[Note:The use of quotation marks in the text does not accord with modern usage. Double quotes are nested within double quotes, and where this results in 2 doublequotes closing off a speech, one is omitted. In these cases ["] has been inserted to clarify the dialogue.
Spelling of some proper names is inconsistent. These inconsistencies have not been altered—cf. Buonaparte—Bonaparte Collingborn—Collingbourn Everley—Everly Halcombe—Halcomb]
Engraved by T. Woolmoth from a Drawing taken in the Kings Bench Prison the Morning after Judgement was given.
Published June 5, 1820 by T. Dolby 299 Strand.
MEMOIRS OF HENRY HUNT, ESQ.
Written by himself,
IN HIS MAJESTY'S JAIL AT ILCHESTER,
IN THE COUNTY of SOMERSET.
Whoever thinks a faultless piece to see, Thinks what ne'er was, nor is, nor e'er shall be. In every work regard the Writer's end, Since none can compass more than they intend; And if the means be just, the conduct true, Applause, in spite of trivial faults, is due. POPE.
PUBLISHED BY T. DOLBY, 299, STRAND; AND 34, WARDOUR STREET, SOHO.
THE RADICAL REFORMERS,
MALE AND FEMALE,
ENGLAND, IRELAND, AND SCOTLAND,
And particularly to the Reformers of Lancashire, who attended the Meeting of the 16th of August, 1819, held on St Peter's Plain at Manchester, and more especially to the Reformers of Yorkshire, in which County a Jury found me Guilty of illegally attending that Meeting, for which, the Court of King's Bench sentenced me to be imprisoned in Ilchester Jail for Two YEARS and SIX MONTHS, and at the end of that period, to enter into recognisances for my good behaviour, for Five Years, Myself in ONE THOUSAND POUNDS and Two Sureties in FIVE HUNDRED POUNDS EACH.
* * * * *
Ilchester Jail, May 22, 1820
FRIENDS AND FELLOW COUNTRYMEN, In dedicating this work to you, I will, in the first instance, briefly record the fact, that—on Monday, the 15th day of May, Mr. Justice Bayley, as senior puisne Judge of the court of King's Bench, in a mild and gentle manner, passed the above unexampled sentence upon me for having attended a public meeting at Manchester, by the invitation of seven hundred inhabitant householders of that town, who signed a requisition to the Boroughreeve to call the said meeting on the 16th day of August last, for the purpose "of taking into consideration the best and most legal means of obtaining a reform in the Commons House of Parliament." This meeting was no sooner assembled to the number of one hundred and fifty thousand persons, young and old of both sexes, in the most peaceable and orderly manner, than they were assailed by the Manchester yeomanry cavalry, who charged the multitude, sword in hand, and without the slightest provocation or resistance on the part of the people (as was clearly proved by the trial at York), aided by two troops of the Cheshire yeomanry, the 15th hussars, the 81st regiment of foot, and two pieces of flying artillery, sabred, trampled upon, and dispersed the unoffending and unresisting people, when 14 persons were killed and upwards of 600 wounded. I, and eleven others, having, by a mere miracle, escaped the military execution intended for us, were seized and confined in solitary dungeons in the New Bailey, for eleven days and nights, under a pretended charge of high treason. At the end of that time, upon a final examination, I was sent under a military escort, upwards of fifty miles, to Lancaster Castle, although bail was ready, and waiting to be put in for me. After this sentence was passed, I was sent to the King's Bench Prison, where I was confined till four o'clock on the Wednesday following, when I was conveyed in a chaise to this prison, where I arrived at ten o'clock the same night, being a distance of 120 miles. Thus, after having been confined in three separate jails since the 16th of August—the New Bailey, at Manchester, Lancaster Castle, and the King's Bench, I am doomed finally to be incarcerated in a dungeon of this, the fourth jail, for two years and six months, while Hulton of Hulton, and those benevolent gentlemen of the Manchester yeomanry cavalry, are at large, without even the chance of any proceedings, that might lead to the punishment of their crimes, being instituted against them. Yet, we are gravely told from the bench, that the laws are equally administered to the rich and to the poor; of the truth of which assertion, the above will, in future ages, appear as an unexampled specimen.
In addressing this work to you, my brave, patient, and persecuted friends, I hope to have an opportunity of communicating with you once a month, during my incarceration, and during the progress of the work, I shall take care to avoid all exaggerated statements. I shall confine myself to a strict relation of facts, and I shall be very particular not to gloss over or slight any one political or public act of my life you shall be in possession of the faithful history of that man whom you have so unanimously honoured by the denomination of your champion, and in whose incarceration a deadly blow is, with savage ferocity, aimed at your rights and liberties—one who, during his whole political career, will be found to have been the consistent and undeviating advocate of real or radical reform, one who always, under every difficulty, at all times and seasons, boldly and unequivocally claimed for the people, the right of every man to have a vote for the members of the Commons House of Parliament, and who never, under any circumstances, paltered or compromised the great constitutional principle that "no Englishman should be taxed without his own consent." Even when its most zealous professed advocates had abandoned the intention of maintaining this proposition, even at the risk of loosing the friendship of his dearest political connections, he stood firm upon the solid basis of that incontrovertible principle, "equal justice and freedom to all." No pretended expediency, no crafty policy, although urged with the greatest force and zeal, by the most experienced and acute reasoners, neither flattery, bribes, nor threats, could ever, for one moment, shake his determination to support the principle Of UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE, or in other words, the right of every freeman to have a share by his representative in the making of those laws, by which his life, his liberty, and his property, are to be governed and disposed of. I allude, more particularly, to the meeting of delegates, (by some called deputies) in London, some time in the beginning of the year 1817. The principle of Universal Suffrage was nothing new. I claim no merit in having proposed any thing novel—this right is as old as the constitution of England; it had been advocated by Sir Robert, afterwards Lord Raymond, by Sir William Jones, and afterwards, with great perseverance and ability, by the Duke of Richmond, who brought a bill into the House of Lords, in which he claimed this right for the people, and proposed to carry it into execution. At that time, however, no part of the people had petitioned for it, and the bill was thrown out. At that period, the attention of the populace of the metropolis was directed to other matters—they were engaged in Lord George Gordon's disgraceful riots. The Duke of Richmond, disgusted at the apathy of the reformers, to which he attributed the failure of his favourite measure, soon afterwards accepted a place as master general of the ordnance, and became a complete tool of the ministers. The cause of reform languished till the year 1816, although Major Cartwright, Sir F. Burdett, Mr. Cobbett, myself, and many others, had made frequent efforts to call the people's attention to the only measure calculated to check the progress—the fatal progress of corruption, and its consequent effects, unjust and unnecessary war, profligate expenditure, the funding or swindling system, and the rapid annual increase of a ruinous and irredeemable debt. It will be said that these subjects will naturally be included in, and make part of, my history. They certainly will, but there is one circumstance connected with the events of 1816 and 1817, which is very imperfectly known to any of the reformers, and which I feel it a duty to detail to them all before I proceed any further.
