Economic Annals of the Nineteenth Century

By William Smart | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXIX
1818. A QUICK RETURN OF PROSPERITY

. THE country was still ringing with the three trials of William Hone for seditious and profane libels,1 when parliament met oil 27th January. The Regent's Speech, and the debates which followed, afford authoritative proof that the country had emerged from the long distress, and that trade was again on the upgrade. Improvement had taken place in almost every branch of domestic industry; the funds had risen to 80; the revenue had increased, particularly in the last six months; most of the iron works, where, in the past year the fires had, been extinguished, were again in full activity; the price of iron had risen from £8 or £9 to about £14; the demand for linen, the staple of the north of Ireland, was unprecedented; money was abundant, and, on good mortgages, was to be had at 4½ per cent.; the sales of land showed a better price; and gold had reappeared. For the moment, languor and depression had given place to hopefulness and enterprise.

The revival of trade

____________________
1
The name of this poor publisher -- who died a quarter of a century afterwards in the odour of sanctity and sub-editor of a religious journal -- would never have been known to history had it not been for the unwise persistence of the government in his prosecution. He was tried three times in quick succession, the last two times by Lord Ellenborough and a special jury. Hone made a wonderful defence, in speeches of six, seven, and eight hours respectively, ransacking history for precedents of parody, and, each time, the verdict was Not Guilty. On the last trial, on 19th December, "the moment the words were pronounced," says the Annual Register (Appendix 175) "a spontaneous burst of applause issued from the crowd in the Court, which soon extended to the crowd on the outside; and for some minutes the hall and adjoining avenues rang with shouts and acclamations. Some days afterwards a liberal subscription was entered into for Mr. Hone and his family." The failure of this prosecution empbasised the many other failures under the coercive measures, and gave colour to the cry of "persecution." And, on the day after, Lord Ellenborough gave notice of his resignation. The wonderfully graphic account of the trials in Harriet Martineau History has secured immortality for the pale little man in threadbare black who overthrew the Lord Chief Justice of England.

-610-

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