Essential Writings Volume 2 - William Cobbett - ebook

Essential Writings Volume 2 ebook

William Cobbett



William Cobbett was an English journalist and member of parliament, who was born in Farnham, Surrey. He believed that reforming Parliament and abolishing the rotten boroughs would help to end the poverty of farm labourers, and he attacked the borough-mongers, sinecurists and "tax-eaters" relentlessly. Through the seeming contradictions in Cobbett's life, his opposition to authority stayed constant. He wrote many polemics, on subjects from political reform to religion. This is volume two out of four of his most essential writings, covering the years 1805 to 1809.

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Essential Writings


Volume 2







Essential Writings 2, W. Cobbett

Jazzybee Verlag Jürgen Beck

86450 Altenmünster, Loschberg 9



ISBN: 9783849651770

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I have repeatedly stated, and, I think, proved, that our sinking fund does not at all lessen the national debt; that it has not the least tendency to lessen that debt; and that the words, reduce, redeem, liquidate, &c. &c. as applied to the effects of that fund, are totally misapplied, and are intended to deceive the people, or, which is more likely to be the case, are made use of from the deception under which those who make use of them do themselves labour.—My position is this: that as the national debt is felt by the people only in the interest, which they are annually called upon to provide in taxes, the amount of that interest is the only measure of the magnitude of the debt; and, that, as the operation of the sinking fund has not, and cannot, lessen the amount of the interest, it cannot lessen the magnitude of the debt. We are told, that the Sinking Fund has accumulated to such an extent, that it has already redeemed 70 millions of the debt. But, how has it redeemed it? How can these 70 millions be said to be redeemed, while we have annually to pay interest on them? So long as we have to pay interest upon the whole of the debt, what is it to us, whether we pay it to individuals or into the hands of ministerial Commissioners? What signifies the name that we give to it, whether redeemed or unredeemed debt, so that we are still compelled to pay the interest upon it; so that it lies just as heavy upon us, as it would have done, if no trick, like that of the Sinking Fund, had been devised? This is so evident to every man of common sense, that the people in generel (I may say nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand) have entertained hopes of relief from the Sinking Fund, only because they understood, and firmly believe, that the effect of that fund was gradually to lessen the amount of the interest and expenses, which constitute the annual charge on account of the national debt, and consequently to lessen the taxes raised upon them on account of debt. Into this error they were deluded by the use, or rather abuse of words, which had never before been used but for the purpose of expressing the act of making a real diminution in the quantity of the thing spoken of. When they were told, that the sinking fund was to reduce, to redeem, to liquidate, to clear off, to pay off, &c. &c. such and such portions of the national debt annually, how were they to avoid supposing, that the interest of the debt would go on diminishing with the principal? This they did believe, and this they do, for the far greater part, believe now. They feel, indeed, that the taxes come on them incessantly; but, they ascribe this to any thing rather than the national debt, because most of them, even down to footmen and chambermaids, have something in the funds. So general is the persuasion, that the sinking fund reduces the interest of the debt, that, no longer than about eighteen months ago, the fact was asserted to me by a merchant of considerable eminence, and one who possessed at the time from thirty to forty thousand pounds in funded property. When I insisted, that the sinking fund produced no relief to us; that it did not, and would not, in the least lessen the annual charge upon us on account of interest of the debt; he not only expressed his astonishment, but contested the point with me, till I brought him to my house, and showed him the accounts, where he saw, that, since the year 1791, the annual interest (including charges) of the national debt, had gone on increasing from 10 to 25,000,000l., and that the sinking fund had not tended to check its increase even in the smallest degree; where he was all the stock still continue in existence, just the same as if there had been no sinking fund, only that part of it was said to be held by government commissioners instead of being held by individuals, but that interest must still, he clearly saw, be continued to be paid upon it all, or else the whole of the paper fabric would instantly vanish. Now, if a person like this was so completely deceived, what must we naturally suppose to be the case with the public in general?

In America they pursue a different course. They have measures for reducing their debt; really reducing it; and they are reducing it accordingly. When Mr. Gallatin Ref. 002 tells the Congress that there is an “annual appropriation of 8,000,000 of dollars for the payment of the principal and interest of the public debt,” he tells them, at the same time, that 3,700,000 of those dollars are to be “applied to the redemption of the principal;” that is, to the real redemption of the principal; to the discharge of it; to the paying of the holders for it; to the taking of it up and destroying it. It is truly a shame to employ so many different phrases to express what is equally well expressed in one word, in the word redeem only; but, the fault is not mine; that word, as well as all others of nearly the same signification, have been so abused, their meaning has been so perverted; they are become so equivocal, in consequence of the use that has been made of them with regard to the Pitt sinking fund, that they are, upon subjects of this sort, no longer capable of filling their former places, or of performing their proper functions.

The Americans do, I say, really reduce their national debt. They raise a sum of money in taxes annually, and they redeem with it as much stock as it will purchase. Really redeem it. They buy it, pay for it, take the evidences of it from the individual holders, they throw those evidences in the fire; that which they have so redeemed is no longer in existence, and, of course, they no longer pay interest upon it. This is redeeming; but, can we be said to redeem; we, who continue to pay interest upon all the stock, just the same as if we had no sinking fund?

