political gospel, and exerted myself to the utmost to propagate them among the masses of my countrymen. The Irish reformers demanded a repeal of the Union and the right of self-government. I advocated both repeal for Ireland and Republicanism for England. And in all my speeches and publications I gave utterance to the bitterest reproaches against the aristocracy, and against all who took their part. I had suffered grievously in my early days. I had been subjected to all the hardships and miseries of extreme poverty. I had spent three years on the verge of starvation, never knowing, more than twice or thrice during the whole of that dreadful period, what it was to have the gnawings of hunger appeased by a plentiful meal. I had seen one near and dear to me perish for want of food, and had escaped the same sad fate myself by a kind of miracle only. And all these sufferings I believed to have been caused by the corn and provision laws, enacted and maintained by the selfishness of the aristocracy. I regarded the aristocracy therefore, and all who took their part, as my personal enemies; as men who had robbed me of my daily bread, and all but sent me to an untimely grave. I regarded them as the greatest of criminals, as the enemies of the human race. I considered them answerable for the horrors of the first great French Revolution, and for the miseries of the Irish famine. I gave them credit for nothing good. True, they had allowed the Reform Bill of 1831 to pass, but not till they saw that a refusal would cause a revolution. They had accepted free trade, but not till they saw that to reject it would be their ruin. I had not then learnt that in legislating with an eye to their own interests they had done no more than other classes are accustomed to do when they get possession of power. I had not yet discovered that the germs of selfish legislation and tyranny are sown in the hearts of all, and that the faults of the higher classes prevail among all classes under different forms. I saw the misdoings of the parties in power, and looked no further, and I heaped on them the bitterest invectives. My passionate hatred of the privileged classes, expressed in the plainest English, and justified, apparently, by so much that was bad in the history of their doings, roused the indignation of my hearers and readers to the highest pitch. I com

menced a periodical, which at once became a favorite with the ultra democrats, and speedily gained an extensive circulation.

In 1847, in my Companion to the Almanacs, I foretold the French Revolution of 1848. How it happened I do not exactly know; but I have, at times, made remarkable guesses, and this perhaps was one of them. When the Revolution took place it caused a tremendous excitement in every nation in Europe. Kings and emperors found it necessary to promise their subjects constitutional governments. It turned the heads of many people in England. Numbers who had never been politicians before, became politicians. then. And many politicians who had previously been moderate in their views, became wild and revolutionary. The Chartists clamored for "the Charter, the whole Charter, and nothing but the Charter." Meetings were held in almost every part of the country, and speeches were delivered, and publications were circulated, of a most inflammatory character. Monster demonstrations were got up, and many who did not take part in them encouraged them, in hopes that they would frighten the Government into large concessions to the party of reform. A meeting of the leading reformers was called in London, and I was present. Young Stansfield, now member of Parliament, was there, and Sergeant Parry, and Edward Miall, and Henry Vincent, and a number of others. The Chartists arranged for a convention in London, and I was sent as a member. The meeting cut but a pitiful figure. It soon got into unspeakable disorder. The second day the question was, "What means should we recommend our constituents to use in order to obtain the reforms they desired?" I, extravagant as I had shown myself on many points, had always set myself against resort to violence. My counsel therefore was for peaceful, legal measures. Ernest Jones and several others clamored for organization, with a view to an armed insurrection. By and by we got into confusion again. Some one hinted that agents of the Government were present, and that we were venturing on dangerous ground. Ernest Jones replied, "It is not for us to be afraid of the Government, but for the Government to be afraid of us." Confusion got worse confounded. I began to be ashamed of my position. Mad

[ocr errors]



as I was, I was not insane enough for the leaders of the convention, so I started home.

On Good Friday there was an immense meeting on Skircoat Moor, near Halifax, and I was one of the speakers. It was the largest assembly I ever saw. Ι The speakers that preceded me talked about the uselessness of talk, and called for action. I talked about the usefulness of talk, and contended that resort to violence would be both folly and wickedness. While I was speaking, a man in the crowd on my left fired a pistol, as if to intimidate me, and encourage the party favorable to insurrection. I at once denounced him as a traitor, who had come to hurry the people into crime, or a madman, whom no one ought for a moment to think of imitating. The physical force men were terribly vexed at my remarks, but the mass of the meeting applauded my counsels, and the immense concourse dispersed and went home, without either perpetrating a crime, or meeting with an accident.

