Why we read

In contemporary Western culture, the idea of reading of one’s own volition seems increasingly inconceivable, especially for millennials and other young people. Reading is frequently viewed as an antiquated, arduous, and even soporific chore that is to be undertaken only when absolutely necessary. Needless to say, the exponential increase of technology in our everyday lives is greatly to blame for this tragic state of affairs. The incessant flurry of the latest mobile phones, tablets and laptops, as well as the plethora of brand new series on Netflix, constantly demand our full attention. Equally, social media, (more appropriately labelled ‘antisocial media’ in the Sunday Times) – be it the ubiquitous Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc – acts as a tool to cruelly devour any remaining time we may have during our waking lives.

 

Against the backdrop of this worrying trend, it is imperative that we re-examine the importance of reading in our culture. Let me start by sharing my own story. For the first thirteen years of my life, the idea of reading in my spare time was anathema to me. I loathed allocating half an hour to sit and stare at what seemed to me to be the literary equivalent of a Jackson Pollock painting: a hotchpotch of words that only a small group of erudite literary types would appreciate. Despite the best efforts of my mother and auntie, I was utterly intransigent when it came to my view of reading, and yet, ironically, I had never really made the effort to read an entire chapter of any book. It would have been fair to have labelled me as narrow-minded; Nonetheless, I was not entirely insular in my outlook, since I was thoroughly engrossed in films, and it was through this medium that I came to be the proud bibliophile that I am today.

 

Cherishing the gargantuan contribution which cinema had made to the world, I found it unfathomable that so many people continued to assert the veracity of that common phrase the book is always better than the film.” It was because of this that, in the summer of 2013, I felt compelled to readThe Dead of Winter by Chris Priestly, in order to test this hypothesis. To my incredulity, I found reading to be not only bearable, but to actually be an engaging, intellectually-stimulating and pleasurable activity  which merited being held in such high esteem. The manner in which one could utilise language to meticulously describe each detail of an occurrence or experience fascinated me, and henceforth I embarked upon my journey of consuming book after book.

 

I now intend here to set out three simple, yet compelling factors as to why one should – no – why one must read.

 

Firstly, there is the simple truth that reading can be an immensely pleasurable, as well as therapeutic pastime to engage in. It is so thoroughly beneficial that psychologists have found that reading can reduce stress levels by 68 per cent and it works better and faster than other methods of calming frazzled nerves, such as listening to music, going for a walk or settling down with a cup of tea.

 

Secondly, there are the indubitable linguistic benefits of reading. By reading, one can readily augment one’s vocabulary. Amassing an extensive linguistic arsenal can only help one to reap countless benefits in the long term and one can then deploy this when necessary, be it in an interview or when speaking in public. Moreover, possessing top level linguistics skills (gleaned directly from reading) allows for many otherwise unavailable routes in life to open up, thus revealing things one may never even have dreamt of.

 

Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – there is the wisdom, knowledge and understanding about life on earth and the human condition which comes from reading (great) books. For thousands of years, mankind has used writing to communicate the most profound feelings about his terrestrial lot. To this day, literature reigns supreme as the highest art form, a tool to express one’s thoughts and emotions, and a way of conveying a message in a timeless and universal manner. As one reads, one is able to explore the very history of mankind and open oneself up to a world beyond the confines of the here and now.

 

Through reading, one can travel through time, across continents and oceans, from a CEO’s office on Wall Street, to a gutter in the Mumbai slums. As one imbibes the words in a book, one may step inside the shoes of individuals diametrically opposed to oneself in every other manner. Reading helps us empathise with others outside our direct personal experience, enabling us to transcend colour, class, creed and level of wealth. As a bulldozer may bring down a wall, so too may reading obliterate divisions in our world that impede us in the pursuit of reaching a time when we all regard each other as brothers and sisters and as citizens of the world.

 

When reading, one can feast upon the intellectual exploits of the greatest minds this planet has ever produced; all lay bare before us at the mere turn of a page. Reading is perfect panacea for parochial thinking. In the diligent study of Cicero and Augustine, Aristotle and Fanon, Milton and Morrison, Epicurus and Confucius, to name but a few, one arms oneself against myopic reasoning. If we seek wisdom we may turn to the proverbs of king Solomon; if we seek to witness the potency of the “green-eyed monster” (envy), we may turn to Othello; if we seek to examine the figure of unrequited love, then Wuthering Heights is available. The educative aspect of reading is that it fills many lacunae in our knowledge and combats uninformed, insular, ignorant, shallow ways of thinking.                                                                                                                                                         Given that we have on average 80 years of human existence on this earth (if we are fortunate), it is impossible for us to experience the fullness of what life may offer – the good, the bad and the ugly. Contrary to what many may presume, reading is the best way to save time by establishing the knowledge of the surrounding world.

 

Literature does not shy away from the bleak, harrowing realities of the real world, thus mentally preparing us for what lies ahead. Ideas, philosophies and views that are not given air-time in increasingly commercialised, status-conscience, cynical societies are espoused and widely explored in the various literary canons for us to then ruminate on, weigh up and evaluate for ourselves.

 

Most of all, literature allows us to know who we truly are as human beings. There exists no more noble a labour than to moil at ascertaining the essence of mankind’s nature and to  adhere to the wise words of Socrates, the father of Western philosophy, who said,“Know thyself” for“The unexamined life is not worth living.” 