In the latter end of the year 1815 and the beginning of the year 1816, the evil effects of the war began to be severely felt amongst all classes throughout the country; and, in the North of England, it was particularly felt by those employed in the manufactories. Great disturbances prevailed, and the Luddites, as they were called, committed repeated depredations, by destroying the machinery of their employers. This ultimately led to the employment of spies and informers, by the agents of the government; by which means, many of the unhappy men were convicted and executed. Major Cartwright and Mr. Cobbett, in the most laudable and praiseworthy manner, endeavoured, by their writings, and the Major, I believe, by going amongst them personally, to draw the attention of the starving manufacturers to the real cause of their distress, and recommended them to petition for reform instead of destroying the machinery. This had the desired effect, and petitions drawn up by the Major, praying for reform in the Commons House of Parliament, and demanding suffrage for those who paid taxes, poured in from all quarters. In the beginning of November some persons in London advertised and called a public meeting of the distressed inhabitants of the metropolis, to be held in Spafields, on the 15th; this originated with Dr. Watson and some of those who called themselves Spenceans. As I have learned since, they sent invitations to Sir Francis Burdett, Major Cartwright, myself, and Lord Cochrane, and even to Mr. Waithman, and several other political characters, earnestly requesting them to attend the meeting, to advise with and to assist their distressed fellow creatures, as to the best means of obtaining relief. In the mean time, the parties calling the meeting had drawn up and prepared a memorial to the Prince Regent, which was, if passed, to have been carried immediately to Carlton House, by the whole of the meeting, and presented in person to the Regent. When the day arrived, of all the persons invited as political characters to the meeting, I was the only one who attended, and, having prevailed upon those who called the meeting to abandon their famous memorial, and to relinquish the plan of going in a body to Carlton House, I proposed the resolutions and the petition to his Royal Highness the Prince; which the next day I caused to be presented to him by Lord Sidmouth: on the following day his Royal Highness was pleased so far to comply with the request of the petitioners as to send Four Thousand Pounds as a subscription to the Spitalfields Soup Committee. The resolutions proposed by me, and unanimously passed by the most numerous meeting ever held in this country, avowed the principle of UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE; and the petition to the Regent claimed his pecuniary assistance, as an immediate and temporary relief; but declared that the petitioners had no hope or expectation of permanent prosperity and happiness, till a reform of Parliament was effected, which would give to every man a vote in the representation. This was, therefore, the first time that universal suffrage was petitioned for at a public meeting; and I had the honour, and I shall ever feel a pride in the reflection, of being the first man who publicly proposed at a meeting of the reformers this measure, and of having caused to be presented the first petition to the throne, praying the Prince to assist the people in recovering their right of universal suffrage, in the election of members of the House of Commons. You must all recollect the infamous manner in which I was attacked and assailed by the whole of the daily London Press at that time, with the single exception of the Statesman. However, the reformers of the north, south, east, and west, became instantly alive to the appeal that was made to them in the resolutions passed at Spa Fields; public meetings were held, and petitions to the House of Commons were signed, all praying for universal suffrage; and, by the time of the meeting of Parliament, the delegates from petitioning bodies came up to town, in consequence of a circular letter signed by Sir Francis Burdett, to consult, and to settle upon the extent of suffrage and other matters to be recommended, for the adoption of all the petitioning bodies of reformers throughout the country. This was most unnecessary, for they had, one and all, already adopted the principle, and followed the example, set them by the inhabitants of the metropolis at Spa Fields. When the delegates were arrived from Scotland, Yorkshire, Lancashire, and most of the counties in the north, from Bath, Bristol, and other places in the west, with the petitions entrusted to them, the signatures to which, together with those of the petitions previously sent up, did not amount to less than half a million; I came to town as the delegate from Bath and Bristol, both of which cities had held public meetings, most numerously attended, and passed similar resolutions to those agreed to at Spa Fields. The Reformers from each of those cities had sent me up a petition, to be presented to the House of Commons, praying for universal suffrage, one signed by 24,000 and the other by 25,000 persons. To be brief here, (for I shall detail the circumstances more fully hereafter, as they make a most important epoch of my life); the delegates met, 63 in number, at the Crown and Anchor, Major Cartwright in the chair, who, together with Mr. Jones Burdett, attended as a deputation from the Hampden Club. The Major, in opening the business of the day, stated that the members of the Hampden Club, with Sir Francis Burdett at their head, had come to a resolution to support suffrage to the extent of householders, and no further, and that they recommended the adoption of this plan to the delegates. The Major was particularly eloquent, and went out of the usual course of a chairman, by requesting, almost as a personal favour to himself, that the delegates would adopt the recommendation of the Hampden Club. Mr. Cobbett then rose, and, in a speech replete with every argument which this most clear and powerful reasoner could suggest, proposed the first resolution, that the meeting should adopt the recommendation of the Hampden Club, and agree to recommend the reformers to petition to the extent of householder suffrage only; urging, as Major Cartwright had done before, the necessity of agreeing to this plan, because Sir F. Burdett had positively refused to support any petitions for universal suffrage. This resolution was seconded by Mr. Jno. Allen, my brother delegate, from Bath, although he had positive instructions not to agree to any thing short of universal suffrage; but Mr. Cobbett's powerful though fallacious reasoning, had convinced him, of the necessity of curtailing the right to householders only. I rose and moved an amendment, substituting universal for householder suffrage, and, with all the reasoning and energy in my power, I combated the arguments of my friends Cobbett and Major Cartwright, deprecating the narrow-minded policy that would deprive 3-4ths of the population of the inherent birthright of every freeman. My proposition, and the whole of the arguments I used in its support, were received by a very large majority of the delegates with enthusiastic approbation; so much so, that it convinced Mr. Cobbett of the folly as well as the inutility of persisting in his motion. My amendment having been seconded by Mr. Hulme, from Bolton in Lancashire, and being supported by a very ingenious argument of my brave friend and fellow prisoner (now in Lincoln Castle) Mr. Bamford, Mr. Cobbett rose and begged to withdraw his motion, he having been convinced of the practicability of universal suffrage by the speech of Mr. Bamford, who had at the time only said a few words upon that subject. The question was put, and principle carried it against policy, there being for my amendment I think 60, and only 3 for the householder plan. Thus then, my friends, whether I was right or whether I was wrong, I not only was the first to propose the adoption of the wild and visionary scheme of universal suffrage at a great public meeting, but I also stood firm to the cause, when those who have since so ably advocated the principle, were (in evil hour) from policy about to abandon it. Let, therefore, all the blame of the reformers having so determinedly advocated the wild and visionary scheme of universal suffrage rest upon my shoulders, which, thank God, are quite broad enough to bear it without feeling it in any degree burdensome, particularly as Sir F. Burdett has at length come fully up to our mark. From that time to this I have never deviated from, never shifted to the right or to the left, but always, at all times, through good report, and through evil report, undisguisedly enforced and maintained, with all the ability I possessed, the right of the whole of my fellow-countrymen to be fairly and freely represented, in the Commons House of Parliament. If there be any merit in what was then called a stubborn and pertinacious adherence to this great principle, I am only entitled to share that merit jointly with Mr. Hulme, Mr. Bamford, and the other brave and patriotic men who came from different parts of the country, as delegates. Without their manly support, this measure would have been lost, and the reformers throughout the kingdom would then have been recommended to abandon the high ground they had taken; to give up petitions, already signed by half a million of men for universal suffrage; and in its stead to petition for suffrage to the extent of householders, or to the payers of direct taxes ONLY.—Having established this position, for the correctness of which I appeal to all the delegates who were present, I shall leave it for the present, although there are very important matters, and some very curious circumstances connected with the events of that period, which have never yet appeared before the public, which must come out, and which will form a very material part of my history. The government, or rather the ministers, had their eye upon this meeting of delegates, and they well knew ALL that passed there; and I should not be surprised if six months of my imprisonment may be fairly placed to the account of what the editor of the Macclesfield Courier called, "my most uncompromising perseverance."—The editor of an obscure Sunday London Newspaper, in observing upon my sentence, says most exultingly, "The game its now up—with this man we have done, to the people we now turn:" and what do you think he means to do, how does he propose to relieve their distresses? In speaking of your prospects of relief he says "Suffer they must for a time, it would be vain to deny this, it would be dishonest to hold out any other hope. IT REMAINS WITH THEMSELVES WHETHER THEIR SUFFERINGS BE LONG OR SHORT." So this gentleman tells you first that the game is up, and then he consoles you by telling you that the game is in your own hands. Was there ever such paltering, ever such base and stupid attempts to delude rational beings? The Morning Post of the 23d of May, a few days after my sentence, gives vent to his malignant joy in the following words.
"The political matters of fact of the last month will descend to posterity as the proudest mementos of the age in which we live; never at any period since Trial by Jury has been the stipulation of our allegiance, never has that grand perfection of Justice been more sacredly guarded. The trial of Mr. HUNT at York is a precedent of almost unattainable impartiality in judicial proceedings. Pending that trial the reports of its progress gave radicalism a confidence it undisguisedly evinced, that the result would be favourable to its heart's worst wishes. The Io Paens of Faction were in full rehearsal, when the bringers of evil tidings announced the triumph of Truth. The conviction of a burlesque on baronetcy was expected in sulky helplessness—but the overthrow of the CHAMPION of LIBERTY, the ORATOR whose eloquence was to have been the passing dirge of Justice—his overthrow was the overthrow of thousands. With his, hearts sunk, and menaces grew silent; the monster at his whetstone dropped the half-sharpened dagger at the conviction of Henry Hunt; and the tool of his excitement unscrewed the pike-head and threw away the musquet. I have no hesitation in declaring, that all the numerous verdicts for the Crown, that of late have asserted the majesty of Law, including the convictions of high treason, have not done HALF so much for the real interest of social quiet, as the radically never-dreamt-of conviction of 'the Lord of the Manor of Glastonbury.'"
