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Letters

Vol. 5 No. 22 · 1 December 1983

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Criminal Statistics

SIR: Given the mutual suspicion which has so often characterised the relations between historians and sociologists, D.G. Wright’s review of my book Hooligan: A History of Respectable Fears (LRB, 20 October) is unusually generous. Even so, he marks me down because I make ‘some errors’. What are these errors?

First, there is the question of the Bristol riots of 1831. Wright says that 12 people were killed; I had quoted a figure of 500. Also, he says that the troops did not engage in ‘savage reprisals’ (my phrase) but were ‘carefully restrained by their commander’. The differences between us seem quite large, then, although they amount to something much more interesting than an ‘error’. The figure of 12 that is often quoted refers to the number who were taken to hospital (and two of these, on one account, died from excessive drinking after rioters had plundered a wine vault). But this does not even begin to touch the scale of the disorder. Different accounts describe how bodies were dumped in the River Avon, how unknown numbers died when buildings which had been set on fire collapsed on them, and – most important given Wright’s belief in the military’s restraint – how in the final charges many rioters were driven from the streets into burning buildings from which they never returned. Charles Kingsley, as an eye-witness, described for us the aftermath: ‘a ghastly row, not of corpses, but of corpse fragments’ from the fires. Robert Southey reckoned the number who died to be ‘not short of 500’. Major Mackworth, who led the final charges, later described how, in one charge, ‘riding at the miserable mob in all directions’, ‘about 120 or 130’ and in another ‘at least 250’ were killed or wounded on the final day alone. Lant Carpenter, a Unitarian minister and father of the philanthropist Mary Carpenter, ‘saw a man’s head sliced clean from his shoulders, and was horrified to recognise the victim as a Unitarian merchant from Frenchay, who had come into the city that morning on lawful business’ (this last quotation comes from from Jo Manton’s biography of 1976, Mary Carpenter and the Children of the Streets). We will never know the exact death-toll, but to keep quoting the figure of 12 is to repeat the mistaken efforts of various 19th-century apologists who tried to play down the events, assuring their readers that the dragoons only used the flat sides of their swords.

Which brings us to the question of ‘restraint’. A more useful description might be incompetence, spiced with the characteristic early 19th-century muddle between the powers and responsibilities of the civil and military authorities in suppressing public disorders. I assume that Wright is referring to the actions of Colonel Brereton who commanded the Third Dragoon Guards, whose one decisive act in this affair was to order the 14th Light Dragoons – notorious already in the West Country as the ‘Bloody Blues’ for their record in putting riots down – out of town after they had shot a rioter. (But they were re-admitted on the following day for the clear-up operation.) As for the unfortunate Colonel Brereton, his dithering was rewarded with a court-martial, whereupon he committed suicide. So that it would seem at least decent to allow that the ratified death-toll should be raised from 12 to 13.

And what other ‘errors’ do I commit? I am accused of wrongly describing the 1840s as a decade of ‘unparalleled disorder’. In fact, what I wrote (page 183) was that the ‘1840s were experienced as a time of quite unparalleled disorder’, which is quite a different thing. In fact, as Wright acknowledges, my whole book is devoted to the lack of connection between the actualities as opposed to the experiences of crime and disorder. I am also taken to task on the religious convictions of the Chartists in this era. But this is not a question of ‘error’, more one of balance, where my explicit aim was to redress the wholly unbalanced perceptions of Early Victorians who viewed Chartism as both ‘heathen’ and ‘hooligan’ (a word not to be coined for fifty years).

Then there is the question of whether crime did (or did not) decline in the course of the late 19th century. I, too, have the greatest respect for Vic Gatrell’s pioneering researches into the interpretation of criminal statistics in this period – which would appear to show a real decline in crime – but I am sure that he would be the first to agree that the criminal statistics cannot provide some unfettered empirical truth. And even if it were true, to quote Wright, ‘that criminal behaviour declined in Late Victorian London, just as Manchester was less brutal and more civilised in 1900 than fifty years earlier,’ then what must we make of the scandalised response to the supposedly unprecedented ‘Hooligan’ outrages of the late 1890s? Except to say that, once more, it is an indication of the frail connection between the actualities of crime and the alarm about ‘crime waves’.

Finally, we come to when the London Police were first armed with revolvers – a lively topical issue, following the sad experience of Stephen Waldorf. I say that it was in 1883 – by which reckoning Mr Waldorf’s case is a centenary event – amidst alarm in both the press and the senior ranks of the Metropolitan Police. Wright says, correctly if off the point, that the Police had been issued with arms during the Fenian outrages of the 1860s. But never before in ‘normal’ circumstances: in this case, to meet the challenge of an entirely phoney crime wave of armed burglars in the late 1870s when Punch jokingly re-named fashionable Belgravia as ‘Burglaria’. And if Mr Wright doubts me, either on the novel use of revolvers by the London Police in 1883 or the fictitious nature of the burglary scare, then perhaps he would care to consult the relevant Public Record Office papers held at Kew.

