these lines in Pig’s Meat, perhaps because he and Lee shared an inheritance in this kind of religious feeling. Both of them saw the compact of church and state as a blasphemous usurpation of the rights of God. This perspective suffused everything Lee published in 1795, including some very black satire.33

The Tree of Liberty, 1795

Broadsides and short pamphlets, seldom costing more than a penny, poured from Lee’s press over the course of 1795. Although it is not exactly clear when he set up as a bookseller, his shop soon became famous as the Tree of Liberty, or sometimes the British Tree of Liberty. A series of addresses in central London were its home: first, at a shop his mother seems to have owned in St Ann’s Street, Soho; then at the Haymarket some time before the end of March 1795, before moving back to Soho in Berwick Street; finally coming to rest in October 1795 on the Strand. Hostile attention from church and king supporters played their part in these shifts. Lee issued a handbill from the Haymarket on 21 March 1795 accusing them of ‘maliciously attempt[ing] to deface and obliterate the good name and honourable Title of citizen lee’. It seems the government’s supporters had taken to attacking his shop sign, possibly only recently put up to advertise the new premises in the Haymarket. In one sense, ‘the good name and honourable Title’ of ‘Citizen’ distinguished the cheap radical publisher from the literary aspirations of ‘Richard Lee’, except that his poetry did appear on the playbills and other penny publications, sometimes with his name attached. ‘R. Lee’ was also used in the colophon of some pamphlets issued from the Tree of Liberty.34 He did not, then, neatly dissociate his literary ambitions from his radical politics. Instead the cheap publications he issued from the Tree of Liberty combine the violence of the poems of Songs from the rock, sometimes explicitly invoking divine aid, with a grotesque sense of carnival, delighting in imagining the death of Pitt, and even – perhaps Lee’s trademark – the demise of the king.

In February, Lee reissued a mock playbill ‘for the benefit of the Tythe and Tax Club’. (Figure. 8). An earlier version of the bill had been discussed at Thelwall’s trial because of its identification of the king with Nebuchadnezzar. Lee now added additional matter: ‘For the Amusement of Starving Mechanics’. Possibly Lee was exploiting the buzz surrounding the millenarian prophecies of Richard Brothers.35 Brothers identified George III with Nebuchadnezzar in a series of prophecies issued in 1794. London’s downfall as the modern Babylon was prophesied. While there is nothing to suggest that Lee was a follower of Brothers, his poetry participated in and helped sustain the air of millenarian expectancy the Paddington Prophet had generated at the end of the previous year. Apart from giving the Tythe and Tax Club its new title, Lee also added four quatrains of verse above his own name:

Ye tyrants bend to Molloch’s shrine,
With murd’rous Hands and Hearts of Steel:
Wait, fall and pray till wrath divine,
Make your obdurate spirits feel.
But dare not ask the prince of peace,
Dare not the god of love implore;
To give your foul designs success,
And drench his earth in crimson gore.
Well may ye tremble while each Throne,
Shakes and foretells his overthrow;
The thund’ring arm of Heav’n will soon
Inflict the grand, decisive blow.
Your puny efforts are in vain,
To keep the Human Race in thrall
GOD has espous’d the Cause of Men,
And both decree that you must fall.

If these lines perpetuate the idea of the ungodliness of monarchy that runs through Songs from the rock, generally speaking the publisher Citizen Lee was much more of a satirist than the poet Richard Lee.

Fig 8 Amusement for Starving Mechanics. For the benefit of the Tythe and Tax Club. Shortly will be performed, the comical tragedy of Long Faces, etc. [A squib.] [1795?].

© The British Library Board.

From around the middle of July, the Tree of Liberty was the prime depot for the dissemination of Pigott’s satires in various short compilations, beginning with the Rights of Kings.36 The author died before the treason trials came on, but Lee used his words to poke fun at the idea that imagining the king’s death had been construed as treason there. ‘Monarch’, was simply, ‘a word which in a few years is likely to be obsolete.’37 The lack of prosecutions for sedition in 1795 may have given Lee a sense of safety from the law on sedition. The satires on the Prime Minister built to a crescendo when the Telegraph issued a series in late August. They began with an account of Pitt in the throes of ‘a violent diarrhoea’. He is imagined passing away after two days of humiliating confessions. Dissection reveals Pitt’s tongue to be ‘quite hollow; and in short, the most deceiving tongue in all respects that ever came under the operator’s knife’. Using a joke continually made against the Prime Minister in the newspapers, ‘the sexual distinctions in this case were not easily to be discerned’.38 Printed in full as Admirable Satire on the Death, Dissection, and Funeral Procession, & Epitaph of Mr. Pitt!!! from the newspaper’s office, the joke was extended by the addition of a ‘dreadful apparition’. Lee was one of several publishers competing over who could offer the best edition. The Voice of the People, published by Lee at the end of September, closes with an advertisement for the only genuine Edition, corrected by the Author’.39 By late November, Lee had a sixth edition out from the new shop on the Strand, with additional material ‘by another hand’ purporting to be taken from Pitt’s last will and testament. In the will, John Bull is bequeathed Pitt’s ‘curious Magic Lanthorn, with which he has for many years past amused or alarmed his said honest, simple-minded friend, by showing him conquests abroad, or plots at home’. Advertisements for Poems on Various Occasions by Lee and a new edition of Wollstonecraft’s Rights of Woman appeared on the last page. Neither seems ever to have been published, unless the first was another repackaging of Songs from the rock.40

John Barrell has suggested that once the Two Acts were introduced into Parliament radical imaginings of the death of those in authority increased in intensity and started to target the king himself.41 In the radical societies, the Two Acts were widely regarded as a kind of treason against traditional liberties. If Pitt and Grenville defended them as a response to a state of exception, so radicals used them to suggest that the compact between the state and the people was being broken. Addressing the inhabitants of Westminster petitioning against the passage of the bills on 16 November, Sheridan caught the mood in a speech published by Lee: ‘the day will come, when the law, weak as it is said to be at present, will be found strong enough to bring to the scaffold your corrupt oppressors’.42 Fox was reportedly alarmed at the violence of the speech and pulled him back to his seat. The list of items for sale at the Tree of Liberty issued with the account of this meeting, in contrast, was pushing further and further forward with the idea that Pitt’s government was destroying the constitution it purported to defend. The Happy Reign of George the Last, for instance, addressed to ‘the little tradesmen and labouring poor’, calls for the people to throw off the monarchy and set up ‘parochial and village associations’, after the manner of Spence’s land plan.43 Lee did not write most of the pamphlets and broadsides he published. There were too many of them. He told the Privy Council that there were numerous people employed in his shop, but he was also fed material – directly or indirectly – by the circle at the Telegraph or those with connections to the Sheridan circle, like Merry and Joseph Jekyll, who provided Pittachio copy.44 The satires on the death of Pitt suggest a degree of insider knowledge, despite – or perhaps, because of – their evident delight in the evisceration of Pitt. Lee encouraged aspiring satirists, whoever they might be, to send work to him at the Tree of Liberty: ‘Communications of Merit, either in Prose or Verse, will be gratefully acknowledged, if directed (post paid) to R. LEE.’ Sheridan later claimed many of them were written and distributed by spies and informers to provide the justification for the Two Acts. No doubt some of them were. Lee may not have enquired too closely into the authorship of what he published, as the misattribution to Merry of the sophisticated pastoral satire Pitti-Clout & Dun-Cuddy suggests. Lee’s primary concern was to put as much into circulation as possible that undermined respect for things as they were.