But, the fact is, that the original intention of our sinking fund, as expressed in the act of parliament, by which it was established, and which was passed in the year 1786, was somewhat similar to the plan pursued in America. Not so good, indeed; but, in principle, bearing some analogy to it. It provided for the redeeming, I mean (good reader, have patience with me!) I mean real redeeming, of a portion of the debt, when the annual income of the fund should amount to 4,000,000l. It did not, like the American plan, raise a sum of money every year, lay it out in stock, destroy the stock, and take from the taxes the amount of the interest before wanted for the said stock. It was not so simple, satisfactory and efficient as this plan; but it afforded some foundation for a rational hope that an alleviation of burdens would arise from it. The commissioners, to whom was to be entrusted the management of it, were to keep it accumulating, till the interest upon it, or, in other words, the amount annually paid by the people on account of it, should amount to 4,000,000l. Then it was to cease accumulating, and its 4,000,000l. a year were thenceforth to be applied to the real redeeming of the debt; that is to say to the purchasing of stock, upon which stock interest was no longer to be paid by the people. The words of the act, as touching this point, are “the dividends” [that is the quarterly interest] “due on such parts of the principal stock, as shall thenceforth be paid off by the said commissioners, shall no longer be issued at the Exchequer, but shall be considered as redeemed by parliament.” Yes; that would have been real redeeming; but, if such an effect was required in order to justify the application of the word redeem, with what propriety do the ministers now apply that word to the effect of the sinking fund, which effect, in consequence of subsequent alterations in the plan of the sinking fund, and particularly the last that was made, never can, according even to the calculations of the ministers themselves, take place till about forty or fifty years hence? What front, then, does it require; what a reliance on the forbearance or ignorance or impotence or servility of others does it require to enable the advocates for the act of 1786 now to speak of, and to state in writing, as stock redeemed, that stock upon which the dividends (that is to say, the interest) are still issued at the Exchequer!

The great alteration, or rather the total abandonment, of the original plan of our sinking fund, took place in the year 1802, and in the act which was passed on the 22nd of June in that year, that is, stat. 42nd of the King, c. 72, wherein the former act, as far as related to the real redeeming provision, was repealed; and the stock purchased, and to be purchased, by the commissioners was made to remain unredeemed, the interest still being to be paid on it, as it now is. The merit of the original plan was questionable. It was, I think, pretty evident, that, unless we began to extinguish at once, as the Americans did, we never could do it afterwards; and, that which might have been foreseen has now proved to be the case. The sums paid quarterly from the Exchequer into the hands of the commissioners, answer no other end than that of keeping up the price of the funds, by creating a demand for stock, a considerable purchase of which the commissioners are, by law, obliged to make every week. So that, in fact, the 6,000,000l. a year, which Mr. Pitt tells us the sinking fund produces, is, so much money raised yearly in taxes, for the purpose of enabling the minister to make such purchases in the stockmarket as shall prevent the commodity from falling to a degree that would blow up the system; upon exactly the same principle that the old woman sent her daughter on before her to market with money to buy up other people’s eggs, in order to keep up the price of those that she was about to bring in her basket.

The difference in the American sinking fund and that of Mr. Pitt is fully shown in their different effects. The American general government began in 1789-90 with a debt of 70,000,000 of dollars. The sum annually required for interests and charges was about 3,300,000 dollars; and such their annual charge on account of debt remains to this day. But, observe, that they have, during the 14 years, made new loans to the amount of about 40,000,000 of dollars; so that, it appears, they have, during the 14 years, actually redeemed extinguished, and destroyed, about 40,000,000l. of debt. They borrowed money for the armament against France; for that against Algiers and Tripoli; and, lately, to the amount of 13,000,000 of dollars for the purchase of Louisiana, for which 13,000,000 they have, of course, value received. Yet, their annual charge on account of debt has been kept down to what it originally was, by means of the sums which they have so judiciously appropriated for reducing the principal of that debt. Ref. 003 But, what have we done? We, too, have been making new loans; but, have we paid off, have we extinguished, have we destroyed any part of the principal of the debt? Not a single pound’s worth of it. We still pay interest upon the whole of the stock that was in existence in 1786, and also upon the whole of the stock that has been created since that time. In 1786, the total capital of the debt was 259 millions, and the annual interest and charges amounted to 9,000,000l. At December, 1803 (for the last year’s account is not yet delivered), the total of the capital was 588,000,000l., and the annual interest and charges amounted to 25,000,000l. Let any man show me, then, if he can, what advantage we derive, or are likely ever to derive, from this sinking fund. What alleviation of burdens it produces, or is likely to produce. Does not every one see the clear difference between the American mode of reducing their debt, and our mode? That the former produces a real reduction, and that the latter produces no reduction at all?

“In time of peace,” some son of credulous hope will exclaim: “it will work miracles in time of peace!” Not at all; for, supposing us never to make another loan, and suppose peace to come to-morrow, the annual sum to be paid by us in taxes, on account of debt, will remain just as great as it now is, as long as the present pernicious system is persevered in.

But, is it not madness to think of discontinuing to make loans, as long as this system lasts? For this year the army, navy, ordnance and contingencies, are estimated at little short of 40,000,000l. Does any one believe, that a peace now made, by Mr. Pitt or by any body else, would much reduce this annual charge? Was the annual charge much reduced during the last peace? Nay, were not loans made both those years? And was not the annual charge on account of debt augmented in the sum of 2,500,000l.? And, is it likely that a peace to diminish much our naval and military expenses can now be made? The whole of the annual income of the nation, war taxes included, does not now, and will not next year, amount to more than 40,000,000l. The charge on account of the national debt alone, will never again, as long as the Pitt system lasts, amount to less than 29,000,000l. a year; leaving 11,000000l. a year for the purpose of defraying the expenses of army, navy, ordnance and contingencies, which, as was before stated, now amount to 40,000,000l. a year, and which none but a madman, or a fool, can hope to see reduced to a sum less than about 25,000,000l. in time of peace, if peace should be made now. Here, then, even upon the peace establishment. are 14,000,000l. a year left to be raised by loans; and, observe, that this is supposing that all the present war taxes, as they are termed, will (as they must) be rendered permanent! Never, therefore, in peace or in war, can we again expect to see a year pass over our heads without a new loan. What must those persons be, then, who console themselves with the hope of the relief to be derived from the operations of the Sinking Fund; that fund, that very fund, which, on a future occasion, I think I shall be able to prove to be the principal cause of our embarrassments and our dangers!