This you see, my friends of Yorkshire, is meant to quiet the conscience of Mr. SEPTIMUS BROMLEY and his brother TALESMAN. The SPECIAL Gentlemen being above any thing of the sort. I wish some friend who lives near the said Septimus would give me a line, and tell me who and what he is, and what he says for himself. I hope some radical in his neighbourhood will send me a good and particular account of this gentleman. But I see by the Newspapers that the game is not quite up, or if it is, a new game is begun. If the Honourable House have got rid of one set of petitioners, a new set is sprung up, not of radicals to be sure, but a set of agriculturists, merchants, manufacturers, and shipowners, who all appear to be petitioning against each other, or at least each of them is petitioning for that which would add to the distress and ruin of the other. The Honourable House is placed in a very ticklish and delicate situation. It does not dare to serve the petitions of these new applicants as they did our petitions, my friends for reform—kick them out of the House; but having for the present got rid of the radicals, they have now plenty of leisure to attend to the numerous petitions of all the rest of the community. The Yeomanry Cavalry, good souls they are in distress, and they want another CORN BILL. But then you see his Majesty's Ministers, kind-hearted creatures, and the considerate merchants, the Barings, and the Ricardos, they say this must not be. By management the New Corn Bill gentry got a majority: my Lord Castlereagh is quite shocked, and even Mr. Holme Sumner, benevolent heart, he is quite astounded with the unexpected and undeserved success of his own motion. Mark their proceedings well, my friends—for you to petition I fear will be in vain, but mark their proceedings. It so very much resembles the proceedings when the last Corn Bill was passed, that I have little doubt there is foul play going on somewhere. The farmers cannot pay their rents, rates, and taxes unless they can do it by a rise in the price of the quartern loaf. Baring and Ricardo do not approve of this—each of them has his scheme for the relief of the general distress, agricultural and all. Baring hints, but he only hints, at something tangible, he hints that rents should be lowered, and his brother stock-jobber, Ricardo, proposes then to pay off the national debt, by making the land-holders pay down at once 15 per cent. upon the value of their estates. The Honourable Members stare with astonishment at the propositions of these wise law-givers—and well they may. Although the "game may be up;" although the assertion of the editor of the Morning Post may be true, "that the verdict against Henry Hunt has proved the overthrow of thousands, and rendered twice as much service to the real interest of social quiet, as ALL the other verdicts for the crown put together;" yet I perceive by the language of a petition from the inhabitants of the town of Kirkeaton, presented to the Honourable House by my Lord Milton, that even the locking me up in a jail, in consequence of this verdict, has neither contributed to remove the distress, nor to put food into the mouths of the poor reformers of Kirkeaton. Good God of Heaven! what must Lord Milton be made of to present, merely present, mind, a petition shewing that 1729 of his constituents, in one parish had been, and were living, or rather starving, upon 11 3/4d. each per week, that the average income of 1729 human beings in that county, Yorkshire, where he is their virtual representative, is under one shilling per head per week?—Gracious God! the present member for this county, Sir Thomas Lethbridge, once declared in the Honourable House, that the language of Sir Francis Burdett made "his hair stand on end upon his head." To have seen Lord Milton present such a petition as this, to have heard the officer of the Honourable House mumble out a description, a recital of the privations and cruel sufferings of my poor insulted fellow countrymen of Kirkeaton, without rising to say one word in their behalf; without calling down the vengeance of Heaven and Earth upon the heads of those who had by their acts reduced the country to such a state of wretchedness and woe; to have witnessed this, I say, although it might not have made my hair stand on end, it would, I am sure, have chilled every drop of blood in my body. I can conscientiously say, that the mere reading in the Times newspaper the account of your cruel sufferings, my poor countrymen of Kirkeaton, has given me more pain than a years' imprisonment would have done, if I could have known that you were enjoying a fair equivalent for your honest industry. Talk of imprisonment indeed! why it is a perfect Paradise compared with the wants and privations which you are doomed to endure. The situation of a prisoner in this jail, let him be confined for any thing less than high treason or murder, is heaven upon earth compared to your lot. Let us see; there is a prisoner who is appointed to wait upon me here, an old soldier, who has enjoyed rank in the army as an adjutant, but having a large family, and meeting with many reverses of fortune, he became reduced in his circumstances, and, in consequence of great persecutions, was at length driven to seek relief from the parish. The sufferings and privations of his wife and children daily stared him in the face, without even the hope of relief; and, brooding over his unmerited persecutions and neglect, he was driven to drinking, &c. In a fit of temporary delirium he attempted to lay violent hands upon himself and wife, for which he is sentenced to be imprisoned here for twelve months. His wife and family are supported by the parish; and I will now tell you what he receives for his week's allowance, exclusive of clothes, lodging, fire, and washing, all found by the county. He gets one pound and a half of good bread and one penny every day. Ten pounds and a half of good white bread, and sevenpence to purchase potatoes and salt, or milk, per week. Bread and pence, at the very lowest, two shillings and six-pence per week. Now, if we reckon one shilling and six-pence, at the very lowest rate, for washing, lodging, clothing, and firing, which are all found in plenty and very good of the sort, he receives the value of four shillings per week. The bread, &c. is quite as much as, or rather more than, a moderate man can eat; and this person, who has seen a great deal of the world, seriously informs me that he enjoys here, happiness, ease, and comfort, compared to what he had to encounter out of prison; and as he professes to be very well pleased with waiting upon me, he dreads the approach of his release. Every person in the jail has the same allowance, and if they choose to work, the Governor enables them to earn from threepence up to one shilling a-day over.
Now, my good friends of Kirkeaton, although I will not recommend you to do any thing to get sent to jail, yet, I will tell you what I would do if I were in your situation. I would work hard from Monday to Saturday, and at the end of the week if I found that my wages were not sufficient to support myself, my wife, and children, in the common necessaries of life, I would, on the following Monday, try a fresh plan. Instead of going to work, I would go to a neighbouring magistrate, Lord Milton, or Lord Fitzwilliam, for instance, if they were within reach, and I would tell him that I had left my wife and family chargeable to the parish, as I was unable to support them by my labour; but as I knew the leaving of my family as an incumbrance upon the parish was an offence against the laws, for which I was liable to be committed to prison, and as I did not wish to give the parish officers more trouble than was absolutely necessary, I had come to request his lordship to make out my mittimus, that I might go to jail as soon and as peaceably as possible. I know what the corrupt knave of the Morning Post will say, "Ha! he is in a prison himself, and he wants now to get all his followers there also." But suppose this were the case, which it is not, you would not, could not, be worse off than Lord Milton's constituents are. But I have said this a thousand times within the last five years; nay, I always said this, seeing that a poor labouring man is twice as well off in a jail as he is out of it, as to meat, drink, washing, and lodging.
Now, my friends and fellow countrymen, the writing the history of my own life, during my confinement in a prison, will not, I trust, be considered presumption in me; because I follow the example of Sir Walter Raleigh and many other patriotic and eminent men who have gone before me. I am not much of a copyist, but I am not ashamed of being accused of endeavouring to imitate the brave and persecuted Napoleon, who is writing his Memoirs during his imprisonment on the barren rock of St. Helena. Napoleon I esteem the most illustrious and eminent man of the present age, both as a profound statesman and a brave and matchless general. Although he never appeared to evince so sincere a desire as could be wished, to promote the universal liberty of man to the extent that I contend, and have always contended for, yet, when I reflect upon the period in which his energetic mind was allowed to have its full scope of action, and when I recollect the powerful armies and fleets that he had to contend with, and the phalanx of tyrants who were at various times leagued together against him, I am disposed not to examine too nicely and with too critical an eye the means that he used to defend himself against their unceasing endeavours to destroy him, and to restore the old tyranny of the Bourbons. He is, like myself, a prisoner, and imprisoned by the same power; only in his case they have not even the forms of law to justify them in his detention. He is a prisoner upon a barren rock, but I have not the least hesitation in pronouncing him to have been, both in the cabinet and the field, as to talent and courage, unrivalled in the pages of modern or ancient history. Neither the reformers nor the people of England had any share in sending him to St. Helena, nor ought they in fairness to participate in the disgrace of his detention.
In my humble judgment, the greatest fault he ever committed was, in having too good an opinion of the justice of the boroughmongers, and relying upon the liberality of their agents, so far as to be betrayed into that net which now surrounds him. He always appeared to admire our courts of justice; but he knew nothing of our system of packing SPECIAL JURIES.