His eagerness to challenge the legitimacy of monarchy was to prove his undoing, or, at least, provided the government with an opportunity it had been preparing. The handbill primarily responsible for bringing Lee to the government’s attention bore the title King Killing (see Figure. 9), but he did not write it on his own. The paragraphs are culled from an essay ‘On Tyrannicide’ written by John Pitchford, early in 1795, for the first issue of The Cabinet.45 Far from itself advocating king killing, ‘On Tyrannicide’ is primarily a discussion of the execution of Louis XVI that concludes that most advocates of king killing ‘have been dazzled by a few splendid names’. Lee completely distorts his source, omits its view that tyrannicide is ‘unlawful, useless, and pernicious’, and simply reprints as republican polemic the few paragraphs The Cabinet provided, perhaps mischievously, as examples of imprudent ‘declamation’. King Killing as published by Lee was consonant with the view that monarchy was a form of blasphemy expressed in many of the poems in Songs from the rock. The same theme appears as black comedy in the satirical Rights of the Devil, available from the Tree of Liberty at the same time, which presents Hell as the ‘fountain head’ of all terrestrial monarchies and identifies religious establishments as ‘the greatest enemies to religion and morality’.46

Fig 9 King Killing [A hand bill, reprinted from one entitled ‘Tyrannicide’.] [London, 1797 [1795?]].

© The British Library Board.

Lee wanted to reach as wide an audience as possible with his cheap publications. He often subdivided his material in order to bring out cheaper versions, as for instance with the separate sale of his poetic address to Hardy or the series derived from Pigott. Charles Sturt claimed that ‘Tyrannicide’ was dropped as a title in favour of King Killing, ‘because the people otherwise would not buy it’.47 Lee seems to have been hawking King Killing along with his other wares at the huge LCS rally held in Copenhagen Fields on 26 October, where a hostile crowd shouted anti-Pitt slogans, called for the end of the war, and complained at the economic distress of a virtual famine year. On 29 October, the king’s coach was attacked on the way to the opening of Parliament, when a stone was thrown through one of the windows. Someone in the crowd wrenched open a door. Pitt’s government used the incident to move against the radical movement and bring the Two Acts before Parliament. Lee was the most flagrant example of radical extremism available. On 16 November, the Attorney General, John Scott, came to Parliament to name him as ‘printer to the London Corresponding Society’.48 The aim was to represent King Killing and the other pamphlets as official publications of the LCS. Scott read the definition of Royalty from Rights of Princes: ‘the curse of God in his wrath to man’. He was careful not to read other parts that might have brought guffaws from the benches. The next day Lord Mornington told the House of Peers that he had visited Lee’s shop and come away with The Happy Reign of King George the Last.49 Mornington insisted that the various imaginings of the death of the king amounted to ‘French treason’. During a brief period of temporary and uneasy cooperation with extra-parliamentary reformers to campaign against the Two Acts, the Opposition tried to defend the LCS by distancing it from Lee.50 Presenting a petition against the two Bills from Sheffield, Charles Sturt rose in Parliament to confirm that Lee’s mother had told him that her son was no longer a member.51 Several other sources, as we have seen, suggest that Lee had fallen out with the leadership over the spread of infidelity in the movement. Reid later claimed that

Bone and Lee, two seceding members, and booksellers by profession, were proscribed for refusing to sell Volney’s Ruins of Empire, and Paine’s Age of Reason; and that refusal construed into a censure upon the weakness of their intellects.52

The LCS issued a statement distancing itself from the bookseller the day after Mornington’s speech, but the next day his name still appeared among those booksellers accepting signatures on the LCS petition against the Two Acts.53

After a year in which there had been no prosecutions for seditious libel in London, true bills were found against Lee on 28 November.54 The pamphlets named on the indictments were King Killing, the Rights of Princes and a Summary of the Duties of Citizenship. Lee was arrested the same evening. He did not stay in prison long. By 19 December, the True Briton was announcing his escape. The Times provided detail:

The escape of Citizen Lee, from the house of the Officer in Bow Street, was thus effected. Three women, or persons in women’s cloaths, went to visit him. Their number having been unnoticed by the attendants, four persons in women’s cloaths quitted the house. One of these was the person called Citizen Lee, who has not since been heard of.

Powell later claimed, as we know, that Lee fled with his wife.55 The government may not have done much to prevent his escape. He had served his purpose in terms of the Two Acts being piloted through Parliament. Lee made for Philadelphia, like many others who fled from Pitt’s system of spies and informers. Durey places Lee among those émigrés who contributed to the development of Jeffersonian ideology.56 Federalists hated their democratic politics, and the Alien and Sedition Acts were in part directed against them. One historian has commented of this period of American politics that ‘foreigners seemed to get one sniff of printers’ ink and become loyal Jeffersonians’, but Lee was not quite so comfortable a fit and continued to insist on the rights of God over the compromises of earthly institutions.57

Written on the Atlantic Ocean

Lee arrived in Philadelphia to find himself in the febrile atmosphere building up to the passing of the Alien and Sedition Act. He seems quickly to have been drawn towards the democratic wing of the anti-Federalist movement. He attracted enough notice to win a place in Cobbett’s scathing attacks on what he saw as American Jacobinism, unsurprisingly, as Lee was starting his bookshop up right under Cobbett’s nose in downtown Philadelphia.58 Cobbett’s vicious attacks on Lee – ‘a man who publickly preached Regicide and Rebellion’ – are predicated on his knowledge of the English context, but insist that such men had no place in thinking about politics on either side of the Atlantic. Cobbett places Lee squarely among Philadelphia’s crowds of ‘raggamuffins, tatterdemalions, and shabby freemen, strolling about idle’.59 Dismissed as one of the ‘animals … hardly worth naming’, Cobbett could not resist mentioning the fact that he ‘like a true sans-culotte slipped out of Newgate in petticoats’. In September 1798, Cobbett pithily summarised Lee’s American career in a note: ‘Citizen Lee first attempted a magazine, then a book, and then he tried what could be got by travelling, and he is at last comfortably lodged in New-York jail.’ Probably Lee was in debt, but he may also have been picked up under the Alien and Sedition Act of 1798.60

Jane Douglas suggested that Lee must have died soon after arriving in the United States, but the broad outline of Cobbett’s claim seems to be corroborated by the trail left in print.61 The ‘magazine’ was the American Universal Magazine (AUM). First published on Monday, 2 January 1797, the AUM is a familiar eighteenth-century blend of original essays, tales, poetry, scientific news, much recycled material, and reports of proceedings in Congress. Running as a weekly over its first four issues, it directly encouraged the debate of democratic forms and principles. The very first issue published an essay insisting on the importance of the periodical press for the diffusion of knowledge. Reiterating in theory Lee’s own practice, it insisted ‘that much more service is done in the aggregate mass of periodical publications than evil is occasioned by particular parts’.62 Lee was aligning himself with the democratic idea of the republic as a nation of ‘citizen readers’ described by Cotlar. Lee’s name appeared, for instance, on the subscription list for Thomas Carpenter’s American senator (1796–7). Stocked in Lee’s shop on Chestnut Street, the American senator was designed to ensure the population at large had access to the democratic process for purposes of discussion and debate (contradicting the more limited Hamiltonian notion of participatory democracy as properly confined to election day).63 Certainly the account of presidential inauguration given in the AUM sharply contrasts the visibility of Congress with the pomp and awe of Parliament:

This ceremony and spectacle must have afforded high satisfaction and delight to every genuine Republican. To behold a fellow citizen, raised by the voice of the People to be the First Magistrate of a free nation, and to see, at the same time, he who lately filled the Presidential Chair, attending the inauguration of his successor in office, as a private citizen, beautifully exemplified the simplicity and excellence of the Republican system, in opposition to hereditary monarchical governments, where all is conducted by a few powerful individuals, amidst all the pomp, splendor and magnificence of courts, independent of the great body of the People.64

AUM subscribed to the more radical line sketched out in Rights of Man that ‘the independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would have been matter but of little importance, had it not been accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practice of governments’. Congress is imagined as Paine’s ‘open theatre of the world’.

