Friday, April 8, 2011

William Hone Part V

by Mathew Crowther

William Hone’s imprisonment and trial in 1817 had broken his health and brought his family to verge of bankruptcy and yet he willingly put his head back in the noose and launch another assault on the government just two years later. At the time he was probably unaware of just how close he came to being prosecuted again. Shortly after the Political House was released in December 1819 the Regent personally attended a Privy Council meeting, threw a copy on the table and demanded the Hone be prosecuted for sedition. Luckily wiser heads, or at least heads which remembered how Hone had run rings around his prosecutors in the previous trails, prevailed in persuading George not to attempt to have Hone arrested.

When looking at these images and reading through the pamphlets of the time I can't help but feeling that by 1819 Britain must have seemed like a country which was on the verge of a major crisis, if not outright revolution. On the one hand you have large numbers of ordinary Britons who are experiencing huge socio-economic problems as a result of the severe recession which followed the Napoleonic Wars and who are unable to voice their dissatisfaction legitimately because they are completely disenfranchised by a corrupt and antiquated electoral system. On the other hand you have a small oligarch of wealthy land-owners who make up the 5% or so of the country which are entitled to vote; who occupy all the positions of power and influence; and who seem determined to do whatever is necessary to protect their privileged positions. Taking all this into a account there's little wonder that Hone's pamphlets found such a ready audience.

This leads us nicely into the Political “A, Apple Pie” which was released in late January 1820. In this case ammunition for the reformers cause was provided by the publication of the results of a journalistic investigation into the numerous salaried offices which the Crown was entitled to dispense with. These offices, or places as they were more commonly known, were often relics from the middle ages (e.g. ‘Keeper of the Great Seal of Scotland’), which served no practical purpose but which still carried generous salaries and which could therefore be used as a form of bribery to reward MPs how voted with the government. An anonymous author published a comprehensive list of government offices in early 1820, including details of the current post-holder and their salary, under the title of the Extraordinary Red Book. Hone then took the Red Book's revelations a step further by transforming what was an important, but rather dull list of names, titles and salaries, into a piece of entertaining satire which was accessible to a much wider audience. Once again Cruikshank's woodcuts were completely integral to the pamphlet's appeal.

Hone and Cruikshank show the wealth of the nation as a large pie and the depict various ministers, placemen and even the Prince Regent's obese mistress Lady Hertford, taking their allotted pieces until, ultimately, all John Bull is left with is the empty dish.

To be Continued -

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

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