In the progress of this work I shall give a brief delineation of the political movements of the last twelve or fourteen years, or at least of those events that came within my knowledge, which I believe will include almost every thing relating to reform and the public characters who have taken any part in promoting or retarding that desirable object. These public characters consist of George the Third down to Arthur Thistlewood inclusive, who are dead and gone; of those who are yet living from George the Fourth down to Mr. Cobler Preston and Mr. Billsticker Waddington. The public events will more particularly include the History of the great Public Meetings held within the last twelve years in Wiltshire, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Middlesex, London, Westminster, Bristol, Bath, Spa-fields, Smithfield and Manchester, as well as those held at the Crown & Anchor and the Freemason's and London Taverns; and likewise of the contested elections of Bristol, Westminster, London, Bridport, Ludgershal and Preston, at all of which I took an active part, and therefore am enabled to detail many curious and interesting anecdotes, facts, intrigues, plots, under-plots, cabals, &c. which were never before presented to the public, and which circumstances, together with the secret springs and actions of those who worked in the back ground, which have hitherto been very imperfectly understood, shall be brought to light and faithfully recorded; taking due care not to betray any confidential communications. I shall, also, as is usual, or at least as is very common, give a short sketch of my ancestors, not because I can show a long line of them up to the Conquest, (nor because I esteem this a circumstance to boast of), but I shall state facts as they have been handed down from father to son by old family documents, regardless of the sneers of those who, at the same time and in the very same breath in which they affect to ridicule and despise all distinctions of this sort, fall themselves into a much greater error and indulge in a much less excusable folly; that of holding up to public admiration, esteem and confidence, their own offspring, and bedaubing them with the most fulsome adulation merely because they are their own progeny; although every other person except themselves can clearly perceive that they neither possess talent, intellect, public spirit, nor any other qualification calculated either to amuse or to instruct. When I see a sensible man in other respects fall into an inconsistency of this sort, I am always reminded of the fable of the Eagle, the Owl, and her young ones. The fact is, that I am more proud of my father than of any of my ancestors, because I know him to have been an excellent and an honest man, and one who by his industry and talent became a second founder of his family. But as the object of my labours will be to give you a faithful history of my own life, it is of very little consequence either to you or me whether I ever had a grand father or not, except as far as relates to the coincidence of the events of the present time with those which occurred in the reigns of Charles the First and Second, and during the protectorship of Cromwell. It may not be amiss to remind you that the brave and enlightened patriot, Prynne, was imprisoned at Dunster Castle in this county by the tyrant Charles the First. Prynne had his nose slit, and his ears cut off, for speaking and writing his mind; but it must not be forgotten, that he lived to see the tyrant's head struck off, and the infamous judge who passed the cruel sentence upon him, brought to a just and exemplary punishment.
In the confident hope that we shall live to see better days, our Country restored to prosperity, and its inhabitants to freedom and happiness,
My friends and fellow-countrymen,
Your faithful and sincere humble servant,
OF HENRY HUNT.
I was born at Widdington Farm, in the parish of Upavon, in the county of Wilts, on the 6th day of Nov. 1773, and am descended from as ancient and respectable a family as any in that county, my forefather having arrived in England with, and attended William the Conqueror, as a colonel in that army, with which he successfully invaded this country. He became possessed of very considerable estates in the counties of Wilts and Somerset, which passed from father to son, down to the period of the civil wars in the reign of Charles the First, when, in consequence of the tyrannical government of that weak and wicked prince, resistance became a duty; and, at length, after having by the means of corrupt judges and packed juries, not only amerced and incarcerated, but caused to be executed many of the wisest, bravest, and most patriotic men of the age, the tyrant was ultimately brought to justice, and forfeited his head upon a scaffold, having first been compelled to sign the death warrant for his favourite, Lord Strafford. When the commonwealth was established, and Cromwell declared Lord Protector, my great great grandfather, colonel Thomas Hunt, who was in possession of those estates in Wiltshire, unfortunately took a decided and prominent part in favour of Charles the Second, who had fled, and was then remaining in France, waiting an opportunity for his restoration, and instigating those who were known to be his partisans in this country, to resist and overthrow the government and constitution of the country as then by law established. Charles was in constant correspondence with my forefather colonel Hunt, who together with Mr. Grove and Mr. Penruddock, were all country gentlemen of large property and considerable influence, residing in the county of Wilts, and avowed royalists firmly attached to the family of Stuart. And as it was well known by Cromwell that Charles had a number of powerful partisans in various parts of the kingdom, he took good care to have all their motions well watched, and as he kept a host of spies in his employ, they found it next to impossible to form or arrange any general plan of co-operation, without its coming to the knowledge of his agents. Many well-digested schemes had been detected and frustrated, by these watchful well-paid minions of the Protector, but the royalists were not to be deterred from their purpose, although many of them received intimation from Oliver that he was aware of all their plans and intentions: he resting satisfied with this knowledge, and the conviction that he not only kept their restless spirits in check, but that he was at all times prepared to put them down with a high hand, in case they should ever dare to break out into open violence, or attempt to put their intentions into execution. However, as Hunt, Grove, and Penruddock, with many other friends in the West, became very impatient; it was agreed to attempt a general communication by means of a meeting of the disaffected at a great stag hunt, which was announced to be about to take place somewhere in the forest, in the neighbourhood of Wokingham, between Reading and Windsor. To this stag hunt all the known partisans of the house of Stuart were invited; and when assembled there in great numbers from all parts of the kingdom, it was agreed among them, that each man should raise a force agreeable to his means, some horse and some foot, by a particular day, in order to attack the troops of Cromwell, who was a great deal too wary and cunning to suffer such an extraordinary assembly, under any circumstances, and particularly of such suspicious persons as those who attended the hunt were known to be, without sending some of his agents to join them, whereby he might become acquainted with whatever project they might have in contemplation. They all departed after the hunt was over, having fixed to be ready and join in the field by a particular day. Cromwell's agents did their duty, and he was no sooner informed of the plan which was laid, than he made all due preparation for meeting any force that might be brought into the field against him by these powerful malcontents. He not only did this, but he employed his agents to win over some of the most formidable of his adversaries, by bribes and promises. Having succeeded in this, he wrote to all the remaining conspirators, and informed them separately, that he was perfectly aware of all their plots, and of their intention to bring a force into the field against him on a particular day; he assured them that he had made all necessary preparations, not only to meet, and to defeat them with an overwhelming force of well-disciplined troops, but that he had also made friends of some of those on whom the conspirators placed their greatest reliance. He concluded by saying, that, as their project would be sure to end in discomfiture, ruin, and disgrace, he advised them to abandon their plan altogether; and in that case he promised each of the parties his pardon, and that it should be taken no further notice of. This had the desired effect with most of the numerous partisans of Charles, who had pledged themselves to take the field; for when they found that all their plans had come to the knowledge of Cromwell, they anticipated that he would be prepared to meet them with such a force as it would not be prudent in them to encounter, and, as prudence is the better part of valour, they at once abandoned their intended insurrection, and trusted to the clemency of him whom they had resolved to hurl from the eminence which they professed to say he had usurped. Not so with the three Wiltshire royalists; they also had received the circular intimation from Cromwell, but they scorned to be worse than their words, they took no notice of his proffered pardon, they each raised a troop of horse as they had promised, and having armed and accoutred their men by the time appointed, they marched into Salisbury, where Cromwell's judges were then holding the assizes, and without any further ceremony struck the first blow, by consigning the Lord Protector's judges to prison, having liberated the prisoners they were about to try.
The next day they marched into Hampshire towards the appointed rendezvous, as had been previously agreed upon; but when they arrived there, instead of meeting, as they expected, any of their friends who were parties at the stag hunt, they found Cromwell's army who had intimation of their movements, already there in considerable force, ready to overwhelm them. However, Cromwell, as usual, endeavoured to carry his point by policy; in the first instance, rather than sacrifice any lives in such an unequal conflict, he sent a flag of truce, and promised if they would lay down their arms they should be pardoned, and all officers and men might return to their homes without any molestation. A consultation and council of war was held, when Grove, Hunt, and Penruddock came to a determination to die sword in hand rather than trust to the clemency of him, whom they deemed an usurper, and they returned an answer accordingly. In the meantime, Oliver had sent some of his agents amongst the men, to whom they pointed out the desperate situation in which their commanders had placed them, and urged them at once to accept the offer of the Protector and return to their homes; and when Grove, Hunt, and Penruddock ordered their men to prepare for the attack, they one and all refused, and immediately lay down their arms, upon which they were instantly surrounded, and made prisoners; and instead of Cromwell keeping his word with these poor fellows, he ordered every common man to be instantly hung upon the boughs of trees and elsewhere, and the officers to be committed to three separate jails in the West of England upon a charge of high treason, for making war against the troops of the Commonwealth, in order to depose the Protector, and with an intent to alter the government and constitution of the country, as by the then law established. Upon which charge they were tried, found guilty, and sentenced by the very judges whom they had before imprisoned at Salisbury, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered, but upon petition their sentence was mitigated by Cromwell to that of being beheaded. Colonel Hunt was sent back after trial to be executed at this very jail, and possibly might have been confined, if not in the same room, upon the very same spot wherein his descendant is now writing the account of the transaction, which has descended by tradition and written documents to him as the heir of the family, and which written documents in proof thereof, are now in his possession. However, be that as it may, it is therein recorded that Hunt's two sisters, Elizabeth and Margery, came to visit him the night previous to his execution, which was ordered to take place at day-break the next morning. The regulations of the jail not being so strictly performed as they are now, his sister Margery slept in his bed all night, while the Colonel, who had dressed himself in her clothes, walked out of the prison unperceived with his sister Elizabeth and escaped; but, as it is recorded by himself, being a stranger in the neighbourhood, and fearful of keeping in the high-way, he had lost himself in the night and had wandered about, so that when day-light arrived he had not got so far from the jail but that he heard the bell toll for his execution. At this awful period he met a collier carrying a bag of coals upon his horse, and having ascertained by some conversation that he had with him, that he was friendly to the cause of the Stuarts and hostile to the Protector, he was induced to discover himself, and to place his person and his life in his power, of which he had no reason to repent, as the man proved faithful, and assisted him to escape to France, where he remained with the second Charles, and returned in company with him at the time of the restoration.
