BioText home
Etext home

Hone's Preface to Wat Tyler, 1817

Editor's Introduction

In the later years of the Regency, Robert Southey, the English Poet Laureate, was (to say the least) a controversial figure. A brilliant writer, historian, and conservative polemicist, Southey frequently expressed his political and cultural views in the pages of John Murray's flagship journal, the Quarterly Review. There is nothing particularly surprising or unusual in Southey's ardent conservatism—the late Regency was a divisive period in English public life, and such periods tend to drive polemicists on either side of the issues to increasingly extreme positions. Likewise, it is only to be expected that an outspoken writer like Hone would emphatically disagree with the conservative politics of the Quarterly. What reform-minded writers found especially galling about Southey, however, was his advocacy of draconian restrictions on radical political commentary—commentary, expressing a reformist ideology that only a few years previously Southey himself had espoused. Thus, in the radical press Southey became the very image of a turncoat and a hypocrite.

Such is the context for Hone's publication of Southey's early radical text, Wat Tyler. This work was written in 1794 when Southey was just nineteen years old and still very much an advocate of reformist, anti-monarchist politics. The play was not published at the time of its composition, and there is an enduring mystery about how the manuscript eventually resurfaced in the radical publishers' hands. But resurface it did, and in the 1810s and '20s, several radical publishers—beginning with Sherwood, Neely, & Jones in February of 1817, and then including as many as ten other publishers (see Hill)—produced unauthorized editions of Southey's earlier radical works. In virtually every case, the principal aim of these pirate publications seems not to have been to circulate the texts for their intrinsic literary value; rather, they were intended to embarrass the now conservative Poet Laureate by exposing his apparent apostasy. As the title page epigraphs and the Preface reprinted below make amply clear, this was certainly Hone's intention.

The Preface to Wat Tyler demonstrates several of the techniques that would distinguish Hone's discursive strategy for the next decade or so. For example, developing the approach he had pioneered in Buonapartephobia (1815), Hone uses Southey's own words—both Wat Tyler itself and the shorter excerpts included in the Preface—in order to expose the Poet Laureate as a hypocrite. Hone is not engaged in forwarding his own reformist political argument in order to counter Southey's conservatism. Instead, he presents Southey's own language in a context that reveals its own inconsistencies and absurdities. Certainly, it would be difficult for a contemporary reader familiar with current monarchist rhetoric to square the anti-monarchist sentiments of the excerpts included here with Southey's famous but recently adopted conservatism. An even more striking example of Hone's technique lies in the mode of composition. Hone has said elsewhere that he "makes books with scissors" rather than with a pen. The practice is evident here—the Preface has a few introductory paragraphs of his own writing, but then Hone simply cuts and pastes copy from the Morning Chronicle (which itself includes several excerpts from Southey's earlier publications) and then he concludes with a long section from Hume's History which details the life and exploits of the historical Wat Tyler, leader of the Peasants' Revolt in 1381 and since that time a symbol of resistance to royal power.

The purpose of the present electronic edition is to make available Hone's Preface because it illustrates both the development of Hone's technique as a writer/publisher and his view of Southey's political writing. (This view would change in remarkable ways later in Hone's career.) As such, the edition presents a transcription of Hone's title page, followed by a transcription of the Preface. I have not included the long passage that Hone borrows from Hume's History; neither have I included the text of Wat Tyler itself. These items are readily available elsewhere on the web, and I have included links for those who are interested in pursuing them. Also, the underlying TEI file from which this HTML edition was generated is available here.

As always, I would much appreciate any corrections, comments, or queries directed either to the appropriate page on the blog or directly to my email.

Title Page:

With a Preface,

Come, listen to a TALE OF TIMES OF OLD! --
Come, for ye know me--I am he who sung
The "MAID OF ARC," and I am he who fram'd
Of "THALABA" the wild and wondrous song.

And I was once like this! ..................
.........................Twenty years
Have wrought strange alteration.



