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greatgobble

As, once again, the matter of press regulation is being debated I thought it would be interesting to look back at the works and trials of William Hone.

Hone is best known for the manner in which he stood up to the Establishment in the three trials of 1817 but he did not start out to produce satirical publications instead, initially, he tried his hand at establishing a savings bank and then a bookshop/print shop – neither enterprise was successful.  However, both businesses did allow him to make friends with a variety of parties including Lord Skeffington and the Chartist, Thomas Spencer.

At heart Hone was a man of the people and he wanted to help his own (for instance in 1813 he worked with James Bevans and Edward Wakefield to establish a new asylum for the insane … although nothing came of the project).

He was a champion for those who were the victims of legal injustice such as 20-year-old maid, Elizabeth Fenning, who was accused of poisoning her mistress, Charlotte Turner, with tainted dumplings.  All who ate them became ill including Fenning – on examination it was found that these dumplings contained arsenic.  Hone had tried to save her life by campaigning on her behalf in his new publication The Traveller.  Unfortunately, the outcome of the trial was not surprising and the young maid was executed.  Popular belief was that she had been guilty and 10,000 escorted her remains to the church grounds.

It was a small step from supporting one person to trying to improve the lot of the majority by printing the Reformists’ Register in 1817.  Hone was not satisfied in just being critical of the government and the Prince Regent;  he chose to do so in a style which would catch the imagination or taste of the people.  Perhaps one of his most memorable pieces was the reworking of The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Lord,
who art in the treasury,
whatsoever be thy name,

Thy power be prolonged,
thy will be done,
throughout the empire as it is in each session.

Give us our usual sops,
and forgive us our occasional absences on divisions;
as we promise not to forgive those who divide against thee.

Turn us not out of our places,
but keep us in the House of Commons,

the land of Pensions and Plenty;
and deliver us from the People.

Amen.

Hone was never wealthy and without volunteers his works would not have been so widely distributed.  The piece could be printed in London one day and then three days later read to a group of illiterate workers in the north of England.   It is perhaps because of the dissemination of such material to a wide, national, audience at a time when the Industrial Revolution and the end of the Napoleonic Wars were making some exceptionally wealthy and other outstandingly poor.

It is hardly surprising that this would quickly attract the attention of the authorities and he was arrested in the same year.  He was held for months with little knowledge of why he had been arrested and little opportunity to prepare to defend himself against the charges of seditious and blasphemous libel.

At his first trial, on 18th December, he produced examples of parodies from both historical and contemporary sources, including George Canning to show that there was nothing strange about the writing style.  After hours of presenting his case (often accompanied by laughter from the crowd) the jury quickly found him not guilty – to the jubilation of the onlookers.  Whether the judge was dismissed or stepped down is unclear but the following day the second trial began and on this occasion the Lord Chief Justice, Edward Law, first Baron Ellenborough sat in judgement.

Because this was a new trial Hone presented the same material as the day before to even greater laughter.  This in turn allowed Hone to ask whether laughter was treason.  Again he as found not guilty.

A third day saw a third trial.  Hone was exhausted but determined to act the martyr playing on the fact that he had several children who were suffering because of his mistreatment.  The jury took minutes to again return a verdict of not guilty.

A fourth trial did not occur!!

The Black Dwarf published on 31 December 1817 said that his only crime had been to make the ministers objects of laughter which is “the only true blasphemy.  They cannot bear it” and as a result they were determined on making an example of him as a form of “Turkish” justice – vengeance.

The Scotsman of 27 December 1817 published the following:

Trials of William Hone

The Rights of Juries and the Liberty of the Press Thrice Vindicated

There have been such gross abuses of this power of restraining men from publishing the tenets which Magistrates have reputed dangerous, that it is no wonder many good men are unwilling to allow it.  If in any case the frequent danger would make void a right, it would be in this publishing of opinions eversive of piety and social virtue;  since the warm zealots of all sides have presented all schemes opposite to their own, opposite also to all good-ness.  Virtue ever was and will be popular, where men can vote freely.

Hutcheson’s Moral Philosophy

Hone was uncomfortable with his new popular status and for a year after the trials he turned his attention to another love – the reading of antiquarian books in the British Library.  But his experience did not stop him, completely, from continuing with his publishing works in support of the ordinary man and woman – often working with George Cruickshank, such as in the production, in 1819, of a ‘bank note” in response to the increase in the number of executions for forgery

William Hone bank note

and following the Peterloo Massacre he published The Political House that Jack Built:

This is THE WEALTH
That lay in the House
That Jack Built.