As the circumstances attending his escape are in my opinion very interesting, I shall give them as they have been handed down to me, although they may be by some considered as tedious in the detail; yet as they are circumstances very imperfectly recorded, only in the early editions of Lord Clarendon's History of the Rebellion, and as they relate to events somewhat similar to the present times, wherein a prominent part was taken by one of my forefathers, I trust that they will not be esteemed superfluous, as making a component part of my memoirs, in reference to the political part taken by one of my family at this important epoch of the English history. The collier took him up behind on his horse, dressed as he was in female attire, and having struck across the country by some private roads, he arrived at his habitation, a lone cottage situated on the side of a large common, where he remained concealed, anxiously awaiting the approach of night, and dreading every moment the appearance of the officers of justice in pursuit of their victim. In the mean time the collier had procured two muskets and a blunderbuss, which he had got loaded, determined to stand by the Colonel, who, if driven to extremities, was resolved to sell his life as dearly as possible, but not to be taken again alive. But, to return to the jail; when the officers of death arrived to unbolt the door of the intended victim, what must have been their surprise and indignation to have found in his bed a woman, a brave and patriotic female, who gloried in having saved the life of a high spirited and beloved brother! With what delight have we read of the conduct of Madame Lavalette, who saved her husband from an untimely death by similar means, who, by her virtuous devotion, rescued the victim marked out for the treacherous revenge of a weak, wicked, and pusillanimous prince; with what pleasure has every humane and patriotic bosom been roused into admiration, at the noble, generous, and successful exertions of Sir R. Wilson and his friends, to assist in snatching the life of that devoted victim, from the bloody hand of the executioner! But many brave men have voluntarily sacrificed themselves to save the life of a friend; in the pages of history, we find that many an excellent wife has done the same to save a beloved husband; but where shall we find a similar instance of disinterested devotion in a sister?—To be the descendant of such a woman—to bear the same name and belong to her family, is in itself something that I am proud to boast of. With what delight have I (while yet a boy) listened to this recital, while my father dwelt on it with rapture; his eye glistening with a dignified pride as he recounted the tale of this heroine of the family! How often have I been sent up stairs to unlock the old oak chest, and to bring down the musty records of these eventful days, that they might be unrolled either to refresh my father's memory, or to vouch for particular acts and circumstances! How many times, subsequently, has it been my lot to turn to this or that particular event, and while he enjoyed his pipe, how often did I at his command read the minute detail as I found it written, upon the old musty parchments and papers! However, to proceed, Colonel Desbrow, who then had the command of Oliver's troops at this place, was instantly informed of the flight of the prisoner; he ordered Margery to appear before him, which she did habited in her brother's clothes, and he threatened to have her executed instantly, without judge or jury, in her brother's stead, if she did not immediately inform him of the whole plot, and assist in the re-capture of her brother. She calmly replied, that she had not the least objection to comply with his demand as far as she knew of the plot. She confessed that she went into the prison to visit her brother with the intention to effect his escape if possible; that neither her brother, nor even her sister, had the slightest knowledge of her intentions till she proposed it to him in the prison, that there she found him resigned to his fate, and it was with the greatest difficulty that she at last prevailed upon him to put it into practice; that all she knew of him was, that he had left the room with her sister Elizabeth, but which way or where he was gone she knew nothing; then, with great and dignified firmness, she added, even if she had known any thing of his route, Colonel Desbrow must be aware, that as she had the courage and goodness to plan and effect his escape, no threats, not even the torture, should induce her to do any thing that might place him in their power again. Elizabeth was instantly taken into custody and examined also, but she knew nothing more than her sister. They were both consigned to the dungeon that he had quitted, and the scaffold, although it remained fixed for some days, it mourned for the loss of its victim, and the gaping multitude daily stared in vain for the consummation of the bloody sacrifice. Col. Desbrow sent off dispatches to the Government, raised a Hue and Cry to search every house they came to, and dispatched messengers to all the out-ports, so that neither pains, expense, nor trouble were spared to retake the fugitive. In the mean time the sentence of Grove and Penruddock was put in execution. They were both beheaded on the same morning, one at Exeter, and the other at some other jail. It is a very remarkable coincidence of circumstances, that at the time myself, the lineal heir and descendant of Colonel Hunt, am confined in this jail by the state policy of the day, Colonel Desbrow, the lineal descendant of the very Colonel Desbrow, who then had the command of this district as a soldier and servant of Cromwell, is at this very time an officer in the service of the present reigning family, and, I believe, an attendant about the person of the Sovereign. Colonel Hunt remained concealed in the cottage of his protector, but when night came they were too agitated to retire to rest; they therefore barricadoed the door of their little fortress as well as they could, and, having put out the lights, took their station at the bed-room window, each with a loaded firelock, and all the arms and ammunition they could muster for re-loading, preparatory to the best and most determined defence in case of necessity. In this they were ably and resolutely assisted by the wife of the collier, both of whom are recorded to have evinced the most heroic courage, coolness, and presence of mind upon this, to them, desperate and trying occasion, which qualities were soon put to the test, by the sudden and boisterous arrival of the Hue & Cry, consisting of 8 or 10 mounted troops, accompanied by an officer belonging to the Sheriff. As that which followed relating to this rencontre is described minutely, and in the most simple manner, I will give it verbatim, as I find it recorded in the family document, from which I have taken the whole narrative. Colonel Hunt and the Collier were standing at the window, each with a loaded musket; the collier's wife stood behind, with a loaded blunderbuss in one hand, and with the other she was to supply the powder and slugs, for they had no ball, for reloading. They were in this order when the commander of the gang loudly halloed and demanded admittance. This, as was agreed upon by the party within, was repeated three times before any answer was given, or any movement made from within. At length, the Collier opened the casement of the thatched cottage, and, rubbing his eyes as if he had just awoke out of his first sleep, he exclaimed, in the broad Somersetshire dialect, "What's thow want makin such a naise there?" The reply was, "We want admittance: we are the Hue and Cry, come to search every house for a prisoner that has escaped from Ilchester jail in woman's clothes." At which the Collier exclaimed, "Ha, ha, ha! what a pack of fools, to come to look for a man in woman's clothes at this time o' the night." The officer, with a stern voice, demanded immediate admittance, saying, that they had a warrant, signed by Colonel Desbrow, for searching every house; and that, unless he came down and opened the door, they would force their way in immediately; upon which the Collier turned round and said, as if speaking to his wife, "Come, dame, you must get up and strike a light, and we will let the gentlemen in presently." There was then some pretended delay in finding the tinder-box, and at length the Collier began striking the steel with the flint, and, after bestowing a few curses on the dampness of the tinder, intentionally struck down the tinderbox, tinder and all, upon which he said, "There, now, they must come in and search in the dark." All this time they were actually preparing to fire upon the Hue and Cry, and just as they had taken aim, and were upon the point of drawing their triggers, the Captain of the gang gave the Collier two or three heavy curses, and said to his men, "Come, let us be off to some more likely place: there is nobody here but that stupid fellow, that does not appear to know his right hand from his left." They therefore galloped off to search the next house, leaving to Colonel Hunt and his faithful friends in adversity, the uninterrupted possession of his safe and secure retreat; where he remained concealed, till, in the disguise of some of the Collier's clothes, he contrived, soon afterwards, to escape to France, accompanied by his friend. He was received by Charles with open arms, with every demonstration of gratitude, and professions of future reward, in case he should succeed in re-establishing himself upon the throne of England. In the meanwhile, Cromwell, enraged at the escape of one, who had discovered such intrepid and persevering hostility to his power, confiscated the whole of his estates, kept his sisters, Elizabeth and Margery, close prisoners in this jail, and frequently threatened to execute the latter, unless Hunt would return from France, and surrender himself to his fate. This reaching the ears of Colonel Hunt in France, and fearing for the safety of such excellent sisters, he at length resolved to return and rescue them from their unpleasant and precarious situation, by resigning himself into the hands of Cromwell.—Charles remonstrated in vain, as Hunt appeared resolute in his determination. The Prince, therefore, put him under arrest, and forcibly detained him in custody to prevent him from surrendering himself. His two sisters were confined two years. When they were set at liberty, Charles released him from his confinement; he remained in constant attendance about his person, returned with him in the same vessel, and assisted in his restoration to the throne, which had been withheld from him during the life of Cromwell.