Lee maintained a notion of a transatlantic radicalism, a sense of the Revolution controversy as a universal struggle that transcended national boundaries. His religious affiliations, as with Thomas Hardy, helped maintain this internationalist perspective. The providential basis of Lee’s thinking gave his publications in Britain and the United States their uncompromising edge, but he had become openminded enough now to advertise forthcoming editions of Volney’s Ruins and Godwin’s Political justice in the very first number of AUM, presumably because they provided ammunition for his campaign against the compact of church and state. At least one poem published in AUM, ‘Providence, saving the oppressed and working the destruction of Tyrants’, contained all the millenarian ire of his own poetry. A subtitle describes it as ‘Written on the Atlantic Ocean’. Given the emphasis on ‘deliverance from the tyrant’s rage’ and the general tenor of its language, it may well have been composed by Lee himself:

Sav’d from the scourge of Despotism’s laws,
Let all my powers unite with ardent zeal;
To serve my great preserver’s glorious cause,
The cause of Freedom and of human-weal.
Thou God of love! The cause of Freedom’s thine,
Tyrants turn pale at your approaching fate!
For injured man, and Providence divine,
Decree the vengeance that your crime await.
Truth’s mighty arm shall lay your honours low,
War and destruction your delight, shall cease;
Freedom’s young plant in every land shall blow,
And yield mankind the fairest fruits of peace.65

The AUM also maintains the abolitionist principles that permeate Lee’s London publications, printing letters on the subject of American slavery from Morgan John Rhees and Edward Rushton: ‘Of all the slave holders under heaven those of the United States appear to me the most reprehensible; for man never is so truly odious as when he inflicts on others that which he himself abominates.’66 Lee joined the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery in December 1796, only a few months after his arrival. If his religious enthusiasm had caused difficulties for him with the LCS, the same may well have been true for his position within American democratic circles, especially where it sustained his firm abolitionist position.67 Lee was a print evangelist. His was perhaps the most uncompromising version of the Protestant myth of print magic from the radicalism of the 1790s, but one that resisted any attempt to let the idea of a disinterested public usurp the word of God as the spirit that informed its transformative power. For someone like John Thelwall, the subject of my final chapter, such attitudes represented a disgraceful throwback to ‘enthusiasm’ that embarrassed his idea of popular radicalism as the expression of a popular enlightenment based on reason and benevolence.

Chapter 6 John Thelwall and the ‘whole will of the nation’

John Thelwall usually traded under his own name. ‘Character’ was intrinsic to his claim to act as tribune of the people. By the time of his arrest in May 1794, he had made himself into the most visible member of the LCS through his writing and, particularly, by lecturing at a series of venues around London. In fulfilling the Godwinian criterion of standing ‘erect and independent’ in his own name, he practised his own version of print magic.1 For Thelwall, this magic was not the bodying forth of the Word in the French Revolution, as it was for Citizen Lee, but the conjuring of the people as a ‘living body’ via the power of print.2 Thelwall’s faith was in a secular magic based on materialist notions of sympathy. He was the grateful heir to an eighteenth-century belief in the improving power of magazines and debating clubs. Sympathy for Thelwall was the ‘occult’ mechanism by which rational debate was extended into a democratic engine of change.3 His radicalism was staked on his role as a conductor of these energies in two senses of the metaphor, both animating and organising ‘the people’. In this regard, he frequently played the showman, confessedly adopting ‘the attractive veil of amusement’ to arouse the interest of his audience, providing songs for LCS meetings, and even cutting the head off a pot of beer to mime the fate of kings.4 His part in the struggle against the Two Acts at the end of 1795 was focused above all on the rights of reading and discussion being kept open to the population at large. Their passing into law eventually forced him into internal exile, away from the public spaces of the lecture room, the coffee house, and the theatre. Circumstance reinforced a tendency that had always been a part of his writing. His faith in print transposed into a more intimate medium able to bring a transformation in the individual in a way that the modern reader might recognise as a version of Romanticism. Such an understanding of ‘literature’ or something like it may emerge in Thelwall’s writing after 1795, but it never lost its political ambition, nor imagined its implied audience as isolated readers.

Associated intellect

Thelwall was always ambitious of a literary career. Born into the shopkeeping classes, the biography published by Thelwall’s second wife Cecile Thelwall in 1837 noted that from early on ‘the prospect of mingling in circles of society, more correspondent to his taste and turn of mind than those to which had hitherto been confined, had altogether formed an association intoxicating’. He was among those many who saw the expansion of the press in the last quarter of the eighteenth century as an invitation. Also like many others, he discovered that freedom of speech and the liberty of the press – keystones of the supposed palladium of British liberties – were not to be taken entirely at face value. Thelwall was involved in debating societies from the early 1780s, eventually managing the debates at Coachmakers’ Hall, but early on this interest in the intellectual buzz of London included being ‘a professed sermon hunter’.5 London’s chapels and churches were intermingled in the print sociability of magazines and debating societies, but this aspect of Thelwall’s intellectual ambition was short lived. He became impatient of religious sentiment in politics and poetry alike, perhaps most famously when in May 1796 he dismissed Coleridge’s ‘Religious Musings’ as ‘the licencious (I mean pious) nonsense of the conventicle’.6 In the 1780s, Thelwall was sending poetry of an entirely secular variety into various periodicals with ‘enthusiastic perseverance’.7 Poems on Various Subjects appeared in 1787, eliciting a notice in the Critical Review still proudly remembered in his biography.8 From around 1788 until 1791, Thelwall took over the editorship of the Biographical and Imperial Magazine. He also wrote the plays Incle and Yarico (1787) and The Incas (1792), convinced his work was being plagiarised after he submitted the manuscripts to the theatre managers.9 His later political practice contested the space of the London theatre for radical culture. He may have described himself as a ‘literary adventurer’, but the arc of his story in these years is far from unique. Citizen Lee and W. H. Reid are just two others that came to the LCS through an aspiration to join the republic of letters, but neither they nor anyone else associated with the radical societies equalled Thelwall’s fame as a performer on the public stage in the 1790s.10

Originally, Thelwall was a church and king man with pro-Tory prejudices imbibed from his father. He identified his radical epiphany not with the classic instance of reading Rights of Man, but in the attempts to close down the debating societies discussing the Regency controversy in 1789–90, followed by his experiences in the Westminster Election of 1790. From working as a poll clerk, his indignation at abuses seems to have provoked him to campaigning for John Horne Tooke, who remained a central figure in his development. Experience in the debating societies is perhaps the key to his distinctive sense of radicalism as a ‘forum’, to use Judith Thompson’s term, whereby the popular will could make itself known by the active participation of the multitude.11 Thelwall always prized ‘the energy and power of graphic delineation, which, in the enthusiasm of maintaining an argument can be produced, by the excitement of a mixed audience’.12 The point is not simply that he felt a personal buzz in face-to-face debate, which he clearly did, but that he also saw in such encounters the possibility of discovering principles that none of those involved had previously held, a democratic version of the Godwinian faith in the collision of mind with mind traceable back to Isaac Watts and Milton before him.13

Where some in the radical movement predicated their politics primarily on the delineation of clear rational principles, Thelwall saw debate as a process wherein such principles were discovered. He gave a speech at Coachmakers’ Hall on freedom of discussion worth quoting in full for what it reveals about the nuances of his idea of debate:

