HENRY HUNT, ESQ.
AS 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.
MEMOIRS OF HENRY HUNT.
Hunting, shooting, and fishing by day, and mixing in the thoughtless, gay, and giddy throng by night, soon, however, dispelled any unpleasant impression which this circumstance had made upon my mind. I every day became acquainted with new and more fashionable society than I had before associated with, and as my son was about to be christened, we were determined to give a sumptuous feast and a ball, at which upwards of forty friends sat down to dinner. When I recal to mind all those expensive and thoughtless proceedings, I can reflect with great satisfaction upon one circumstance; which is, that I never forgot the poor. I always attended to their complaints, and ministered to their wants, when I could scarcely find time for any thing else. I never gave a feast that the poor did not partake of. Whether it were the celebration of a birth-day, or at a christening, they always came in for a share. I forgot to mention, that, when my son was born, I kept up the good ancient custom, which had been exercised with so much old English hospitality at my birth, by my father. Not only were toast and ale given to all my friends and neighbours, but my servants also had such a junketing as they will never forget. My birth-day, the 6th of November, I continued to celebrate as my father had done before his death; and I will here take leave to relate in what way I celebrated that event. I always had a party of private friends; but, while we were enjoying ourselves with every delicacy which the season afforded, the dinner generally consisting of different sorts of game of my own killing, dressed in various shapes—whilst me and my neighbouring friends and visitors were regaling ourselves, I was never unmindful of my poorer neighbours. Enford was a very extensive parish, containing a population of nearly seven hundred inhabitants. Amongst them there were a considerable number of old persons, for whom, after my father's death, I had successfully exerted myself, to procure them an increase of their miserable pittance of parish pay; which pay I had, as the reader will remember, raised from half-a-crown to three shillings and sixpence each per week. All these old people of the parish, of the age of sixty-three and upwards, I invited annually, without any distinction, to come and partake of the feast on the sixth of November. The servants' hall was appropriated to their use on that day; and as there were seldom less than twenty above this age, we always had as large a party as the house would well contain. There were about equal numbers of men and women, but several of the latter were the oldest, some of them being nearly ninety years of age, and many of them above eighty. As this parish consisted of eight hamlets, some parts of it, where the old persons resided, were at a distance of nearly two miles; and as, from their extreme old age, some of the poor creatures were unable to walk so far and back again, I always sent a cart and horse round to bring them. They had an excellent dinner of substantial meat and pudding, besides the dainties that went from my table, after which they regaled themselves with good old October or cyder. The day and night were always passed with the greatest hilarity, and I was never completely satisfied, unless I was an eye-witness that there was as much mirth and jollity amongst my old friends in the hall, as there was amongst my other friends in the dining and drawing rooms. To bring these poor old creatures together, and to make them once a year happy in each other's company, was to me a source of inexpressible delight. The very first year I assembled them after my father's death, several of them had never seen each other for eight or ten years, in consequence of their inability to leave their homes. They were overjoyed at meeting each other again, as it was a pleasure which they had long since banished from their hopes. One or two of them, who had never been a hundred yards from their own humble sheds for years before, and who had resigned all thoughts of ever going so far from their homes again, till they were carried to their last long home in the church-yard, were now inspired with new hopes, and appeared to enjoy new life; and they actually met their old workfellows and acquaintances, and spent a pleasant day with them on the 6th of November, in the hall at Chisenbury House, for eight or ten years afterwards, where they never failed to recount all the events of their youthful days. They were all full of the tales of former times, and of the anecdotes of my forefathers, of which they had been eye-witnesses. One gave a narrative of a feast of which he had partaken, another had danced at my grandfather's wedding, a third had nursed my father, and all of them were past their prime when I was born. To listen to their garrulity, and to witness the pleasure they felt in describing and recalling to each other's recollection, the scenes of years long gone by, and their opinion respecting the alteration in the times, was to me a source of indescribable delight. An old man and woman, who were each of them above eighty years of age, always sung with great glee a particular duet, which they had sung together, at my grandfather's home-harvest, upwards of sixty years before. Two women and a man, all above eighty, regularly danced a reel. Each individual sung a song, or told a story, and, to finish the evening, a tremendous milk-pail, full of humming toast and ale, wound up the annual feast, which set the old boys' and girls' heads singing again. Then, each heart being made full glad, care was taken that no accident or inconvenience should happen to such old and infirm people, by their being obliged to hobble home in the dark. A steady carter, Thomas Cannings, and an able assistant, loaded them all up in a waggon, in which they were drawn to their respective homes, and deposited there in perfect safety, where they enjoyed a second pleasure in recounting to their neighbours the merry scenes that passed on the squire's birthday. It will easily be believed by the reader, that they looked forward to the Christmas treat, of the same sort, and from thence to the next birth-day, with as much anxiety as the country lads and lasses look forward to the annual wake or fair.
The oldest woman in the parish had, all the year round, an invitation to a Sunday's dinner; and, what is very remarkable, Hannah Rumbold, who was the first Sunday's pensioner of mine, commenced it at the age of seventy-four, and regularly continued it till she was eighty-three; scarcely ever missing a dinner, from accident or illness, the whole time, and never from illness, without the dinner being sent to her own home. This, by some, may be called ostentation—be it so; it was the way in which I discovered my pride; and I trust, at all events, that it was equally laudable with the generous boon of our reverend doctor and justice, of the "Old Alderney Cow." What a history have I heard of this beneficent, generous, humane, chaste, and pious parson, in consequence of the story of the Old Cow; but, as some of the anecdotes require confirmation, without which they are almost incredible, I must pause till the next Number, before I hand them down, together with the doctor and the old cow, to posterity. I had now made an engagement to go with some brother sportsmen to Wales, on a grouse shooting party. Our dogs and guns having been sent on before with our servants, we started, two of us, in my curricle, and the third person met us at the New Passage, near Bristol. Unfortunately, we arrived there too late for the tide; there was only one more boat could pass over the Severn that night, and that boat was already hired, and waiting to take over the old Marquis of Lansdown. This was a heavy disappointment to us, as our dogs were on this side of the water, and would, the next day, have between twenty and thirty miles to travel, to Pontypool, where we were going to shoot. The twelfth of August, which was the first day for grouse-shooting, was on the following day, and therefore our dogs ought to have gone on some part of the way that very evening, that they might be fit for the field, or rather the hills, as soon as the shooting commenced. What was to be done? There was no contending against the tide. At last I made up my mind to ask the old Marquis to allow the dogs and a servant to pass over with him. My companions declined joining in the application, as they were fearful that he would take it as an insult; and, at all events, there was little chance of his compliance, as the boat was but a small one, and he had his servants and a considerable portion of luggage to carry, the whole being nearly enough to fill the boat. I, however, wrote a note and requested an audience, which was instantly granted: the noble Marquis, on my entering the room, politely asking me whether there was any thing he could do to oblige me? I related to him our unfortunate case, which I represented as most forlorn; and which, by the bye, none but sportsmen can comprehend. On his perceiving my anxiety, he laughed heartily, and said, "Make yourself easy, Mr. Hunt; I will with great pleasure take you and your dogs over with me in my boat, and I shall be most happy to have your company." I thanked him warmly, but hinted that I had two companions, which would be too many for the boat. "Come, come," said he, "we will talk to the boatman. It certainly will not do to overload; but if he should think there will be too many, I will, nevertheless, so manage as to set you at ease upon the subject; for I shall feel great pleasure in having it in my power to facilitate your sport. As my immediately crossing the river is of little consequence to me, I will remain on this side till the morning, and you shall go in the boat, upon condition that, you and your friends will occupy the beds and eat the supper that I have bespoken at the Black Rock, on the other side. I expressed my grateful sense of his polite attention; but, as the boatman had now arrived, and assured him that he could take us all in his boat with great safety, it was arranged that we should go together.
The Marquis having finished his tea, we all embarked. He had his housekeeper and his valet, and we had myself and two friends, with our servant, and two brace of pointers. The old Marquis of Lansdown, the father of the present Marquis, was not only one of the most accomplished gentlemen and profound statesmen of the age, but his liberality and hospitality were truly characteristic of the old English nobility. He knew who and what I was, perfectly well, although we were never before personally acquainted; and he remarked, that my situation in life rendered me one of the most independent men in the kingdom. He dwelt upon the talents of Lord Henry Petty, who was his second and favourite son; and he prognosticated, that he would be an eminent politician, and that some day he would shine at the head of the English Government. He, however, emphatically said, that, after all, his son's situation would never be so independent as mine was, because he would always be bound in the trammels of party. He invited me to Bow-wood, upon his return, for which I politely thanked him, informing him, at the same time, that as I had some friends out of Berkshire staying at my house, I meant, with his permission, to take them some day to see the house, gardens, and park, at Bow-wood. To this he replied, that he hoped he should be at home when we came; that he should feel the greatest pleasure in shewing it to us himself; but that, go whenever we would, he should be very happy for his people to shew it me and my friends, although they did not in general make a practice of doing it. "You will find it," said he, "Mr. Hunt, a comfortable residence for a country gentleman. It is small, but comfortable."
