5 April 1795

Letter 3. Eliza Gould at South Molton to John Feltham at Mr. Northcote’s, Honiton, Easter Sunday, 5 April 1795.[1]

“Your valuable & enlightening Intelligencer has caus’d no small stir at Southmolton. Alarm guns have fired from every quarter—which signal of distress was attended to, by those Watchmen of State, the Mayor & Corporation, who in consequence assembled for tyrannical purposes—like so many Infernals in Pandemonium, intent on devilish deeds—Xians here in danger—& entrench’d under the Ramparts of Castle Hill (Lord Fortescue’s Seat)[2] with his Lordship their chosen Generalissimo at their head, declar’d open Hostilities against the Editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer, & his adherents in this place. Supposing me to have been the means of introducing the paper here, I was of course the first object of their resentment—a Council of War was called, & the result of their determinations I knew by the general orders, that have forthwith issued, namely “to crush me”—their diabolical schemes have too well succeeded, & no wonder, since power has obtain’d so great and insurmountable an ascendency, over privelege & Truth. During the conflict I took my stand, within the mouldering walls of an antique Edifice, (once the pride & glory of the Nation)—the Bulwark of Liberty—but oh how chang’d!—the mutilated Ruin, was no longer tenable—by some faint remaining traces of its pristine glory I could judge of the devastation. On attempting to decypher the curious inscriptions written on the letter’d fragments—which not Time,—but Tyranny had nearly obliterated. I could (tho with difficulty) spell LockeRightsLiberty of Speech—[the Press]—[freedom of religion][3]—Habeas Corpus—&c—in fact, this once venerable Pile, appeared a confus’d heap, of chaotic incongruities. Philanthropy drop’d a Tear, a tribute to the memory of fallen greatness. One consolation yet remain’d, (& one only) to cheer the drooping spirits, of the Votaries of Freedom. On an Eminence near the citadel, was plac’d a small Fort, call’d Trial by Jury, it has stood impregnable against every assault, tho I am told there was an attempt made about thirty years since, to blow it entirely up, the singular advantage of this Fortification to Englishmen (tho mounting twelve pounders only) has lately been felt, both individ­ually & collectively[4]—so this healthy spot is situated so near the old garrison, I tremble for its future fate—as a contagious complaint, worst of all its brave defenders, which was occasioned by the stench of Rotten Boroughs[5]—[their] walls being yet impregnated with the deadly infection. Some attempts have [been] made to purify this mass of corrupt matter but they have hitherto prov’d ineffective & I am inclin’d to think that a total erasure must take place, & an entire removal of the polluted rubbish ere we can enjoy the blessings of breathing free uncontaminated air, the best restorative for a decay’d, unsound [constitution] etc. etc. etc. Treasonous papers have too general a circulation—meer [composite] draughts, prescribed by our national quack doctr Pittachio[6]—but as opiate medicines have a tendency to debilitate the Constitution, & having both now, & heretofore, been unskilfully administered, hope the stimulating matter, your Intelligencer contains, will prove a universal Catholican. Poor deluded multitude! how long will you suffer yourselves to be deceived by this Empiric of State? Bear witness of his baneful & destructive influence—ruin’d familiesweeping Mothers,—mourning Widowsorphan childrenlimping soldiers—& half starved poor misery’s hard & unsatisfying crust, is your regimen—& leaden Pills, he has wantonlywickedly & profusely imposed on thousands, & with them death in all its painful & horrid forms—&c &c &c. Whilst our great national Quack was preparing by a general Fast,[7] the Stomach of his patients, the swinish multitude, for the reception & digestion, of the luscious Blood of their Negro Brethren.[8] I was unlucky enough to provide a plum pudding for my young Ladies, by which means I have incurr’d in a high degree, the censure & vengeance of that pious man of God Parson Tanner—who by the way is made up of envy, hatred, malice, & all uncharitableness—he has on the occasion taken his daughter from school; who was a day scholar only, & of course no irreligious pudding eater—he has since the fast day endeavourd to use his influence with others on the same ground—(ignorant at that time of my intention of leaving the Town) thinking thereby perhaps to do God service—he highly reprobated my conduct, when the same person whom he wish’d to prejud­ice against me, could not help remarking, that the Tannerites partook of a white Pot—quene[9]—each being compos’d of similar materials, it is a subject of curious enquiry wherein exists the difference, if a crime which deem you the most culpable those who partook of the pudding, or the white pot. I never pretended to keep this sacred day of Holy Mans appointment; he did—tho I must confess, he had a double advantage of me—for being of the Holy order of Priesthood he could doubtless consecrate his mass,—a ceremony which if omit­t­ed, in the first instance, he could have recourse to a secondary measure, to quiet any qualms of conscience, that in consequence might arise; the Divinity of his office, empowering him to expiate his heinous crime by Absolution”—&c—&c—&c.