So far is the vulgar objection against discussion from being true – to wit – that after all their wrangling, each party ends just where it began, that I never knew an instance of men of any principle frequently discussing any topic, without mutually correcting some opposite errors, and drawing each other towards some common standard of opinion; different perhaps in some degree from that which either had in the first instance conceived, and apparently more consistent with the truth. It is, I acknowledge, in the silence and solitude of the closet, that long rooted prejudices are finally renounced, and erroneous opinions changed: but the materials of truth are collected in conversation and debate; and the sentiments at which we most revolt, in the warmth of discussion, is frequently the source of meditations, which terminate in settled conviction. The harvest, it is true, is not instantaneous, and we must expect that the seed should lie raked over for a while, and apparently perish, before the green blade of promise can begin to make its appearance, or the crop be matured. But so sure, though slow, in their operations, are the principles of reason, that if mankind would but be persuaded to be more forward in comparing intellects, instead of measuring swords, I can find no room to doubt, that the result must be such a degree of unanimity as would annihilate all rancour and intolerance, and secure the peace and harmony of society. In short, between all violent difference of opinion, there is generally a medium of truth, to which the contending parties might be mutually reconciled. But how is this to be discovered, unless the parties freely compare their sentiments? – If discussion be shackled, how are discordant opinions to be adjusted, but by tumult and violence? If societies of free inquiry are suppressed, what power, what sagacity, in such an age as this, shall preserve a nation from the convulsions that follow the secret leagues and compact of armed conspiracy.14

If the Life of John Thelwall’s account is to be trusted, the speech cannot have been made later than 1792, when the debating society at Coachmakers’ Hall was shut down, but there is much in the version printed there that sounds like Godwin’s Political justice, not published until the beginning of the following year.15 The stress on the collision of mind with mind balanced against the final authority of the deliberations of the closet is typical of Godwin, as is the idea of the slow harvest of truth, but it was made in the sort of venue where Godwin rarely ventured, if at all. The most likely occasion for the speech would seem to have been the debate of 24 May 1792, just three days after the Royal Proclamation against seditious writings. According to the Gazetteer, the question was: ‘Are Associations for Political Purposes likely to promote the happiness of the people, by informing their minds, or to make them discontented without redressing their grievances?’16 For Thelwall, such debates came to be regarded not simply as a forum of exchange but as the alembic of print magic, wherein those involved in reading and discussion might come to know themselves as ‘the people’ by their interactions with each other. Over 1795–6, this aspect of his development produced a remarkable series of reflections on the formation of a collective consciousness among the labouring classes: ‘Hence every large workshop and manufactory’, he wrote in his Rights of Nature, ‘is a sort of political society, which no act of parliament can silence, and no magistrate disperse.’17

Thelwall always admitted to being enthusiastic by nature, liable to being swept up by the experience of being part of and speaking to a crowd, but his ideas on sympathetic transmission were underpinned by theoretical reflection on ‘certain immutable laws of organic matter’.18 Thelwall was immersed in debates about materialism and the relations between mind and body from at least as early as his editorship of the Biographical and Imperial Magazine.19 In the early 1790s, he was living in Maze Pond in the Borough, very close to Guy’s and St Thomas’s hospitals. Always drawn to sites of intellectual exchange, he soon became involved in a weekly medical debating club at Guy’s called the Physical Society. The apothecary James Parkinson – Eaton’s ‘Old Hubert’ – was also a member.20 Thelwall delivered two papers at the society in 1793. The first, on 26 January, vigorously debated over six weeks, was published as An Essay, Towards a Definition of Animal Vitality. Thelwall’s essay took the position that organised matter was the foundation of life, but only when united with a vivifying principle he compared to electricity. At the end of the year, another paper seems to have led to him withdrawing or being excluded from the Physical Society, at just the time he was starting to make a name for himself as a lecturer to the LCS. Materialism linked with a democratic politics was too rich a mixture for most of those at the Physical Society. Thelwall later claimed that magazines that had previously been accepting his writing enthusiastically began to reject his work at around this time. The publication of his distinctive prose medley The Peripatetic was delayed when the printer who produced the first volume threatened to withhold the manuscript if Thelwall refused to remove the politics. The second and third volumes did appear, but sold by Daniel Isaac Eaton. Four decades later, Thelwall’s biography claimed that the episode showed him that ‘he must be either a patriot or a man of letters’.21 The binary in this judgement may reflect a nineteenth-century perspective. In the 1790s, the print networks of the LCS held both paths open to him simultaneously; if, that is, one allowed that a ‘man of letters’ could thrive in its circuits of print, sociability, and performance.

The Peripatetic is shot through with Thelwall’s sentimental materialism, creating a sense of a community interlinked by natural bonds of sympathy, ‘a kind of mental attraction’, he claimed, ‘by which dispositions that assimilate, like the correspondent particles of matter, have a tendency to adhere whenever they are brought within the sphere of mutual attraction’. One of the most arresting features of The Peripatetic is the way it builds an auto-critique of the aesthetics of sensibility into its own narrative, acknowledging a debt to Sterne, then distancing itself from the idea of the ‘feeling observer’ absolved from political responsibility. ‘The subject of our political abuses’, he wrote in the preface,

is so interwoven with the scenes of distress so perpetually recurring to the feeling observer, that it were impossible to be silent in this respect, without suppressing almost every reflection that ought to awaken the tender sympathies of the soul.22

These were the aspects of the book that caused the printer to interrupt its production. Thelwall’s materialist sense of a sympathetic universe shaped not just his poetry and prose, but also his lecturing and debating. Even the King Chanticlere allegory that Eaton published in Politics for the People was originally an intervention in a debate on the life principle that clearly owed something to his discussions at the Physical Society.23

Thelwall always approached the body politic as animated by ‘that sort of combination among the people, that sort of intelligence, communication, and organised harmony among them, by which the whole will of the nation can be immediately collected and communicated’.24 His writing and lectures he understood as imparting an electrical energy to give life to a ‘public’, but he also conceived organisation to be part of the process of bringing together into a single body the dispersed members to be animated.25 An external spark can only work on matter that is internally organised:

If the people are not permitted to associate and knit themselves together for the vindication of their rights, how shall they frustrate attempts which will inevitably be made against their liberties? The scattered million, however unanimous in feeling, is but chaff in the whirlwind. It must be pressed together to have any weight.26

Thelwall later saw the importance of the LCS as its facilitation of this process:

In fact it cannot be said that up to the time of forming the societies to be mentioned hereafter, there was positively what we now call an ‘English public’, or in other words an union of opinion of the majority of all classes upon one given subject.