I had two or three days good sport, in grouse shooting, though my friends, who were too delicate sportsmen to encounter, with success, the difficulties and dangers of the Welsh mountains, returned, without having killed a single bird. It was, however, altogether, a pleasant excursion, and as we returned we spent a day or two at the Fish-ponds, near Bristol, with Dr. Fox, who had recently paid me a visit at Chisenbury, as a friend of one of the shooting party. As we were on our way home, the Marquis of Lansdown's polite and gentlemanly conduct became the subject of conversation; and as one of my friends, who came out of Berkshire, expressed a wish, as we passed by Bow-wood, the seat of the Marquis, to see the place, before he went home, we fixed a day, and made a party, determined to accept the offer of the Noble Marquis, to visit his seat, and see the beautiful pleasure-grounds, park, and cascade, which surround the mansion, and likewise view the fine paintings which it contained. I fell in with this plan the more readily, because my Berkshire friend rather hoaxed me, for professing to believe that the Marquis was sincere. He said he was a fine old courtier, and it cost him nothing to be polite; but, with regard to what he said about the pleasure he would feel at skewing us Bow-wood, they were mere words of course, and he would think no more of them afterwards; and if we went to see it, we should be treated the same as we were when we went to see Blenheim, the seat of the Duke of Marlborough, which was, we had to pay about thirty shillings to the different servants that showed us over the house, gardens, and grounds, at which, considering it was built for the great Duke of Marlborough, at the public expense, I had expressed my disapprobation. I contended, that we should be treated in a different manner, and that the old Marquis would not allow his servants to behave so shabbily. I was, however, laughed at, for expecting that a Nobleman would take the pains to write home from Wales, to his servants, to give them any directions about the matter. The day was, nevertheless, fixed for the 24th of August, 1801.
I shall relate the circumstances of our visit, to shew what sort of a character the first Marquis of Lansdown was. We appointed to meet at Devizes, and the party proceeded together to Bow-wood, which is about six miles from that town. We were six in number, three ladies and three gentlemen; myself and Mrs. Hunt in our curricle, and our friends two in a chariot, and two in a gig; each of us attended by a servant. It was a lovely day, and when we entered the lodge, as we drove down the park, a distance of about a mile before we came to the house, we drew up and looked around us. The picturesque views were enchanting, and the sublime grandeur of the beautiful oaks was most striking. We had been travelling in Wales, where we had been delighted with the most romantic scenery; but this park at Bow-wood possessed a richness and a luxuriance such as we all declared we had never seen before; and the gravel road, the whole of the mile through the park, was more like the neatest gravel walk in a garden than a public carriage road. There was not a pebble the size of a marble, not a leaf, a straw, or a blade of grass, the whole way; every thing was kept up in the neatest and most perfect style that I ever saw. We remarked to each other, as we passed along, that the Marquis must have returned, as no servants would take such pains with a place in a master's absence.
At length we drove up to the door, and upon inquiring of the porter whether the Marquis was at home, he answered, "No;" that he was gone into Wales, and not expected back for a month. We asked if we could see the house? The answer was, that it was never shown to any one but the Marquis's friends. My Berkshire friend smiled, and looking very significantly said, "Well, Hunt, we have had a very pleasant drive, but I told you how it would be; we may, therefore, as well turn round and drive back again." I was about to put some other question to the porter, when the housekeeper approached; an elegant, handsomely dressed matron, who inquired, "Pray, Sir, is your name Hunt?" I, of course, answered her in the affirmative; upon which she begged we would alight. She then rang a bell, and desired the porter and another servant to take the carriages round the yard, and put the horses in the stable, and take care of them. She then informed us, that the Marquis had written home, to desire that, if I came with my friends, we should be shewn the house, gardens, grounds, cascade, and every thing at Bow-wood.
Having led us into a large room, the walls of which were hung with paintings, the good lady politely requested that we would amuse ourselves for a few minutes, while she made some preparations, and she would return and shew us the whole of the house. As soon as she had retired, my friend admitted that he had done the Noble Marquis great injustice, and he was now full of praises for his true nobility of character. The housekeeper now returned, and, after pointing out some beauties in the paintings, and the particular views from the windows, she led us into an adjoining room, in the centre of which stood a table, covered with wines of various sorts, and the most superb desert of fruit I ever beheld, consisting of pines, hot-house grapes, and various other fruits, in the greatest perfection, as well as profusion. We looked at each other with some surprise, when she invited the ladies to be seated, and the gentlemen to assist them to refreshments, before we proceeded any further; and, addressing herself to me, she said, this is a letter I received on the fourteenth of August. It was written by the Marquis, on the twelfth, from the Black Rock Inn, on the other side of the New Passage. It commences as follows:—"I expect Mr. Hunt, of Chisenbury House, to visit Bow-wood, to see the house and gardens, with his friends. If they should arrive before my return, you will take care that they receive that attention which I always wish to be shewn to my friends, when they do me the honour to visit Bow-wood." "Now," continued the housekeeper, "I understand the wish of the Marquis well. I know nothing will afford him greater pleasure than to hear that you, Sir, and your friends, make yourselves as welcome as he would have made you, had he been at home." She had, she said, orders to dress us a dinner, which she should do, while we were walking round the gardens and pleasure grounds, and viewing the cascade. She had sent a servant, she told us, to get some fish out of the store, and there was a haunch of venison just fit to dress; and she would have dinner ready for us at any hour we would fix. As we had a previous engagement, we declined the invitation to dinner, but we did ample justice to the pines and grapes. We were then shewn over the house, and afterwards we went round the gardens, consisting of five acres of the highest cultivated soil, and the walls clothed with the choicest fruit trees in full bearing. One fact worth recording the gardener told me, which was, that the Marquis, being particularly fond of pears, they were cultivated in this garden to the highest perfection, and he had a different plate of pears to be put upon the table for every day in the year. The pleasure grounds and every thing at Bow-wood bespoke the residence of one who was a nobleman by nature as well as by title.
After having spent a most agreeable morning, and had a second edition of the desert and wine, we prepared to depart, all much delighted with what we had seen, and more gratified with the polite and handsome conduct of the noble owner. Just as I was about to offer a present, the housekeeper called me aside. She took the liberty, she said, to request that I would not offer any of the servants any money. As the servants of the Marquis had all of them most liberal wages, he never suffered them to take any vails of his friends who visited him.
In addition to the attention which had been shewn to us, our servants had also been handsomely regaled, and the horses well taken care of in the stables; and, as we contemplated the munificent treatment we experienced at Bow-wood, we could not refrain from drawing a most unfavourable contrast of the treatment we had experienced about a month before, when we had made a party to visit Blenheim, the seat of the Duke of Marlborough, at Woodstock, near Oxford. There we were turned over from one servant to another, each having his department, and demanding a certain sum before we were handed into the custody of his companion. Thus is this splendid testimony of national gratitude to the Great Duke of Marlborough made a show of for the emolument of the servants of the establishment; each of them demanding his fee as regularly as a showman of wild beasts at a fair demands a shilling at the entrance. This is considered by foreigners as a disgrace to the British character, and it is justly considered so.
We must now return to politics.—Lord Nelson bombarded the French flotilla at Boulogne, disabled ten vessels, and sunk five; but upon his making another attempt on it, he was repulsed with great loss. I cannot describe this eventful period better than it is described in the "Chronology of Public Events, within the last fifty years;" a most useful and entertaining work published by Sir Richard Phillips, Bride Court, Bridge Street. The passage is as follows, under the head of "Great Britain." "This year, 1801, commenced by exhibiting the effects of eight years war; the national debt had been doubled, and internal distress had become general; the poor were in a state bordering on starvation, and commerce had the prospect of having every foreign port shut against it. The people busied themselves to meet the threatened French invasion; and after a long watch for encroachment, the English themselves became assailants, by an attack upon Boulogne, which did little injury, and a second attack took place, under Lord Nelson, which failed with loss." This certainly is a correct description of the state of the country, in the ninth year of the war against French liberty, waged to prevent a Reform of the Parliament at home.
I shall now state how I was employed upon this occasion. Pitt's alarmists still disseminated throughout the country, a general terror of invasion. The various Lords Lieutenants of counties were kept actively at work, to support the delusion; for nothing but the immediate dread of invasion could have induced the people to pay the immense drains that were made upon their pockets by taxation; nothing less than the dread of having their property annihilated, their wives and daughters violated, and their children bayoneted before their faces, could have made them submit to the burthens which they bore.