When one opens a book, one inadvertently holds a mirror up to one’s heart and exposes a path into the recesses of one’s soul.

 

To conclude, reading helps us to lead fuller, richer and arguably better lives on earth. If it doesn’t always do the last bit, it should. Reading can (and should) make us more human, more empathetic, more compassionate and more full of love for humanity. Reading should help us to live.

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How far was popular discontent the most important reason for the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832?

 

 

The 1832 Great Reform Act remains a pivotal occurrence in British political history, and was the result of the coalescing of a variety of factors. Though all contributed to the eventual passing of the Act, popular discontent was more important a reason for the passing of this than the Tory split and the actions of political unions.

One could argue that the disunity and weakening within the Tory party was the primary reason for the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832.  As the party holding firm to more Conservative views, the Tories, on the whole, were staunchly anti-reform. They dominated the House of Commons and they professed themselves broadly satisfied with the existing system. To them, the political system was of a standard that did not merit undergoing reform as was being espoused by the Whigs.[1] As things stood, the Tories were in a political system that allowed them to produce excellent orators and administrators as well as allowing for wealthy young men of talent to rise up into parliament early. [2]To reform in a way that changed this would be to open the floodgates and commence a downward spiral into a world of politics grossly far from that which they were comfortable with. Quoting Wellington after the Act was passed, one can see the immense animosity the Tories possessed against reform: “The government of England is destroyed.”[3] It was this view of reform utterly undermining the foundational principles of parliament that spurred on Tory hostility to the eventual Act.  Where the Whigs sought to maintain an effective and prosperous political system through mild reform (on the whole), the Tories seemed to opt for repression as the means through which to secure this. Thus it stands to reason that for any meaningful reform to occur within parliament, this opposition force would either have to be weakened or wooed over to support it. This was made possible by the question of religious liberties being brought to the foreground of political discussion.  With the bulwark that was Lord Liverpool no longer leading the party, the Tories were already weakened.[4]  This was then heightened by how the Tory party was divided over the issue of whether the Roman Catholics should be given political rights. Wellington took over as Prime Minister at the beginning of 1828, but his hardline stance divided the party even more. Hence the Liberal Tories transferred their support to the Whigs. Viscount Palmerston became head of the Liberal Tories, actually joining a Whig administration as Foreign Secretary in 1830.[5] There was essentially no real way for Wellington to emerge successful regarding the matter of Catholic Emancipation. On the one hand, Wellington’s opposition to reform would agitate the more liberal Tories who were more closely linked with the Whigs as a result of Canning’s choice to form an alliance with them[6] ; on the other hand, Wellington’s ultimate concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829 alienated a group of right-wing Tories (the ‘Ultras’) so much so, that they began to seek parliamentary reform to go in the opposite direction of that which the likes of the Whigs were proposing. [7] As if this was not enough, other factors further weakened the Tory party. There were gradual, unofficial changes in the political system over the previous five decades leading up to the reform act that hindered popular Tory tools for getting their way in Parliament. For example, Wellington assumed he would gain seats in the General Election of 1830 by the judicious employment of government patronage, but such patronage had been decaying since the 1780s.[8] The Tories were increasingly finding themselves in a political world that was turning against them.  The Whig party was using this to spur them on in unity for reform. Despite the fact that the Whigs too were divided over reform to some extent, they allowed the deterioration of the Tory party to function as the catalyst to unite them. [9] The likes of Earl Grey had been campaigning for Parliamentary reform since the late 18th century seen in how he introduced a petition calling for reform in April 1792 and a reform bill in 1793.[10] He had been relatively unsuccessful in his pursuits until the 1830s. Once Wellington had announced his failure to form a ministry, parliamentary opposition to Grey collapsed[11] with not a few Tories deferring to be allied with Grey, and he took over the government as Prime Minister on the 22nd November 1830, to pioneer the reform.[12] The fact that himself and many other Whigs had been campaigning for reform for such a long time, yet were never successful until 1832 can only be explained by the Tory governmental split over Catholic Emancipation and the Huskissonite defection weakening the Tories that afforded the Whigs the opportunity within which to carpé diem in bringing about reform.  This was Earl Grey capitalising on the weakness of his opponents to, thus, ensure reform would be implemented.

 