In Life of Thelwall, these sentiments are surrounded by a discussion of the ease by which ‘the mass of the people, could be led into such acts of riot and confusion’, a fact imagined as surprising to the nineteenth-century reader. In the 1790s, there was a more radical edge to his idea of ‘the mass of the people’, not least in his insistence on its role as a constituent power that could presume to challenge the authority of the Crown-in-Parliament. For several months from November 1793 to his arrest on a charge of treason in May 1794, Thelwall devoted himself to exploiting all kinds of media in a variety of spaces to work the magic of conjuring ‘the people’ from ‘the scattered million’.27

The political showman

Thelwall’s first involvement with the societies seems to have been in April 1792 at the Borough Society of the Friends of the People, not to be confused with Grey’s aristocratic group. He was also part of the more elusive London Society of the Friends of the People, which had close relations with the Borough Society. Neither long outlasted the emergence of the SCI and LCS as the coordinated leaders of radicalism in the metropolis.28 Thelwall devoted much of his energy in 1792 to preserving the debating societies against attempts to harass them out of existence after the Royal Proclamations of May and November. He also joined the Society of the Friends of the Liberty of the Press. The published account of their meeting called to celebrate Erskine’s defence of Rights of Man describes him as ‘A Mr. Thelwall, whose oratory is well known at Coachmakers’ Hall, and other places of public debate’. His contribution was to reprobate ‘with much vehemence the dangerous conduct of those Associations, who came forward to support the allegations of the existing powers – right or wrong’.29 Despite the condescension implied in the ‘A Mr. Thelwall’, his performances at the Society seem to have brought him to the attention of the Opposition. After describing the travails faced by Thelwall in getting The Peripatetic published, Susan Thelwall’s March 1793 letter to her brother mentions that various Foxites had enquired after him and offered their support, including ‘your Mr. Edwards’.30 Gerard Noel Edwards, MP for Rutland, the county where her family lived, took the chair at the Society of Friends of the Liberty of the Press meeting in December 1792; presumably he subsequently showed an interest in The Peripatetic. Edwards did not attend the Society’s March meeting because he disapproved of transacting business ‘at places for public dinners’, but sent a letter professing support for the liberty of the press, on which Sheridan made humorous remarks from the chair. Whether out of principled qualms about such aristocratic connections or for other reasons, Thelwall did not ultimately pursue the path of patronage. Instead, he joined the LCS in October 1793, introduced to the society by Joseph Gerrald, another member of the Friends of the Liberty of the Press.31

Thelwall stood for election as a delegate to the Edinburgh Convention soon after joining the LCS, but his candidacy fell on the rule excluding those who had been members for less than three months. Instead in November 1793, the month he made his striking intervention at the debating society at Capel Court, he offered to lecture from Godwin’s Political justice to raise money for the expenses of the delegates. Given initially at 3 New Compton Street in Soho, these lectures made his name in the LCS.32 From at least early 1794, he began offering repeat shows of the lectures north and south of the river. The venue north of the river continued to be Compton Street, an address friendly to the LCS because a member – John Barnes – ran a coffee house there.33 The other was in Thelwall’s home ground of the Borough, at the Park Tavern, in Worcester Street, where he also tried to set up a society for ‘free political debate’. The Morning Post (10 February) announced a repeat performance of his popular lecture on ‘the Moral tendency of a System of Spies and Informers’. There was also to be a debate on the relative harm of the principles and conduct of the American War as opposed to the struggle against France. The advert only alerted his enemies to the event at the Park Tavern and a riot broke out. Thelwall soon gave an account of what happened as a triumph of self-restraint in the face of loyalist attempts to provoke a violent response, but he was driven north of the river to the Three King’s Tavern in the Minories. The respite was only brief. The landlord there was threatened with the loss of his licence.34 On 19 February, Thelwall took out newspaper advertisements announcing that he would now lecture twice a week in Compton Street, until ‘a proper Room can be provided and fitted up for the purpose’. His ambition was a venue where ‘the best Accommodations will be established for Ladies and Gentlemen’, an ambition perhaps only finally met when he took up residence in Beaufort Buildings in April 1794.

During these months of uncertainty, Thelwall received a letter from a former member of the Southwark Friends of the People named Allum, who had migrated to the United States.35 This letter accused Thelwall of backsliding from the cause of liberty. A wounded Thelwall began drafting a reply on 13 February – never sent – in which he defended himself as ‘for the 4 or 5 months past, almost the sole labourer upon whom the fatigue, the danger, & the exertions of the London Corresponding Society (the only avowed sans culottes in the metropolis) have rested’. If this somewhat exaggerated his role, then it did provide a reasonable summary of his activities since the end of 1792:

I have been frequenting all public meetings, where anything could be done or expected; have been urging & stimulating high & low, & endeavouring to rally & encourage the friends of Freedom. I have been constantly sacrificing interest, & security, offending every personally advantageous connection, till ministerialists, oppositionists & moderées hate me with equal cordiality.

To the charge that he was a ‘Brissotist’, he gave a more equivocating answer. First, he defended Brissot and his colleagues as true republicans whose virtues and abilities he appreciated. Next, Thelwall argued that ‘the prevailing party [in France] are too ferocious, & too little scrupulous about shedding human blood’, although like many others, Merry included, he thought allowances should be made ‘for the situation in which the despots of Europe had placed them’. He went on to blame Robespierre and his allies for acting with the ‘bigoted vices of the Priesthood, they would silence our doubts with their loud & injurious dogmas’. Nevertheless, Thelwall insisted to Allum, ‘I am a Republican, a downright sans culotte though I am by no means reconciled to the dagger of the Maratists’.

For Thelwall, typically, it was less important to identify a specific political position in relation to Brissot or Marat, than to argue and fight for ‘the right of public investigation upon political subjects’. The newspaper advertisements were a self-conscious strategy in this regard. Thelwall told Allum he understood his lectures to be ‘until lately given privately, that is to say without advertisement’. He was identifying the moment when he switched from ‘private’ lecturing to the membership of the LCS to a broader audience of ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’. More mundanely, the letter notes he was forced into the newspapers because the magistrates ‘have stripped the town of my posting bill’. (see Figure 10). Then Thelwall gave a full account of the events at the Park Tavern. Having failed to intimidate the landlord, the magistrates sent constables and a motley crowd to interrupt discussion by roaring out ‘God Save Great Jolter Head’. The letter ends with a promise to send the latest political pamphlets across the Atlantic, but cannot resist a dig at the state of society and politics in America: ‘I fear you are somewhat short of the true sans culotte; that you have too much reverence for property, too much religion, & too much law.’ At Thelwall’s trial, the letter was produced in court as evidence of his commitment – not in ‘abstract speculation’, as Serjeant James Adair put it, but as an avowed sans culottes – to a Convention. The prosecution ignored the reservations about Brissot and Marat. The final sentence was used to show that Thelwall’s politics had gone even beyond anything espoused in the new republic of the United States: ‘Republicans of this country had hitherto viewed America with an eye of complacency, but according to Mr. Thelwall, she had too great a veneration for property, too much religion, and too much law.’36 Appearing in Thelwall’s defence, Erskine insisted that the letter had never been sent because it did not reflect his settled opinions. He put its tone and temper down to Thelwall’s habitual enthusiasm, an aspect of his character repeatedly stressed by defence witnesses at the trial.37 The prosecution presented this enthusiasm as revealing the real intentions behind Thelwall’s lecturing.

Fig 10 John Thelwall, Spies and Informers. On Wednesday, Feb. 5. 1794, J. Thelwall will begin a course of lectures on the most important branches of political morality, etc. [A posting bill.]

© The British Library Board.

The government and their supporters piled up the evidence that Thelwall had tried to reach the widest possible audience across a range of media. They produced copies of the songs he had circulated in the LCS (on sale at the doors of the lectures); brought up anecdotes like the decapitation of the pot of beer; and provided detailed accounts of his lectures from the spies. The treason was in the performance, they effectively argued, although, of course, this made it difficult to bring as evidence against him. The same difficulty faces anyone writing on any performance history, where what happened has to be pieced together from eyewitness accounts, published scripts, and other sources. The irony of the government’s surveillance of Thelwall, as with much of the archive of the LCS, is that it leaves a rich and diverse performance record for 1794–5.