Our Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire, Lord Pembroke, had caused circular letters to be written to the clergymen, churchwardens and overseers of every parish, to return an account of all the moveable property, live and dead stock, that there was in their several parishes; and also to require every farmer to give in a list of his stock of grain, horses, waggons and cattle; and at the end of it to state what he would voluntarily place at the disposal of the government, in case of an actual invasion; he was also to declare whether he was employed in any volunteer corps, and if not, whether he would place himself under the Lord Lieutenant and act as pioneer, driver, &c. In the parish of Enford, a public meeting was called, which was held at the Inn. Being much the largest farmer in the parish, I was called to the chair. Having opened the business of the day by reading the circular of the Lord Lieutenant, and explained as well as I could the object of the meeting, I urged those who were present, which was every farmer of the parish, by all the power of eloquence that I possessed, to come forward manfully and devotedly, to resist the common enemy with their property and their lives, in case they should dare to set a foot upon English ground. As it was then my practice, and which it has ever continued to be to this day, I told them that I should feel myself a disgrace to human nature, if I could be capable of urging or exciting my fellow countrymen to any act, in the danger of which I would not stand forward personally to participate. I would, therefore, in the first instance, write down fairly and honestly a true account of all the stock, live and dead, that I possessed, and conceal nothing whatever. It was as follows: Wheat, sixteen hundred sacks—barley, fifteen hundred quarters—oats, four hundred quarters—hay, two hundred and fifty ton—cart horses, thirty, value from thirty to seventy guineas each—draught oxen, ten—cows, twenty—sheep, four thousand two hundred—pigs, fifty—two broad-wheel and eight narrow-wheel waggons, eight carts, &c. &c. &c. all in excellent condition, and fit for active service. Each farmer in succession followed my example, in giving a full and faithful account of the whole of his stock; I having urged the necessity, nay, the policy, of this; because, in case the enemy were to land, and the cattle and stock were to be driven off, no one could afterwards claim compensation for more than he had actually entered. This being done, the next thing required was, for each person to enter in a column set apart for that purpose, how many quarters of grain, how many waggons and horses, how many oxen, sheep, &c. he would furnish gratuitously to the government in the event of an actual invasion; and, if he were not serving in any volunteer corps, whether he would become a pioneer or driver, or place himself at the disposal of the Lord Lieutenant. I took the pen and wrote as follows:—"I, Henry Hunt, of Chisenbury House, in the county of Wilts, have given a true and faithful account of all the live and dead stock, cattle and grain, that I possessed; and I do hereby voluntarily tender the whole of it, without any reserve, to the government, to be at their disposal in case of an actual invasion and landing by the enemy. I also engage to find, at my own expence, able, careful, active and willing drivers for the teams, and shepherds to attend the cattle and flocks, to conduct them wherever they may be required. As for my own personal services, I having lately been dismissed from the Wiltshire yeomanry by Lord Bruce, the colonel, and having no confidence either in the courage or skill of the colonel or any of the officers belonging to that regiment, but having, by considerable pains and perseverance, obtained a pretty correct knowledge of military tactics, I hereby engage to enter myself and three servants, completely equipped, and mounted upon valuable hunters, as volunteers into the regiment of horse that shall make the first charge upon the enemy; unless the Lord Lieutenant should think that an active and zealous friend to his country, well mounted, and ready to perform any service, however desperate, accompanied by three servants, also well mounted, can serve the cause of his country better by placing himself at the disposal of the Lord Lieutenant of the county."
My neighbours stared, and I believe some of them thought me mad with enthusiasm. And as well as I can recollect, so far were they from following my example, that they all contented themselves with offering some a waggon and four horses, some a cart and two horses, some a few quarters of corn; but no one went further than offering a waggon and four horses and a few quarters of oats. In fact, when the returns came to be examined, the offer that I had made exceeded that of all the farmers of the whole district, for many miles round. As soon as the meeting was concluded, not satisfied with writing my name down in the circular, and leaving it to find its way amongst others to head quarters, I sat down and wrote a letter, which I sent by my servant, to Lord Pembroke, explicitly stating the extent of the offer, and my readiness to carry it into execution. I received the following answer, which I have now before me.
"WILTON HOUSE, August 20th, 1801.
"I have been so overwhelmed for some days with business, resulting from the necessity of calling upon a part of this county to put itself in a state of military preparation, that it has not been in my power to send a more immediate answer to your letter of the sixteenth. As the part above alluded to does not extend to your residence, I conceive you will not be called upon to make any movement, except in the event of actual invasion, or of immediate threatening upon the coast; in which case the offers you make would be of infinite service; in which case also, as you ask my opinion, I think various lines of service might be pointed out, in which your personal services, attended by your servants, would be of much greater avail, and far more beneficial to the country, than as a volunteer in any regular regiment of cavalry, should those corps be permitted to receive volunteers.
"I am, Sir, "Your very obedient servant, "PEMBROKE. "To Henry Hunt, Esq. "Chisenbury House, Wilts."
Now let the thinking reader look at this circumstance attentively, and having done so, and marked down the dates, what a field for reflection does this fact, this letter disclose!—It appears, by the date of this letter and its contents, that, on the SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST, in the year 1801, I was acting as CHAIRMAN of a public parish meeting, held at the Swan Inn, in the parish of Enford, in the county of Wilts, assembled in consequence of a circular letter, written by Earl Pembroke, the Lord Lieutenant of the county, in order to take into consideration and to adopt the most effectual means of affording assistance to the government, to resist and repel the invasion of a foreign foe. The very FIRST time in my life that I was ever called upon by my fellow-countrymen to preside at a public meeting, was on the SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST, 1801; and, for my zeal and devotion for the welfare and safety of my country on that day, I received the approbation of Lord Pembroke, the Lord Lieutenant of the county of Wilts. On the SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST, 1819, that day eighteen years afterwards, my readers all well know, and they will never forget it, that I was presiding at as peaceable, as laudable, and as constitutional a public meeting, held at Manchester, for the purpose of taking into consideration the best and most legal means of obtaining "a reform in the peoples' or Com- mons' House of Parliament." But, instead of then receiving the thanks of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, I was assaulted by a military force, imprisoned, sentenced to be incarcerated in the worst, the most unwholesome, and the most infamous county gaol in the kingdom, for TWO YEARS and SIX MONTHS; while the butchers who murdered fifteen or sixteen, and maimed upwards of six hundred of their peaceable and unresisting fellow creatures, received the thanks of the King for their services.
This is a very extraordinary coincidence of circumstances, that the first and the last public meeting at which I ever presided, should have been on the SIXTEENTH OF AUGUST; and that they should have been attended by such different results is equally worthy of notice. I am quite sure, that I was actuated by the very same feeling, the same love of country, the same anxiety for the well being of my fellow countrymen, and the same self-devotion, at both these meetings; my great leading object being to promote, as far as my humble means would permit, the welfare, the freedom and the happiness of my fellow countrymen.
It will not, I think, be uninteresting to my friends, who honour me by reading these memoirs, to state how I came by this letter of Lord Pembroke's, written nearly twenty years ago. It would seem as if I had been a very wary person to preserve my papers so carefully. But this is not the fact; I have been quite the reverse; thousands of papers, letters from public men, which would have been most valuable to me now, and documents, have I incautiously and thoughtlessly burnt. I will, however, state how I came by this letter, which I have now here in this gaol. Soon after I came to Ilchester, I wrote home to my family, to collect from amongst my papers, all letters and papers containing votes of thanks that had been passed at public meetings all over the country, and sent to me from various places, from almost every part of the kingdom; particularly in the years 1816, 1817, 1818, 1819 and 1820. When these papers came to me here, in looking them over I discovered three from Lord Pembroke; and I was rather surprised at their being amongst the number sent, as I had quite forgotten what subjects they were upon. But, on opening them, I found that they all contained expressions of approbation and thanks, for various offers that I had made during the first French war, while an invasion was threatened. As soon as I had examined them, I put them by, and never thought of them again, till I came to write the account of my first offer. I was then going to state the substance of the Lord Lieutenant's answer, as far as my memory would serve me, but at that moment recollecting that I had some letters from Lord Pembroke, I looked for them, and the very first upon which I laid my hand was that which I have inserted above. Now, let the life and fortune men produce, if they can, one such instance amongst them, of patriotic and disinterested self-devotion as that which I evinced at that time. It will be seen that I was just the same sort of man on the 16th of August, 1801, as I was on the 16th of August, 1819; just the same sort of man that I am at this moment. In the first instance my country was in danger; she was threatened by the invasion of a foreign foe—that was enough; what was my conduct? I hurried to her assistance, and I made a voluntary tender of all I possessed—corn, hay, horses, cows, oxen, sheep, pigs, waggons, carts, &c. to the value of at least twenty thousand pounds, together with my own personal services, to perform any duty, however hazardous. I had suffered once for my zeal. I had been insulted by the colonel of the Wilts yeomanry, and for resisting it, I had been fined and imprisoned; but this did not extinguish, nor did it even slacken my zeal for what I conceived to be the safety and the liberty of any country. The liberal and patriotic offer which I had made was talked of all over the county by the rich and by the poor.