[1]SINCE the year 1794, when Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY entered his Majesty's gaol of Newgate, with his later dear departed bookseller and friend hanging on his arm, and presented unto the Rev. Mr. WINTERBOTHAM the manuscript of "WAT TYLER," as an offering on the altar of freedom--since then, amongst the things that have changed, may be numbered Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY: not that he then changed immediately, or that he afterwards changed suddenly, or that he hath now changed for good, perhaps; but "time hath written strange defeatures on his brow," and he hath changed--no matter how, or when, or for what--and liveth an exemplification of the first paragraph of his last article against Reform in the last Quarterly Review, which thus beginneth--"If the opi [Page vi] nions of profligate and of mistaken men may be thought to reflect disgrace upon the nation, of which they constitute a part, it might verily be said, that England was never so much disgraced as at this time."1 This passage, inscribed beneath a portrait of the Laureate, weeping for his principles, "because they are not," wearing a cap and bells, and writing a receipt for his next quarter's salary on the back of "WAT TYLER," or on a leaf out of the first edition of his "Joan of Arc," would most appropriately illustrate the title-page to his works.

[2] WAT TYLER, alive, and in Smithfield, was not a more unpleasant object to Richard the Second, by the grace of God King of England, and so forth, than it is said that WAT TYLER, in print, is to Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY, by the grace of the REGENT, and the favour of Mr. WALTER SCOTT, Poet-Laureate.

[3] Had Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY made up his mind to revel only in the "sweet sin of Poesy," at his retreat in Cumberland, perhaps no ghost had risen from the grave, and all might have been well: but, to indulge his wayward fancy, injudicious friends sent him the Courier newspaper, which, ever and anon, terrified his imagination with strange and marvellous relations; and [Page vii] one Mr. COLERIDGE, a person residing at Bristol, and subject to similar delusions, being so served likewise, the two poor gentlemen blew responsive notes, and increased each other's alarm, until the one wrote nonsense verse and prose, and the other nonsense prose only.

[4] Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY, having been stolen like "a grey duck from the lake," to write, during a paroxysm, in the Quarterly, had scarcely put down his pen, when, as in retribution, up jumped WAT TYLER. At this unexpected appearance, the "dole on the border" was great. The spirit, notwithstanding due effort, not being laid, Mr. COLERIDGE, who was one of Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY'S memorable Pantisocracy, instead of proceeding to his friend's assistance, and recommending quiet, on a sudden "arose, and saddled his ass," and preached lay sermons in the Courier, to prove to all the world that Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY, as an old Poet, and a young Laureate, had a right to a pension, and--to use the said Mr. ROBERT SOUTHEY'S own words in the Quarterly--to "a sort of squint in the understanding."2

[5] These strange prolusions gave rise to the following remarks in the Morning Chronicle:--

[Page viii]

"A judicious writer in The Courier calls to our recollection, that Job's friends were those who most annoyed him in his affliction. We doubt not that Mr. SOUTHEY is just in the same predicament. The Courier, in pretended friendship to Mr. SOUTHEY, will not let the errors of his youth sleep. It sends Mr. SOUTHEY forth to the world covered with a garment which does not belong to him, sure that the first man who meets him must tear it from him, and expose him to scorn and laughter. This false friend pretends that Wat Tyler was the production of the Stripling Bard (as he insultingly nick-names the Poet-Laureat (sic)) in his early youth; that it was never intended to be published; and that Mr. SOUTHEY soon changed his opinions: he then magnifies the baseness of bringing forth to the light this work, which was destined to have wasted its sweetness in the desk or the closet. Now what an impudent attempt is this to persuade the public, in spite of facts notorious to every one, that Mr. SOUTHEY'S former opinions were a secret, and that they were the opinions merely of his earliest youth. We shall shew that this is one of the basest forms of falsehood, "the lie by omission," to use the Courier's words; though, if it were true, many persons have [Page ix] been hanged for errors in judgment, as to liberty and property, and for writings on the latter subject, at the age at which the Stripling Bard wrote Wat Tyler. We almost think it unnecessary to enter upon proofs, which many of our readers must be already acquainted with. Above all, The Courier must well know, that long after Wat Tyler is said to have been written, the Stripling Bard was the chief butt of all Anti-Jacobin ridicule. In 1797 and 1798, when the Stripling Bard must have been twenty-four or twenty-five years old, the Anti-Jacobin singled him out as the subject of its parodies. The Courier, we say, well knows, that at the time we mention, though COLERIDGE and WORDSWORTH were also obnoxious as Jacobin Poets, yet the tedious prose of COLERIDGE, his visions and dreams, and fragments, and poems, never finished or never begun, repelled attack as a woolsack repels a ball; that WORDSWORTH was at times beneath ridicule, and at times above assault; but the Stripling Bard was always committing himself in a tangible shape, as he had rather more with than he has at present, and about as little judgment. We shall, however, give a few specimens, to shew, not so much the character of Mr. SOUTHEY, as that of his defenders.

