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Castlereagh existed

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' swords?"

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 subsequently dropped.



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