Colonel Hunt, as well as all his friends, expected the immediate restoration of his estates, which had been confiscated. In fact no one could have expected less than this act of justice at least, in return for his long, zealous and faithful services. But, on the contrary, the secret advisers of the grateful prince recommended to him by all means to endeavour to conciliate his enemies, and to let his friends shift for themselves, which advice he followed to the letter in this instance. As Colonel Hunt's estates had fallen into powerful hands, Charles absolutely refused to take any measures for their restoration. Thus was this faithful partisan of royalty rewarded for all his services, by one of the basest acts of ingratitude that ever disgraced the character even of a prince. How truly verified was the prophetic and sublime admonition of Scripture, "Put not your trust in princes." However, Colonel Hunt was offered the Chancellorship of the Duchy of Lancaster for life, which offer he indignantly refused, and in disgust retired into the country, where he married and passed the remainder of his life in tranquillity, accompanied by his sisters, upon a small estate in the parish of Enford in the county of Wilts, which had been overlooked by the agents of Cromwell. Here, with the property he had with his lady, and the wreck of his fortune, he sustained the character of a gentleman to a good old age, leaving an only son, to whom Queen Anne gave the colonelcy of a regiment of foot. This was the last of my family who was ever in the employment of the government, or who ever received one shilling of the public money in any capacity whatever.
This little estate descended to my grandfather, who married Miss Biggs of Stockton, and, at his death, it came, considerably encumbered, to my father, in the year 1774, the year after I was born. Finding, during the life time of his father, that this was a very poor property to live upon as a gentleman, he turned his mind to business, and to the improvement of his fortune. He married at the age of forty-one to Miss Powell who was only nineteen, the eldest daughter of a respectable farmer of Week near Devizes, and went to live at Widdington, in the parish of Upavon, a lone farm situated upon Salisbury Plain, not within one mile of any other house whatever. The 6th day of November, 1773, gave birth to the author of these memoirs, and as I was the first born, my father having a great deal of the old family pride about him, the event was commemorated in a very memorable and extraordinary manner. It was the custom of the country to celebrate the birth of a child by inviting the friends and neighbours to partake of a sugar-toast feast, which consisted of toast well baked, sliced in layers, in a large bowl, interspersed with sugar and nutmeg, well soaked in boiling ale, or what was called in that country, good old October. My father as soon as he was about to marry, anticipating the natural result, prepared and provided two hogsheads of real stingo for the occasion, it being brewed exactly fifteen bushels to the hogshead, which he liberally determined should be devoted to celebrate the happy event, which was literally carried into effect. I have very often heard those who were present, and who participated in the good cheer and rejoicing, mention these circumstances. It was usual, in that part of the country, upon these occasions, to have a day fixed and set apart for the feast, when all the neighbours were invited to partake and drink to the health of the good lady in the straw, and long life to the little stranger. But upon this occasion my father set no bounds to his joy, and determined to keep it up, which he did, till the whole to the last hoop of the stingo was gone. I have heard the nurse say that she toasted bread from morning till night for a fortnight, and that in the whole there could not have been less bread used than what was made from two bags of flour. The 6th of November was annually celebrated as long as my father lived, by a dinner which he gave to his neighbours and friends, and one thing was never forgotten, which was a bumper toast to the memory of Colonel Thomas and Miss Margery Hunt; which generally concluded by the production of the sword, which Charles the second took from his side and presented to the Colonel on his arrival in France, which my father with great pride exhibited to his friends, frequently accompanied by some part of the foregoing narrative.
My mother was of a weak and nervous constitution, and I inherited in some degree, when a child, her complaint, for I was very delicate, although remarkable for activity and high spirits. I remember about a month before I first went to school, which was at the early age of only five years and a half, I rode to Magdalen-hill fair near Winchester, a distance of thirty-one miles, and back again the same day, with my father. To ride sixty-two miles in one day for a boy not five years and a half old, which I did without any apparent fatigue, was considered rather an extraordinary omen of my future capability for active exertion. I was sent to a boarding-school at Tilshead in Wiltshire, at five and a half years of age, and, my father told me at my departure, "that I was going to begin a little world for myself." Before I mounted my poney he seriously gave me his blessing and his parting advice, which was delivered in a very emphatic manner, my mother anxiously listening, while a tear glistened in her eye. "Go," said he, "my dear, and may heaven bless and direct all your actions, so that you may grow up to be an honest, a brave, and a good man; but remember well what I now say: you must fight your own battles amongst your schoolfellows as well as you can. If I ever hear that you are quarrelsome I shall detest you, but if I find that you are a coward I will disown and disinherit you." This was the language of one of the best of fathers to his son, a child of five years and a half old, and it speaks volumes as to the character of the man and the parent. This school, which was situated in a healthy village upon Salisbury Plain, consisted of a master and an usher, who had the care and instruction of sixty-three boys. The scholars were better fed than taught; but as a healthy situation was more looked to than their education, by the parents of those children who were sent there, the discipline was calculated to give general satisfaction. We learned to read (the Bible), to write, and cast accounts, and at the end of one year I was taken from this school.
Beyond the common-place events incident to an early initiation into the tricks and frolics of a school-boy, there occurred, during my stay at this place, nothing worthy of being introduced here; with the exception, however, of one very important circumstance, relative to the strict discipline maintained by my father, in all cases where there was the slightest deviation from truth. A violation of truth was always sure to be punished by him with the greatest severity. As the circumstance to which I allude made a strong and lasting impression upon my mind, and in a great measure laid the foundation for my general rule of action ever since, I shall faithfully record it.
During the year that I was at Tilshead I came home for the Midsummer holidays. On the last Thursday, before I returned, I accompanied my father to Devizes market, and while he was taking his dinner and selling his corn I was directed to go to Week, about half a mile distant, to dine with and see my grandfather. I set off to walk thither, but on my road there was a number of persons collected on the green, seeing some soldiers fire at a target—The firing was kept up in rapid succession. I felt alarmed and was fearful of passing them; I therefore, returned into the town, and having passed the time away in play with some boys that I met, I returned to my father at the inn and answered the questions that he put to me, relative to my grandfather, so as to make him believe that I had been there as he desired me, being ashamed to confess the truth, that I was afraid to pass the soldiers. On the following Monday, I went to school again, without thinking any more of the falsehood that I had been guilty of; however, about six o'clock in the afternoon of the next Friday, I was surprised and delighted to see my father ride up to the door of the school-yard. I ran to meet him, but he received me rather coolly, which I scarcely perceived; but he asked to see Mr. Cooper, my master, who came out and invited him to get off his horse, which he declined, and said that I might ride a little way with him on his road home, if my master had no objection, and I could walk back; which was readily assented to—All this was done with a dignified calmness which I did not comprehend. However, as I rode along, seated before him; he began to question me as to the truth of some transactions, that had passed during the holidays, and at length came to the visit to my grandfather. The whole fabrication flashed across my mind at once, and the mighty secret of all his apparent solemnity had such an effect upon my nerves that I should, I am sure, have fallen from the horse if he had not held me on.
At length, after I had confessed the whole truth, which he did not appear to believe, he broke out into the following exclamation, "you have been guilty of an abominable falsehood, and you have now, as is always the case, told me another artful lie, in order to screen yourself from the punishment which you deserve, and to give you which I have ridden over here eight miles on purpose. Your conduct has almost broken your afflicted mother's heart, and has rendered me completely miserable. I would rather follow you to the grave than live to see you bearing the character of a liar, and I will now nearly half kill you for your infamous behaviour." Upon which he lifted me off by the side of the road, on the down, no person being within hearing or sight, and having alighted, and tied his horse to a bush, all remonstrance and intreaties on my part proved in vain: he made me strip off my coat, and, with a smart stick, he gave me a most severe flogging. As he helped me on with my coat, and sent me back to school, I saw the big tear trickle down his noble, manly cheek; a convincing proof to me, even at that time, that he suffered much more in performing such a painful duty to save a child from disgrace, than I did in receiving such a severe, though well-merited, chastisement. Although I thought the punishment very harsh at the time, yet I felt conscious that I deserved it; and he performed the heart-rending task in such a manner as convinced me of its justice, and the more I reflected upon it the more I was satisfied that it arose from the greatest parental affection. It made the most lasting impression upon my mind, and stamped my determination, at all hazards, to speak the truth in future. The kindness of my father and mother was such, that they never mentioned the subject afterwards, till I was grown up to manhood, and thanked him for it. It was a severe but excellent lesson for me, and I have always found that as honesty is the best policy, so is truth in the end always sure to prevail. Although I know I am sent here for speaking boldly and publicly the truth, and for always under every circumstance acting up to its lovely and substantial precepts; yet I never felt more grateful than I do at this moment, to my excellent and noble-minded father, for inculcating the principle of always speaking the truth, notwithstanding that I am suffering for practising it. He used to say nothing could be more dangerous than the doctrine so frequently promulgated, "that the truth should not be spoken at all times;" thus leaving it to be inferred that falsehood was sometimes justifiable. Although, he added, there are times when it may be prudent for a man not to speak at all, yet when he does speak, nothing but a time-serving coward would hesitate to speak boldly the truth. This was the language of that man to whom I owe my existence, and from whom I imbibed, at a very early age, those principles of veracity, justice, humanity, and public spirit, the free exercise of which, although it consigned his forefather as well as his descendant to the same prison; yet, such is the consoling and heart-cheering effect of following the dictates of an honest mind, that it not only tranquillizes the passions, and checks their overflowing the due bounds of discretion, while under the influence of prosperity, but also conveys to the persecuted captive that inward satisfaction, which makes reflection, even in a prison, a source of delight, and teaches him to despise that outward shew of mirth and affected gaiety which accompany the selfish votaries of pleasure, who sacrifice every honest independent principle at the shrine of fashion, till the man is degraded to a mere time-serving pander in the Temple of Folly.
