NOTES ON ISSUE 6: HISTORICAL GLOSSARY
PART 2 OF 3
Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh,
was Britain's Foreign Secretary from 1812-1822. He was seen
as responsible for the decision to mobilize troops during a
peaceful meeting of 80,000 people in favor of parliamentary
reform outside Manchester in August 1819. Eleven people were
killed and 400 injured in the Peterloo Massacre. His name thus
became a byword for treachery and oppression among the working
classes. Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822, and crowds followed
his funeral procession through the London streets, cheering.
"…there'll be a threat to turn
out if I'm let to work among yo."
To "turn out" is to strike.
Stephen is here referring to the common practice of unions setting
up a closed shop. The unions' demands to prevent unskilled,
nonunion labor from working among them was a major issue and
the cause of strikes in the 1850s, but Dickens—unlike many industrial
novelists of the day—had no wish to portray an actual strike.
"I who ha worked sin I were
no heighth at aw"
The Factory Act of 1819 (when Stephen
would have been about five years old) made it illegal to employ
children under nine in factories. However, as with other laws
regulating industry, factory owners sometimes simply ignored
such regulations. Further restrictions had been placed on child
labor in 1833 and 1844, including the requirement that working
children be given some schooling.
"Had not the Roman Brutus,
oh, my British countrymen, condemned his son to death; and had
not the Spartan mothers, oh, my soon to be victorious friends,
driven their flying children on the points of their enemies'
Lucius Junius Brutus, founder of the
Roman Republic in 509 B.C. and first Consul of Rome, had his
two sons put to death for conspiring against the state. The
Spartans were notorious for being trained never to retreat in
battle, so Spartan mothers would encouraged their sons to sacrifice
themselves rather than retreat.
A soldier trained to march at the front
of a regiment, to serve as an example or model to the troops.
sent to Coventry
Alienated or ostracized. The origin of
the term is uncertain, but Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase
and Fable gives the following explanation:
According to Messrs. Chambers (Cyclopedia),
the citizens of Coventry had at one time so great a dislike
to soldiers that a woman seen speaking to one was instantly
tabooed. No intercourse was ever allowed between the garrison
and the town; hence, when a soldier was sent to Coventry,
he was cut off from all social intercourse.
"a set of rascals and rebels whom
transportation is too good for!"
Transportation was the practice of sending
convicted criminals to overseas penal settlements, most notably
Australia. Dickens used transportation as a plot device in Great
Expectations; the practice ended in 1868.
"fur to weave, an' to card, and
to piece out a livin'"
Carding involved raking raw, partially
cleaned cotton into parallel fibers, preparatory to spinning
it into thread. Those who worked in carding rooms were often
subject to lung complaints (see Issue 5). The phrase "piece
out a livin" may allude to the practice of paying workers by
the piece instead of by the hour.
"goes up wi' yor deputations to
Secretaries o' State 'bout us…"
In January, 1854, mill-owners and manufacturers
sent a deputation to Lord Palmerston, the Home Secretary, to
protest new manufacturing regulations.
"we'll indict the blackguards for
felony, and get 'em shipped off to penal settlements."
Union organizers and laborers were indeed
transported for various trumped-up offenses. The so-called Tolpuddle
Martyrs (six workers from the town of Tolpuddle, accused of
trade unionism) were sentenced in 1834 under the 1797 Act against
Unlawful Oaths. They were transported but subsequently pardoned
and allowed to return to England. Closer to the time Dickens
was writing, in March 1854, labor delegates in Preston had been
arrested on charges of conspiracy, although the charges were