In spite of the immense importance Tory failure played in the implementation of the Great Reform Act of 1832, it seems that popular discontent actually was the more important factor at hand. Much of the population were becoming increasingly aware of the corruption within the Government during the early to mid 1800s in Britain. In 1818 there had been blatant bribery in the election in Grampound so extreme that 23 voters were put on trial in 1819. When Lord John Russel intervened, calling for Grampound and three other corrupt boroughs to be barred from admitting MPs to Parliament, he was prevented by the Government in 1820. Russel then tried to send the voting rights to the underrepresented town of Leeds but they went instead to Yorkshire. Additionally, in the 1818 and 1820 general elections in East Retford, Nottinghamshire, the 20 MPs sold their votes for 20 guineas each. [13] These function as clear examples of how professional misconduct was endemic to Parliament and how attempts to rectify this were often prevented by those in control. Despite the seeming extremity of such occurrences, this was not uncommon practice nor unbeknownst to the population. There were 658 MPs and parliamentary seats were offered for sale in the London newspapers.  There were also no secret ballots and when the crowds went to the hustings, they could be beaten up, intimidated, bribed, rendered drunk and threatened with the loss of their jobs, businesses or homes to ‘persuade’ them to vote for a particular candidate.[14] Furthermore, there was the far-reaching problem of political representation and voting. Somewhat similar to the famous mantra of the 1775–1783 American Civil War, ‘no taxation without representation’ , the people of Britain objected vehemently to the fact that their liberties were not taken into consideration when executive, political decisions that directly affected them were instigated. There was a voting scheme of ‘burgage boroughs’ in 29 places whereby the right to vote was granted to those who owned certain significant property as dictated by ancient custom; there was a voting scheme based upon ‘scot and lot’ [those who paid local taxes] in 37 boroughs; there was a voting scheme in some cases where voting was restricted to the ‘potwallopers’; there was a voting scheme in 92 boroughs in which the vote was only open to ‘freemen’. [15] Thus, on a person-specific level, there remained gross political under representation, with only a minute fraction of the population having the liberty of dictating how they were to be governed. However, disproportional representation was not confined simply on a person by person basis: underrepresentation was also occurring on a much larger scale for entire boroughs, towns, and even cities.  Taking Birmingham as an example, its population was at 144,000 and it was also the third largest provincial town in England, yet it remained underrepresented in Parliament. The same applied for industrial locations like Leicester and Leeds.  Again on top of this was the fact that the national predicament for the average person was taking a downturn.  The economic boom of the 1820s came to an abrupt halt in 1829. By February, the Whig leader, Earl Grey, was talking of ‘a state of general distress as never before pressed upon any country.’  As radical leaders and opponents of reform alike knew, only high prices and unemployment could translate an intellectual case for constitutional change into a mass movement of incalculably threatening aspect.[16] Thus there were a plethora of reasons behind the huge discontentment among the population at this time. This sentiment was, thus, directed as pressure against the government to reform the system. Although the government at this time did have a capacious amount of power, the MPs still depended upon the people to engage in the voting, albeit a highly corrupt process, to designate who would govern. The MPs also depended upon the population in the sense that they could not hope to stand against a large proportion of the citizenry if a violent revolution were to be pursued.  It would make sense for the government to instigate the ‘Great Reform Act’ in 1832 since this was when public disgruntlement reached fever pitch. One can see this with the examples of the ‘Swing Riots’ spreading around England from summer 1830, the 1831 Bristol Riots,  the unrest in Nottingham in October 1831 and so on. These seemed to resemble the flavour of the events that were found in revolutionary France. [17] With such a prospect as what happened in France happening in Britain, the government had to seek a route of appeasement to some extent, and therefore instigate a Reform Act, even if it didn’t really accomplish much deep down.  Simply stated, it was clear to many politicians of the time that “if Reform is refused, Revolution is inevitable” [18]

 

Notwithstanding the fact that the popular discontent and Tory divide were fundamental factors in bringing about the Great Reform Act when it occurred, it can also be seen how the political unions/ organisations were the main reason in causing the passage of it. The separation between the middle and lower classes had been continually diminishing over the years since Pitt’s time in office so that, through the early 1800s leading into the 1830s, numerous political unions and activist groups were formed between middle and lower class citizens looking for change. Christopher Wyvill set up the Yorkshire Association in 1780[19], in 1780 John Cartwright set up the Society for Constitutional Information, in 1792 the Whig party founded the Friends of the People Society, Thomas Hardy founded the London Corresponding Society in 1792 [20], in 1812 the first Hampden Club was formed by major John Cartwright[21], in July 1829, a Radical Reform Society was launched[22], in April 1831 a National Union of Working Classes was forged in London from disparate radical elements by William Lovett and Henry Hetherington[23]… and so on. Each of these groups campaigned for political reform in some form or another, and so we can see clearly how their influence could accumulate over many years to eventually push forward the Act. In accordance with the views of the historian Norman McCord, Whig enthusiasm for reform should be seen as the culmination of long-term support for change. [24] Individuals or small groups, however committed they may have been, they were unable to gain significant governmental attention to evoke the clear cry for reform. The cumulative effect of reform agitation via the Political Unions, however, was more important than any differences of social composition and specific objective. They attracted huge crowds to political rallies; they were organized and generally disciplined; and, most of all, they served notice on Westminster that the middle classes were prepared to labour mightily in the reformers’ vineyard.[25] One could use the BPU as an example. The Union was founded in 1830; its first meeting was attended by approximately 15,000 people. Its stated aim was to campaign for reform of the House of Commons, ‘to be achieved by a general political union of the lower and middle classes of the people’.[26] The BPU gained support rapidly, it used non-violent means (such as coherent and intellectual arguments) to make its points, and it was very well-organised. [27] Within two years of its existence the Reform Act was passed. This can only go to show how the amassment of pressure for reform over the years was finally pushed over the edge by such political unions in the late 1820s to early 1830s, making the Act inevitability.