P.S. Sunday—I was interrupted yesterday & could not as I intended send off my letter last night. I have just rec’d this account from Plymouth of a uprising there & at Bodmin, I have heard of nothing so alarming as this—at the latter place they planted the Tree of Liberty where it remaind untouchd three days no one daring or caring to interfere in a hostile manner to check the populace—at last a clergyman by meer dint of persuasion prevaild on them to take down the Tree which was ornamented with ribbons. Plymouth was a scene of the greatest confusion. The Soldiers & populace seized on every commodity in the market the Butchers stalls were clear’d instantaneously. The commanding officer, instead of ordering the soldiers to desist, harangued them in a very spirited manner—said as to their present attempts to lessen the price of provisions he did not discountenance—& cautioned them in a particular manner against committing any outrages on the inhabitants by demolishing any building or setting an[y] place on fire—they then proceeded to Docks and were there joind by those employ’d in the Dock Yard—the air resounded with the reiterated shouts of LibertyLiberty. I firmly believe that Revolution is as much begun in England as ever it was in France.[10] I wish great success to a cause in which is involved immediately the death of Tyranny & the life of Liberty. Shortly shall I bid perhaps an eternal adieu to this devoted country. I hope the tumult (which I almost daily expect to hear is general) will not tread on my heels but I sometimes greatly fear it will—we never can make a peace with France until the public mind of both Nations are united more immediately by the bond of Sentiment. I finish this with our folks at Ten each telling their own story—therefore pardon the blunders in this Postscript. I shall not be home all next week & shall most likely leave Southmolton the latter end of this [week] but that depends on my meeting with a return chaise. Make if you please my compts acceptable to any that may enquire for me—respects to Mr & Mrs Haskins if in Honiton—adieu

My Mother & sisters join in kind respects


Text: Timothy Whelan, ed., Politics, Religion, and Romance: The Letters of Benjamin Flower and Eliza Gould, 1794-1808 (Aberystywth: National Library of Wales, 2008), pp. 7-11.

[1] On the back of the letter is written in an unknown hand, “Fortress of Liberty” and in Flower’s hand, “Eliza on Liberty, Apl 5th 1795.” Eliza apparently copied the opening portion of this letter to Feltham from her untraced letter to Flower of 27 March 1795 (see letter 4) and thus enclosed in quotation marks.

[2] Hugh Fortescue (1753-1841), Baron Fortescue of Castle Hill, Devon, entered Parliament in 1784, representing the borough of Beaumaris, Isle of Anglesea. He succeeded his father as Baron on 10 July 1785, and was constituted Lord Lieutenant for Devon in September 1789. Castle Hill, redesigned in the early eighteenth century into a Palladian country mansion, had been the family seat of the Fortescues since the seventeenth century. It was situated near Filleigh, about four miles west of South Molton. A sham castle, added in the late 1740s or early 1750s, became the feature that gave the home its name.

[3] The phrases in brackets here and elsewhere in this letter appear to be the words used by Eliza, but the paper is torn is such a way as to make a definitive transcription impossible.

[4] A reference to the highly publicized state trials in London between December 1794 and January 1795, in which Thomas Hardy, John Thelwall, Horne Tooke and several others were tried for treason as a result of their involvement with the London Corresponding Society. During April and May 1795, a subscription drive was initiated to raise funds to offset the financial losses and legal expenses the defendants incurred during their imprisonment. The Cambridge Intelligencer announced on 16 May 1795 that several individuals from Cambridge had already contributed, including Benjamin Flower. Reformers considered the right to trial by jury a sacred right, hailing the acquittals of Hardy and the other co-defendants as a victory of the British constitution over the tyranny of the Pitt administration. In November 1795, to mark the approaching first anniversary of Hardy’s acquittal, Flower published in the Intelligencer “The Brave English Jury: A New Song for the 5th of November,” a poem equating the virtues of the jury system with the Glorious Revolution. Flower continued his campaign for fair and independent juries the following year by printing the anonymous pamphlet, Observations on the duty and power of juries as established by the laws of England with extracts from various authors (1796). In the passage above, Eliza seems to be echoing the sentiments of another anonymous pamphlet, Trial by jury, and liberty of the press (1793), which contended that had action been taken “thirty years ago ... how much poignant distress, undeserved punishment, exorbitant fine, and loathsome imprisonment, would have been unfelt-how many unhappy victims had not, in that period, fallen under these severs afflictions-a period, possibly of more importance to the Liberty of the Press, the state of civil government, and the general dissemination of knowledge, than any of the same duration within the annals of History?” (3-4).