His lecture notes are preserved in the Treasury Solicitor’s papers with the letter to Allum and other personal papers seized at his arrest. Thelwall had published some of the lectures in early 1794 and again after his acquittal, but he was left complaining that others – seized by the Bow Street Runners at his arrest – were never returned.38 The printed versions of Thelwall’s lectures need to be treated with an awareness of their distance from what went on in the lecture room. Years later Hazlitt staked his distinction between ‘writing and speaking’ on recollections of Thelwall’s ‘very popular and electrical effusions’.39 In the published versions, Thelwall admitted tidying up for ‘stile’; and sometimes backed away from the ‘levity’ left in some of the printed texts, including his joke about ‘those wicked sans culottes having taught the new French bow to the innocent and unequivocating Louis’.40 Spy reports offer another glimpse into the asides and extempore comments that gave his performances some of their spice, even if their accounts were gingered up for consumption of the law officers. John Taylor’s reported that Thelwall’s fast-day lecture began with ‘a strain of pointed irony’. This included reading from Isaiah 58 on the true spirit of fasting. Apparently Thelwall stopped to ask his audience sarcastically whether one could be charged with sedition for reading from the Bible. Thelwall frequently read from other authors, including Gibbon and Godwin, and commented on what he read as he went along.

Taylor reported in detail on Thelwall’s lectures and gave evidence at the treason trials, including a full account of his attempts to exploit a performance of Venice Preserved at Covent Garden. At the Compton Street lecture on 31 January, Thelwall apparently feigned surprise at a play being granted a licence when so ‘full of patriotic and republican sentiments’. Originally written ‘with a view of paying his [Otway’s] court to Charles II’, as Thelwall recognised, sections had already been appropriated for the radical canon.41 Thelwall told his audience that he would attend Covent Garden with his friends and then read a conspiratorial dialogue between Pierre and Jaffeir aloud, because he was certain the words of ‘some hireling Scribbler’ would be interpolated. He promised to stand up in the pit if that were the case and give the dialogue in its proper form. Taylor went to the theatre on 1 February, where he heard an undoctored version of the dialogue performed. Thelwall and twenty of his friends encored it loudly.42 Only a few days later, tragic events at the Royal Theatre, Haymarket, gave Thelwall a further opportunity to exploit the theatre for radical publicity. On 3 February, the king and queen and the six princesses all attended the newly reopened Haymarket for the first time. According to The Times the next day, such was the rush of the crowd to see the Royal Family that fifteen or more people died in the crush. Taylor reported that Thelwall commented on the tragedy at his next lecture: ‘though there was no sorrow expressed for the loss of 20 English subjects, yet there was mourning for Louis, who had been a determined enemy to this country’. He did not stop there, but printed slips and distributed them in the theatre a fortnight later (see Figure 11). Did the Royal Family not know what had happened at the Haymarket, Thelwall’s printed sheet asked the theatregoers? Why did they not show the same grief for their own subjects, it continued, they had shown for the death of the king of France? Outraged by Thelwall’s effrontery, John Reeves sent to the law officers one of ‘a great Number which were dropped upon the stair case of the first gallery at the Haymarket theatre this evening’.43

Fig 11 When the late dreadful accident, etc. [A handbill charging the king with callousness in regard to the accident at the Haymarket Theatre, 3 February 1794.] [London, 1794]

© The British Library Board.

This was precisely the period that Thelwall started taking out advertisements in the newspapers for his lectures, some of them appearing in the same columns as Monsieur Comus’s ‘New Philosophical Deceptions’, another possible source for Merry’s Pittachio pasquinade. Thelwall was a showman himself. A performance of his lecture ‘On the Moral tendency of a System of Spies and Informers’ used the theatrical device of telling readers it would be ‘positively the last time’. He had already been doing repeat performances ‘on account of the great overflow’, as he put it in an advertisement that also offered The Peripatetic and the Essay on Animal Vitality for sale at 9s and 2s 6d respectively. Self-consciously appearing in the newspapers, as we know from the Allum letter, Thelwall was reorienting to an audience beyond the LCS, but not simply as self-advertisement. His lectures covered familiar ground comfortably within the pantheon of British liberties, such as the trial of Russell and Sydney, but associated them with Margarot and Gerrald, not to mention his own resistance to state power. He inserted himself in the martyrology along with Gerrald, Muir, and the others prosecuted for their part at the Edinburgh Convention. By going ‘public’ with his lectures, as he put it, Thelwall was standing forth not as someone involved in the private cabals of conspirators – as the LCS were soon to be presented at the treason trials – but in the open discussion of political principles, defending the liberty of the press, and free to contest spaces of publicity like the theatre and other venues in the contact zone of urban sociability.

Alarm at the success of the lectures grew over the early months of 1794. Their heady mixture of indignation and comedy prospered. At Thelwall’s trial, Taylor reported that the Tythe and Tax Club handbill had been read out as part of the mockery of the fast day at the lecture of 28 February.44 An account of his lecture at Compton Street on 21 March noted the presence of Eaton, lately acquitted for the Chanticlere allegory. He and the foreman of his jury were radical celebrities in the audience. The growing sense of the lectures as public events is palpable. An audience, not just radicals, was drawn to see what the fuss was about. A friend of Sir Joseph Banks was induced by the newspaper advertisements to go to Compton Street, close to the scientist’s house in Soho Square. He wrote to Banks shocked at what he had heard and seen, torn between contempt and the reluctant admission that he had been impressed by Thelwall’s oratory. The expectation had been to hear ‘the low jargon of some illiterate scoundrel’. Instead Thelwall delivered ‘a most daring & biting Philippic against Kings, Ministers, & in short all the powers that be, deliverd in bold energetic terms, & with a tone and manner that perfectly astonish’d me’. The letter credits Thelwall with deploying a ‘force of argument, & an enthusiasm of manner scarcely to be resisted, indeed the effect was but too visible on the audience, many of whom were by no means to be rank’d with the lowest Order of the people’. A genuine fear of Thelwall’s communicative power comes off the page. Banks forwarded the letter to the law officers and revealed ‘Mr Reeves & myself have Frequently convers’d on the subject of Mr. Thelwall’s lectures & we agree wholly in opinion that their Tendency is dangerous in the extreme’. He assumed that Reeves had already discussed the matter with government.45 In May, Reeves attempted to bring a charge of seditious libel to the court of the Liberty of the Savoy, in whose jurisdiction Beaufort Buildings stood. When the court threw the application out, Reeves tried again with a charge of public nuisance and even arranged for a newly sworn jury to attend Thelwall’s next lecture.46 Aware of what was happening, Thelwall wrote for advice to John Gurney, fresh from his success defending Eaton. ‘Avoid any harsh observations upon the King or Monarchy, & Aristocracy’, Gurney advised. ‘You may say what you please of Reeves’s Associations.’47 Conscious of Thelwall’s tendency to extemporise, he also told him to immediately explain away anything he said that might be construed as seditious; to employ a short-hand writer to guard against misrepresentation; and to speak coolly. With the help of Joseph Ritson, who held a legal office in the Liberty of the Savoy, Thelwall escaped this charge, but the reprieve did not last long.48

Just five days after the charge of public nuisance was thrown out, Thelwall was arrested. Charged with treason, he now faced the death sentence if found guilty rather than the lighter penalties that came with the earlier charges. Taken into custody at an LCS meeting at Beaufort Buildings called to discuss the arrest of Hardy, the government also seized his papers and books, including Godwin’s Political justice, Johnson’s Dictionary, Darwin’s Botanic Garden, and Blackstone’s Commentaries.49 The government’s case, as we have seen, was that the convention proposed by the LCS was an attempt to usurp the authority of Parliament by claiming to represent the people directly. Thelwall had publicly alluded to the possibility of such a meeting in his lectures and played a leading part in drawing up plans.50 He prepared a defence while he was in prison, but Erskine dissuaded him from giving it in court. He published it after his acquittal as Natural and Constitutional Right of Britons (1795). Although later in life he claimed to have argued against calling the convention at the LCS–SCI meetings, his published defence turns more on the meaning of the word and the question of whether calling a ‘convention’ really constituted an overt act of treason. Characteristically, Thelwall insisted that ‘we attempted so to organize the public opinion that it might be made known to the representative, and Ministers, if that opinion really is in favour of Reform, might have no pretence for refusing our just desire’.51 No wonder his defence team did not want him to make this speech in court, as he was conceding the idea that the LCS saw itself as able to organise the will of the people into an articulate form, precisely the role Parliament supposed itself to fulfil.