But, if, upon a supposition that peace should be concluded this year, we are doomed to make annual loans, what have we, as to this point, to expect as the consequences of a six years’ longer continuation of the war? Such a continuation would, in all probability, swell the annual charge on account of debt to the amount of 40,000,000l., and, indeed, to a greater amount; that is, to an amount equal to that of the whole present income, war taxes included, leaving the whole of the expenses of the army, navy, &c. &c., to be provided for by loans. Is it possible, I will ask any reasonable man, for the state to exist, for the monarchy to stand, in such a state of things? And, is it, then, not time for men, for public men, for legislators, for ministers, for noblemen, and, above all, for princes, to think of making preparation for the crisis; to consider of the means by which the stroke may, when it comes, be prevented from subverting the throne and burying our liberties beneath its ruins?——He who is disposed to smile at these apprehensions, should, before he gives too much latitude to his mirth, consider seriously, whether there be, or be not, any foundation for my opinions. He should look attentively at the progress of the annual charge on account of debt; he should compare the present amount of that charge with the annual amount of the national income; he should estimate the probable duration of war, the probable yearly expenses of peace, and the inevitable consequences of continuing to make annual loans in peace as well as in war. He should look into the history of public debts; of currencies depreciated; and should ask himself: What have invariably been the consequences of a state of things, in which all contracts become nugatory, or, are binding only to the destruction of right? When he has duly considered these things, let him reflect on the consequences that might arise from an invasion, an insurrection (even if confined to the capital), from combinations of different descriptions of men, drawn together and pushed on in a desperate course by the injuries arising from the disturbance of prices, occasioned by the increase, and consequent degradation, of the currency. Ref. 004 And, let him be well upon his guard against drawing a conclusion favourable to the Sinking Fund, merely because he finds the theory of that project good; always remembering, that that which is perfectly true in figures, may be completely false in fact. Upon a point of this sort, Lord Lauderdale, in his admirable work upon Public Wealth, has in Chapter IV. the following remark: “Lest the reader should be disposed to think, with the generality of mankind, that what is true in figures, and the result of accurate calculation, must be true in practice, and possible in execution; he is desired to reflect, that one penny put out, at our Saviour’s birth, at 5 per centum, compound interest, would, before this time, have increased to a greater sum than could be contained in five hundred millions of earths, all of solid gold; and that this is a calculation as accurate, and as true, as any with which parliament has been furnished in the progress of this delusion.” This chapter is upon the sinking fund. Before his Lordship’s pen the smoky mists, raised by the Aucklands, the George Roses, the Chalmerses, the Vansittarts, the Sinclairs, and other dabblers in political economy, fly in every direction, leaving Mr. Pitt and his project clearly exposed to every man who has common sense and a common degree of discernment.

The theory of the Sinking Fund must be considered separately from the practice. In theory it is true that the national debt is in a course of redemption by means of the Sinking Fund; in practice the same proposition is utterly false.——I shall, on the first convenient occasion, return to this important subject; when I intend to give a succinct history of the Sinking Fund, showing, as I proceed, how its purposes, and the opinions of its advocates, have been continually upon the shift. Particularly I shall endeavour to show the fallacy of the argument, which is built upon the acknowledged and undeniable efficacy of a Sinking Fund (founded upon a theory like that of the Public Sinking Fund) in clearing off the mortgage upon a private estate. Much of the present deception arises from the want of perceiving the fallacy of this comparison; by removing which, therefore, we shall certainly make an advance towards the truth.



The bill now before parliament relative to the stipends of curates, who shall serve and reside in parishes where the incumbent is lawfully excused from residence, is intended principally to promote residence on the part of such curates; and, it appears to be well calculated to effect its purpose. The bill provides, that, in cases where the living exceeds in annual value 400l. a year, clear of all expenses, the Bishop of the diocess is, by this bill, authorized to assign to the resident curate a stipend not exceeding one-fifth of the annual value of the living, provided, however, that the said one-fifth shall not exceed 250l. a year; that where more than one curate is necessary, the Bishop may assign to them both or altogether a stipend amounting to one-third of the clear annual value of the living; that the Bishop shall have it in his power to direct where the curate or curates shall personally reside, and, if he pleases, he may direct the residence to be in the parsonage house, or, in lieu thereof, assign him 20l. a year for a place of residence, to be paid by the incumbent. These are the principal regulations; and, though it will be seen, that the bill gives great discretionary powers to the Bishop, yet, it is to be hoped that they will be exercised with wisdom and justice, and, no one can deny, I think, that such powers must be lodged somewhere, or that the church will very soon fall under the daily-increasing influence of the sectaries, who are spreading over every part of the country, and whose pernicious progress can be checked only by a vigilant clergy in the church, and, to be vigilant, they must reside.