At this period I was living in what was called great style; my mansion being generally full of company. But in the midst of this profligate course of life, for so it might, with great truth, be called, I was not unmindful of the wants and the privations of the poor, and I never failed to do every thing in my power to relieve their distresses, and at the same time protect them from oppression. Hunting and shooting were my great delight; but, fond as I was of these sports, I never neglected the call of a poor man or a poor woman, to attend on his or her behalf, at a justice meeting, to advocate their cause, and defend them against the arbitrary and cruel attacks of any little dirty tyrant, who might have premeditated to oppress them. For this conduct I was branded, behind my back, by the quorum, and all the jacks in office under them, as a busy, meddling, officious fellow; but this never deterred me from doing that which I believe to be, and which I had been taught to be, the duty of a good Christian, namely, my duty towards my neighbour. If the petty despots of the neighbourhood levelled their sneers at me behind my back, I was more than repaid, I was most amply rewarded, for this indignity, by a self-approving conscience, and by the grateful thanks and blessings of the poor, whenever I came in contact with them. They were not only civil and respectful towards me and my family, but they were always ready to fly to do me any act of kindness within their power. Whenever any particular exertion was required in my farming business, it was only for me to hint my wish, and it was not only set about without expostulation or grumbling, but it was sure to be executed and accomplished with alacrity and cheerfulness; for they never had any doubt of my punctuality in repaying them with an equitable and a liberal hand. This was a delightful state of society; each we would act otherwise than we did, is the weakness of folly; for if we were placed in the very same situation, at the same age, with the same inexperience, and impelled by the same impetuous youthful passions; under similar circumstances, depend upon it we should commit the self-same errors that we have now to regret. As for myself, instead of indulging in this sort of weakness, I look back upon my past errors with a sort of awful reverence for the benignity of the divine will of my Maker; and, when I prostrate myself before God, and offer up a silent, although an ardent thanksgiving for all his goodness to me, an insignificant human being, I never forget to pour out my most grateful and unbounded acknowledgments to him for his having permitted me to pass through life hitherto so well as I have done, without having committed any premeditated or deadly sin, such as would bear down and oppress my soul with conscious guilt, and place me in that deplorable situation which is so beautifully expressed by a sublime author: "of all mortals, those are the most exquisitely miserable, who groan beneath the pressure of a melancholy mind, or labour under the stings of a guilty conscience; a slave confined to the gallies, or an exile to punish—living and labouring for the mutual benefit and happiness of the whole.
Many of my readers will be surprised, and will exclaim, "how was it possible that Mr. Hunt, surrounded with so many blessings, and appearing so much to enjoy such a rational, desirable, delightful occupation, should have been led away, should have been betrayed into the guilt of dissipation?" Ah, my friends! how easy is it, in looking back upon past events, upon lost time, how easy is it for us to say, and what a common expression it is, in the mouth of almost every reflecting person, "If my time were to come over again, how very differently would I act!" But this sort of reasoning is very fallacious, it is unworthy a philosopher. When a person reflects upon particular events of his life, where his objects had failed for want of foresight, or for want of prudence, it may be excusable in him to express a wish, nay, it is almost impossible for any one to suppress an inward wish, that he had acted with more caution, discretion or prudence; but even a hankering wish of this sort is a weakness, although it may be an amiable and an excusable weakness. To wish at all for an impossibility, such as the recalling of time that is irretrievably gone by, must be a weakness. But, even if we could recall it, to assert that [—illegible—] is in perfect paradise compared with these."
The reader will be careful to recollect, that I am not endeavoring to screen those sins that I know I have committed. As I feel that they will come under the denomination of venial, and not deadly sins, I shall not shrink from the task which I have imposed upon myself, of recording them as often as they occur at the different periods of my history. I am not insensible of my errors, faults, or frailties; I know that we are all poor frail mortals; but, as my poor father said upon his death bed, "I have not the least shadow of doubt upon my mind, that a wise, just, and beneficent Creator and Father of all, will pardon my errors." With the same sort of hope, and with a similar impression upon my mind, I pass my numerous hours of solitude here in the most delightful reflections. Calm, composed and perfectly free from the slightest impatience under the idea of my lengthened imprisonment, I have nothing about me of pining or fretting; and when I nightly lay my head down on my pillow, I invariably enjoy sweet, sound, and uninterrupted repose. I rise early, refreshed, vigorous and cheerful, always occupied, always looking forward with new and renovated hopes, of living to see the enemies of my country and the persecutors of my suffering countrymen brought to justice. Though I am a determined and unpromising enemy of those who tyrannize over and oppress my fellow creatures, yet I feel that I am always ready to forgive my personal injuries, and I am never in better humor with myself, and never have a higher opinion of my own character, than when I find my heart divested of all vindictive feelings against the petty tyrants by whom I am surrounded. For their cruel persecution of myself and my unoffending family, I will, if I live and have the power, deliberately and perseveringly bring them to justice; but I will not do it to gratify a vindictive spirit—I will do it for the sake of justice itself; not to gratify my own revenge, but for the protection of those who may come hereafter.
To return to my narrative: the letter which, in answer to my unlimited offers, I received from Lord Pembroke, I communicated to the neighbouring farmers, at a meeting held for that purpose. This quieted their fears, and the account of Lord Nelson's attack upon the flotilla contributed, in a great measure, to dissipate the general apprehension which pervaded the whole country, that an immediate invasion was actually likely to take place. The French Government understood this thing well; they knew that it kept the country in a continual state of ferment and apprehension; and therefore they persisted in keeping the army of observation and the flotilla at Boulogne, in order to harrass the British Ministry, who, however, contrived to turn this to their own advantage, as it enabled them to frighten the people out of their money, by an enormous levy of taxes; the supplies voted this year being forty-two millions, and the loan which took place being twenty-five millions. By this means the taxes this year were increased one million seven hundred and ninety-four thousand pounds. I believe that nothing but the dread of invasion would have induced the people of England to submit to such enormous drains upon their pockets. This bugbear, then, was cherished with the greatest care by the Ministers; a striking example of which is, the state of ferment we were placed in at Enford, the centre of the county of Wilts, at least fifty miles distant from any part of the coast, and a great deal further from any part of it where a landing was likely to be attempted. We all, however, in consequence of Lord Pembroke's letter, now went very steadily about our business again.
The patriotic and truly illustrious Washington's Presidency expired in America this year, and he retired into private life, amidst the grateful benedictions of his country, which, under his wise, virtuous, and cheap administration, had, in spite of numerous difficulties, risen to such a magnitude, that its friendship was courted by all the old Governments. It appeared that the public debt was 78 millions of dollars, not more than 16 millions sterling, which sum was yearly diminishing, and that the annual expenditure of the chief officer of the state was only nine thousand five hundred pounds, not above half the amount of the sinecure of the Marquis of Buckingham or Marquis of Camden, as Tellers of the Exchequer. What a contrast was exhibited between the expences of Great Britain and those of America!
In England the average price of wheat, throughout the year, was a hundred and twenty shillings a quarter, or fifteen shillings a bushel. It was estimated, that nine millions of acres of corn were grown in England this year, and the price which the produce sold for may be fairly averaged at twelve pounds per acre; therefore, in the one year, one hundred and eight millions of pounds were pocketed by the land-holders and farmers in the price of their corn only. I had grown most excellent crops, and of course had come in for my share. In fact, my corn averaged above four pounds per sack for the wheat, and four pounds per quarter for the barley; so that merely the corn with which I offered, in case of an invasion, to supply the Government, gratuitously, was not worth less than fifteen thousand pounds. I repeat it once more, let the exclusively loyal gentry—let the life and fortune men—let the hole-and-corner addressers come forward, and point me out one instance amongst their whole hordes, of a man who ever volunteered to serve his country to such an extent. What I this day told Dr. Colston, the Visiting Magistrate, is quite applicable on this subject. When he was professing every disposition to serve me, I replied, looking him firmly in the face, "Doctor, doctor! shew me an act and I will believe you. One act is worth ten thousand professions. I ask for nothing but what is reasonable, and consistent with common sense and common humanity; and nothing but what is consistent with your strict duty as a man, a clergyman, and a christian. Let me see my family at reasonable hours in the day time, so long as they conduct themselves with decorum and propriety, and violate none of the rules of the gaol, and I am content."