Early on in his imprisonment, Thelwall asked the prison authorities to provide him with pen and paper. He used them to prepare a new course of lectures; wrote the defence published as Natural and Constitutional Right; and composed a series of poems published in sympathetic newspapers, including the Politician.52 As the Politician quickly folded, only two of those Thelwall promised appeared, but he prefaced them with a letter to the editor that denied he ever represented himself as ‘without comfort, and almost without hope’, as some of the newspapers had reported. This issue he saw as ‘certainly of considerable consequence to my own reputation, that my conduct and sentiments upon that occasion, should be accurately represented’, but also insisted upon ‘the importance of character in the present crisis’.53 Personal moral integrity was to be of increasing importance to Thelwall’s identity as an author. He staked much on his ‘heart’, as Coleridge recognised in 1796, when he told Thelwall he would trust his morals but not those of many other radicals on that basis.54 Thelwall’s self-representations acknowledged – as he had in court – that he was sometimes apt to run away into enthusiasm with the strength of ‘social ardor’, but frequently used the admission as a vindication of the authenticity of his feelings.55

The poems finally gathered together as Poems written in Close Confinement (1795) were devoted to the idea of an imaginative sympathy that bound Thelwall to his comrades. Print is the medium of dissemination, but its magic is imagined to transcend media and enter into the immediacy of a connection between persons. ‘Stanzas, Written on the Morning of the Trial, and Presented to the Four Prisoners Liberated on the Same Day’ celebrates the ability of the individual consciousness to reach beyond its own condition and partake in the benefits of ‘social joy’ felt by his liberated compatriots:

For sweeter, from the lonely cell,
At length to life restor’d,
Shall every emotion swell
Around the social board.

From these social considerations, he moves on to imagine the power of his own sufferings ‘To benefit mankind’. The expansive movement is implicitly staked on the authority of his own character, understood as a tuning fork that vibrating in harmony with the animated universe. From this period, Thelwall’s many invectives against spies and informers intensified in relation to an idea of the integrity of his private character and the authenticity of his domestic relations. Often intrusions into this sphere were represented as form of ‘Gothic intrigue and exploitation’, as McCann puts it. Merry and Pigott exploited the same trope, but their French materialist ideas of a domain of free nature opposed to aristocratic domination were often represented in terms of erotic release. Thelwall lectures and writing were much more focused on the domestic arrangements of the family unit, ‘a model of unmediated communality’, as McCann describes it, ‘free from the distorting effects of power relations’.56 Susan Thelwall may have styled herself a ‘female democrat’, as we saw in Chapter 1, but Thelwall’s writing in 1794–5 only occasionally acknowledged the idea of a ‘female citizen’ in any explicit sense.57

Acquitted felon

When he emerged from court Thelwall was understandably exhausted and decided to withdraw from the LCS. Although he claimed to have become a full convert to its goals of universal suffrage and annual Parliaments in the Tower, the early months of 1795 saw him acting on his own behalf. Horne Tooke, whom he considered in the light of his ‘political father’, advised him to withdraw from politics entirely, but he did not.58 The poems were gathered together with others under his name and brought out as a single volume with an epigraph from Milton’s Comus. The paratext might seem to signal a reorientation to an idea of literary culture as a form of leisured reading in private, but the poems scarcely point in that direction, as we have seen. In his first lecture On the moral tendency of a system of spies and informers, reprinted early in 1795, he had told his audience that this was ‘no season for indulging the idle sallies of the imagination’. He explicitly ‘renounced myself those pursuits of taste and literature to which from my boyish days, I have been devoted’.59 Interestingly, as McCann points out, these renunciations were immediately followed by a poem in the published version of the lecture.60 Elsewhere in his lectures Thelwall explicitly identified the category of ‘literature’ with the rise of the printing press as we saw in the first chapter. His sketch of the history of prosecutions for political opinions celebrated ‘the morning star of literature, the harbinger of the light of reason’.61 Implicitly he was opposing the idea that the ‘man of letters’ could not properly be a politician, just as he had critiqued aesthetic ideas of sensibility that excluded the sufferings of the poor in The Peripatetic. In line with this set of assumptions, when Thelwall published his poems from the Tower in 1795, he also recommenced his lectures at Beaufort Buildings, advertised in the volume of poetry.62 The lectures themselves, published together in the Tribune from March, urged his listeners and readers to think of themselves – ‘the whole body of the people’ – as the constituent power of the nation.63 Popular discussion, stimulated by the lectures themselves, was the crucible in which the people would make itself known as this ‘whole body’.

Thelwall rejoined the LCS in response to the mass meeting it called for 26 October, three days before the opening of Parliament. He spoke at the meeting along with those who had risen to the fore in his absence, like John Gale Jones, and old allies (sometimes adversaries) like Richard Hodgson. It was in the midst of this struggle that he received a blow from an unexpected quarter in the form of Godwin’s Considerations on Lord Grenville’s and Mr Pitt’s bills (1795). On the face of it, Godwin wrote as an ally in the struggle against the Two Acts. His strategy was to present the acts as unnecessary measures against philosophical inquiry, but in the process Godwin reiterated the doubts about popular assemblies from Political justice. The absence of men of ‘eminence’ from LCS meetings, according to Godwin, meant that there was no one to ‘temper’ their excesses. He goes on to imply that Thelwall himself, like an errant magician’s nephew, could not direct the spells he was raising. Granting at least that Thelwall always showed ‘uncommon purity of intentions’, Considerations suggests that Thelwall was not able to exercise the control Gurney had recommended to him back in 1794:

The lecturer ought to have a mind calmed, and, if I may be allowed the expression, consecrated by the mild spirit of philosophy. He ought to come forth with no undisciplined passions, in the first instance; and he ought to have a temper unyielding to the corrupt influence of a noisy and admiring audience.

Once animated, the interest of the crowd – constituted of ‘persons not much in the habit of regular thinking’ – kindles into enthusiasm, and the infection overwhelms the speaker. Literature requires leisure to consume, and Godwin saw as integral to the reading process a system of regulation lacking from the unreflective sphere of the lecture and other public assemblies:

Sober inquiry may pass well enough with a man in his closet, or in the domestic tranquility of his own fire-side: but it will not suffice in theatres and halls of assembly. Here men require a due mixture of spices and seasoning. All oratorical seasoning is an appeal to the passions.64

There was much here for Thelwall to take offence at, not least because Godwin had attended his lectures at least twice and knew they attracted a mixed audience of curious gentlefolk, Amelia Alderson among them.65 She shared something of Godwin’s view, but better anticipated the response it would meet in radical circles: ‘I fear my admiration of them has deprived me in the opinion of many of all claims to the honourable title of Democrat.’66 Thelwall complained that ‘the bitterest of my enemies has never used me so ill as this friend has done’.67