My advocacy of peace was duly appreciated by some even of those who lamented the extravagance of my views on other subjects. Others looked on me with unmitigated horror. And the feelings of the richer classes generally against me rose to such a pitch at length, that it was hardly safe for me to go abroad after dark. My religious and political opponents joined their forces, and seemed bent on my destruction. They believed I was undermining the foundations of society, and throwing all things into confusion. They looked on me as little better than a madman, scattering abroad firebrands, arrows, and death. And many treated me as a kind of outlaw, as a man who had no rights that anybody was bound to respect; and rude boys and reckless men took liberties with my property, and even threatened me with death. Insurance companies would not insure my property. Schoolmasters would not admit my sons into their schools, lest others should take their children away. Mothers would not allow their daughters to play with my little daughter, lest she should infect them with her father's heresies.

After the Summer Assizes in 1848, the judge at Liverpool issued Bench warrants for the arrest of a number of political agitators, and in the list of the names of those parties, published in the newspapers, mine was included.

As I had always kept within the limits of the law, and as I had received no visit from the police, I supposed that my name had been inserted in the list by mistake. And as I was allowed to remain at large for six weeks, I felt confident that it was either some other Joseph Barker that was wanted, or that my name had been mentioned as one of the parties to be arrested, in jest, or to frighten me into silence.

And the probability is, that if I had kept at home and remained quiet, I should have been permitted to go on with my business undisturbed. But I had an engagement at the end of six weeks, to give two political lectures at Bolton. Just about that time a vacancy occurred in the representation of that Borough, and my friends there, without consulting me, put me forward as a candidate for the vacant seat, and announced my lectures as a statement of my political views, urging the people to come and hear me, and judge for themselves, whether I was not the fittest man to represent them in the National Legislature.

I gave my first lecture on a Friday night, to a crowded and excited audience in the Town Hall, and when I had done, the people passed a resolution by acclamation, to the effect that I was just the man for them, and that they would have no other.

On the Saturday I went on into Wales, to fulfil an engagement which I had for the Sunday, and returned on Monday to give my second lecture. When I got near to Bolton, some friends met me, and told me that the police from Manchester were in the town looking for me, and that I had better go right home. I said, "Nay, I never broke an engagement yet, and I won't do so now;" so I went on. As soon as I had rested myself a little I went direct to the head of the Manchester police, and asked him if he would not allow me to deliver my lecture, promising, if he wished it, to go with him quietly afterwards. He said, No, I could not be allowed to deliver my lecture, and added, that I must consider myself his prisoner. I, of course, offered no resistance, but at his request went with him at once to the railway station. The people had already collected in the streets as I passed along, and there was soon an excited crowd at the station, but I and my friends urged them to be peaceful, and peaceful they were. We were soon at Man

[ocr errors]


chester, and I was taken at once to the City Jail, where lodgings had been procured for me at the public expense. I passed the night in an underground cell, of the kind provided for criminals of the baser sort. It was anything but clean and sweet, and the conduct of the authorities in placing me in such a hole, when I was not even charged with any gross offence, was neither wise nor just. There were some raised boards on one side, but no bed, no sheets, no blankets.



It was not long before a number of friends who had heard of my arrest, called to see me, and were admitted to my dungeon. They brought some food, some candles, and as they had been informed that I had not been permitted to wash myself before being locked up, one of them, a lady, brought me a moistened towel with which to wipe my face. While these kind friends were trying to make things comfortable for me in my prison, others were running to and fro in search of bail, with a view to my speedy release. One dear, good soul, Mr. Travers Madge, when he heard that I was in jail, started at once for Mossley, a distance of ten or eleven miles, to see Mr. Robinson, a faithful friend, to request him to come to my help. It was two o'clock in the morning when, weary and full of anxiety, he knocked at Mr. Robinson's door. Mr. Robinson rose as soon as he heard his voice, and took him into the house, and requested him to take something to eat, and go to rest till daylight, promising to start with him back to Manchester by the earliest conveyance. But poor Mr. Madge could neither eat nor sleep till his friend was out of prison.

Early in the morning I was brought into court. Bail was offered at once, but the magistrates would not accept bail so early, though offered by well-known and thoroughly respectable parties. The reason was, the election was to take place at Bolton that day, and the magistrates were afraid that if I were allowed to be present, there might be more excitement than would be consistent with the peace and safety of the Borough. So they kept me in prison till four o'clock, when they received intelligence that the election was over, and that all was peaceful. They then set me at liberty. I went at once to Bolton, and found, sure enough, that I had been elected, and that by an immense majority,

« ForrigeFortsett »