The reader will see, that this is the burthen of my song, "Let me see my family." This one simple, this one reasonable request, is all I have asked, is all I do ask, and it is all I shall ask. But, while you deny me this, talk not to me of conciliation. All your little, petty, dirty, mean tricks to annoy me I can and do laugh at; I should despise myself, if I could not despise and disregard them. But, like expert butchers, who, when they are about to cut the throat of their innocent victim, the bleating lamb, know well where to apply the knife, so do you know where to inflict a deadly wound in the most vital part. There is, to be sure, this distinction between you and the butcher; it is his business, it is his profession, by which he gets his daily bread; and, indeed, the sooner he kills his victim the more merciful he is: but as for you, your conduct is ten thousand times more brutal than that of the butcher, inasmuch as you inflict torture upon a human being, merely for the pleasure of inflicting torture. And do you really believe, are you so besotted as to flatter yourselves, that you will escape? Do you really believe, that "Where vice and cruelty go before, vengeance will not follow after?" Vain and delusive hope!!! Justice is slow, very slow, in reaching the minions of power; but she is certain to prevail at last. This digression I am sure will be excused, and I will now proceed. This period (1801 and 1802) may be said to have been the zenith of the farmers' glory. If a farm was to be let, scores were riding and driving over each other, ready to break their necks to take it, to rent it at any price. Not only farmers, but tailors, tinkers, grocers, linen-drapers, and all sorts of tradesmen and shopkeepers, were running, helter shelter, to be farmers; men connected with the press, and cunning attorneys were joining in the chase; men of all professions, indeed, were now eager to become gentlemen farmers. My father used to class the whole of these under the general denomination of APRON FARMERS. Never was there a more significant and intelligible term applied to any set of men. In every parish you now saw one or two of these apron farmers, gentlemen who knew very well how to handle a yard, so as to make short measure in selling a piece of cloth; men who could acquit themselves well at a pestle and mortar, who could tie up a paper parcel, or "split a fig;" who could drive a goose-quill, or ogle the ladies from behind a counter, very decently; but who knew no more about the management of a farm than they did about algebra, or the most intricate problems of Euclid. A pretty mess these gentry made of it! every one who had saved four or five thousand pounds by his trade must now become a farmer! They all knew what profits the farmer was making, and they not only envied him, but they made a desperate plunge to become participators with him in the booty. There was scarcely an attorney in the whole country that did not carry on the double trade of quill-driving and clod-hopping. Most of them purchased land, even if they borrowed the money to pay for it; and many, many of them, after having farmed and farmed, till they had not a shilling in their pockets to support their families, have been compelled to give up their estates to the mortgagee. As an illustration of this fact, I could point out numerous instances of this sort of mad folly. I remember an Irish Barrister, who had married a lady of fortune at Bath, came and purchased an estate in Sussex, adjoining one that I occupied; and this, as he expressed himself, he did, that he might have the benefit of my experience to assist him in the cultivation of it. He was to take the timber at a valuation, and it is a sufficient proof of his ignorance of these matters, that he really did not know the difference between a hazel bush and an oak tree; for, although he was a very clever and an ingenious man in his way, yet he actually applied to me, to know how they would measure such small timber as that which he pointed out to me, which was nothing more than a hazel bush! Such was his ignorance of country affairs, that he did not know barley and wheat from grass, nor beans from oats, when growing; and he seriously proposed, as the best method of hatching young ducks, to set them under the rooks who had made their nests in the lofty trees that surrounded his house; and yet this gentleman must be a farmer, forsooth! But I am anticipating my history. These facts must, however, convince every rational mind, that this was such an unnatural state of things as could not exist for any lengthened period. It did, nevertheless, drag on to the end of the war, when all these apron farmers were brushed off their farms, as one would brush from off one's leg a fly that was stinging it. These gentry long since quitted the turmoil and difficulty of agricultural pursuits. Those that purchased have given up their land to the mortgagee; and those that rented have had their stocks sold to pay their creditors; and many of them, cursing the evil hour when they were induced to become farmers, have crept quietly back to occupy the situation behind the counter, as servants, where only a few years before they had reigned as masters. These were some of the evils naturally attendant upon the bad policy as well as wickedness of one nation going to war to put down and destroy the liberty of another!
I used regularly to attend Devizes market, seldom, if ever, missing a market-day. After my father's death I was elected, or rather promoted to his seat, which was that of chairman at the head of the table, at the principal dining room of the farmers, at the Bear Inn, the best Inn of the town. I have already described some of the scenes that used to occur upon those occasions, as to the way in which the bottle was passed about after dinner; but there is one other important point, connected with these weekly meetings of farmers, which I deem most worthy of recording. Those parties were composed chiefly of farmers; but there were intermingled several large millers, brewers, maltsters, and corn jobbers from Bath and the surrounding country; and every now and then a gentleman bag-man, or traveller, would join us, which he was sure to do if there was any one in the town. After dinner the home news of the day having been talked over, foreign news and politics were generally introduced; for, since I had been in the King's Bench, my opinion was considered as some authority, and very earnest and warm debates used frequently to take place. For some years before this period all political discussion had been put down with a high hand, by the impudent and boisterous conduct and assertions of one or two of these Bath corn jobbers, who denounced any one as a Jacobin who ever dared to utter a word contrary to the plans of the despots of Europe, or hostile to the measures of Pitt. As far back as 1794 and 1795, if any one boldly delivered his sentiments, and reprobated the war as the measures of the ministers, he was not only denounced as a Jacobin, but he was generally turned out of the company, and his arguments, instead of being answered, were silenced by brute force. However, my father possessed too much manhood and liberality to suffer such a course as that to be taken while he presided.
At our meetings there was an impudent, unblushing, self-conceited fellow of the name of Perry, a miller and corn-dealer of Bath, who was always sure to contradict and insult any one who dared advance a liberal opinion; in which outrageous conduct he never failed to receive the support of those gentlemen bag-men, when any of them happened to be present; so that every young man, whatever were his pretensions to talent, was compelled to keep silence, unless he concurred with the ignorant and slavish doctrines of this hectoring jobber in grain, and the still more consequential knights of the bag. Having been informed, by a gentleman of Bath, one day, when I was speaking of this Perry's insolent conduct, that he was one of Mr. Pitt's agents, paid to promulgate his doctrines, and to put down the arguments of his opponents, I took occasion, when I was in the King's Bench, to make inquiries upon this subject, and any friend Clifford ascertained, from the most unquestionable sources, that it was one of Mr. Pitt's plans, to employ and pay, out of the secret service money, almost all the travellers in the kingdom, at least all those who possessed either a sufficient stock of impudence or a talent of speaking or arguing in company, for the express purpose of putting down public opinion, and enforcing and propagating the measures of the ministers, as the most wise and politic; and that these worthies were paid in proportion to their boisterous powers, and their impudence; and the reader will easily conceive that they soon acquired a sufficient stock of the latter, when they knew under what powerful auspices they were acting. He also ascertained that, in addition to these itinerant propagators and champions of tyrannical and despotic measures, they had from one to three stationary auxiliaries in every principal town in the kingdom, who frequented all places of public resort, and were always ready to denounce any man as a Jacobin and an enemy to his country, who dared to give utterance to an honest, candid thought. These fellows were so backed on by the local authorities, that the general feeling being also pretty much in their favour, their insolence was in many cases almost insufferable. Few men chose to enter the lists with them, because they had no chance of fair play, nor any probability of arguing the question with any degree of candour or liberality; and as a man must have either put up with flat ignorant contradiction, and open premeditated insult, or have got into a quarrel with them, conversation on political subjects was for many years effectually banished from almost every public company. However, since I had returned from my travels (which is the slang term of going to prison), I had acquired a considerable degree of confidence, and, accordingly, the very first time that I found this Mr. Perry pouncing upon one of the company with one of his rude knock-down arguments, I, without ceremony, took up the cudgels, and announced that, as long as I continued to be the chairman of that company, it was my intention to maintain the freedom of conversation, and I called upon the company to support me in my determination. If they would do this, every man would, I said, be at liberty to deliver his sentiments upon public matters with perfect freedom, as long as he abstained from offering any personal rudeness or insult to any one present, which should not be tolerated from any quarter whatever. With one or two exceptions, my proposal met with general approbation. This said, Mr. Perry made a long speech, calling upon the company to sustain their character for loyalty, and to declare themselves church and king men; and he urged them not to tolerate any thing like republican or free principles. He was heard very coolly, and even met with some disapprobation, upon which, getting warm, he declared that no man should utter any jacobinical expressions while he was present. This very naturally caused a laugh, and Mr. Upstart sat down, vowing vengeance against all Jacobins. I replied, and informed him that his notions about jacobinism were thoroughly ridiculous, and that if he ever heard any sentiments delivered of which he disapproved, and, in answer to which he could not find arguments, stated in decent language, the only way for him to act was, to walk out of the room; for he might depend upon it, if he ever insulted any one of the company in future, by giving them the lie, or calling them Jacobins and enemies to their country, if the party would support their chairman, I would put him out of the room. This was indeed turning the tables upon the loyal gentlemen, and it shews the alteration of opinions of that same company, who, a very few years before, had joined in forcing a very worthy man to quit the same room, merely because he disapproved of the war with France. This room ever afterwards was notorious for the liberality of sentiment that pervaded the company; and, as long as I remained the chairman thereof, the freedom of rational discussion was preserved unimpaired.
The reader will perceive that I have of late very seldom mentioned the name of Mrs. Hunt. The fact is, that I did not at this period enjoy that domestic felicity, of which I had heretofore partaken. I was, as I have more than once stated, gay, thoughtless, and dissipated. I seldom ever spent a retired, quiet evening at home, enjoying the rational amusements of my own domestic fireside. We bad always company at home, or I was one of a party abroad; myself and Mrs. Hunt were living a true fashionable life, and we entered into all its levities and follies. This course of life had drawn us into more fashionable, more accomplished society; and I own that to me polished manners were a great attraction, and that those who possessed them, possessed superior powers to fascinate. Amongst this number I frequently met a lady, who had been bred up and educated in the highest and most fashionable circles; she was tall, fair, and graceful, and, as far as my judgment went, every charm and accomplishment, both corporeal and mental, that could adorn an elegant and beautiful female, appeared to be centered in her. At first sight I was struck with her superior air and graceful form, but I soon began to admire the beauties of her mind more than I had at first sight been captivated by her person. We were, as if by accident, frequently thrown into each other's society—a circumstance with which I was very much delighted; and, as it never occurred to me that there could, by any possibility, be any harm in admiring and paying respectful attention to a lovely, elegant, and accomplished female, I never concealed in the smallest degree the pleasure which I felt in her society. Though for upwards of twelve months, which was ever since we had become first acquainted, my attentions had been very marked, yet they had not attracted any particular notice. I thought, alas! and I professed what I thought, that I felt the most pure platonic affection for this lady, and that I was blessed with her friendship in return. My wife had watched the progress of this attachment with anxiety and pain; she mentioned her fears, and expostulated in becoming terms against the imprudence of my conduct, which might give occasion to the world for ill-natured remarks; and she represented to me that, although my attentions were open and undisguised, they were very pointed and visible to every one, and that people would and did talk about it. I professed to set at defiance the malignant opinions of the envious and the ill-natured, and, as I was conscious of the purity and honour of my intentions, I was the last man living that would be likely to forego any pleasure, merely because the censorious world chose to make their remarks upon it. I saw that my wife had not the slightest suspicion of any thing criminal, neither was there the least reason for any such suspicion; but I saw also, that she dreaded the consequence of such incessant—such devoted attention on my part, which, although it was received with politeness, and the strictest propriety, she nevertheless perceived to be not at all disagreeable. Though this attachment was as pure and disinterested as platonic affection could possibly be, and although I should quite as soon have indulged an improper thought towards my own sister, yet the society of this lady was now become absolutely necessary to my comfort; we were, therefore, frequently together, and I was miserable if three or four days passed without our meeting—a circumstance which seldom happened, notwithstanding we lived at a distance of ten miles from each other.