Geoffrey Pearson
University of Bradford

Hi!

SIR: I am sorry my book Freud and Cocaine should have aroused such choler in your reviewer (LRB, 20 October) but surprised that a review containing so much misrepresentation and expressed in such intemperate terms should have found a place in your journal. Michael Neve has read into my book things it does not contain. I made no ‘cheap crack’ at William Halstead. I wrote of him sympathetically as one of the first medical casualties of cocaine. The phrase Neve quotes obviously means that Halstead underwent a personality change, not that he vanished from the surgical scene for ever, as Neve interpreted it. The book was not ‘billed’ as ‘The Demolition of Sigmund Freud’. This phrase was taken from the foreword contributed by the late Dr Raymond Greene and represented his honest opinion of the book. These and other misrepresentations I would have ignored, but Neve’s accusation of anti-semitism verges on the defamatory and must be answered. My book contains not the slightest trace of anything that could be remotely construed as anti-semitism, nor do I myself hold any such views.

E.M. Thornton
London SW19

Michael Neve writes: The problem facing a reviewer of E.M. Thornton’s book is that of imagining what drives her to unite a range of individuals and movements under a single explanatory device, in order to accuse them. This is true, albeit mildly, of William Halsted (whose surname she continually misspells, in book and letter) and true also, in a more violent way, of her account of Breuer and Freud. I suspected a hostility to German naturphilosophie. More tentatively, I suspected a ‘harmless, if dislikeable’ anti-semitism. I take her word for it that I was mistaken in that respect, and apologise.

Browning Versions

SIR: Park Honan has become a nuisance. When John Maynard, who writes with authority as the author of the most important biographical study of Browning for many years (Browning’s Youth), remarks that his letter ‘surprises by its omissions’, he draws attention to one of Honan’s most unattractive habits. In his second letter (Letters, 3 November)  he states that ‘the faults’ of the Oxford English Texts edition ‘are discussed in the summer issue of Browning Society Notes’, without revealing that the piece in question is by none other than himself. It is no more than a réchauffé of his letter, spiced with further bluster and misrepresentation.

Another strange thing has to be pointed out. In his first letter Honan admitted that he did not know just how accurate the Oxford Browning editors have been’. The admission becomes even more remarkable when one realises that he seems to have written his ‘review’ by the day when Barbara Everett’s essay was published. That appeared in your issue for 4-17 August, and on 4 August one of the research students who edit BSN wrote to tell me that he had received an unfavourable notice of our book. It appears to follow (and certainly the ‘review’ bears it out) than Honan had an equally superficial acquaintance with the book when he wrote the piece in question. Since our first volume, recently described in the Times Higher Education Supplement as ‘an impressive beginning to what promises to be the definitive edition of Browning’, represents the labour of years on the part of Margaret Smith and myself, such behaviour can only be described as unaccountable.

We had hoped to say as little as possible of the Ohio edition, which Honan’s maladroit attempts to defend can only draw still further into disrepute: but I feel obliged to cite one instance of the ‘scholarship’ of the first volume of the edition which he commends for its ‘graphic, factual, pertinent information’. When he presented the MS of Paracelsus to John Forster, Browning wrote on it two lines of Latin verse. I do not blame the Ohio editors for failing to recognise them as the work of John Donne (see the Addenda to our second volume, to be published shortly), but I must comment on the remarkable translation of the couplet which they provide. Freely translated, Donne states that while printed books are acceptable, manuscripts are to be more highly regarded. The Ohio editors, who get the second line nearly right, offer the following strange translation of the first: ‘The offspring which issued forth out of intoxicated effort, has been accepted.’ Did it ever occur to them that the unknown author of the Latin must have meant something when he wrote it, and that Browning must have had some reason for quoting it, when he made his generous gift?

Since Margaret Smith and I have replied to Honan at some length in the forthcoming issue of Browning Society Notes, I limit myself here to a single example of the ‘review’ to which he seeks to refer your readers. Remarking that there are ‘tid-bits’ in our appendices, he makes the surprising statement that one of them gives ‘variants from the Yale/Penguin Paracelsus’. I remember with pleasure the hours I spent in the Beinecke Library, copying out the variants in question. I ordered a microfilm, and Margaret Smith wrote the appendix to which Honan seems to be referring. I have a bad memory, but so far as I recall I did not see a single Penguin all day.

Ian Jack
Pembroke College, Cambridge

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