 

Each factor of political unions/organisations, the compromised Tory predicament and the contribution of the population expressing their discontent all played vital role in the eventual implementation of the 1832 Great Reform Act. However, the notion of popular discontent trumps the others in regards to importance for several reasons. Firstly, it seems somewhat untenable to divide the actions of political unions and reformist organisations when they are made up of individuals who were expressing their discontent at the status quo. Political unions are, thus, a medium through which popular discontent is expressed. Secondly, a weakened Tory position in no way necessitates a parliamentary Act on reform being passed. It was the fact that the Whigs capitalised on this that allowed for the Reform Act’s passage.  One must then question what the Whig motivation was to implement this, and it seems evident that the main principle was to appease the desires of the people and those within their own party who sought after reform. Ergo, the discontentment of the British people was the main reason for the passage of the Great Reform Act in 1832.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

 

  • The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

 

  • From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells

 

  • The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

 

  • The term ‘Cobbett and Hunt’ was shorthand for radical politics in the early 19th century, but the petty hatred that developed between the two men had a devastating effect on the outcome of the 1832 Reform Act, says Penny Young

 

  • D.H. Pennington on the man chiefly responsible for passing the Reform Act

 

[1] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[2] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.103

[3] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[4] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[5] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[6] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[7] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[8] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[9] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[10] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.101

[11] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[12] The Great Reform Act of 1832 – Robert Pearce

[13] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.104

[14] The term ‘Cobbett and Hunt’ was shorthand for radical politics in the early 19th century, but the petty hatred that developed between the two men had a devastating effect on the outcome of the 1832 Reform Act, says Penny Young.

[15] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.94

[16] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[17] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.106-107

[18]  Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform with a plan for the Restoration of the Constitution (October 1830) quoted in R. Quinault, ‘The French Revolution of 1830 and Parliamentary Reform’ History 257 (1994), p. 392.

[19] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.97

[20] D.H Pennington on the man chiefly responsible for passing the Reform Act

[21] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.40

[22] The term ‘Cobbett and Hunt’ was shorthand for radical politics in the early 19th century, but the petty hatred that developed between the two men had a devastating effect on the outcome of the 1832 Reform Act, says Penny Young.

 

[23] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[24] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.102

[25] The Crisis of Reform, 1827-1832

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_Political_Union

[27] From Pit to Peel: 1783-1846 – Mike Wells – pp.105

A comparison of the ways in which Robert Frost explores journeys and choices in ‘Stopping by Woods’ and ‘The Road Not Taken’

road_not_taken_

In both ‘Stopping by Woods’ and ‘The Road Not Taken’, Frost widely explores the themes of choices and journeys. Two bases on which Frost expresses these concepts in the two poems is through ambiguity or uncertainty, and as being either definitive or continuous.

 

In ‘The Road Not Taken’ we are able to see the ambiguity and uncertainty of the poet regarding making the choice. The second line in the first stanza reads, “And sorry I could not travel both.” What this exhibits is the way in which the poet does not have the conviction to clearly err on one side of the equation and continues to feel as though either option would have been suitable to take. This notion of pondering over a choice and yet still being unable to find an ultimate conclusion is displayed in the ending of the following line, “long I stood.” The fact that this is written in the first person adds a conversational and personal tone which almost leads to a sense that the poet/character is so desperately struggling to make a decision that he is even going to the extent of reaching out to the audience for assistance and ultimately closure in this pursuit. Again, this is further reiterated in the opening line of the second stanza, “Then took the other, as just as fair.”The character here looks at both choices as being equal in nature and thus the situation not meriting a clear and decisive choice to be made.  In this poem, Frost creates a semantic field of confusion to show that the choices that life throws each person’s way are certainly not always clear-cut and neat decisions but may be unpleasantly ambiguous in nature. In spite of this, each individual is called upon to choose what path they will take and subsequently endure whatsoever follows on from that.

Comparatively, Frost uses ambiguity in the poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ but more so to explore journeys rather than choices. In the first stanza, Frost presents a scene of innocence and playfulness. There is a tone of uncertainty as the opening line is a question, “Whose woods these are, I think I know.”  Despite the character lacking the affirmative knowledge of who owns these woods, the decision is still made to venture into these woods. One can detect playfulness and cheekiness in the character as he says “He will not see me stopping here.” From this, we understand that the character is actually trespassing. Granted this may be a somewhat negative action, the purpose of this trespassing is simply, “To watch his woods fill up with snow.” Such a simple yet peaceful act of observing the gradual precipitation is innocent and seemingly void of malicious intent.

Though we detect this tone from the first stanza, Frost does not allow the second stanza to exhibit such an agreeable scene. It begins with an aura of discomposure as we read, “My little horse must think it queer To stop without a farmhouse near.” Here, Frost begins painting a new picture, one where some deeper and perhaps more sinister meaning is at hand. The horse is a mere animal and thus unacquainted with the strange manners of Man to venture into choices and journeys that fall out of the common order of work.  Now the innocence of the animal has taken the place of the rider’s seeming innocence so that the rider is up to something darker. We read that he is, “Between the woods and frozen lake The darkest evening of the year.” These two different potential destinations of “the woods” and “the frozen lake” could display the end destinations of separate journeys made. The character is therefore at the crossroads of life and has to make a decision as to which way he will go.  Woods are commonly associated with uncertainty and darkness, whilst the word “frozen” connotes a harsh and inhospitable environment. Even more significantly is the following line “The darkest evening of the year.” Frost exemplifies an ominous and perturbing scene with this phrase and the reader is led to believe that the rider has a more sinister intent behind their actions.

In the last stanza, Frost bolsters this notion by promulgating the way in which he actually is fond of the darkness, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.” Considering this tenebrous place to be “lovely” is somewhat unsettling as it displays the convoluted thought processes of the character. This is sharply juxtaposed to the scene painted in the opening stanza and therefore leads to a sense of confusion as to what the aim of the character is with regards to this journey he is on.