When I left this school, Mr. Cooper, the master, came round during the holidays, as was customary, to collect his bills. My father, having settled the amount and invited him to dine, informed him of his intention to remove me to Hursley, in Hampshire; which he did at the recommendation of Sir Thomas Heathcot, whom he had met at Mr. Wyndham's, at Dinton, of whom my father rented Widdington Farm. Mr. Cooper, who was one of the best hearted and worthy men that perhaps ever lived, and who possessed as little of the pedantry and stiffness of a schoolmaster, as any man who had spent his life in such an occupation, replied, that he was very sorry to part with me, as he had no doubt I should some day make as clever, and he hoped as good, a man as my father. The only fault in me of which he had to complain was, that I was too volatile, and inattentive to my books; but he added, that he could already discover sufficient capacity to enable me, with a little steadiness, to become a very good scholar. Then, addressing himself particularly to my mother, he said, that he was bound in justice to declare, that he had not a more tractable or better-disposed boy in his school; that I was a generous and warm-hearted lad, and that my school-fellows would be sorry to hear that I was going to leave them. He spent the day with my father and mother, and in the most benignant and good-humoured manner, recounted some of the idle boyish tricks and frolicks that he had detected me in; assuring them, at the same time, that I had been punished only once during my stay with him, and that was for a venial offence, which was committed out of school hours.
Young as I was, being under seven years of age, when I left this school, I, nevertheless, formed connections and attachments, which have existed to this hour with unabated sincerity and uninterrupted friendship. And, as a gratifying proof of this fact, one of my then school fellows, Mr. Thomas Cousens, of Heytesbury, with whom I have ever since that period been on the most friendly footing, was the very first person who came to visit me after my arrival at this prison. He no sooner heard of my sentence than he mounted his horse, and before I had scarcely had time to look round my new habitation, the name of my friend Cousens was announced, who had ridden upwards of thirty miles; and, in the true spirit of disinterested genuine friendship, proffered not only his hand but his heart, to serve me in any way that lay in his power. I have indeed received innumerable proofs of kindness and sympathy from various quarters of the empire, since my arrival here; but the recollection of this prompt and efficient testimony of the sincerity of his friendship, will only be forgotten by me in the grave.
Upon the death of my grandfather, at this period, my father went to reside at Littlecot Farm, in the parish of Enford; but he still occupied Widdington Farm. Having spent two or three days, by invitation, with his landlord, Mr. Wyndham, of Dinton, where he met Sir Thomas Heathcot, of Hursley Park, who was the brother of Mrs. Wyndham, he was prevailed upon, by the joint intercession of Sir Thomas and Mr. as well as Mrs. Wyndham, to send me to be educated at Hursley, where Sir Thomas was patronising in a school a very worthy man, of the name of Alner, the brother of Mr. Alner, of Salisbury, who for so many years had the conducting and arranging the materials which composed the Western Almanack. Mr. and Mrs. Wyndham had also promised to send their three eldest sons at the same time to the same school, and one or two sons of Mr. Wyndham, of Salisbury, were also going there; and the worthy baronet, who never did a kind action by halves, promised my father, who was a great favourite with him, that he would take the same care of me, and shew me the same attention that he did to his nephews; which promise he did not forget to perform during my stay at Hursley School, which was about two years and a half.
Mr. Alner was a remarkably good penman and accountant, as well as a great proficient in teaching the use of the globes. Here I became an adept in writing, arithmetic, and geography, which were the principal things to be learned at that school. During my stay there, I was in the frequent habit of spending the Sunday with the young Wyndham's at Hursley Park; and, as often as my father came to see me, the old baronet insisted upon his making the Lodge his home. Kindness, generosity, and hospitality, welcomed every visitor to Hursley Lodge, during the life of Sir Thomas; in fact, his philanthropy was such, that it not only extended to his own tenants, but to his brother-in-law's tenants, and to the whole of the surrounding neighbourhood. Perhaps there never were two country gentlemen, who did greater credit to the character of genuine old English hospitality, than the then owners of Hursley Lodge, in Hampshire, and Dinton House, in Wiltshire. My old school-fellow, the present proprietor of Dinton, still keeps up the character of an hospitable English country gentleman; but, alas! Hursley Lodge, since the death of old Sir Thomas——but, as I cannot say any thing favourable, either from my own knowledge, or from the report of others, I will content myself with saying nothing.
I left this school at the age of ten years. During the holidays I had frequent means of seeing, and now first began to reflect, and make my observations upon, the situation of the labouring poor of the parish of Enford; for my mother devoted a very great portion of her time to relieving the wants of those who, either through illness or accident, stood in need of assistance; and although she was herself in a very weakly state of health, yet neither inclemency of the weather, nor the distance, ever deterred her from going in person to visit, to comfort, and to assist, those of her fellow-creatures who were in distress. It was quite enough for her to know, that any of her poor neighbours were in want, to command her immediate aid. How often, when she was about to relieve some one whom they supposed to be an unworthy object, who had brought want on his own head by misconduct or crime, have I heard even my father, as well as other friends, endeavour in vain to persuade her, that her indiscriminate charity did almost as much harm as good. Her answer always was, having first quoted some amiable Christian precept, "would you leave them to starve, and thus drive them to despair? They are in want of bread; and, after I have relieved them from their present distress, I shall have some claim to their attention; and by setting them a good Christian example, I shall be the better enabled to enforce the mild and wholesome doctrines of religion. Surely, I shall have a much better chance of reforming and reclaiming them by the practice of kindness, than I should have by treating them with neglect, or casting on them the chilling and forbidding look of harshness." And here let me observe, that if there ever was a human being who acted up to the spirit and letter of Christianity, both in profession and practice, I believe my excellent departed mother to have been that mortal. Her greatest pleasure consisted in doing good; and to pour the healing balm of comfort into the wounded and afflicted breast, was to her the very essence of delight. Surrounded by every comfort herself, her very existence appeared to depend upon her power to make others participate in those comforts: no living creature in distress was ever turned away from her door without being relieved. I could fill a volume in her praise, without being able to do her common justice.
I was now become of sufficient age, to be at once a companion and an assistant in these charitable peregrinations. There was not a threshold in the village but she had crossed at one time or another, in order to render some act of kindness or attention; and, as she passed along, the grateful inhabitants of every cottage came forth to bestow upon her their spontaneous and fervent blessings, whilst those who were rolling in wealth, and puffed up with pride, were suffered to pass unheeded by. Here it was that my little heart first began to pant for the power to do good; and I longed to receive, and to deserve such blessings, as were lavished with grateful lips upon my angelic mother by the poor of all denominations. I now began to pity their wants and sufferings, and to participate and rejoice in their happiness. When I expressed a desire for riches, to enable me to purchase such blessings as were bestowed upon her, how often did my beloved mother reprove me in the kindest manner, and endeavour to impress upon my young mind this valuable truth, that wealth did not always afford the best means of doing good. She used to say, that those who sincerely wished to do an act of charity, seldom wanted the means of doing something to relieve the wants, and soothe the afflictions, of those who were pining in wretchedness and want; for, said she, even a kind consoling word, combined with a very little personal attention, is frequently esteemed more valuable, and even proved to be more useful, than money, to those whose spirits as well as bodies are pressed down to the earth by unforeseen and frequently unmerited misfortune. These examples opened to my susceptible mind a new field for reflection, and the scenes of misery I witnessed, although at that period they were not numerous, and required to be sought for to be known, yet they created a sympathy in my young breast, which I flatter myself I have ever cherished, and from that period I may date the origin of my philanthropy. My mother saw the impression which it had made upon the mind of her son, and having kindled the sacred fire of benevolence, she took good care to fan the flame, by giving me the means of exercising those charitable feelings, which she had by her example created. Added to these, as well as all the other moral virtues, this excellent woman practised the most pious and scrupulous attention to her religious duties. Her motto was
"Teach me to feel another's woe, To hide the fault I see; That mercy I to others shew, That mercy shew to me."