"I. Specimen respecting King-killing--from a volume of Poems printed in 1797, when the Stripling Bard was twenty-three or twenty-four years old.

INSCRIPTION for the Apartment in CHEPSTOW CASTLE, where HENRY MARTEN, the Regicide, was imprisoned thirty years.3

For thirty years, secluded from mankind,
Here Marten linger'd. Often have these walls
Echoed his foot-steps, as with even tread
He pac'd around his prison: not to him
Did Nature's fair varieties exist;
He never saw the Sun's delightful beams,
Save when thro' you high bars he pour'd a sad
And broken splendour. Dost thou ask his crime?
He had rebell'd against the King, and sat
In judgment on him; for his ardent mind
Shap'd goodliest plans of happiness on earth,
And peace, and liberty--Wild dreams! but such
As Plato lov'd, such as with holy zeal
Our Milton worshipp'd. Blessed hopes! awhile
From man withheld, even to the latter days,
when Christ shall come, and all things be fulfill'd.
"II. On Bad Rulers;--from the same Volume:--4

This is the place where William's kingly power
Did from their poor and peaceful homes expel,
Unfriended, desolate, and shelterless,
The habitants of all the fertile track.
[Page xi]
Far as these wilds extend, he levell'd down
Their little cottages; and bade their fields
Lie barren; so that o'er the forest waste
He might most royally pursue his sports.
If that thine heart be human, Passenger!
Sure it will swell within thee, and thy lips
Will mutter curses on him. Think thou then
What cities flame, what hosts unsepulchred
Pollute the passing wind, when raging Power
Drives on his blood-hounds to the chase of man;
And as thy thoughts anticipate that day
When God shall judge aright, in charity
Pray for the wicked rulers of mankind.

"In the same volume of the Stripling Bard's are many poems very artfully tending to hold up to hatred the unequal division of property, by contrasting the wretchedness of the poor with the luxury of the rich, and their unfeelingness. We shall only give a stanza or two, to shew the nature of these performances.5
III. Sapphics.
Cold was the night wind, drifting fast the snows fell,
Wide was the downs, and shelterless, and naked;
When a poor wanderer struggled on her journey
Weary and way-sore.
* * * * *
[Page xii]
Fast o'er the bleak heath rattling drove a chariot,
"Pity me!" feebly cried the poor night wanderer;
Loud blew the wind, unheard was her complaining,
On drove the chariot;
On the cold snows she laid her down to rest her;
She heard a horseman, "Pity me!" she groaned out,
Loud was the wind, unheard was her complaining,
On went the horseman.
"IV. On War;--from the Annual Anthology of 1800, published when the Stripling Bard was about twenty-seven:--

It was a summer evening;
Old Kaspar's work was done;
And he, before his cottage door,
Was sitting in the sun;
And by him sported on the green
His little grandchild Wilhelmine.
She saw her brother Peterkin
Roll something large and round,
That he beside the rivulet,
In playing there, had found;
He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large, and smooth, and round.
[Page xiii]
Old Kaspar took it from the boy,
Who stood expectant by;
And then the old man shook his head,
And, with a natural sigh,
"'Tis some poor fellow's skill," said he,
"Who fell in the great victory.
"I find them in the garden, for
"There's many here about;
"And often when I go to plough,
"The ploughshare turns them out;
"For many thousand men," said he,
"Were slain in the great victory."
"Now tell us what 'twas all about,"
Young Peterkin he cries;
And little Wilhelmine looks
With wonder-waiting eyes;
"Now tell us all about the war,
"And what they kill'd each other for."
"It was the English," Kaspar cried,
"That put the French to rout;
"But what they kill'd each other for,
"I could not well make out.
"But every body said," quoth he,
"That 'twas a famous victory.
"My father liv'd at Blenheim then,
"Yon little stream hard by;
[Page xiv]
"They burnt his dwelling to the ground,
"And he was forc'd to fly;
"So with his wife and child he fled,
"Nor had he where to rest his head.
"With fire and sword the country round
"Was wasted far and wide,
"And many a childing mother then,
"And new-born infant, died.
"But things like that, you know, must be
"At every famous victory.
"They say it was a shocking sight
"After the filed was won,
"For many thousand bodies here,
"Lay rotting in the sun;
"But things like that, you know, must be
"After a famous victory.
"Great praise the Duke of Marlbro' won,
"And our good Prince Eugene--"
"Why 'twas a very wicked thing!"
Said little Wilhelmine.
"Nay--nay-my little girl," quoth he;
"It was a famous victory.
"And every body prais'd the Duke
"Who such a fight did win."
"But what good came of it at last?"
Quoth little Peterkin.
"Why that I cannot tell," said he,
"But 'twas a famous victory."

