Circles without Class Ceilings
Why can prehistory be so entrancing?
Why do some people find prehistory so entrancing?
Why do they become so spellbound
When walking by, let’s say, a long barrow?
How do they become so transported in time and space?
What’s it all about?
Is it because a standing stone, a circle,
A tumulus, barrow, or whatever,
Demonstrates the fragility of knowledge,
The equivocal nature of understanding,
In a sense, the ‘negative capability’ of John Keats:
Being conscious, simultaneously,
Of knowing and yet not knowing?
The recognition that sometimes any presumption
Of understanding the meaning of an edifice,
Can only be speculative
(Despite the accumulation of evidence and artefacts,
Despite measurement, mensuration and comparison,
Despite a commitment to the rigours of empiricism),
And a reflection of who we are in the here and now –
Or can Homo sapiens merely develop
A restricted trope of meanings, recognizable
And familiar, across time and space …
So some speculations are bound to be valid …
Or is signification, itself, a trope of modernity?
Nature and Nurture:
How circumscribed are we by time and space?
And how universal are we across the same?
What do these structures reveal and indicate
About what is quintessentially human?
So, prehistoric structures,
In an a priori, apostrophizing, manner,
The manner of an innocent wonderer,
As yet unread on the subject,
I question your meaning:
What were you for?
Peterloo Memorial Walk 2019
About thirty of us braved Manchester weather on August 16th on a performative walk around Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt’s birthplace in Wiltshire. Pictures here tell the picture of the day.
We carried out a dialogue between 2019 and 1819 as we processed: the poem below from Robin Treefellow gives a flavour of how memorialization of Peterloo can reach out to the new Extinction Rebellion generation.
Chalk and Treason
To the chalk
we must go walk.
On the chalk where vipers bugloss brightens
we must go to rebel, debate, and reinvent
This green island
owned by a small land owning minority.
So depart that moribund Houses of Parliament
mired in out-dated oppositional bun throwing.
To the high dreamy chalk we must go like the bees to nectar
discovering what Britain dreams:
dreams like a giant with ammonites in its beard.
When we have lost our way,
when the ways are all privatised,
when society is manacled to linear profit centred greed:
to the chalk we must go walk.
In walking by the yellow of toadflax and melliot
there is waking,
with waking we can change.
This green island where feudalism has gone on too long,
the earth common to all,
we must learn from the biotic knit of ground sward
and abandon the tenure under our hidden landlords.
For Britain dreams!
The land will be free of chemicals,
to breath and flourish.
So shall our life return
Rude and willed,
modernisation discarded by the road where mugwort grows.
O Albion calls us all
freedom, green of leaf and brown of root.
freedom, bright as flowers by the way.
This was the time when the age of Marx replaced that of Burke,
The time when the ‘swinish multitude’ and ‘the mob’ became a working class,
When there was not just the economic revolution of school textbooks,
But also a presence of a possible political one,
A time when Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man (sic),
Viewed as seditious and libellous
By the nation’s rulers,
Could sell 200,000 copies in a year,
When the population was only around ten million,
And so many could not read – but they listened,
And learned and remembered,
Despite the patriotic cavalcades
And violent contrived disruption of ‘Jacobin’ meetings,
Despite the show trials and government spies,
The arrest of booksellers, the banning of political meetings,
The censorship and illegalisation of criticism of government or monarchy.
This was our land in the 1790s:
Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Women,
Pitt’s repression at home and war abroad,
Food riots all around our five valleys
(‘We might as well be hanged as starved’),
The Naval Mutinies of 1797
(“An attempt was made to give to the ships
in mutiny the name of ‘The Floating Republic’.”)
‘Secret Jacobin springs’ were rumoured:
‘Jacobin emissaries and the Corresponding Society …
Jacobin management and influence is at the bottom of this evil’;
The Red Flag was hoisted;
Richard Parker was elected President by the mutinous delegates:
‘… We are not rebels to our country, our country are rebels to us.’
‘I and my brother delegates are all united, and acting in the cause of humanity;
and while life animates the heart of Dick Parker, he will be true to the cause.’
Anything else to rock the ship of state?
Riots against the Militia Act in Scotland,
Wolfe Tone and rebellion in Ireland –
When more people were killed by the army
Than in the ‘Reign of Terror’ in Paris …
Pamphlets such as King Killing;
The Happy Reign of King George the Last;
100, 000 people meeting at Copenhagen Fields, Islington;
The King’s carriage attacked:
‘No War! No King! No Pitt!’