The objection urged to this bill, that it was unconstitutional, as it would place the property of one man at the disposal of another, appears to me to have arisen from an erroneous idea of the nature of that property which consists of church benefices. The living of a clergyman seems to have been regarded as his private property; but, that it cannot be so, in the usual meaning of those words, must, I think, appear evident to every one, who, for a moment, looks back to the origin of that property. A church was built by some proprietor of the land, and the tithes of a certain district round the church were left by that proprietor to the clergyman who should perform divine service there. This, generally speaking, was the way in which parishes were formed; thus was this sort of property created; and, though the laws regulating its distribution have undergone great alterations, the nature of the property itself can never be changed. We do, indeed, call a living private property, and this appellation is countenanced by the fact of its being a freehold, and conferring the right of voting at elections for members of parliament; but, if we take but a moment to reflect, we always find the living inseparable from the clerical duties of the possessor of the living; that the possession is a conditional one; that the thing possessed cannot be, positively, either sold, or let, or lent, not even for the life of the possessor, no, nor for a single month. The condition upon which a clergyman receives his living is, that he shall perform the duties attached to it, according to the ordinances of the church and the laws of the country; and, as by a disobedience of those ordinances and laws, he may forfeit the living altogether, it follows, of course, that a part of the income of that living may be justly applied to the causing of those duties to be performed, which he either does not or cannot perform himself, and for the performance of which, and that only, the living was given him.

To the same error as to the origin of church property is to be attributed much of the clamour against tithes. The possessors of the land, and more especially the immediate possessors, always speak of the tithe as of something which is theirs, and which the law unjustly takes from them to give to another person. But, by looking back to the origin of this sort of property, they would soon perceive that it is not theirs; that the tithe is a charge entailed upon their land; that they purchased or rented the land with a full knowledge of the existence of such charge; and that, therefore, to withhold any part of that tithe from the clergyman is an act of fraud. They would further perceive (and I heartily wish every poor man in England could be made to perceive it), that they, the possessors and cultivators of the land, are by no means to be regarded as persons who pay the clergy; as persons who maintain the clergy; as persons to whom the clergy are under obligations. They would perceive, that what they render to the clergy they have no right, either legal or moral, to withhold; that they confer no favour; that they give no gift; that the gift comes from those who founded the church and settled the perpetual charge upon the land; and, at this stage of the inquiry both those who grudge the tithes and those who regard livings as private property would perceive, that the gift was not only for the maintenance of the clergyman, but also for the support of religion, and this, not only for the sake of the owners and the renters, but also for the sake of the tillers of the land. In short, they would perceive, that the living of each parish, is a pious bequest from some one or more of our ancestors to all the people, but particularly to the poor, of the parish; which living is to be so disposed of and conferred as to ensure to the people the due performance of religious duties in their church and parish.

This, though a mere glance at the subject, must, I should imagine, produce in the reader’s mind such a train of reflection as will make him reject the principle, upon which chiefly the bill has been opposed.

It must, however, be confessed, that there is a palpable inconsistency in passing a law like this; a law to produce residence; while the practice of bestowing pluralities is every day becoming, in all the channels of preferment, more and more prevalent. We have seen above, whence church property arose, what is its nature, and what is its object; and, can we, then, behold the number of pluralities that exist, can we observe who the pluralists but too frequently are, without being amazed, almost stunned, at the sound of a law for the purpose of inducing to residence?——It has been said, out of doors, at least, that the consequence of the beneficed clergy will be diminished by this law, while the increase to the stipends of the curates will not raise them high enough in society to give them any consequence at all; so that, upon the whole, the clergy will lose consequence. If I thought so, I should disapprove of the bill. But, people very often lose their breath in dispute, for want of settling the meaning of the terms upon which they are disputing. What is meant by the consequence of the clergy? Is it their consequence in the pulpit, or in a ball room? It is certain, that misery, such as some curates are left in, is calculated to bring the clerical character into contempt; but, I can see no advantage that religion is to derive from that sort of consequence, which is to be produced by the incumbent’s being enabled to spend a great deal of money, and that, too, observe, away from his living; while, on the other hand, I can conceive, that an addition to the curate’s stipend will very usefully add to his consequence in the eyes of the people, amongst whom he is to officiate. But, I really am afraid, that this is not the species of consequence that is contemplated. There seems to be something beyond this. Something very like a wish to spend up to the tune of the ’squire, at least; and, if so, the case is desperate; for, the clergy never have been, they never will be, and they never ought to be, able so to spend. This is, besides, quite a new way of acquiring clerical consequence, which was formerly sought for rather by the road of humility, abstinence, and mortification. Without, however, entertaining any wish to drive the clergy back to primitive manners, while their flock, or rather their herd, are wallowing in the luxury of the day, I may venture to assert, that the only useful consequence for the clergy to maintain, or acquire, is to be maintained or acquired, by means very little connected with the possession of large incomes. They will easily perceive the means I allude to you; but, alas! it is so much pleasanter to acquire consequence by riding a fine horse, by lolling in a coach, by strutting at a ball, by melting away at a music meeting, by eating fricandeaus, and by drinking claret, that it would be presumption in the extreme to hope that my hint would not be treated with disdain.


(Political Register,

June, 1805.)

In the preceding article some grammatical errors were made, in an article upon this subject. A few lines from the beginning there occur an instance or two of tautology, and in one place, the word “you” is inserted by mistake after the words, “I allude to.” But, what I am most desirous of correcting is, a part of my statement which a correspondent has noticed as containing an historical inaccuracy. I allude to the description which is given of the origin of church property. As a description of the origin of the whole of the property of the church, it certainly is inaccurate, or, at least, defective; but, the reader must have perceived, that my wish was, for perspicuity as well as for brevity’s sake, to avoid a complicated picture, and yet to select such a single object as should afford a fair and firm foundation for the argument which I was endeavouring to construct.