While my mother was instilling into my mind, and teaching me to practice, the mild and lowly principles of Christianity, my father never failed to hold up for my admiration and example, the exploits of the noble, generous, brave, and renowned heroes of antiquity. Pope was his favourite author; and of all Pope's works, his Universal Prayer, and his Translation of Homer, were the theme of his never-ceasing and unqualified panegyric. The former he never failed to repeat aloud, night and morning, in the most fervent and impassioned manner. He made me learn it, and recommended me to follow his example, by making it the daily expression of my praise and adoration of the Allwise and Supreme Disposer of events. He could repeat every line of the Iliad; and, what was more remarkable, he could begin at any one line and proceed with the greatest fluency and correctness, even to the end of any chapter or book. In short, he endeavoured to instil into my breast the patriotic principle of disinterested love of country. Although he was himself a man of business and of the world, he never failed to hold up for my example, those heroes who had lived and died alone for their country. Hector was his favourite warrior, and he appeared to have obtained the dearest wish of his heart when, coming into my room by accident one day, he found me reading aloud, and repeating the speech of Hector to Andromache. I was taken by surprise, and laid down the book; but he entreated me to continue the subject, and to oblige him I began the dialogue again, and he repeated the part of Andromache. Although heretofore a very shy boy, I now became warm, and at length impassioned; he encouraged me, and before we had concluded I almost fancied myself a hero. He was delighted; he took me in his arms, he embraced and caressed me; he saw that I had caught the "electric spark;" he wept over me with rapture, and he exclaimed aloud, in a sort of frantic extacy, "The name of HUNT will again be recorded in the page of history, and I feel that you, my dear boy, are destined to restore the fame of our family; and I hope to live to see you prove yourself worthy of your ancestors."
This brought into the room my mother, who was struck with astonishment at the unusual manner of my father. He repeated to her that be had, he thought, discovered in me such seeds as would grow up and produce fruit of future fame. She smiled in the most benignant manner, and said, he must trust to time to realize such hopes; but at all events she could answer for one thing, which was, that the seeds of humanity and philanthropy were implanted in my breast; for she had hailed, with great satisfaction, the proof that I could feel for others, and that it was a pleasure to me to relieve the wants and sufferings of my fellow creatures; and therefore, she fondly hoped, that I should make a good man and a good Christian; and addressing herself to my father, she added, "we will, my dear, trust to chance whether he ever makes a hero or not." I mention these particular incidents, to shew what pains were taken by my excellent, noble-minded father, and my amiable, tender-hearted, and affectionate mother, to instil into my young mind those precepts which each conceived would be most conducive to my future happiness. My fathers great object appeared to be, to fire the young aspiring hope with deeds of honour, courage, and patriotism. My mother's more gentle nature induced her to cultivate the genial soil with the milder virtues, making Christian piety and charity the foundation of all her present and future hopes. There never lived a child that had more pains and care bestowed upon him, by his parents, than I had. My father inherited and practised the noblest qualities; he was an intelligent, industrious, strictly honest, honourable, high-spirited Englishman; the motto, taken from his favourite author, was constantly upon his lips, "An honest man is the noblest work of God." My mother may be correctly described in one short sentence, to have been a gentle, virtuous, amiable, charitable, and truly pious Christian.
Having now left the school at Hursley, where I had learned all that could be learned there, my father received from Mr. Alner, the worthy master, very similar assurances to those he had previously received from Mr. Cooper: that I was a high-spirited, generous, volatile lad, capable of learning any thing that I chose to apply myself to; but that I was rather more fond of excelling in feats of activity, than of a strict adherence to my studies.
I was now sent to the grammar school at Andover, under the care of the Rev. Thomas Griffith, where I was to enter upon the study of the classics. My father took me on a Saturday, that being a market-day at Andover; and having introduced me to Mr. and Mrs. Griffith, he did not forget to give me the character he had received from the masters of the two schools which I had previously left; adding his own testimony, in confirmation of my being of a kind, generous, and open disposition. Mrs. Griffith received us very politely; and, as she had a very prepossessing manner, I felt pleased with the prospect before me, although I thought I saw something that I did not much like in the countenance of Mr. Griffith, who was a muscular, swarthy, dark-looking person, with rather a forbidding air. My father, having given me his blessing, took his leave, and consigned me to my new master, who led me into the school; and, as it was then past eleven o'clock, he gave me an Enfield's Speaker, and desired me to look it over, as he should not place me in any class until Monday. The school hours were up at twelve o'clock, Saturday afternoon being always a holiday, and consequently I did not consider that I had any task to learn on that day. I was therefore more employed in thinking of my mother at home, and in looking round the school, surveying my new companions, than I was with the volume. At length I caught my master's eye, and as he seemed to be smiling, as I thought at me, I returned it, as an earnest of my sense of his kindness. But alas! as it will appear, I mistook my man. He beckoned to me, and called me up to his desk, at the other end of the school. I obeyed; "Pray, Sir," said he, "what were you laughing at?" I found I was deceived, and I stood silent, unable to answer the interrogatory; upon which he gave me a severe box under the ear, which made me reel again, and nearly knocked me down. He then sternly said, "Go, Sir, to your seat, and mind your business, and in future take care how you let me catch you laughing again." This at once impressed upon my mind the ferocity and cowardice of his nature; for I had not been in the school at the time more than ten minutes. It was such an act of injustice, cruelty, and tyranny, and so very different from any thing that I had ever before experienced, that I was almost stupified with indignation; but, recovering myself a little, I was upon the point of rushing out of the school, and flying to my father, who must have been yet at the inn in the town. I looked towards the door; it stood enticingly open, and if my pride had not come to my assistance, I should most assuredly have indulged the first impulse of my resentment. From that moment to this, however, I have never thought of the circumstance, without regretting that I did not follow that impulse. However, I sat down; but, from that time, I never failed to consider him as an unjust and cruel petty tyrant; nor did I ever, for one moment afterward, look up to him even with common respect.
I continued at this place for nearly two years and a half, during which time, in common with many of my school-fellows, I had to endure the cruel, unnecessary, and wanton punishments, indiscriminately inflicted by this modern Dionysius. I soon became hardened, and set all controul at defiance; and, instead of my pride being hurt, or being ashamed of punishment, it became a boast and a pride to brave it, and to bear it with indifference and contempt. This monster in human form would come into the school and flog half a dozen boys before he sat down, under some pretence or other; either that he had heard some noise in their bedroom the night before, or that they had not washed their hands clean; nay, he sometimes flogged a boy without ever telling him what it was for; and frequently, while his hand was in, he would, gnashing his large white teeth, which looked white from the same cause that a chimney-sweeper's teeth look so, merely because they were such a great contrast to his black fiend-like visage, he would dart his eye round the different classes to see which boy he should fix upon as his next victim. During these disgusting periods, with the exception of two or three favourites, every one's heart palpitated within his agitated breast. When this vindictive mania was upon him, myself and three or four other boys were almost certain to come in for a share. In fact, when his eye came to my class, I would almost involuntarily lay down my book, and meet his horrid gaze, as if prepared to receive a beckon from him to come out. If he passed me over, which was very seldom, it was considered as a miracle. Frequently, while he was punishing me, and while the blood was running almost in streams from my lacerated back, I have looked him steadily in the face, and I could fancy I saw him enjoying the same sort of savage ferocious delight, that a hungry wolf would discover in gorging upon the mangled vitals of the unoffending lamb. Such is the effect which tyranny produces upon the noble mind, that although I was of a tender delicate frame, and rather of a timid nature, yet I soon became so inured to punishment, that I constantly bore the most severe flogging without altering a muscle of my face, notwithstanding I frequently received from ten to twenty lashes from the recently made instrument of torture, which was composed of new birch twigs, each stroke from which drew the blood; and it was no uncommon thing, after I had left the room, to get some other boy to pick out the spills which were left sticking in my lacerated flesh, some of them more than half an inch long. Nay, at last it became so bad that one of the washerwomen made a serious complaint to Mrs. Griffith, about the horrid state of my linen. Mrs. Griffith's expostulations were in vain, although they were made in the most urgent and pressing manner in my hearing.