[5] Reformers universally despised “rotten,” or “pocket,” boroughs, where voting constituencies consisted of a few wealthy individuals who elected representatives to Parliament, despite the fact that more populated districts often had only one or, in some cases, no representatives at all. The worst examples of rotten boroughs were Old Sarum, Gatton, Dunwich, Winchelsea, Rye and Bossinney. These irregularities were not corrected until the Reform Bill of 1832.

[6]Eliza is referring to a series of handbills and broadsides, published in late 1794 and early 1795, that satirized William Pitt as Signor Gulielmo Pittachio, a professional magician (patterned after Giuseppe Pinetti, a celebrated Italian illusionist) performing his tricks at the theatre in Westminster (the House of Commons) “for the benefit of the swinish multitude” (a term for the lower orders that first appeared in Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the revolution in France) (Barrell 9-19). Eliza probab­ly learned of Signor Pittachio from Flower’s Intelligencer. An advertisement titled “Signor Gulielmo Pittachio, the Sublime Wonder of the World” appeared on 6 December 1794, taking up more than half a column. On 21 February 1795, another advertisement announced the publication of The Pasquinade of Pittachio, part 1st, Ditto Part 2d. Dundaslio’s Preparations for the Fast-Day. Pittander Omnipotent, Part 1st, Ditto Part 2d, Ditto part 3d. Harlequin Impeacher, a Ballet Pantomine, &c. Pitt (1759-1806) the most powerful politician of his day, served as Prime Minister from 1783 to 1806, except for a brief period (1801-04) during the Addington administration. In the early 1790s, Pitt’s previous concern for Parliamentary reform gave way to a desire for sustaining fiscal solvency, enforcing social stability at home, and prosecuting the war with France, the consequences of which, especially upon the lower orders, were severe, as Eliza’s comments suggest. By the time of the treason trials in late 1794, Pitt had become a hated figure in the eyes of the radical reformers. Eliza appears to be creating her own satire as well, turning Pitt into a quack doctor whose “medicines” are having anything but positive consequences for his patients, the people of England. In his editorial on 31 January 1795, Flower expressed a similarly caustic opinion of Pitt: “We pass over the name of that Apostate who first recommended himself to this University, and the Nation at large, by his excellent sentiments in favour of Liberty and Reform-an Apostate whose name cannot be mentioned without exciting, every sentiment of horror and indignation, in the breast of every good man!”

[7] The King declared 25 February 1795 a national Fast Day. The Pitt administration, in concert with the Anglican Church, used these days to solidify support among the people for the war with France. To those who opposed the war, especially Dissenters, these Fast Days were nothing less than a perversion of Christianity. Flower used the February 1794 Fast Day to denounce what he thought was a true “national sin”-the slave trade: “Thus is the public trifled with and Heaven insulted by our perseverance in a trade which no one ought to vindicate but a devil incarnate! If anything can add to our national guilt it must be our fasting and praying while we continue in this cause of villainy” (CI 15 February 1794). That same year Flower printed an anonymous pamphlet entitled Thoughts on the nature of true devotion with reflections on the late fast, which fiercely attacked the government’s use of Fast Days. To mark the 1795 Fast Day, Flower printed two more anti-Fast Day sermons: The duties required in the observance of a day of public humiliation; two sermons preached at Welton in the county of York, on Feb. 28, and Feb. 25, 1795; and Samuel Lowell’s The folly and evil tendency of superstition exposed; a sermon suggested by the late consecration of colours in various parts of this kingdom. See Flower’s comments on the 1805 Fast Day in letter 105.

[9] Cannibalism was often linked with slavery, both verbally and pictorially, in abolitionist literature of the 1790s.

[9] Most likely a reference by Eliza (using an archaic spelling) to “queen of pudding,” a pudding topped with baked meringue.

[10] From February to November 1795, widespread food riots occurred throughout England, Wales, and Scotland, one of the worst periods of social unrest in English history. On 4 April 1795, Flower commented in the Intelligencer: “At Exeter, Aylesbury, Penzance, and various other places, the poor have been assembling in a riotous manner, on account of the dearness of provisions. Let all ranks of people among us seriously reflect, that it is owing to the present accursed war, we are in great measure experiencing that dreadful calamity-A scarcity of Provision: We will venture to predict that, unless the people address our ministers against the farther prosecution of the war, in such language as they will not dare to be inattentive to, all temporizing expedients will be insufficient to prevent calamities-inconceivably terrible!” In July 1795, food and anti-recruiting riots broke out in London, setting the stage for the assault by the mob on the King’s coach that October. By April 1795, many in England, both reformers and loyalists, would have seconded Eliza’s declaration that “Revolution is as much begun in England as ever it was in France.”