Since the aforementioned article was written, a passage in Sir William Scott’s speech of the 7th of April, 1802, has occurred to me. The passage I particularly allude to is that describing advowsons as private property. He tells us, that advowsons were “originally, perhaps, mere trusts;” but, that they “are now become lay fees. They are bought and sold, and are lay property, just as much as any other tenements or hereditaments.” That this is the truth there can be no doubt; and, I think, there can be as little doubt of its being a truth greatly to be deplored. For, with submission to Sir William Scott, I presume, that, in describing advowsons as being originally mere trusts, the word “perhaps” might have been omitted, without any risk either to the argument or to historical truth; and, that the buying or selling of presentations to church livings is a shameful abuse, and tends directly to the degradation and ruin of the church, will, I think, be denied by nobody. There may be law for it; but, it is of comparatively modern invention; and, as the rights of the church stand upon an ancient foundation; as that foundation is an excellent one, I am always sorry to see any attempt made to prop them up by modern contrivances, and, especially, when those contrivances have evidently been suggested by the very excess of abuse. When the right of presentation to a living is openly bought and sold, there is little wonder that the living itself is regarded as private property; and, there is no very great wonder, that common men should not clearly perceive the justice of their being obliged to give to the clergyman the tenth part of the produce of their land; seeing that it is hardly possible for them to conceive a reason for property really private being held in such a way. I am convinced, that it is to the prevalence of this notion of the advowsons and livings being private property, and being by the holders considered as such, that the church owes great part of that grudging and ill-will which we find to exist with respect to its claims and its clergy. Do away this notion; tell the people, and let them see by your manner of bestowing benefices and of performing the duties attached to them, that you regard the livings as things held in trust for the convenience, consolation, and salvation of the people; let the people see this; let it be visible to them in the conduct of the patron and the incumbent, and I am much deceived if you will not, even in a short space of time, perceive a returning attachment to the Church, at least, amongst the common people, and particularly people of no possessions in house or land, such as we may properly enough call the poor; all of whom would then perceive the church establishment to be neither more nor less than a means of securing the consolations of religious service to them, who, otherwise, would, from their poverty, be excluded therefrom. They would perceive that they had some interest in the tithes, and it would be difficult for the farmers to persuade them, as they now do, that to rob the parson is doing God service. But, if the patron, by his manner of bestowing the living, and the incumbent, by his manner of performing, or, rather, neglecting his duty, give to the whole the appearance of a concern entirely private, we need not be surprised, that the poor join the farmers in their clamours against tithes.

I will take some other opportunity of endeavouring to point out some of the principal evils which result from considering livings as private property; and, I think I shall be able to show, that, in differing very widely from Sir William Scott as to the indulgences which ought to be granted to the beneficed clergy, I am not, according to my capacity, less than he a friend of the church. I must here observe, however, that it is not to his speech, as a whole, that I object. It is a most valuable performance, and should be read and well considered by every one whose attention is turned to public affairs; for, however slightingly some persons may think of the church establishment altogether, I am persuaded, that, as the state grew up with the church, so it will fall with it, whenever it falls.

BOXING. Ref. 005

“Whereas divers cruel and barbarous outrages have been, of late, wickedly and wantonly committed in divers parts of England, upon the persons of divers of His Majesty’s subjects, either with an intent to murder, or to maim, disfigure, or disable, or to do other grievous bodily harm to such subjects; and, whereas the provisions, now by law made, for the prevention of such offences, have been found ineffectual for that purpose; he it therefore enacted,” &c. &c.

—Preamble to the Act 43 Geo. III. chap. 58, passed 24th June, 1803.

The public attention having been called to a recent, an extraordinary, and somewhat alarming decision of a Coroner’s jury upon a case wherein death was the consequence of a boxing-match, I cannot, consistently with the opinions I have always entertained and frequently expressed upon the subject, omit, upon this occasion, to submit to my readers, some few of those reflections that press upon my mind. The case, here particularly referred to, is, as stated in the Morning Chronicle of the 25th ultimo, as follows: “George Hodgson, Esq., one of the coroners for the County of Middlesex, yesterday evening, at 7 o’clock, resumed his court of inquiry as to the means by which Patrick, otherwise Michael, Lenon came by his death. The Court was again held at the Cannon Tavern, the corner of Carburton-street, Portland-road. The evidence of yesterday was repeated to the jury, and in addition to it they had the testimony of Mr. Charles Lane, of Carburton-street, surgeon, who examined the body of the deceased in company with Mr. Reeve, of Great Portland-street, surgeon. The substance of his evidence was, that they had been employed about three hours in the examination, and that, upon the most minute observation that could possibly be made, it did not appear that there was any injury done to the viscera of the thorax, neither was there any extravasated blood within the head, such as would have been the case if a bloodvessel had burst.—Upon the whole, he conceived that the loss of life must have been occasioned by some injury done to the nervous system, or else by a violent concussion of the brain, which might have arisen either from great exertion or passion or from repeated heavy falls, in which cases there might not be any mark upon the subject from which a professional man could form a decided opinion. But, from the evidence which he had heard of the fight, which was sworn to have taken place, he had no doubt that it was from some circumstance that had taken place during that affray that the deceased came by his death. The coroner repeated his admonitions to parish officers in general, to provide a surgeon in such cases as the present, but added, that it did not appear to him that in the instance then before the jury, there appeared to have been any thing of culpability in the officers. He then acquainted the jury, that in his opinion where there was a premeditated design between the parties to commit a breach of the peace, and where that violation of law terminated fatally to one of them, with the additional consideration that it was a prize fight, in which each had money as an inducement to do an injury to the other; in such case he thought the act of the one man who killed the other, was clearly murder. If they thought otherwise, however, they would say so. But of this the jury had not the least doubt, and immediately gave a verdict of WILFUL MURDER, by Dennis Dillon.”

