- The Origins of Anglo-American Radicalism edited by Margaret Jacob and James Jacob
Allen and Unwin, 333 pp, £18.50, February 1984, ISBN 0 04 909015 1
- Insurrection: The British Experience 1795-1803 by Roger Wells
Alan Sutton, 312 pp, £16.00, May 1983, ISBN 0 86299 019 X
- Radicalism and Freethought in 19th-Century Britain by Joel Wiener
Greenwood, 285 pp, $29.95, March 1983, ISBN 0 313 23532 5
- For King, Constitution and Country: The English Loyalists and the French Revolution by Robert Dozier
Kentucky, 213 pp, £20.90, February 1984, ISBN 0 8131 1490 X
Just the place for a snark, the Bellman said. And with equal assurance, political activists from Tom Paine to Friedrich Engels and historians from Elie Halévy to Edward Thompson have hailed 18th and 19th-century Britain as just the place for a revolution. For superficially – though only superficially – the conditions seem to have been almost ideal. From the Glorious Revolution in 1688 to Waterloo in 1815, Britain faced a recurrent threat of French invasion and the near-certainty of French aid for dissidents and conspirators at home: Jacobites before 1745; Jacobins after 1789. In the hundred years after 1750, Britain’s social fabric was tried and tormented by the strains of unprecedented population growth and pioneering economic change. Add to this the world’s most sophisticated press network, a corrupt and supposedly amorphous state structure, and the impact and example of the American and French Revolutions, and surely one can argue that a British conflagration was on the cards?
Vol. 6 No. 21 · 15 November 1984
SIR Linda Colley’s review of Joel Wiener’s biography of Richard Carlile (LRB, 1 November) includes three unpleasant and unsubstantiated remarks about Carlile and sex in successive sentences. She says that ‘Carlile abused his wife.’ If this means that he said rude things about her, it is true, though he seems to have had good reason. If it means that he used violence against her, it may be true, though he rather than she seems to have been the victim of violence in a marriage which was unhappy from its start in 1813. Is there any evidence that he was more to blame than she was? She says that ‘marital breakdown and adultery led him to publish’ his pioneering pamphlet advocating female contraception. In fact, when he was converted to this cause in 1825, he had spent more than five years in prison, and more than two years on his own – after his wife had shared his cell for two years, during which she conceived and bore their last child – and there is no evidence of adultery on either side up to that time. He didn’t meet Eliza Sharples until 1832, more than six years after he wrote ‘What is love?’ Is there any evidence that his conversion was not as honest as he described? She says that ‘he refused to allow either his wife or his mistress to use the sponge.’ If this is true about Jane Carlile, it isn’t surprising, since he opposed contraception throughout the decade they had sexual relations. If it is true about Eliza Sharples Carlile, the only objective evidence is that she bore four children between 1833 and 1837, though no more before his death in 1843. Is there any further evidence either way?
Many bad things were said about Richard Carlile during his life. It is a pity to say such things more than a century after his death without giving any evidence, especially when there are so many good things to say about him – such as that he did more than any other single person for freedom of thought and expression in this country.