“Old Bill” Suggests—
Philip Guedella is always delightful reading, particularly because of the gentle restraint that lets his comments hit with the mild decisiveness of a raindrop. Last evening we were following him through the first half of the nineteenth century, whose troubled times were not unlike our own. The aftermaths of great wars seem to follow a definite pattern.
After the world war, after the American civil war and after the Napoleonic wars in Europe there was the same social instability, the same trend toward law and currency tinkering, the same rise of the masses. After Napoleon, because the industrial revolution was bringing new forces, just as the age of gasoline and electricity is today, the changes extended over a longer period than usual.
In 1848, to return to Guedalla, when France was overthrowing a stodgy king, Germany suffering a rush of professors to the head, Russia beginning to theorize, and America buying California for $15,000,000 from a Mexico that had not been able to read the late Arthur Brisbane—The Chartist movement in England reached the point of dangerous rebellion.
The peak of that movement, which called the aged Wellington out to oppose it, was a proposed gathering of 300,000 Chartists at London. It might have been ugly. Wellington posted police at the bridges to stop the crowd, kept his troops hidden for ruthless use, if necessary, but back from any contact that might cause a spark. And then it rained.
“The rain perhaps counted for more,” wrote Guedalla, “since blood will not boil on a wet day, and England owes more to her uncertain climate than it is customary for students of her institutions to admit.”
Carlyle, who had come out to be able to report on a second revolution at first hand, went home damp (he had forgotten his umbrella), chilly and disappointed, not reflecting, as well he might have, that movements which can be spoiled by a drizzle and a raw northeast wind are perchance based as much on crowd hysteria as on any reasoned plan for world improvement.—R.F.M.