Such is the account given in the public prints. Upon inquiry I find, further, that the combatants were two journeymen in the same shop, who, having quarrelled at their shop-board, agreed to decide their quarrel by a boxing match. It is said, that the only pecuniary stake, for which they contended, was a bet of half a guinea, which bet, however, did not take place till the moment before the fight began. There was so little of what could be truly called malice, between them, that the deceased had proposed to make up their difference without fighting; and, though this was not accepted, a similar proposition was made by the survivor, during the course of the battle. There was, as, indeed, it clearly appears from the above-stated evidence, no reason to suppose the death to be occasioned by any particular blow, but merely by the effect of exertion, and the breaking of a bloodvessel, as might have happened in a race, a rowing-match, a jumping-match, a cricket-match, or in any other exercise requiring, either constantly or occasionally, any extraordinary exertion of bodily strength. These being the circumstances of the case, one may confidently hope, that this will not be the instance, in which the last blow will be struck at that manly, that generous mode of terminating quarrels between the common people, a mode by which the common people of England have, for ages, been distinguished from those of all other countries. But, though we may safely rely upon the wisdom and justice of the courts, before one of which this unfortunate boxer must finally take his trial, the occasion calls for some remark upon those exertions, which, of late, have been, and which yet are, making in every part of the country, with the obvious, and, in many instances, with the declared, intention, of utterly eradicating the practice of boxing; than which, I am thoroughly persuaded, nothing could be more injurious, whether considered as to its effects in civil life, or in its higher and more important effects on the people regarded as the members of a state, and, of course, always opposed to some other state, and therefore always liable to be called upon to perform the duties of war.

As few persons will be inclined to believe it possible so far to work, by any human laws, such a change in the hearts and minds of men as shall prevent all quarrelling amongst them, it is not necessary to insist, that, in spite of the law and the gospel, in spite of the animadversions of the bench and the admonitions of the pulpit, there will still be practised some mode or other of terminating quarrels, some way in which the party injured, or offended, will seek for satisfaction, without waiting for the operation of the law, even in those cases where the law affords the means whereby satisfaction is to be obtained. If this be not denied, it will remain with the innovating foes of the pugilistic combat to show, that there are other modes of terminating quarrels amongst the common people less offensive to the principles of sound morality, less dangerous in their physical effects, better calculated to produce the restoration of harmony, to shorten the duration, and to prevent the extension, of resentment, together with all the evils attendant upon a long-harboured spirit of revenge. Without proceeding another step, I am confident, that the reflecting reader, though he may, for a moment, have been carried away by the cry of “brutality,” latterly set up against boxing, will, from our thus simply stating what our opponents have to prove, have clearly perceived, that the proof is not within their power. He will have perceived, that, of all the ways in which violence can possibly be committed (and violence of some sort there must be in the obtaining of personal satisfaction), none has in it so little hostility to the principles of our religion, and that none is so seldom fatal to the parties, as boxing. He will have perceived, too, that this mode, by excluding the aid of every thing extraneous, by allowing of no weapons, by leaving nothing to deceit, and very little to art of any sort, is, in most cases, decisive as to the powers of the combatants, and proceeds, besides, upon the generous principle, that, with the battle, ceases for ever the cause whence it arose; a principle of such long and steady growth, so deeply rooted in the hearts of Englishmen, that to attempt the revival, or even to allude to, with apparent resentment, the grounds of a quarrel which has been terminated by the fists, is always regarded as a mark of baseness, whether visible in the conduct of the parties themselves, or in that of their relations, or friends.

Instead, however, of rejoicing at the existence of a practice which is so well calculated to soften the natural effects of the violent passions, there are but too many amongst us, who seem to be perfect enthusiasts in their efforts to extirpate it. Whether, if they could extirpate those passions themselves, or could so far neutralize them as effectually to prevent their producing acts of violence; whether, in that case, they would leave us any thing whereby, and whereby alone, private injustice, domestic oppression, or foreign hostility, is to be resisted, I submit as a question to the doctors in the school of modern philanthropy; but, unless those passions can be extirpated, and until that great work be completed, I think, that every one who listens to reason in preference to an outcry, and who is attached to the substance and not the mere sounds of humanity and gentleness, will readily agree, that, to attempt the extirpation of the practice of boxing is to make an attempt, which, if successful, would lead to the frequent commission of all those sanguinary and horrible acts, by which the common people of but too many other countries are disgraced, and which, amongst the people of England, have, till of late, been almost unknown. In support of this opinion, I may, as to an argument of experience, surely appeal to the law, recently passed, and the preamble of which I have chosen for my Motto; Ref. 006 and, that such a law should have become necessary, I am sure the reader, if he has an English heart in his bosom, will reflect with sorrow and with shame. What is now become of those manners which authorized the honest exultation of so many of our eminent writers, that, from the generous spirit of Englishmen, acts of cruelty were rendered so rare in their country? Our travellers must now hold their tongues; for the world is told, and that too by the legislature itself, who have placed the disgraceful truth upon the records of parliament, that the laws and statutes of the land, heretofore in force, are no longer sufficient to prevent us from committing “cruel and barbarous outrages, with intent to murder, maim, disfigure, or disable, one another.” It is not till “of late,” certainly, that such a law has been necessary, and, it is not till of late, that such a general desire to suppress the practice of boxing has prevailed. The mere coexistence of this desire (and of the measures proceeding from it), with the frequency of the commission of cruel and barbarous acts, may not, indeed, be regarded as a conclusive argument in favour of the practice of boxing; but, no one can deny, that it strongly corroborates the conclusion, which reason, without the aid of experience, has taught us to draw; and, if this conclusion, thus fortified, be legitimate, it follows, of course, that we must either have cuttings and stabbings, or boxing; the former of which, as being perfectly compatible with “a godly conversation,” and with the cant of humanity, it is more than probable that the saints and philanthropists would not hesitate to prefer.