It will be asked, what said the husband of the lady? for she was a married woman. It would ill-become me to say more than is absolutely necessary upon that subject; but, unfortunately he was careless and inattentive, and knew not how to prize the treasure that he possessed; and besides, as he never entertained, nor ever had any reason to entertain, a shadow of doubt respecting his wife, we were constantly left together. This intimacy had now continued nearly two years, and as the lady was going to stay with her family in a distant county, I was invited (almost of course) to pay her a visit while she was there. I scarcely need say, that the invitation was accepted. Instead of staying a week or ten days, I remained a month. During the whole of the time, my attention was incessant; I could not join in any scheme of pleasure or amusement, unless she was one of the party. Unluckily, too, there was no one to controul us. Her word was a law, which I resolutely carried into effect. At length the gentleman getting quite tired of my visit, which was never intended or professed by me to be to him, but to the lady, he left us, and went to London. Whenever he was asked by his friends or acquaintance, if I would not make one of a party to walk, to ride, to drive, or any other amusement, he invariably answered, "you must ask my wife, by G—; Hunt is no visitor of mine he is Mrs. ———'s visitor;" and I, without any ceremony, admitted this, by saying it was perfectly true, if the lady chose to go I should accompany her, and if she chose to remain at home, I should remain with her; and this determination I invariably followed.
Business, however, called me home, a few days after the gentleman left us, and I went into Wiltshire, about the middle of May, having made a promise to return in July, to attend the races at Brighton. This was the longest and most tedious six weeks of my life. I thought of nothing but my intended visit to Brighton races; and such was the anxiety of my mind, that it brought on a serious, and, indeed, alarming fever. In the fits of delirium I raved for the lady who was the object of my solicitude, and at one period the paroxysms were so violent, that Mrs. Hunt actually thought that I should have been bereaved of my senses; and to calm me, she seriously proposed to send an express for the lady. In a few days the strength of my constitution overcame the disease, and I recovered. But I found my life was quite a blank; my very soul was absorbed in thinking and longing for the society of one dear object. I took not the least interest in the political occurrences of the day; and, for the first time in my life, I grew careless, and totally neglected my business. Peace had been proclaimed: such an event, at any other time, I should have considered a matter of the highest importance, but that event scarcely excited my attention. Buonaparte was made first consul for life, and the Legion of Honour was established; this occasioned a great sensation throughout the country, but the discussion of these matters created no lively emotions in my breast; my mind was totally absorbed in contemplating another object. I now began to feel the fatal effects of indulging such a passion as that of platonic affection. Though there had never been the slightest variation from the strict line of virtuous friendship, yet, such was its power over me, that I found it irresistible. I struggled to break the spell, but I found it impossible; every effort that I made, only served to wind it more closely round my heart. I confessed my weakness to Mrs. Hunt; and, indeed, it was already too visible to her to require any confession on my part. At length the time arrived for my departure, and the manner of taking leave between myself and Mrs. Hunt, was very different from what it had ever been before; it was distressing to both, and appeared to be clouded with an ominous aspect.
Without dwelling any longer upon this painful subject, suffice it to say, that notwithstanding it was the very eve of harvest, I proceeded on my journey. I drove my old friend Robert Clare, in my curricle, and our servants followed us on horseback. We arrived in the neighborhood of Brighton, where we were received with great politeness. Clare went to visit the gentleman, I, the lady. We remained a few days before we departed for Brighton, where we had taken lodgings for the race-week. Instead of being diminished, my attentions to the lady increased every day, and as they became more pointed, and excited the notice of every one, the husband remonstrated, and threatened to take the lady home. In fact, he was urged on to do this by some of the lady's family. I expostulated, but never relaxed my assiduities, and he was indecisive. A storm was, however, gathering round us, which threatened to burst every moment; and dreading that separation which appeared worse than death, at the thoughts of which I was almost frantic, we took the desperate resolution to put it out of the power of any one to part us. Brighton was a dangerous place for persons in our situation; there was the Prince of Wales, our present King, living with Mrs. Fitzherbert, in the most open and public manner; this was an example too likely to have a baneful effect upon two persons so doatingly fond of each other, that the very idea of being parted, produced almost a momentary madness. Such was the result of platonic affection. Without ever having made the slightest approach to any thing criminal, our attachment was so riveted, that to cease to exist would have been ten thousand times preferable to such a separation, as would have finally deprived us of the power of enjoying each other's society. The die was cast—my curricle was brought to the door about one o'clock in the middle of the day; and I prevailed on her to take a seat, which she did almost in a lifeless state, without knowing where I was going to drive her. This did not excite the particular observation of our friends who were of the party, as I was in the habit of driving her out almost every day. As soon as we were seated, I drove off to Lewes. Upon the road we met the Prince, Mrs. Fitzherbert, and Sir John and Lady Lade, in a barouche, returning from the races. The moment that we arrived at Lewes, I ordered four horses to a post-chaise, and having written a short letter back to my friend Clare, to explain the cause of our absence, we proceeded to London with all possible speed. The friends of the lady followed her the next day, and every offer was made to induce her to return; but the fatal step being once taken, there was no retreating, and all entreaties were in vain, though every inducement was offered and repeated for six or eight months. I shall only add, that though there can be no justification for such a rash step, yet if ever there was a female that had received cause, which greatly palliated, almost to justification, she was that person. The circumstances were so peculiar and so distressing, that no legal proceedings were ever taken either against her or myself; but, on the contrary, amicable arrangements were made.
Perhaps, and no doubt, it will be said by some, that I am an unfeeling, barefaced offender, thus publicly to blazon forth my own errors. But I claim the indulgence of my readers to recollect that I have undertaken to write my own history, and, as I have promised to do it faithfully, no consideration upon earth shall induce me to conceal from the public my faults. They, and particularly the Reformers, shall, if I live, know my character such as it is. It is a duty I owe to them as well as to myself, and though this is a most painful duty, yet I am determined not to shrink from the task of performing it with a rigid fidelity. Millions of the most amiable and the most virtuous, if they cannot altogether pardon, will know how to make a generous and liberal allowance for the frailties of human nature. I have a much more difficult labour yet to accomplish, in narrating the separation that took place between myself and my wife, in consequence of this fatal step. But as I am quite sure nothing I ever did in my life can make me appear half so bad as I have been represented to be, by the venal public press of the country, I shall proceed deliberately and resolutely to disclose the whole.
The circumstance of our departure from so public a place as Brighton soon got into all the newspapers, and the intelligence had reached my home at Chisenbury, long before I got there, whither I was obliged to return, as it was just in the middle of harvest. I had written to a friend to meet me there, and to prepare Mrs. Hunt for the interview. Our meeting I will not attempt to describe; it was most painful for all parties; I concealed nothing from my wife, and, when she knew the extent of the evil, with a becoming spirit, she declared her determination not to share a divided heart. Without going into a detail here, it will be sufficient to say, that a separation was mutually agreed on, and her relations were appointed to meet my attorney, to make the necessary arrangements for carrying it into effect. I disclosed to my attorney my circumstances as to property, and intrusted him to accede to the most liberal settlement.