These are THE VERMIN
That Plunder the Wealth,
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

This is THE THING, that, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

This is THE PUBLIC INFORMER,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

These are THE REASONS OF LAWLESS POWER
That back the Public Informer,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

This is THE MAN–all shaven and shorn,
All cover’d with Orders–and all forlorn;
THE DANDY OF SIXTY, who bows with a  grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses and lace;
Who, to tricksters, and fools, leaves the State and its treasure,
And, when Britain’s in tears, sails about at his pleasure:
Who spurn’d from his presence the Friends of his youth,
And now has not one who will tell him the truth;
Who took to his counsels, in evil hour,
The Friends of the Reasons of lawless Power;
That back the Public Informer,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

These are THE PEOPLE all tatter’d and torn,
Who curse the day wherein they were born,
On account of Taxation too great to be borne,
And pray for relief, from night to morn;
Who, in vain, Petition in every form,
Who, peacably Meeting to ask for Reform,
Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry, who,
Were thank’d by THE MAN, all shaven and shorn,
All cover’d with Orders–and all forlorn;
THE DANDY OF SIXTY, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses and lace;
Who, to tricksters, and fools, leaves the State and its treasure,
And, when Britain’s in tears, sails about at his pleasure:
Who spurn’d from his presence the Friends of his youth,
And now has not one who will tell him the truth;
Who took to his counsels, in evil hour,
The Friends of the Reasons of lawless Power;
That back the Public Informer,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the  Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

This is THE DOCTOR of Circular fame,
A Driv’ller, a Bigot, a Knave without shame:
And that’s DERRY DOWN TRIANGLE by name,
From the Land of mis-rule, and half-hanging, and flame:
And that is THE SPOUTER OF FROTH BY THE HOUR,
The worthless Colleague of their infamous power;
Who dubb’ed him ‘the Doctor’ whom now he calls ‘brother’,
And, to get at his Place, took a shot at the other;
Who haunts their Bad House, a base living to earn,
By playing Jack-pudding, and Ruffian, in turn;
Who bullies, for those whom he bullied before;
Their Flash-man, their Bravo, a son of a        —–;
The hate of the People, all tatter’ed and torn,
Who curse the day wherein they were born,
On account of Taxation too great to be borne,
And pray for relief, from night to morn;
Who, in vain, Petition in every form,
Who, peacably Meeting to ask for Reform,
Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry, who,
Were thank’d by THE MAN, all shaven and shorn,
All cover’d with Orders–and all forlorn;
THE DANDY OF SIXTY, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses and lace;
Who, to tricksters, and fools, leaves the State and its treasure,
And, when Britain’s in tears, sails about at his pleasure:
Who spurn’d from his presence the Friends of his youth,
And now has not one who will tell him the truth;
Who took to his counsels, in evil hour,
The Friends of the Reasons of lawless Power;
That back the Public Informer,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

This WORD is the Watchword–the talisman word,
That the WATERLOO-MAN‘s to crush with his  sword;
But, if shielded by NORFOLK and BEDFORD’s alliance,
It will set both his sword, and him, at defiance;
If FITZWILLIAM, and GROSVENOR, and ALBEMARLE aid it,
And assist its best Champions, who then dare invade it?
‘Tis the terrible WORD OF FEAR, night and morn,
To the Guilty Trio, all cover’d with scorn;
First, to the Doctor, of Circular fame
A Driv’ller, a Bigot, a Knave without shame:
And that’s DERRY DOWN TRIANGLE by name,
From the Land of mis-rule, and half-hanging, and flame:
And that is THE SPOUTER OF FROTH BY THE HOUR,
The worthless Colleague of their infamous power;
Who dubb’ed him ‘the Doctor’ whom now he calls ‘brother’,
And, to get at his Place, took a shot at the other;
Who haunts their Bad House, a base living to earn,
By playing Jack-pudding, and Ruffian, in turn;
Who bullies, for those whom he bullied before;
Their Flash-man, their Bravo, a son of a —–;
The hate of the People, all tatter’ed and torn,
Who curse the day wherein they were born,
On account of Taxation too great to be borne,
And pray for relief, from night to morn;
Who, in vain, Petition in every form,
Who, peacably Meeting to ask for Reform,
Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry, who,
Were thank’d by THE MAN, all shaven and shorn,
All cover’d with Orders–and all forlorn;
THE DANDY OF SIXTY, who bows with a grace,
And has taste in wigs, collars, cuirasses and lace;
Who, to tricksters, and fools, leaves the State and its treasure,
And, when Britain’s in tears, sails about at his pleasure:
Who spurn’d from his presence the Friends of his youth,
And now has not one who will tell him the truth;
Who took to his counsels, in evil hour,
The Friends of the Reasons of lawless Power;
That back the Public Informer,
Who would put down the Thing,
That, in spite of new Acts,
And attempts to restrain it, by Soldiers or Tax,
Will poison the Vermin, that plunder the Wealth
That lay in the House,
That Jack Built.

Hone was later to ‘report’ on the trials of the Prince Regent and Princess Caroline and to attack John Murray, publisher to Byron and Jane Austen, for his conservative hypocrisy.

In 2011 BBC Radio 4 discussed the similarities of Hone’s situation and those of publishers in the 21st century who wanted to discuss the activities of leading businessmen and celebrities.  In both instances it was argued that the information being imparted was correct and it was in the public interest to make the ‘facts’ known.  The discussions can still be heard on-line at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b011zmq1/The_Long_View_Super_Injunctions_and_William_Hone/


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