The sting must have been even sharper because Godwin spoke to a fear Thelwall sometimes acknowledged himself.68 In his speeches, including the one he made at Copenhagen Fields, Thelwall constantly urged orderliness on his listeners. He conceded in his answer to Godwin that the philosopher-politician had to act with ‘a caution bordering on reserve’ in case, ‘by pouring acceptable truths too suddenly on the popular eye, instead of salutary light he should produce blindness and frenzy’.69 Thelwall had a complex sense of the irrationality of the mob. Usually, he identified it with popular religious feeling or ‘enthusiasm’ in the most common eighteenth-century sense of the word. His lectures had pointedly contrasted the principles of the French Revolution with those of seventeenth-century Puritans:

They had light indeed (inward light) which, though it came not through the optics of reason, produced a considerable ferment in their blood, and made them cry out for that liberty, the very meaning of which they did not comprehend. In fact, the mass of the people were quickened, not by the generous spirit of liberty, but by the active spirit of fanaticism.70

No wonder, he was particularly furious that Godwin implicitly compared him with Lord Gordon, whose spectre had haunted the LCS throughout its brief life. Thelwall thought his own materialism was a more rational form of belief, even if he also recognised his own tendency to be overwhelmed by ‘social ardor’. Underneath this general anxiety about the mob was also a more particular question about the workings of a democratic culture. Convention politics, as we saw in Part I, necessarily raised the question of how to represent the will of the people, as Thelwall himself put it, ‘with the greatest purity’.71 From at least Natural and Constitutional Right onwards, Thelwall showed he understood this issue not just in terms of the articulation of a prior will by the radical orator, but also a necessary process of shaping and mediating the population at large into an understanding of itself as ‘the people’. Nevertheless, he remained firm in his belief that the crowd could form itself into a public without the help and assistance of the radical societies and its spokesmen. ‘I am a sans culotte!’ he declared,

one of those who think the happiness of millions of more consequence than the aggrandisement of any party junto! Or, in other words, an advocate for the rights and happiness of those who are languishing in want and nakedness! For this is my interpretation of a sans culotte:- the thing in reality which Whigs pretend to be.

The equivocations in this passage are pure Thelwall, shifting between the poles of a British tradition of liberty and the French example, but always insisting that ‘the thing in reality’ would only ever be made manifest by freedom of association and discussion.

Thelwall’s faith that this transformation could be managed pushed him to continue his lecturing under various guises until he was beaten into an internal exile.72 In the letter he wrote to accompany copies of his Rights of Nature sent to the divisions at the end of 1796, he had insisted on seeing reading as more than a privatised exercise.73 His book was to be read and discussed within the context of a popular association. Pushed further into exile, when he began an important dialogue with Coleridge and Wordsworth, it would hardly be surprising to see him internalise this pattern, to look within him to a paradise happier far, and abandon the idea of the reader-citizen of the debating societies and lectures. When in February 1801 Thelwall wrote to Thomas Hardy about the imminent publication of his Poems Chiefly Written in Retirement (1801), he framed the letter in terms of ‘the Age of Paper Circulations’. Developing the pun on the paper currency and print culture, Thelwall told Hardy that he intended to trade ‘under the Firm of the Apollo & the Nine Muses’ and sought advice ‘as to the means of getting as many of notes negociated as possible’. He explained to Hardy that ‘having bought a house with my credit’, he would ‘pay for it with my brain’.

The preface to the published volume presents the poet as the natural man casting the radical aside: ‘It is The Man, and not The Politician, that is here presented.’ Thelwall seems to accept the very terms used against Merry, associating the man with the poet against the erring radical, explicitly identifying the independent poet and man with the individual property owner. In one sense, the orbit of Thelwall’s sympathy had shrunk to an attenuated form of ‘paper circulation’, cut off from the culture of discussion and debate that he imagined animating the reception of Rights of Nature.74 Within the volume many of the poems also dwell on the sanctity of the family, but not in any simple sense as a domain of authenticity opposed to the political. As Andrew McCann and Judith Thompson have shown, the poems continually advert to the contingencies that have forced Thelwall into retreat. The Two Acts had largely closed down the terrain of reading and debate that framed his most expansive definitions of ‘literature’. Moreover, his correspondence with Hardy still implies an active if vestigial network of readers, clustered, perhaps sheltered against the storm, in particular places, certainly, but still imagined as connected to a larger circuit of sympathy.

The networks of readers for the poems were to provide the audiences for the provincial lecture tours Thelwall undertook from 1802, disparaged, with the poetry, by Francis Jeffrey.75 Poems written Chiefly in Retirement may hint at the idea of literature as a distinctive agency of change in itself, bringing about an epiphany of sorts within individual readers familiar from the literature of Romanticism, but this development was never absolute and Thelwall never snapped his baby trumpet of sedition, to use Coleridge’s phrase. The first in the series of ten effusions published in Poems written Chiefly in Retirement as ‘Paternal Tears’ was dedicated to Joseph Gerrald, as McCann points out, explicitly linking his private grief to the political relationships of the 1790s. Even when closest to Coleridge, Thelwall seems to have refused the poet’s low estimation of Gerrald’s moral character.76 The significance of Thelwall’s relationship with Coleridge and Wordsworth has been the subject of much recent debate.77 It lies beyond the scope of this chapter and of this book, but any account of Thelwall among the poets needs to engage with the complexity of his earlier situation in the LCS. As an orator and writer in the 1790s, Thelwall did not simply act in the name of ‘the people’, but wrestled with difficult issues of how to create and address a ‘public’ for a democratic culture. Not the least among the issues facing the beleaguered and diverse experiments with democracy undertaken by Thelwall and his colleagues in the radical societies was how to define ‘literature’ in relation to their aspiration for a culture of reading and debate that would play an active part in defining who ‘the people’ were.


Chapter 3 ‘Once a squire and now a Man’: Robert Merry and the pains of politics

Chapter 4 ‘The ablest head, with the blackest heart:’ Charles Pigott and the scandal of radicalism

Chapter 5 Citizen Lee at the ‘Tree of Liberty’

Chapter 6 John Thelwall and the ‘whole will of the nation’

Figure 0

Fig 5 Wonderful Exhibition!!! Signor Gulielmo Pittachio (1794). Trustees of the British Museum. All rights reserved.

Figure 1

Fig 6 Richard Newton, Soulagement en Prison, or Comfort in Prison. Lewis Walpole Library (1793).

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library.
Figure 2

Fig 7 Richard Newton, Promenade on the State Side of Newgate (1793).

Courtesy of the Huntington Library, San Marino, California.
Figure 3

Fig 8 Amusement for Starving Mechanics. For the benefit of the Tythe and Tax Club. Shortly will be performed, the comical tragedy of Long Faces, etc. [A squib.] [1795?].

© The British Library Board.
Figure 4

Fig 9 King Killing [A hand bill, reprinted from one entitled ‘Tyrannicide’.] [London, 1797 [1795?]].

© The British Library Board.
Figure 5

Fig 10 John Thelwall, Spies and Informers. On Wednesday, Feb. 5. 1794, J. Thelwall will begin a course of lectures on the most important branches of political morality, etc. [A posting bill.]

© The British Library Board.
Figure 6

Fig 11 When the late dreadful accident, etc. [A handbill charging the king with callousness in regard to the accident at the Haymarket Theatre, 3 February 1794.] [London, 1794]

© The British Library Board.

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  • Radical personalities
  • Jon Mee, University of York
  • Book: Print, Publicity, and Popular Radicalism in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 05 May 2016
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  • Radical personalities
  • Jon Mee, University of York
  • Book: Print, Publicity, and Popular Radicalism in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 05 May 2016
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  • Radical personalities
  • Jon Mee, University of York
  • Book: Print, Publicity, and Popular Radicalism in the 1790s
  • Online publication: 05 May 2016
Available formats