How many times, when I have come before the public, have I been taunted by the hireling press, and its still baser agents, that I had turned my wife out of doors to starve! How incessantly was this falsehood bawled out, repeated, and reiterated, by the dirty hireling agents of the contemptible Westminster Junto, so properly denominated by Mr. Cobbett the Rump Committee! How often was this lie vomited forth upon the hustings, by the paid tools of the opposing candidates at the Bristol and Westminster elections! Whenever I have argued for the right of every Englishman to be free, for Universal Suffrage, or have pleaded the cause of the poor, instead of answering my arguments, or controverting my principles of justice and humanity, the answer has been, "you have turned your wife out of doors, to starve, Hunt, therefore we will not listen to your doctrine." This has been particularly the language of that hypocritical faction the Whigs, or Burdettites; those pretended sham friends of liberty, who, within the last seven years, have done more to palsy public opinion, than all the Tories that ever lived could have done. This Rump, this fag-end of a committee of Westminster electors, that was once formed to support the freedom of election in that city, but the members of which have, since the management of it got into their hands, converted the power that they have assumed into an engine of the basest corruption, and have proved themselves the most tyrannical suppressors of public opinion, as well as the most determined brutal destroyers of every thing like fair discussion; who, at all their public meetings, whether held in Palace Yard or the Crown and Anchor, have systematically put down, and forcibly prevented from delivering his sentiments, every person that was not one of their own gang; who, with coarse, vulgar, beastly hootings and yellings, have driven every honest public man from their bacchanalian carousals at the Crown and Anchor; this set of dirty underlings I have most narrowly watched, year after year, during a long period; and, as I know all their tricks and shufflings, I will faithfully lay them before the public, as I proceed in my Memoirs. The ramifications of the mischief they have done, have spread far and near. They have kept up a correspondence with some of the most patriotic individuals in every principal town and city in the kingdom; by which means they have frequently exercised the power which they thus acquire, of stifling those sparks of popular fervour, that would have long since kindled into an irrepressible blaze of patriotism, had it not been for the sinister exertions of this foul extinguisher of every particle of generous public liberty, that did not tend to promote their own base and selfish ends; always acting, as they have done, under the direction and immediate influence of their Grand Lama, or principal juggler, Sir Francis Burdett, in whose pay they have most of them been, directly or indirectly, for many years past. Unable to answer my arguments, and dreading the exposure of their hero's trickery, this gang, with a broad faced, impudent individual, of the name of Adams, a currier, in Drury Lane, at their head, whenever I offered to address them in public, have been always foremost in the cry of, "Hunt, you turned your wife out of doors to starve;" and not satisfied with this, these despicable wretches have worn the heels of their shoes off, in running from door to door, and from pot-house to pot-house, to vilify me behind my back, propagating the most bare-faced falsehoods, all of their own fabrication. I will, by-and-bye, give the reader a specimen of one of the stories invented by this Adams, and related to Mr. Cobbett by the man himself, when he was confined in Newgate, in the year 1812; all their lies ending with the usual burthen of the song, that "I had turned my wife out of doors to starve." This man, Adams, was a witness in the trial of Wright v. Cobbett, in the Court of King's Bench, some time since, for a libel; and if he swore that which was attributed to him, Mr. Cobbett neither did justice to himself nor to the public, by declining to prosecute him for perjury.
But I will now proceed to detail the particulars of the settlement which I made upon my wife at the time of our separation; and I have no doubt that any statement, at the same time that it gives the lie direct to the base assertions of the foregoing scoundrels, will convince every unprejudiced, as well as every liberal and rational person in the country, of the dastardly conduct of mine and my country's greatest enemies, the hypocritical false friends of liberty. It will be recollected by those who have done me the honour to read my Memoirs, that when I married I received one thousand pounds as a fortune with my wife; five hundred of which I lent immediately to one of her brothers, without ever having taken it out of the house of my wife's father; which five hundred pounds still remained, and continued to remain in his hands, for several years after my being parted from his sister. I mention this fact, here, to shew in what light her brothers and family considered this separation. They looked upon it as a misfortune which all lamented; but it is evident, from this circumstance, that they did not look upon it in a criminal light; for, if they had done so, they would not have continued a moment under such a pecuniary 61
obligation to me, which by them could have been so easily removed, as they were all by this time in very good circumstances; and the brother, James, who held this sum, was now in partnership with his elder brother, John, the banker at Marlborough. My wife's fortune was, as I have said before, one thousand pounds. The consideration then was, what sum I should secure annually to Mrs. Hunt. I had given my attorney authority to consent to, nay, to propose, the most liberal allowance; having made him fully acquainted with my property and income, which I authorised him to lay before her brother, who was acting in her behalf. After a conference, my attorney informed me that he had proposed to allow Mrs. Hunt an annuity of two hundred pounds, and secure it as a rent charge upon my freehold and leasehold estates in Wiltshire and Somersetshire, which he had no doubt would be accepted if I approved of it. My answer was, "although this may be considered a liberal and handsome annuity to my wife, when compared with the fortune I received with her, and as a fair allowance, when taking all my property and prospects into consideration, yet, as I am the _aggressor,/I>, I will, as far as I have the power, make at least a pecuniary compensation. I shall not be satisfied with what might be considered as fair; but I will make her a liberal and generous allowance. I have now the means, and while I have the means and the will to do her justice, I will put it out of my own power to act otherwise. Go, and settle the annuity, draw up the deed, and insert therein _three hundred pounds a year_, and I will sign it immediately, for fear of any accident."
This was done as I directed, and it was also agreed that Mrs. Hunt should have the care of our daughter, and I of our two sons, but that we should both have free access to them whenever we pleased. All this being arranged amicably, and in a manner perfectly satisfactory to Mrs. Hunt and her relations, at least as far as pecuniary affairs went, and as this annuity was regularly paid for nine years before another arrangement was proposed by the trustee, her brother, which I shall faithfully detail when I approach that period of my history, I would fain hope that the calumnious cowards who have so often assailed me, as having turned my wife out of doors to starve, will, at any rate, in future, abstain from propagating such a bare-faced falsehood. When I think of these things, perhaps I ought to thank them for urging me on to this disclosure of my domestic arrangements; which, as I believe they will not tell to my disadvantage, as to liberality, so I am quite sure that nothing but such overwhelming and persevering calumnies would have ever induced me to disclose them.
It was proposed that Mrs. Hunt should go and live with her relations; but, as I thought three hundred pounds a year was quite sufficient to make her independent of any one, and quite enough to enable her to keep a small and respectable establishment of her own, I recommended that she should take a house, and have her family to herself. She urged that there would be the expence of purchasing furniture, &c. and that she would rather, on that account, take furnished lodgings. I soon contrived to overcome this difficulty; I was living in a large mansion, Chisenbury House, containing four or five sitting rooms, and ten or twelve bed rooms, amply and expensively furnished with plate, linen, china, and every requisite for a large family, keeping a great deal of company. I, therefore, without the least hesitation, followed up the liberality of the original deed, by immediately offering a moiety of my household furniture, plate, linen, china, books, &c. &c. which was more than enough to furnish any moderately-sized house. This offer was no sooner made than accepted this is another proof of the malignant falsehood of the base editors of the venal press, and of the hireling tools of "England's hope and Westminster's pride," the despicable Rump! "Well, how did you manage to divide these things?" it will be asked! Why, in a manner totally beyond the comprehension of these political split-figs, tailors, glass-cutters, leather- dressers, and curriers of the Westminster Rump. Instead of doing as these fellows would have done under such circumstances, instead of sending for a broker or an appraiser, I acted as follows: I desired her to send for a cabinet maker and his man, and make them pack up a half of every thing, which I should leave entirely to her own choice; and as I was going from home, which I did for the purpose of leaving the whole arrangement to herself, I left an order for my bailiff to place any number of waggons and horses at her disposal, to convey whatever she might choose to have packed up, to her house at Marlborough, and before I left home I placed one hundred pounds, exclusive of the annuity, in her hands, adding, that if she did not pack up the best half of every thing, it was her own fault. Look at this, ye venal, calumniating crew, and hide your diminished heads. Ye paltry tools of the Baronet, ye Places, Adamses, Clearys, Brookses, and Richters, belonging to the Rump of Westminster! You have dragged this statement forth, you have given me an opportunity of doing justice to myself, in this particular.
I understand there has been a great desire amongst this crew, to see how I should get over this part of my domestic history. The base vermin, some of them, I know, expected that I should follow the example of higher authority and traduce my wife, as a justification for my own errors and frailties. Gracious God!—traduce my wife!—calumniate the mother of my children! Rather than have been guilty of such baseness, rather than have done this, even if she had been exactly the reverse of what she is, instead of being all truth, purity and goodness, if she had been guilty of some errors and indiscretions, even then I would rather have plucked my tongue from my mouth, and have cast it into the fire, much rather than have uttered a breath of slander against my wife, or have whispered a calumny against the mother of my children.
Mrs. Hunt did as I requested her, and the first time I paid her a visit, at her new residence, at Marlborough, which was about a month afterwards, I found that she had not only got furniture enough to furnish a comfortable house, but that she had a room-full over what was necessary. Some of my readers will stare to hear me talk of visiting my wife, under such circumstances, and after such a formal separation. But so it was; and I can say further, though we have had the misfortune to be divided, I do not believe that any human being ever heard either of us cast any reflection, or throw out any the slightest imputation against the other. I have always treated her and spoken of her as the amiable mother of my children, and she, I believe, has spoken of me at all times as the affectionate, though in this respect the unfortunate father, of her children.
Thus have I, without the slightest disguise, given a faithful and unvarnished detail of this melancholy and distressing event. This has been the only drawback, the only thing that my enemies could ever bring fairly against me, that I was separated from my wife—an assertion which was too true to admit of dispute; but all the other calumnies against one are as false and as groundless, as that of having turned my wife out of doors to starve. Having said thus much, I am sure that the reader will not expect that I shall be constantly wounding the feelings of an amiable and extensive family, by dwelling upon and publishing every little anecdote of my private domes tic concerns. It is enough to say here, that it is now nearly nineteen years since this event occurred, and I will briefly add, that, placing this unfortunate family affliction out of the question, no man living ever enjoyed nineteen years of such uninterrupted domestic felicity with less alloy than I have done. No man's home was ever more agreeable than mine was at all times to me; and I sincerely believe, that this alone has enabled me to support and to survive the great public exertions that I have been constantly making for so many years past.
