A Blupete Biography Page

"Rackets and Tea"
The Life and Writings
of William Hazlitt (1778-1830).
[TOC -- Hazlitt's Page]


Chapter Seven
"The Times -- 1800-01"

During the autumn of 1799, Napoleon managed to slip back from Egypt to France. The French are satisfied to make the little general First Consul (dictator) and he re-energizes France; Italy is taken once again at Marengo; the "Second Coalition breaks up, leaving England once again alone to deal with France. In 1800 Britain captured Malta, and in the next year Sir Ralph Abercromby landed at Abukir Bay and defeated the French at the Battle of Alexandria.1 For a few months during the winter of 1800-01 there was formed a league against England; the league consisted of Prussia, Sweden, Denmark and Russia. This "was caused partly by the whim of the Czar Paul [and] partly by two feelings then prevalent in the Courts of Europe, fear of France and jealousy of English naval power."2 With Nelson's capture of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen in April, 1801, this league against England shortly came to an end.

It was during 1801 that Great Britain and Ireland came together under one legislative body. In June, a 100 Irish members became part of the house of commons; and, 28 temporal and four spiritual peers took their seats in the house of lords. Thereafter commerce between the two countries was freed from all restrictions.3 This bill, by both parliaments, was "passed by purchase."4 "No Irish patriot can regard the Union as other than the sale of his Parliament, justifiable or unjustifiable according to his politics ..."5 At the time it was thought by Pitt that the union -- viz. one British Parliament -- in the face of the very real threat of France invading Great Britain, there would be but one line and the Catholic majority which held such sway in the Irish Parliament would be reduced to a minority in the larger parliament. What Pitt promised in return was that Ireland should have free trade and Catholic relief.6 Once the union was put through, however, Pitt was prevented by the political forces in England to deliver on his promises. "Catholic Emancipation waited for thirty, and Tithe Reform waited for near forty, embittered and envenomed years." Pitt resigned, thinking he would be called back, but the king let him go, a case, as Lord Rosebery put it, of "genius giving away to madness."7 Rosebery observed, "it is Pitt's sinister destiny to be judged by the petty fragment of a large policy which he did not live to carry out ..."8 In February, Addington replaced Pitt.

In October of 1801, Preliminary Articles of Peace are signed at London. Leading up to this event there was, yes, a peace movement. "The mail coaches were placarded PEACE WITH FRANCE in large capitals, and the drivers all wore a sprig of laurel, as an emblem of peace, in their hats."9 Upon hearing that the treaty had been signed, there was much excitement in London, as Ashton was to observe, there were many illuminations, one in "Pall Mall had a flying Cupid holding a miniature of Napoleon, with a scroll underneath, 'Peace and to Great Britain.' ... squibs, rockets, and pistols were let off in the streets ..." 10 it didn't seem that all this celebration was because of any great patriotic feelings, or concern over the young men that died in the European battlefields; but rather because it was thought that peace would bring the income tax to an end and good cuts of meat back into the market. All this business, of course, was, in the following year, 1802, to lead to the signing of the Treaty of Amiens. It was to bring the war between France and England to an end; and, while England was to continue supreme on the oceans of the world (this was not a concession on the part of France, but, a matter of fact), England gave in to France such that France got the best of the deal, leaving her supreme in Western Europe.11

In January of 1800, an influential group of men come together to form the Royal Institution of Great Britain. The RI was to provide bench space to some of the most famous names in British science: Sir Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, Sir James Dewar and Sir J. J. Thomas. The RI was to give regular public addresses, and, Albemarle Street in London was to become so fashionably popular that it was the world's first one-way thoroughfare.