Thus we see how, in both poems, the tool of ambiguity is utilised to illustrate the complex and obscure subcurrents that permeate life’s choices.

 

 

Withal, Frost explores the concepts of choices and journeys with commentary on the instigation and consequences of them in both poems.

In Stopping by Woods, Frost uses the final stanza to display the ongoing process of a journey and choice. The very title of the poem contains the word “Stopping” which is written in the present continuous form. This immediately evokes the sense of an occurrence that is processional in essence, as opposed to definitive.  Moreover, the ending stanza leaves the entire poem unresolved. The final lines read, “And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep.” Frost drenches these final lines with literary techniques and meaning so as to make the most significant impact on the reader. In the first instance, the lines are exact repetitions of one another. This insinuates a protracted incident. Bolstering this is the fact that the final three lines begin with connectives that are typographically positioned directly vertically from one another, “But”, “And”, “And”. These repeating connectives, especially the repetition of “And”, perhaps denote a listing ad infinitum of tasks left to accomplish within this characters life. The shift in the rhyme scheme of ‘AABA’ to ‘DDDD’ in the final stanza makes this point also; it seems as though all that is left is to do and do and do and do [DDDD].  Subsequently, in poetic brilliance, Frost closes this poem with the very lack of closure to display how a journey can be ongoing in a person’s life.

Conversely, Frost seems to portray the exact opposite about choices and journeys in ‘The Road not Taken’.  Equally starting with the title, the word “Taken” is written in the past participle. Hence, from the outset of the poem, Frost communicates the impression of a conclusive outcome having already been reached before the poem has even begun. Interestingly, the poem is named ‘The Road not Taken’ as opposed to the ‘the Road taken’, displaying a narrative that focuses not on the designated journey but on the alternative that never came to pass.

This sense of completion is reaffirmed in the ending stanza as we read I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”The sense of regret pervades explicitly in this last stanza; the word “sigh” is somewhat onomatopoeic in nature, allowing the reader to tangibly feel the resignation within the character’s heart. In the middle three lines, Frost builds up this acquiescence through the character’s view of the choice being far in the past. The line “Somewhere ages and ages hence” exhibits the way in which this individual regards this event to be so firmly behind that they are no longer able to specifically name when it occurred. Instead, the ambiguous and speculative word “Somewhere” is used. Significantly, though the character is unsure of exactly when this took place, there remains not even an inkling of a doubt into the fact that it was a long time ago, hence the repetition of “ages”. One could extrapolate how the person is perhaps actually pressing themselves down with the regret of their action and convinces themselves that there is no way of changing things. The final line goes on to reveal the implications of this action in the past. We read, “…that has made all the difference.” The absolute word “all” in describing the impact made encapsulates the essence of a series of irrevocable outcomes that do not merit even considering an attempt to alter them.  Ending here in this abysmal backdrop, Frost rams sharply home to the reader the way in which certain choices lead to certain journeys that are inexorably designated to follow the preordained path set before them.

Therefore, Frost seems to be displaying a contrast between Stopping by Woods and The Road not Taken with their respective diametrically opposed assertions on the conclusive nature of choices and the definitive or continual nature of the consequences [journeys] subsequently emanating from them.

 

 

Overall, Robert Frost widely examines journeys and choices not merely in Stopping by Woods or The Road not Taken, but in the majority of his poems. As a maverick of the Modernist movement in literature, Frost’s poems frequently dissect the choices that Man makes and scrutinize what exactly that means for world afterwards in a strikingly harsh manner. With Stopping by Woods and The Road not Taken, Frost uses a semantic field of dubiety to illuminate the ambivalence and vacillation with which people are called to make certain decisions in life.  Simultaneously, Frost also uses the poems to instantiate how life choices can be either marked and conclusive events with unalterable consequences, or processional occurrences that one continues to change and affect into their present day life.  All such impressions and interpretations, however, share one thing in common: all are afforded their existence from the masterful command of literature that Frost possessed.

How far would you agree that Tory governments were no more liberal from 1822-1830 than from 1812-1822?

Among historians there is constant debate as to whether the Tory governments of the early nineteenth century could be divided into two separate periods of political ideology:  1812 to 1822 as reactionary and 1822 to 1830 as liberal. Both sides of the debate shall be explored yet particular emphasis will be placed on the assertion that the Tory governments were more liberal from 1822 to 1830 than the previous decade. The term ‘Liberal’, for the sake of this essay will be taken as the belief in freedom from state restrictions (led by kings and aristocrats and supported by the Church) with constitutions governing instead. [1]

 

Tory governments were more liberal from 182 to 1830 than from 1812 to 1822. Upon examination, one can easily see why Liverpool’s government was often viewed as reactionary from 1812 to 1822, and more liberal from 1822 to 1830.

The reason for the reactionary policies of Liverpool’s government from 1812 to 1822 was down to the radical challenge present all across Britain at this time. Unlike the radical threat of William Pitt the Younger’s time in office, radicalism from 1812 to 1822posed a much more genuine threat to the state of affairs in Britain. There were many reasons for the resurgence of radicalism during this period. Industrialisation and mechanisation paved the way for ‘Luddism’ whereby working class individuals violently protested their jobs being taken over and wages lowered. An instance of this can be seen how April 1812 witnessed an armed clash between 100 machine-breakers and soldiers, as well as a mill owner being shot in an ambush. This resulted in 17 executions in 1813.[2] In this case, one can see direct, forceful governmental response to the threat at hand.

