Responses of artists and poets to the Peterloo atrocity

These include the following:

The famous satirical cartoon by George Cruikshank (1792–1878), to which he gave the title ‘Massacre at St Peter’s or “BRITONS STRIKE HOME”!!’, depicts the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry (identifiable by their bright blue uniform jackets) striking down peaceful demonstrators. The Yeomanry was formed of prosperous merchants and manufacturers of Manchester. Cruikshank shows their leader shouting: “…remember the more you Kill the less poor rates you’ll have to pay so go it lively to show your courage and your loyalty!”.

Then there is the pastiche of the well-known nursery rhyme, ‘The house that Jack built’:

These are THE PEOPLE all tattered 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, peaceably Meeting to ask for Reform,

Were sabred by Yeomanry Cavalry, who,

Were thanked by THE MAN, all shaven and shorn,

All covered with Orders – and all forlorn.” (William Hone The Political House that Jack Built 1819)

In his poem England in 1819, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote in indignation:

“An old, mad, blind, despised, and dying King;

Princes, the dregs of their dull race, who flow

Through public scorn – mud from a muddy spring;

Rulers who neither see nor feel nor know,

But leechlike to their fainting country cling

Till they drop, blind in blood, without a blow

A people starved and stabbed in th’untilled field;

An army, whom liberticide and prey

Makes as a two-edged sword to all who wield;

Golden and sanguine laws which tempt and slay

Religion Christless, Godless – a book sealed

A senate, Time’s worst statute, unrepealed –

Are graves from which a glorious Phantom may

Burst, to illumine our tempestuous day.”

(England in 1819)

In 1820, Shelley wrote “Choose Reform or civil war!”, while a fellow artist, the painter Benjamin R Haydon, wrote in his diary in December 1819 that “…unless the middle classes sacrifice their temporary interests… & firmly & temperately insist on reform … the day of England’s greatness is past, past for ever!”.

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