But, it is the political view of this subject which appears to me to be most worthy of attention; the view of the effect which may, by the contemplated change of manners, be produced upon the people, considered as the members of a state, always opposed to some other state; for, much as I abhor cuttings and stabbings, I have, as I hope most others of my countrymen have, a still greater abhorrence of submission to a foreign yoke.—Commerce, Opulence, Luxury, Effeminacy, Cowardice, Slavery: these are the stages of national degradation. We are in the fourth; and, I beg the reader to consider, to look into history, to trace states in their fall, and then say how rapid is the latter part of the progress! Of the symptoms of effeminacy none is so certain as a change from athletic and hardy sports, or exercises, to those requiring less bodily strength, and exposing the persons engaged in them to less bodily suffering; and when this change takes place, be assured that national cowardice is at no great distance, the general admiration of deeds of hardihood having already been considerably lessened. Bravery, as, indeed, the word imports, consists not in a readiness and a capacity to kill or to hurt, but in a readiness and a capacity to venture, and to bear the consequences. As sports or exercises approach nearer and nearer to real combats, the greater, in spite of all we can say, is our admiration of those who therein excel. Belcher has, by the sons of cant, in every class of life, been held up to us as a monster, a perfect ruffian; yet there are very few persons, who would not wish to see Belcher; few from whom marks of admiration have not, at some time, been extorted by his combats; and scarcely a female Saint, perhaps, who would not, in her way to the conventicle, or even during the snuffling there to be heard, take a peep at him from beneath her hood. Can as much be said by any one of those noblemen and gentlemen who have been spending the best years of their lives in dancing by night and playing at cricket by day? The reason is, not that Belcher strikes hard; not that he is strong; not that he is an adept at his art; but that he exposes himself voluntarily to so much danger, and that he bears so many heavy blows. We are apt to laugh at the preference which women openly give to soldiers (including, of course, all men of the military profession), a preference which is always found, too, to be given by young persons of both sexes. But, if we take time to consider, we shall find this partiality to be no fit subject for ridicule or blame. It is a partiality naturally arising from the strongest of all feelings, the love of life. The profession of arms is always the most honourable. All kings and princes are soldierss. Renowned soldiers are never forgotten. We all talk of Alexander the Great and of Julius Cæsar; but very few of us ever heard, or ever thought of inquiring, who were the statesmen of those days. There is not, perhaps, a ploughman in England, who has not a hundred times repeated the names of Drake and of Marlborough; and of the hundreds of thousands of them, there is not one, perhaps, who ever heard, or ever will hear, pronounced, the name of Cecil or of Godolphin. When princes are not renowned military commanders, they themselves, though they leave so many and such various traces behind them, are, amongst the mass of the people, soon forgotten, except as having reigned during the victories of such or such a commander. Literary men have, almost uniformly, spoken with more or less contempt of military fame; but, notwithstanding the singular advantages which they have over soldiers, in perpetuating a knowledge of their famous deeds, within how narrow a sphere, comparatively speaking, is their fame confined! Where is the man, woman, or child, in this kingdom, who has not heard and talked of Nelson? And, does not the reader believe, that there are many parishes, in either of which the knowledge of Pope or of Johnson’s having existed is confined to two or three persons? Such, too, is the nature of military fame, that it obliterates all the folly and all the crimes of the possessor. The discriminating few, the criticisers of character, will, indeed, take these into account; but, with the people in general, and particularly those of the nation, to which the renowned soldier belongs, his deeds of valour only are remembered.

Whence, then, arises this universal suffrage of mankind in favour of military heroes? Why are their deeds prized above those of all other men? Not because their profession demands more skill than that of others; not because it supposes hard study or great labour of any sort; not because it is thought to require an extraordinary degree of genius or of wisdom. Some have ascribed it to the terror inspired by military combats; but, we often admire those heroes most at whose deeds it is impossible we can have felt any terror. Others have ascribed it to the signal and extensive consequences produced in the world by the deeds of military commanders; but, the deeds of statesmen produce much more signal and more extensive consequences; and yet, these latter sink silently to the grave, and rot there, without ever being named by the common people of only the very next generation. To what, therefore, can we ascribe this universal preference of military fame before all other fame, but to that all-pervading and ever-predominating principle, the love of life, and the consequent admiration of those who voluntarily place their lives in the most frequent and most imminent danger? This principle exists, naturally, in the same degree, in every human breast; and, bravery consists, as was before said, simply in the capacity of subduing the love of life so far as knowingly, deliberately, and voluntarily to put it to risk. Hence it is, that we cannot refrain from admiring the hardihood of miners, well-sinkers and the like; but, in them we justly ascribe a good deal to habit, to hard necessity, and, besides, we do not, in their case, see where and what is the immediate cause of their danger; but, in the case of the soldier, we clearly perceive this cause; we see him voluntarily going forth and marching on till he comes within reach of those, who, on their side, are advancing for the sole purpose of taking his life. In proportion as the readiness to hazard life exists in a country, that country is brave, and, consequently, in proportion to its numbers, powerful. How deeply sensible of this does our rival and enemy appear to have been! Amongst all the changes and chances of the French revolution, there has never been a single day, when the rulers were not careful to reward and to honour those who had distinguished themselves by putting their lives to risk. The consequences we have seen, and now but too sensibly feel. We, on the contrary, seem to be using our utmost endeavours to extirpate every habit that tended to prepare the minds of the common people for deeds of military bravery. Am I told, that there are no boxers in France? I answer that there never were; that their exercises and their combats were of another description; I have seen peasants in France turn out into a field, and cut one another with their sabres. But, if you extirpate boxing in England, can you substitute any other mode of exercise or combat in its stead? No: and that is not the object; the professed object is, to cry down and to put an end to, every species of exercise or of combat, in which life shall at all be put to the risk, or, indeed, in which bodily opposition and great bodily strength and a great capacity of bearing bodily pain are acquired.