Equally, unemployment, increasing population, depreciating wages, increased wheat prices, lack of providence for the poor and more all contributed to civil unrest from 1812 to 1822.

Therefore, the government responded with a series of measures in law as well as direct action. The government also took action that can be seen as harsh outside of the sphere of response to radicalism.

In 1815, the Corn Laws were put in place. Granted the government claimed this was for the overall benefit of landowners and buyers collectively, it certainly did not seem this way. To the working class, the increase in prices was solely to benefit the landowning elite whom the government dearly sought after for political support.

Furthermore, there was the Peterloo Massacre of 1819. What was initially a meeting of reformers/radicals listening to the orator Henry Hunt soon turned into a riot with the involvement of the Yeomanry. Robert Castlereagh was held responsible for this ‘massacre’ in which 17 were killed and around 400 were injured. [3]

Another example of a violent response by the authorities to radicals was in the Derbyshire rising of 1817 in which 300 iron workers and stocking makers led a protest in Derbyshire. This was foiled by ‘Oliver the spy’ and not a few of the 300 (namely leaders) were executed.[4]

In regards to official legislation, one can also see how Liverpool’s government from 1812 to 1822 can be viewed as reactionary. In response to the Peterloo Massacre, the Six Acts were brought into place. These were: [5] The Training Prevention Act [people training with guns who weren’t governmental could be transported]; Seizure of Arms Act [search homes or weapons and arrest if discovered]; Misdemeanours Act [quicker judicial processes]: Seditious Meetings Prevention Act [harder to convene large meetings on ‘Church or state’ matters]; Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act [tougher sentences for radical writings]; Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act [increased duty on newspapers espousing opinion over news].

Additionally, there was the suspension of Habeas Corpus in 1817, allowing for arrest and imprisonment without trial. [6] These legislative instigations demonstrate the tightening grip of the government over the liberties of the British population. Restrictive and harsh, these measures can certainly be deemed reactionary as they fundamentally inhibited the people’s rights to maintain the status quo, as it were. Adding to this the violent responses, Liverpool’s government seems all the more to have been reactionary during this period.

Yet Liverpool’s government did not end here; far from it. Following a reshuffling of the cabinet around 1822, Liverpool’s government entered what can be referred to as the ‘Liberal’ phase. The traditional view is that Liverpool’s administration is divided into two contrasting phases:  ‘reactionary Toryism’ dominated by Castlereagh, Sidmouth, Eldon and Vansittart; and ‘Liberal Toryism’ dominated by Canning, Peel, Huskisson and Robinson.[7] Robinson, Canning and Peel were identified with championing liberalism both abroad and at home. [8]

Peel began reforming the legal system with a series of innovative measures. In 1823, change was brought to how executions could be delivered so that the more petty crimes such as impersonating a Chelsea Pensioner or involving property of 40s did not merit execution. Following this was the Juries Regulation Act of 1825 making jury qualifications uniform through England and Wales. There were also a series of laws from 1826 to 1828 standardizing procedures in criminal justice trials with judges being paid salaries rather than fees.[9] Such legal alterations exhibit a government that gravitated towards a fairer and more transparent system for the people.

Peel managed to pass the New Gaols Act in 1823 being fairer and more generous than before in prisons. In 1829 Peel also formed the Metropolitan Police force in London which was the first of its kind.

Moreover, there were changes to trade and Finance alongside other matters like religion. There was the 1823 Trade Reciprocity Act; the alteration of the Navigation Acts; recognition of the independent republics of Buenos Aires, Mexico and Colombia in 1824, and of Brazil in 1825, the despatching of forces to assist the cause of Liberalism in Portugal in 1826, and joint action with France and Russia in 1827 to Greek independence from the Turks.[10] Such changes unambiguously reveal progression away from mercantilist economics and more towards a growing economy of Free International Trade.

Finally were the repeal of the Test and Corporations Acts, and the Catholic Emancipation. Occurring in 1828 and 1829, the two gave greater liberties to nonconformists and Catholics against the mighty Protestant or Anglican Church. This was a very controversial and, therefore, significant change to bring about.

All these elements exemplify ‘liberal’ values.  They loosened the tight grip of the Church and state on the people which is exactly what Liberalism would entail. Hence, one can notice the clear divide between the first and second period of Liverpool’s government as the reactionary system flipped into ‘Liberal Toryism’ post 1822.

 

 

At total variance to this view is the absolute assertion that the Tory governments were no more liberal from 1822 to 1830 than from 1812 to 1822.

The first point that must be addressed is the fact that the so-called reactionary policies of 1812 to 1822 were certainly not as reactionary as one may immediately presume. The fact of the matter is that the radical threat Liverpool’s government were made to face, was far greater than we care to realise. The two necessary ingredients for a revolution (a discontent working class and a sympathising middle class) were present as Liverpool came into office. Hampden Clubs were being established nationwide and the radical press, too, was reaching many individuals, inciting revolution. [11] Therefore, to counteract this, the government had to take action that would significantly hinder the opposition.  Thus, it is fair to say that it was repression born not out of malice or intolerance, but out of fear. [12]

Secondly, in regards to the measures directly, Liverpool’s government from 1812 to 1822 cannot be labelled as wholly reactionary.