In February of 1800, a bill made its way through the British parliament making it unlawful for any baker, or any person, "to sell, or offer to expose for sale, any bread, until the same have been baked twenty-four hours at the least ... however, new bread might be lawfully sold to soldiers on the march." In 1801 a law was passed (41 Geo. III. c.16), "The Brown Bread Bill" forbidding the making of fine bread; it was repealed in a matter of weeks.12

"... there were at least six pieces of legislation ... that were condemned by Cobbett as inimical to the interests of the poor: the acts by which more than three million acres of common and waste lands were enclosed in the period 1741-1801, lands on which the poor had traditionally pastured their cattle and gathered their fuel; the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 making it a criminal offense for workers to act collectively; the act of 1797, extended at various times, suspending payment in specie by the Bank of England, which stimulated inflation through the issue of unlimited amounts of paper money; corn laws, which kept up the price of bread, the chief item in the workman's diet, by forbidding the import of foreign grain at low prices and by providing a bounty for British grain that was exported; the game laws, which prevented a starving man from taking a hare, even on his own land, unless he had a freehold estate ...; the law of settlement, by which a laborer could be sent back to his home parish if he ever became a charge, for no matter how short a period, in another parish in which he was working."13
It was an age when gentlemen found fault with anything and everything that came to their attention. Sit down to dinner with such a gentleman and throughout the meal one would hear him exclaim one or more of the following: the fish is not warm; the poultry is old and tough as your grandmother; the pastry is made with butter, rank Irish; the cheese, which they call Stilton, is nothing but pale Suffolk; the port musty; or, the sherry sour.14 A gentlemen, as John Ashton observed: "When rousing from your last somniferous reverie in the morning, ring the bell with no small degree of energy, which will serve to convince the whole family you are awake; upon the entrance of either the chamberlain or chambermaid, vociferate half a dozen questions in succession, without waiting for a single reply. As, What morning is it? Does it hail, rain, or shine? Is it a frost? Is my breakfast ready? Has anybody enquired for me? Is my groom here? etc. etc."15 Ashton continues to describe the gentleman of the age, as he struts about town with his spurs (excursions are never to be made without them), stick or cane and a glass suspended from his button-hole by a string the want of which would "inevitably brand you with vulgarity." He may pop into a shop and amuse himself "with a jelly or two, and, after viewing with a happy indifference whatever may present itself, throw down a Guinea (without condescending to ask a question) and walk off ..." He may "accidently" stroll into to one of the more well known coffee houses, "walk up with the greatest ease, and consummate confidence to every box, in rotation; look at everybody with an inexplicable hauteur, bordering upon contempt; for, although it is most likely you [the strolling gentleman] will know little or nothing of them, the great object is, that they should have a perfect knowledge of you. ... when, finding you have made yourself sufficiently conspicuous, and an object of general attention (or rather attraction), suddenly leave the room, but not without an emphatical mode of shutting the door, as may afford to the various companies, and individuals, a most striking proof of your departure."16

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[Next: Chapter Eight -- "Hazlitt In Paris -- 1802-03."]
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Notes:

1 Chatterton's A Life of William Pitt, (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1930) p. 312.

2 George Macaulay Trevelyan, British History in the Nineteenth Century (London: Longmans, Green; 1924), p. 84. In the first eight years of the war (1793-1801) the British navy had practically doubled the number of fighting ships, such that Britain had 479 ships ready for sea (202 ships of the line and 277 frigates). France, on the other hand had actully fewer ships in her navy. (Chatterton, op. cit, p. 321.)

3 Green, History of the English People, vol. X, p. 188.

4 Lord Rosebery, Pitt (London: MacMillan, 1891) at p. 191.

5 Rosebery, p. 193.

6 Rosebery, pp. 196-7.

7 Rosebery, p. 229.

8 Rosebery, p. 200.

9 John Ashton's The Dawn of the XIXth Century in England (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 5th ed., 1906), p. 42.

10 Ibid., p. 43.

11 Ibid., pp. 49-50.

12 John Ashton's The Dawn of the XIXth Century in England, p. 245.

13 William Cobbett: The Poor Man's Friend by George Spater (Cambridge University Press, 2 vols, 1982), vol.1, pp. 200-1.

14 See, John Ashton's The Dawn of the XIXth Century in England, p. 252.

15 Ibid., p. 253.

16 Ibid., pp. 254-5.

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Peter Landry