[6] There are some persons who are long before they come to a full use of the faculties; but, to all appearance, the Stripling Bard was not one of them. We do not know whether a pension and a Poet-Laureatship improve the understanding; but, otherwise, we should think the opinion of the stripling of twenty-seven as much worth attending to as that of the stripling of forty. At any rate, it cannot be asserted that Mr. SOUTHEY maintained Jacobinical opinions merely when he was a very young man. And if his leaning to those doctrines was at that time, as The Courier says, "far more to the honour of his heart than to the impeachment of his understanding," we do not see how with a clear conscience he can lavish his abuse on those, young and old, who now differ from him, though without going to those absured extremities to which he once proceeded. It is not to Mr. SOUTHEY'S laying down his opinions, nor to his taking up a pension, nor to his six Epic Poems, nor to his history, nor to his philology, that we object; but we do object to his violence toward those who maintain the doctrines which he himself advocated "in the full vigour of his incapa [Page xvi] city; we object to his calling on the Legislature to crush principles which he once contributed to propogate; in short, we do not object to the weakness of the man, but to the intolerance of the proselyte, and "the malignity of the Renegado."

[7] Mr. SOUTHEY is fond of monumental memorials--he has written various tabular inscriptions--as witness, Mr. HENRY MARTEN'S for Chepstow, PIZARRO'S for Truxillo, &c. He proposes in the Quarterly to erect a monument to three Italians, whose history, he says, Mr. HINCKLEY translated badly. But although Mr. HINCKLEY had the misfortune to be eaten by blue bottles a year or two ago, a fate which the Laureate possibly knew; be it now known to him, that poor Mr. HINCKLEY'S principles were of the same order with the Laureate's, and might therefore have entitled him to more honourable mention. Mr. SOUTHEY, in the first edition of his Travels in Spain, proposes to raise a national monument in Smithfield--the well-known scene of WAT TYLER's exploits-- Will Mr. SOUTHEY indulge the world with the re-publication of that passage, and with such an inscription for the monument as he would then, about a dozen years ago, have written for it?


[Hone concludes his Preface with a long passage from Hume's History6 The passage, beginning with the paragraph on "The expenses of these armaments..." and ending with a paragraph that concludes "...bring affairs back to their former order and arrangement," presents Hume's narration of the historical Wat Tyler episode. Interestingly, the narration seems to prefigure Hone's commentary on the Swing Riots of 1830 (See his letter to Southey, 24 November 1830).]

Wat Tyler.

[The body of Hone's publication is a reprinting of Southey's Wat Tyler which (because it is easily available on the web and in print) I decline to reproduce here. For an excellent web based version see Matthew Hill's Romantic Circles edition.]

From Southey's review of several recent reformist publications in the Quarterly Review, Oct. 1816, pp. 225-78. [return]
See Quarterly Review, Oct. 1816, p. 226. [return]
From Southey's Poems (Bristol: Joseph Cottle, 1797), pp. 135-36. [return]
from "Inscription VI: For a Monument in the New Forest," Poems, p. 138. [return]
from "The Widow," Poems, pp. 82-83. [return]
David Hume, The History of England, from the Invasion of Julius Csar to the Abdication of James the Second, 1688, Vol. 2, Chap. 17. Hume's History is readily available online through Google Books or via this link to a searchable facsimile edition from the University of Michigan. The Hone excerpt extends from pp. 282-86.