The other day, I was reading that classic work, the “Nottingham Date-Book” when I stumbled upon two little gems. The first was dated September 30th 1793 and showed a Blackadder type of world where alcohol replaces political thought:
“The Mayor’s installation banquet at the “New Change” as it was termed, was distinguished by excessive displays of loyalty. Amongst the toasts were “the King and Constitution,” with three times three, “the Duke of York and the Army,” “the Duke of Clarence and the Navy,” and so on.
The Mayor himself sang the air, “God save the King,” and his guests the chorus, followed by loud huzzas and Constitutional songs.”
These drunken fools in the past made me realise just how free Englishmen are in our present time. Free to do what your rich betters want you to do. A good citizen as long as you think exactly what you are supposed to think. And any thought of a questioning kind is just not welcome. As it is now, so it was then, back in 1793, in the era when first the Americans and then the French had found other ways to rule themselves than with a king.
The next entry in this diary of Nottingham is for November 12th 1793, in an entry where the author of the book promises us that “The spirit of the times will be observed in the following circumstances”. The events all took place in Spalding, just over forty miles from Nottingham, in neighbouring Lincolnshire.
Here is the sorry tale:
“One of the Officers of the Nottingham Regiment of Militia” states the Journal, “now lying at Spalding, went to a shoemaker’s of that place to order a pair of boots, but on observing that detestable outcast of society’s book, Paine’s Rights of Man, lying on the table, he thought proper to countermand the order, and take the book along with him. Next day, the soldiers being under arms and forming a circle round a large bonfire, this knight of the lapstone was summoned to appear before them,, and made to burn the celebrated jargon of nonsense, the music playing “God save the King” during its burning, at the end of which the soldiers and inhabitants gave three loyal huzzas, and then this wonderful would be wiseacre was suffered to depart”.
And just in case you are wondering, a lapstone is, according to the Free Dictionary, “a rounded device or stone on which leather is beaten with a hammer by a cobbler”
Here is Thomas Paine:
According to Wikipedia, Thomas Paine is exactly what you don’t want in a society run by the upper classes, especially when, deep down, they know that they are not particularly clever or competent. And they worry therefore when the ignorant peasant class produces a “political activist, philosopher, political theorist and revolutionary” like Thomas Paine, “The Father of the American Revolution”:
Paine came from Norfolk and his famous book, Rights of Man, was in part a defence of the French Revolution:
Paine believed that each individual has rights and that all the institutions that do not benefit the nation are invalid. Top of the list was the monarchy and the aristocracy.
He wanted a written Constitution for England, a national assembly and a national budget without any money to be spent on military or war expenses.
He demanded lower taxes for the poor and free education for all.
He wanted a progressive income tax, to limit the power of wealthy estates, so that a ruling class could not preserve power, whether economic, political or religious, uniquely within the nobility.
Indeed, Paine stated that the ability to govern is not hereditary. This would mean that any idea of inheritance or royal succession would be abolished.
Paine was tried in his absence for seditious libel against the King and the Royal Family but could not be hanged because he never returned to England.
At this time, George III was as mad as a fish although there are plenty of people who say that it was mostly down to the medicines given to him by his doctors.
When the doctors stopped treating him as, presumably, a hopeless case, King George got better almost straightaway.
It says a great deal for the repressive machinery of the government that those buffoons in Spalding who gave “three loyal huzzas” for the king didn’t even realise that their king was completely mad. They might just as well have gone down to the local fishmongers and pledged their undying loyalty to the largest cod on the counter.