To all those who may exclaim against my errors, I can only say, in the language of the greatest Reformer that ever came upon the earth, "_let him or her that is without sin cast the first stone." How many profligate and abandoned scoundrels will read this, and casting their hypocritical eyes up, "like a duck in thunder," will exclaim and rave against my failings! How many profligate, debauched rakes, when sneaking home to their wives and families from stews and brothels, will, to disguise their own debauchery, profess to rail still at me! How many abandoned, though slyly intriguing city dames, will cast their arms around their husbands' necks, as a proof of their own virtue, or rather to disguise their own frailties, and exclaim aloud against me! None but the truly virtuous know how to make a liberal allowance for the failings of others. My father used to observe, and he set it down as an invariable rule, that the most abandoned and profligate secretly intriguing females, were always the most unforgiving, unrelenting persecutors of any one of their own sex, who had committed an error, or fallen into a misfortune of this sort. A lady, of the parish of Enford, who having been railing in an unmerciful manner against a servant girl who had the misfortune to have an illegitimate child, my father remarked privately to me, that it was a sure proof to him, that she was no better than she should be. A few weeks afterwards, this very same dame was detected in an intrigue with the _house thresher_!
I trust the reader will not think that I am endeavoring to justify the crime of incontinency, seduction or debauchery; quite the reverse; there is a very broad distinction between justifying a crime, and making a liberal and humane allowance for the frailties of poor human nature. Those females who are really chaste, and who practice rather than profess virtue, are always tender and sparing of their censure of the misfortunes and errors of others of their own sex: so it is with honourable and virtuous men; although they would by no means encourage vice, yet they take a very different course to eradicate it, than that of declaiming publicly against those who have not been so successful as themselves in resisting temptation.
How many living instances could I point out, as illustrations of this self-evident proposition. It was but yesterday I had before me a glaring specimen of the sort of canting hypocrisy which is the object of my censure. It was a reverend and dignified pillar of the church, as demure as a saint, turning up his eyes, and professing and preaching morality, which I had more than once or twice before heard him do, while, with a sanctified leer, he expressed great horror at my breach of conjugal chastity, or violation of the marriage vow. The reader will easily imagine the manner in which I eyed him, while he was uttering these truly religious and moral doctrines, when I inform him that, only a few hours before, an old neighbouring farmer had been relating to me and my friends, a little of the private history of this chaste and pious parson. It seems, by this old gentleman's account, that this now worthy and dignified clergyman of the Church of England, who was originally a mere clerical adventurer, the better to enable himself to perform that duty which he had recently sworn that he was called by the Holy Ghost to execute, took to himself an antiquated damsel for a wife; but what she was deficient in beauty and youth, she made up in the scale by the weight of her purse; and my informant observed that, during the life time of the "first madam," not a servant girl could live in his house, without giving evident proofs that the rosy-gilled priest was not quite purified from the sinful lust of the flesh, notwithstanding the call he had received from the Holy Ghost, and the all-powerful ordination of the Holy Bishop of the diocese to boot.
I could not only, fill this number, but I could fill a volume, with instances of this sort in this very neighbourhood. Let me only take half a score of clergyman, and half a score of magistrates, of this part of the county of Somerset; and in merely detailing the scenes of debauchery, seduction and desertion of which they have been notoriously guilty, I could fill a book that would excite the horror and detestation of every rational mind. Let it be observed that I do not by any means class the whole, nor any considerable portion, of the magistracy or clergy in this list; God forbid I should, because I believe there are many, and I know there are some, very excellent and truly good men amongst them. "Well," it may be said, "and what of all this, because some Justices and Parsons are profligate, debauched, and abandoned, would you infer that to be any justification or palliation for your errors?" Not in the least. I do not wish to assume any such ridiculous proposition. All I mean to say is, it brings me to this conclusion, that as we are by our very nature liable to err, and that as it is quite clear that those who are the most forward to condemn others are not always totally free from the frailties of human nature themselves; it therefore behoves us, while we have "the beam in our own eye," not to be too officious in exposing the "mote in the eye of another." But, after all, I will boldly and fearlessly rest my own character upon the following issue. If any one of those who have been railing against me, will come forward; if any person, male or female, will come forward and establish one act of seduction against me, even from the earliest period of my life, up to this hour; if they will produce one illegitimate offspring of mine, or prove that there ever has been such, even by common report; I hereby solemnly promise not to write, or have published, one more line as long as I remain in this prison. And further; if any one will come forward and prove, that I have ever been the inmate of a brothel, or been ever seen within the walls of a house of ill-fame, since the day I was married, twenty-five years ago; or that I ever, in the whole course of my life, seduced, and afterwards deserted, a female; I do hereby solemnly declare, that upon such proof being established, I will, within one month from the time I leave this gaol, voluntarily banish myself from this country; and so far from ever appearing again in public, I will never again set foot upon British ground. I make no protestations of being more virtuous than other men; but after having made this voluntary offer, if no one accept it, if no one come forward, then in common charity, for the sake of the national character, let these my calumniators for ever afterwards hold their peace. It may be said this is nobody's business; but this answer will not do; it has been every venal knave's business; it has been the business of the corrupt scoundrels of Bristol; it was the daily and hourly business of the debauched editors of the public newspapers of that city, when I offered myself as a candidate there at two contested elections. It has also been the business of the corrupt and profligate editors of almost all the London daily, and most of the London Sunday newspapers, to abuse and calumniate my private character, whenever I have come before the public, at the call of my distressed fellow-countrymen; whether it was at a public meeting, or at a contested election, they made it their business to vomit forth every species of unmanly abuse against me. It has, even in a still greater degree, been the business of those hirelings composing the Westminster Rump; it has been the particular business of the Whigs, the Burdettites, and the Tories; all equally hostile to real liberty; it has been their business openly and covertly to slander and vilify me, for the last twelve or fourteen years. I now, therefore, call upon every one of these corrupt and despicable knaves to come forward, either individually or collectively, and substantiate some one of those charges which they have so long, so repeatedly, and so unblushingly preferred against me. Upon all occasions, they have unequivocally and unanimously denounced me as an enemy to social order, an enemy to the Whigs, an enemy to the Tories, and an enemy, as they say, to the country.
Now, then, is their time to silence me, if they have it in their power to establish one of the crimes with which they have charged me; but if they remain silent, and cannot establish any one of their charges against me, what a race of cowardly, profligate beings they must feel themselves to be! But the fact is, that all
these vermin _know_ that they were propagating the most barefaced and wanton falsehoods against me. And who are these men that have been the foremost to accuse me? Some of the most degraded, swinish, and abandoned of the human race. And what has been the cause of all their hostility to me? Why, merely because I have been the undisguised and uncompromising advocate of the people's rights and liberties; because I have publicly and unequivocally, upon all occasions, maintained the right of annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot: in this I have been joined by the great mass of the people of England. and Scotland. For my public exertions in 1816 and 1817, to promote this great cause, I received the most cordial testimony of the regard and esteem of my fellow-countrymen—I received repeated votes of thanks from almost every town and city of consequence in the kingdom, and particularly from the North, and from Scotland. I believe I had the approbation of _nine tenths_ of the industrious and most valuable classes of the community, because I fearlessly advocated the right—the constitutional right of all these useful and industrious classes to partake—practically to partake, of that constitution which compelled them to risk their lives and property, if called upon by the government, in its defence. This I did, regardless of all, of every faction, whether _Whig, Tory_, or _Burdettite_; for at this period there was a considerable faction, composed principally of _petty shop-keepers_, and _little tradesmen_, who, under the denomination of _tax-paying housekeepers_, enlisted themselves under the banners of Sir Francis Burdett, in order to set themselves up as a sort of privileged class, above the _operative_ manufacturer, the artizan, the mechanic, and the labourer. Thus, at the very time that all these classes of operative manufacturers, artizans, mechanics, and labourers, consisting of three-fourths of the population of the kingdom; at the very time, in 1816, when almost the whole of these persons had become united in one object, and had held meetings all over the kingdom, and upwards of a million and a half of them had signed petitions to be presented to Parliament, demanding universal suffrage; at this very juncture, which was immediately after the first meeting held in Spa-fields, lo and behold, Sir Francis Burdett, _hitherto our great leader_ in the cause of public liberty, DECLARED OFF and deserted us, by avowing himself the enemy of universal suffrage, and declaring that he would not support any reform that had for its object to extend the suffrage beyond _house_ holders_; thus, at one sweeping blow, blasting the hopes, and driving out of the pale of the constitution, at least two-thirds of the population; and that part, too, the most useful and most industrious, and therefore the most beneficial to the nation! The Baronet declared that he would support the _householder suffrage_ —that those who occupied a house, and paid King's and Parish taxes directly to the tax-gatherer, should have a vote for members of the Commons' or People's House of Parliament; but that all the junior branches of families, all lodgers, every person who was not the master of a house, should be excluded altogether from any share in electing those who make the laws, by which EVERY ONE'S liberty, life, and property is to be disposed of.