Not only boxing, but wrestling, quarter-staff, single-stick, bull-baiting, every exercise of the common people, that supposes the possible risk of life or limb, and, of course, that tends to prepare them for deeds of bravery of a higher order, and, by the means of those deeds and of the character and consequence naturally growing out of them, to preserve the independence and the liberties of their country; every such exercise seems to be doomed to extirpation. Even the very animals, for the bravery of which the nation has long been renowned, are to be destroyed, as men would destroy savage and ferocious beasts. Every thing calculated to keep alive the admiration, and even the idea, of hardihood, seems to have become offensive and odious in the sight of but too many of those, whose duty it is to endeavour to arrest, and not to accelerate, the fatal progress of effeminacy. That many of the persons so zealously engaged in supporting the system of effeminacy (for such it may properly be called), are actuated by motives of tenderness for the common people there can be no doubt; but, while I must think, that such persons act without due reflection, I hesitate not to declare my belief, that those with whom the system originated, and who are the principal instigators of all the measures adopted for effecting the extirpation of boxing and other hardy exercises, are actuated by motives far other than those of compassion for the persons who are in the habit of being therein engaged. Let, however, what will be the motives, the consequences are, some of them, already obvious, and others it is by no means difficult to foresee. That cuttings and stabbings are more fatal than boxing, to say nothing of the disgrace, every one must agree; and, it cannot be denied, that the former have increased in proportion as the latter has been driven from amongst the people. But, boxing matches give rise to assemblages of the people; they tend to make the people bold: they produce a communication of notions of hardihood; they serve to remind men of the importance of bodily strength; they, each in its sphere, occasion a transient relaxation from labour; they tend, in short, to keep alive, even amongst the lowest of the people, some idea of independence: whereas, amongst cutters and stabbers and poisoners (for the law above-mentioned includes English poisoners), there is necessarily a rivalship for quietness and secrecy; they generally perform their work single-handed; their operations have nothing of riot or commotion in them; as to labour, they lose little of the time for that, seeing that their mode of seeking satisfaction is with the greatest chance of success pursued in the dark; and there is not the least fear, that their practices will ever render them politically turbulent, or bold. In fact, the system of effeminacy as it has grown out of, so it is perfectly adapted to, the Pitt system of internal politics, which, by making, in a greater or less degree, almost every man, who has property, a sort of pensioner, or, at least, an annuitant, of the state, aims at ruling the nation by its base, instead of its honourable feelings. On the selfishness of the common people, particularly the labouring part of them, the Pitt system of finance and taxation has, directly at least, no hold; and, therefore, it required the aid of the system of effeminacy, which includes the suppression of mirth as well as of hardy exercises, and, indeed, of every thing that tends to produce relaxations from labour and a communication of ideas of independence amongst the common people. Systems better calculated for preventing internal opposition to the government never were invented; but, this is not all that a wise statesman and one that loves his country will look to. Such a statesman will perceive, that if he destroy the feelings, from the operation of which the government might occasionally have something to apprehend, he thereby destroys the means, by which alone the government can be permanently preserved. Render the whole nation effeminate; suffer no relaxation from labour or from care; shut all the paupers up in workhouses, and those that are not so shut up, work in gangs, each with its driver; this do, and it is evident, that you will have no internal commotion; it is evident, that you will hold the people in complete subjection to your will; but, then, recollect, that they will be like the ass in the fable, that they will stir neither hand nor foot to prevent a transfer of their subjection to another master.

Thank God, we are yet at a great distance from a state so full of wretchedness and of infamy, and, I trust, that we shall long be so preserved. In speaking of the system of effeminacy as adapted to a cooperation with the Pitt system of internal policy, I by no means would be understood as supposing, that it has been contrived, or at all encouraged, at least wilfully, by Mr. Pitt, or by any other minister. It is, indeed, one of the many evils that have naturally grown out of the Pitt system; but, whatever other faults I may impute to Mr. Pitt as a minister, justice to him obliges me to confess, that I have never heard of his directly favouring the endeavours of those weak, meddling, and, in many instances, fanatical persons, who are the chief instruments in the persecution of all manly and mirthful exercises; and, I confidently hope, that, if any further attempts are made at legislative innovation upon these subjects, he will be found amongst their determined opponents.


This is the title of an article in the Courier of the 6th instant, in which an attempt, by way of last shift, I suppose, is made to terrify the fund-holders and the merchants with the persuasion, that, if the Opposition were to come into power, they would instantly overset the funds, that they would destroy all the manufactories, and that they would give up our ships and our colonies to the Emperor of the French, and that, too, because the monied and commercial influence have been the support of Mr. Pitt.——The words, “perish commerce,” are put into the mouth of Mr. Windham, though every reader must now know, that they, with their context, “let the constitution live,” which expressed the proper sentiment, mean that, to preserve the constitution we ought to wish the loss of our commerce; it is well known, and it has been so stated more than once in the House of Commons, that Mr. Windham never used these words; but that they were used by Mr. Hardinge, who, in his place in parliament, owned, or rather claimed them as his. To this fact, if the reader will add another and that is, that the words were uttered at the time that Mr. Windham, even supposing him to have spoken them, was in office with Mr. Pitt, he will have tolerably good means of judging of the candour of this tool of the “young friends,” as well as of the sincerity of that alarm for the safety of commerce, which alarm, he would fain make us believe, arises, in part at least, from this sentiment having been expressed by Mr. Windham.