Sleeping on gunpowder

From Letters from England
(1807), by Robert Southey

These extracts from Robert Southey’s Letters from England (1807) find the poet and former collaborator of Coleridge and Wordsworth firmly rooted in the period of his ideological reaction. Here Southey touches on a subject with which I am currently engaged: namely, the distinction between town and country, or commercial (manufacturing) vs. territorial (agricultural) wealth.

There is no longer a party in the country who are desirous of a revolution, and as eager as they were able to disseminate the perilous principles of Jacobinism, Bonaparte has extinguished that spirit; he has destroyed all their partiality for the French government, and Mr. Addington has conciliated them to their own. Never was there a time when the English were so decidedly Anti-Gallican, those very persons being the most so who remedy regarded France with the warmest hopes. Whence then can have arisen this disposition in the populace, unless it be from the weight of taxation which affects them in the price of every article of life — from a growing suspicion that their interest and the interest of their rulers are not the same, and a disposition to try any change for the chance there is that it may be for the better?

Two causes, and only two, will rouse a peasantry to rebellion; intolerable oppression, or religious zeal either for the right faith or the wrong; no other motive is powerful enough. A manufacturing poor is more easily instigated to revolt. They have no local attachments; the persons to whom they look up for support they regard more with envy than respect, as men who grow rich by their labor; they know enough of what is passing in the political world to think themselves politicians; they feel the whole burden of taxation, which is not the case with the peasant, because he raises a great part of his own food: they are aware of their own number, and the moral feelings which in the peasant are only blunted, are in these men debauched. A manufacturing populace is always ripe for rioting. The direction which this fury may take is accidental; in 1780 it was against the Catholics, in 1790 against the dissenter. Governments who found their prosperity upon manufactures sleep upon gunpowder. Continue reading