This sung to the tune of ‘God Save the King’ at Drury Lane Theatre:
‘And when George’s Poll
Shall in the basket roll,
Let mercy then control
‘With Henry Hunt, we’ll go my boys,
With Henry Hunt, we’ll go,
We’ll mount the Cap of Liberty,
In spite of Nadin Joe.
On the 16th day of August
Eighteen hundred and nineteen,
A meeting held in Peter’s Field
Was glorious to be seen,
Joe Nadin and his big bulldogs,
As you might plainly see,
And on the other side,
Stood the bloody cavalry.
With Henry Hunt, we’ll go my boys,
With Henry Hunt, we’ll go,
We’ll mount the Cap of Liberty,
In spite of Nadin Joe.’
So how did a Wiltshire gentleman farmer
End up on the hustings at Peterloo?
How did a seemingly egotistical,
And self-regarding rhetorician,
End up being eulogized by the North,
And revered by the industrial working class?
Tell me, Mr. Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt,
Up there, on the hustings and platforms,
In your self-centred, narcissistic white hat,
How did it happen?
Coming events cast shadows before,
Fings are wot they used to be,
Not so much a la recherce des temps perdu
As deja flippin’ vu:
London on Thomas Spence’s birthday,
(June 21st 1750)
Today June 21st 2019:
No need to try and slip through wormholes of time,
The present has caught up with the past:
Central London still owned by the aristocracy,
Not so much the old Paris Situationists’ cry,
‘Underneath the pavements the beach!’
As ‘Pavements owned by the dukes!’
Record numbers sleeping rough,
Nicked for ‘Loitering’ and ‘begging’
Under the 1824 Vagrancy Act,
‘Royal Ascot’ (Queen Anne 1711);
An antique selection method of an antique prime minister …
But the longest day dawned well,
With a message from Keith Anderson
At the Thomas Spence Society,
Wishing him a happy birthday,
With poems and songs and well wishes for our walk;
Radical inns, taverns, alehouses, coffee houses, homes, houses, chapels,
Institutes, debating clubs and Spencean ‘free and easies’
Derived from a reading of Radical Underworld by Ian McCalman,
Radical Culture: Discourse, Resistance and Surveillance 1790-1820
by David Worrall,
William Cuffay The Life & Times of a Chartist Leader by Martin Hoyles,
The Spirit of Despotism by John Barrell,
Ian Newman http://www.1790salehouse.com/
and Francis Boorman’s thesis on Chancery Lane
First up, the Bell in Exeter Street, where the LCS was formed in 1791,
To hear Thomas Hardy, founder of the LCS:
‘The Rights of Man’ ‘are not confined to this small island
But are extended to the whole human race, black or white,
High or low, rich or poor’;
Then to the Globe Tavern, corner of the Strand and Craven Street,
Where LCS divisions met in 1794:
‘We must have redress from our own laws and not from the laws
of our plunderers, enemies and oppressors’
Next, to Soho for the Panton Street Debating Club of 1795,
And the London Corresponding Society, once more:
“If the King … dare attempt to trample upon the Liberties of the People,
I hope they will trample upon his head”;
Other LCS pubs: The Friend at Hand, Little North Street,
The French Horn, Lambeth Walk,
The Queen’s Arms, Kennington Lane,
The Fox and Hounds, Sydenham,
But we’re off to Lunan’s public house,
Academy Court, Chancery Lane,
With Jacobins and spies in Bell’s Yard, too:
‘He talked of killing the King with blow-pipe
and poisoned arrow’;
Part the First
Hear his Trumpet of Jubilee
Take us far beyond the Tom Paine’s The Rights of Man,
Far beyond votes and politics
To agrarianism and ‘The People’s Farm’:
The Jubilee, the day of freedom,
The end of landlords when land would be held in common;
Hear snatches of his five verse rewriting
Of the National Anthem:
‘Hark! How the Trumpet’s sound …
A SONG, to be Sung at the End of Oppression, or the Commencement of the political Millennium, when there shall be neither Lord nor land-lords, but God and Man will be all in all. First printed in the Year 1782. Tune – “God save the King”
Hark! How the Trumpet’s sound*
Proclaims the land around
Tells all the poor oppress’d,
No more shall they be cess’d,
Nor Landlords more molest
Since then this Jubilee
Sets us all at Liberty,
Let us be glad.
Behold each man return
To his Right and his own,
No more like Doves to mourn
By Landlords sad!