Although Liverpool’s government may have inadvertently aggravated unrest by mishandling its reaction to these unprecedented problems (such as demobilising too quickly), in general Lord Liverpool and his ministers strove to minimise hardship. For example, in 1817 the Poor Employment Act made available state loans totalling 675,000 for encouraging the fisheries and public works undertaken by local authorities. Even the much abused Corn aw of 1815, which Liverpool modified in 1822 and wanted to relax still further in 1827, can be regarded as an attempt to smooth the transition  from wartime to peacetime – not only by protecting the investments made by farmers but also by securing the continued mobility of the nation’s chief source of employment.[13]

Further than this, the government did not have professional forces/ means to deal with radicalism as the police force came into existence only in 1829. Even the court systems that seemed to dish out harsh legislation rarely implemented this. For the Huddersfield rising of 1817, of the 44 arrested, 36 were released and one died naturally in custody by January 1818. Equally, the Seditious Meetings Act of 1817 was of similarly brief duration, being allowed to lapse in 1818.[14] This just goes to show that the idea of Lord Liverpool’s government being exceedingly harsh and reactionary is anachronistic. “What is surprising is not their savagery but rather their restraint.”[15]

                Withal, there is the fact that Liverpool’s government from 1822 to 1830 was not so ‘liberal’ either. The government’s policies after 1822 were more influenced by Pitt’s policies between 1783 and 1793 than by Liberalism: The economic and social reforms after 1822, through limited implementation of laissez-faire and free trade, was an updated development of Pittite Toryism. Even though the so-called ‘liberal Tory’ administration was willing to concede moderate economic and social reform, it would not emancipation of Catholics or any challenge to the Anglican supremacy of Church, state or constitution.[16] Granted the 1828 repeal of the Test and Corporations Acts and the 1829 Catholic Emancipation, there was still much inequality and restriction on nonconformists and Catholics. Nonconformists still had to pay taxes to the Anglican Church, only Anglican ministers could conduct marriage services, Catholics had to accept the Reformation’s changes as permanent, the qualification to vote for Irish county MPs was raised to £10, etc … [17]

Essentially, those in power in the government from 1822 to 1830 had mainly been in some role of political power prior to this point. Hence it was the same government at the heart.[18]

It is clear, therefore, that the ‘divide’ of Liverpool’s ministry is merely imaginary. Both periods exhibit ‘reactionary’ and ‘liberal’ measures. Any attempt to look at 1822 to 1830 as more liberal can be explained by external conditions rather than the government itself. Between 1822 and 1827, with the economy more secure, trade increasing, unemployment declining and a string of good harvests, food prices reduced and the discontent of previous years, although still present, seemed less apparent and less violent.[19] This meant there was less necessity for the acts of the decade beforehand.

 

 

Thorough examination has displayed the fact that asserting an obvious divide in Liverpool’s government is historically untenable. No such clear-cut line could be produced for elements of both ‘reactionary’ and ‘liberal’ policies can be seen in abundance in 1812 to 1822 as well as 1822 to 1830.

Equally, the absolute assertion of zero political change, in regards to core ideology, is also historically inaccurate. Taking the premise that ‘liberalism’ and ‘reactionism’ can be observed in both supposed periods, one can still clearly see a progressive stance adopted more from 1822 to 1830 than the previous years. Marjie Bloy herself has to concede, “The policies of Liverpool’s administration after 1822 marked a shift in emphasis from solely maintaining law and order to encouraging economic prosperity as well,” and, “It was the disturbed years of 1815-1820 that had helped to convince Liverpool and his ministers that Britain could not be ruled by suppressing the symptoms of economic distress.”[20]

                Forbye, the assumption that because Liverpool’s new government had most of its old members of power meant that there had to be absolute political continuity is unsubstantiated and fallacious. It overlooks how the same individuals may very well adopt different policies due to different socio-economic conditions. In this also, to promulgate the notion that because Liverpool’s government acted differently due to different circumstances alone means they cannot be called ‘liberal’: this is also an incoherent point. Regardless of reasoning, Liverpool’s government clearly was more liberal in the years 1822 to 1830 than from 1812 to 1822. If they were not, then why is it, bearing in mind the derogatory nature of the word ‘liberal’ in these times, that “High Tories accused the Government of ‘liberalism’…” in the mid 1820s? [21]

 

[1] Mike Wells – From Pitt to Peel 1783-1846 – pp.47

[2] Wells – pp.38-39

[3] BBC In Our Time – Peterloo Podcast

[4] Wells – pp.42

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Six_Acts

[6] Wells – pp.43

[7] Herbert Van Thal quoting Norman Gash –  The Prime Ministers

[8] Plowright – The government’s record on reform – pp.40

[9] Wells – pp.48

[10] Plowright – pp.40

[11] Wells – pp.40-43

[12] ‘How reactionary was Lord Liverpool’s ministry?’

[13] John Plowright – Lord Liverpool and Alternatives to ‘Repression’ in Regency England

[14] Plowright – || Regency England

[15] J. Derry – Politics in the Age of Fox, Pitt and Liverpool – Macmillan 1990

[16] Marjie Bloy – What do you understand by the phrase ‘Liberal Tory’ and how helpful a description is it of Lord Liverpool’s administration?

[17] Wells – pp.52-53

[18] Plowright – Government’s records on reform

[19] ‘How reactionary was Lord Liverpool’s Ministry?’

[20] Bloy – What do you understand by the phrase ‘Liberal Toryism’…

[21] W.R. Brock –Lord Liverpool and Liberal Toryism, 1941.

