Sixty years ago
An old Liverpool Mercury has been sent to us because it contains the announcement of the marriage of the late Sir Hardman EARLE, who was united to Mary LANGTON in August 1819.
One cannot merely take up and glance and lay down an old journal which thus comes as it were, quietly, rustling out of the past, the creasing of several generations of readers in marking its yellow surface with the lines of age. The mind will linger ere the hand drops the little sheet which nearly sixty years ago was no doubt deemed a paragon of printed journalism, one more into the normal oblivion that appertains to the faded remnants of empherial literature. There is temptation of dreaming over what our fathers were, and speculating on the certain fact that after an equal lapse of time we ourselves, our doings and our ways will seem as old fashioned to descendants as our forefathers do to us.
In 1819 there was mo Bulgarian atrocities. But, as Sir Wilfred LAWSON says in 1819, there were. “quite atrocities enough to occupy attention nearer home.”
We read on the withered page before us of a soldier who was hanged in Horsham, Sussex for shooting his servant in Brighton. It is ghastly to think of the poor wretch being taken to the place of execution on a cart, of the hangman being clumsy, of the crowd [a hundred or so chiefly boys and girls] crying out that the rope was too long, of the cart not moving on through the stupidity of the man at the horse’s head, when the condemned man dropped his handkerchief, of the condemned man leaping off the cart, of his toes touching the ground, of the gaoler proposing to untie him and re-hang him, of the sheriff’s officer calling for a spade and digging the ground from under the poor wretch, and of the tortures which in the meantime he endured. It is something to have improved even hanging, though it would be better to have improved it off the face of the earth. But this was an accidental horror.
There was another that made the month of August 1819, miserably memorable, which arose out of the mood and feelings of the times, the shameful and barbarous massacre of the Radical meeting at Manchester which filled the country with horror, and brought to a head the detestable system upon which Lord SIDMOUTH was governing the country.
The only leading article in the paper is a warmly written account of the fruitless endeavour to induce the Mayor to call a meeting on this subject, and the subsequent meeting in Clayton Square of twenty three good Liberals, among them are names still known among us, Enoch HARVEY, Thomas JEVONS, Francis BOULT, Edward RUSHTON, William SHEPERD, Egerton SMITH and others well known in our annals. It is rather curious that except for a statement that the Duke of BEDFORD was about to preside at a public meeting on the question there is hardly any symptom in this old Mercury of any activity of any “official Liberals” and it is equally noticeable that the Liberal Journals of those days had to stand up for such men as Orator HUNT and to report such indignation speeches of such men as THISTLEWOOD, and do not shrink from doing so.
In these “vile bodies” were the principles of freedom vindicated “Manchester Law” was justly held up to the execration of the country, as well it might be, when not only a peaceable meeting had been murderously assaulted by the soldiery, but even an innocent reporter from the “Times” was violently hauled before the magistrates on the assumption he was one of the radical writers. The scene wrought Sir Francis BURDETT into a white heat of fury. His address to the electors of Westminster flashes here on the pages in vehement exclamations, scarcely needing the capitals and italics to stamp it on the mind.
“It seems” he wrote, “that our fathers were not such tools in opposing the establishment of a standing army, and sending King William’s Dutch Guards out of the country. Yet would to heaven they be Dutch men, or Switzers, or anything rather than Englishmen who have done such deeds. What! Kill men unarmed, unresisting! And Gracious God ! Women too, disfigured, maimed, cut down and trampled on by Dragoons. Is this England! This is a Christian land ! A land of freedom?”
And then he announced the meeting which he meant to attend at Westminster.
“Whether the penalty of our meeting will be death by military execution I know not, but this I know, a man can die but once, and never better than in vindicating the laws, and liberties of his country.”
Politics were very real and substantial entities in 1819, whatever they may be in 1877.
Another example in Liverpool is afforded in an advertisement for aid for families of some men committed to Preston Gaol for interfering with, “a late impious and insulting procession of the illegal society called an Orange Club.”
The relations of the Journals to each other in those days were primitively disagreeable, the editor of a “Loyal” Manchester paper stands charged with taking his reporter’s notes into a private room, and manufacturing an article very different from any the reporter could have written, while the editor of the Liverpool Courier was sneered at for basing his ideas of the Manchester catastrophe on the materials thus “gleamed.” and the editor of the Mercury, waxing jocose, complains that his rival had well choked him with a violent fit of laughing concurrent with a hasty sip of coffee, by gravely stating that a meeting of fifty respectable Liberal gentlemen at an hotel “broke up quietly”, At the same time he warns the Courier that in admitting that the Liberals “behaved pretty” he may have conceded too much for “if fifty reformers can disperse peaceably, five hundred or five thousand may do the same, and this without Riot Acts or a charge of cavalry, such a doctrine would be downright heresy in Manchester.
In the meantime the ordinary affairs of life, allowing for the absence of steam were proceeding very much as now. Messers CROPPER and BENSON, Messers RATHBONE and HODGESON were announcing their copper and copper-fastened ships from 200 to 400 tons for the American trade and the Broker’s advertisements, though very few, look to the untutored eye not unlike those that are published today. Newspapers of our time do not have to advertise stagecoaches for the conveyance of our townsmen to all parts of the country, but the coiffeurs of 1819 offer the ladies of that day as elaborate artificial resources in the way of hair and headdresses as desired in our own day. Messers BRANCH were already expert auctioneers of China curios.
The Theatre Royal programme besides regular dramatic entertainments, in which Mr EMERY and Mr BLANCHARD took part, contained a promise of imitations of KEMBLE, COOKE and SUETT, just as this very week a popular actor is proposing to imitate SULLIVAN, IRVING and TOOLE. The Wellington rooms appear to have been the favourite place for chamber concerts. There was a “Harold” published in 1819 as in 1877 though not by the Poet Laureate.
The Concentric Society which must have been allowed to have had a very eccentric name, advertises its meetings without giving any hint of the point around which it concentres. Of names that deserve to be noted are Mr GARRICK a nephew of the great David and the husband of the Lady connected with “Our Theatre”
This is to be found in the obituary and perhaps it may interest the Flying Dutchman to know that an apprentice of Mr SANTLEY bookbinder, Church St, went out in a boat in August 1819 to sail around the Rock Perch and was accidentally killed by a companion while on the excursion with a pistol loaded to shoot sea-birds.
Finally a “gentleman of regular habits” advertised for board and lodging where no other boarders are kept. He insisted on being domiciled “ on the outskirts of the town” and the neighbourhood he preferred was Mount Pleasant.
Copyright 2002 / To date