Casablanca Review

Contrary to the majority of 21st century adolescents, when presented with the prospect of watching a black and white film I was filled with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement. I have come to discover that very often it is the films of the early to mid 20th century that, for want of advanced technological equipment, focus upon relatable societal or existential matters, such as the ephemerality of life,  for the viewers to subsequently consider.  Casablanca was no exception to this rule.

Based on Murray Bernett and Joan Alison’s stage play, casablanca-photoEverybody Comes to Rick’s, Casablanca came out in cinemas in 1942 directed by Michael Curtiz. As somewhat already revealed in the title, the film is set in Casablanca which was under Vichy-French control for a notable chunk of the 1900’s. Casablanca emblematized High Society of the time.  Due to its geo-political predicament in the early days of the Second World War, Casablanca served as a last chance saloon of sorts for the wealthy to then eventually travel onto Lisbon and America. However, it was often very difficult to obtain all the necessary visas to travel. This meant that the city became a gathering hub of aristocracy to comfortably enjoy their resting period before continuing their journey.

The film centres on the protagonist Rick Blaine [Humphrey Bogart] who owns his own club in Casablanca. He is a highly aloof man until the coincidental return of his only love, Ilsa Lund [Ingrid Bergman], along with her husband, Victor Laszlo [Paul Henreid], which leads to Blaine directly assisting the two of them to gain visas for leaving the country in the end.

A variety of themes run through Casablanca; some of the most notable are the themes of love, the fragility of life, and time.

The film commences in the lively atmosphere of Rick’s joint.  Jazz music is played by Sam [Dooley Wilson] whilst the bourgeois men and women enjoy drinks or gambling.  Several of the members sat at tables ask if Rick would care to join them, to which a resounding no comes via Carl the Headwaiter [S.Z Sakall]. Immediately we are introduced to Rick’s policy of isolationism. He maintains separation from any meaningful engagement with others around him. The protagonist’s own words, “I’ll stick my neck out for nobody” exemplify clearly the way in which he focuses only really upon himself.  Rick’s sullen and sombre disposition is accentuated as it is utterly juxtaposed to the highly animated establishment he presides over and is therefore somewhat ironic. Ultimately, we discover that the reason for this is as a result of his heart being broken by Ilsa as she left him in Paris. Rick had placed the entirety of his affection upon her, and so when she left, there could only be an unignorable void left behind. When Ilsa returns and Rick remarks, “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine,” we are able to see this sensitivity present. The protagonist is easily unsettled by the arrival of Lund which signifies how an individual can become damaged and weakened by the pains of the past.  Rick’s cynical and depressed attitude is a testament to the way in which one’s heart, the very core of their essence, is intrinsically fragile.  On top of this, life, or rather the loss of it, is spoken of in a nonchalant manner. Rick says that the two Germans killed were lucky to have gained the fame from their deaths, and Major Heinrich Strasser [Conrad Veidt] threateningly warns Ilsa by reminding her of how one’s predicament of survival is far from secured where they are.  Tying into this is the notion that an individual’s life and matters mean, in essence, nothing when pitted against the grand scheme of things. Rick says, “it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.” These collectively contribute to the idea of life being a minute and brittle experience.

Moreover, love runs all the way through the film. It is the lack of love (lack of Ilsa) which causes the protagonist to feel as he does for the first part of the play, and equally it is the return of love (return of Ilsa) that restores Rick to peace.  Notwithstanding the complex nature of the relationship between Ilsa and Rick, it is undeniable that the fundamental underpinning of it all is love. It could only be love that weathered such extensively testing tribulations and emerged as victor overall. Facing the terrors of war ravaging their nations, as well as the trouble with the authorities, only love could stand tall against these. It could only be love that allowed for Ilsa to cross paths with Rick again. Love determining the fate of the characters meant they had to meet once more after all the elapsed time. It could only be love that brought about the change to the protagonist’s character. Transitioning from a withdrawn and pessimistic man to an outgoing and optimistic man -, “Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.”  Love permeates this entire film and it is desired that the spectators will equally come to view love as the indispensable, supreme ethic that it is.

Finally, the aspect of time is also explored widely within the film. One scene displays the past events of the relationship between Rick and Ilsa in Paris and shows how the protagonist is looking backwards to better times. Not only this, but the constant choice of song by the two is ‘As Time Goes By.’ It is used as a triggering mechanism to allow them to reminisce on the past and enjoy their good memories. In fact, Rick consoles Ilsa as he bids farewell to her by assuring her, “we’ll always have Paris.”  The film promulgates the idea that one can be impervious to the affects of time’s progression by simply clinging onto one moment of infinite beauty and basking in its glory forevermore.  The most famous and poignant phrase of Casablanca encapsulates this notion exactly, “Here’s looking at you kid.” This phrase is repeated throughout the film to exhibit the way in which Rick is attached to the moments shared with Ilsa in Paris. Withal, the term “kid” can be seen as denoting the vibrancy of life that comes with youth. Hence it is understandable why Rick would give toasts to commemorating this wonderful time in both of their lives and why he would gaze upon this site in perpetuity.

It is because Casablanca explores such fundamental areas of human existence that it shall never lose its poignancy nor will it ever lose its effect of inspiring people regardless of class, colour or creed; all can share collectively in the joy of backhanding life’s end whilst lingering in a moment of blissful love.