In its edition, Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine gave Joseph Downes several pages to twist his panties to the ripping point over his recent “tour of the disturbed districts in Wales” — these districts having been disturbed by the tollbooth-destroying Rebeccaites.
Today I’ll reproduce some excerpts from this essay that give some hints as to how enraged conservative opinion viewed the Rebecca movement. The author was so blinded by dudgeon as to be incapable of giving a reliable account of much other than his own outrage, but there’s some interest in it:
“And this is the ‘disturbed district!’ — this is the seat of war! — the ‘Agrarian civil war!’ — the headquarters of the ‘Rebecca rebels!’” I soliloquized, about — a night of more than summer beauty, sultry and light as day — while thrusting my head from the window of “mine inn” the Castle, in this pretty picturesque little village-town, to coin a term. The shadows of the rustic houses, and interspersed corn-stacks, trees, and orchards, stretched across the irregular street, without a causeway, in unbroken quiet; not a sound was heard but the voice of an owl from a “fold” in the very heart of “the town,” and the low murmur of the river chafing against the buttresses of an antique bridge at the end of the said “street;” while an humble bow window of a shop, where at nightfall I had observed some dozens of watches (silver, too!) displayed, without a token of “Rebecca” terrorism appearing, was seen jutting into the road, only hidden, not defended, by such a weak apology for a shutter, as would not have resisted a burglar of ten years’ old.
…With a smile of well-pleased wonder at the exaggerations of the press, which were persuading the Londoners that the “dogs of war” were really “let slip” among these our green mountains and pastoral valleys, after enjoying this prospect of a village by moonlight at the foot of the majestic Mynydd Du, (black mountain,) whose range is seen by day, towering at a few miles’ distance, and hugging myself in the security of life and purse, which warriors (if they would cross-question their own great hearts) do really prize as much as I do, I returned to bed, (the heat of which had first driven me forth to this air-bath of half an hour.) “And this is the seat of insurrection!” I reiterated sarcastically against all English and all Welsh purveyors of “news” for terror-loving readers.
“Most lame and impotent conclusion!” The peace of nature in that sweet night was weak assurance of any kindred feeling in the bosom of man. It so happened (as I afterwards learned) that felony — bloody felony — was at that very time busy, at no great distance; that murder, that arson in its direst character, were stamping their first damnable characters on a province noted, through ages, for innocence and simple piety; that the first victim to rebellion was, at that moment, bleeding to death under the hands of those wearing the shapes of men; that victim innocent, helpless, and — a woman!!
But of this in the course of my narrative.
As I proceeded from Llangaddock this afternoon, in company with my son, we found no slackness in the attendance on the chapels, which keep rising in all directions in the principality. The groups issuing from them, survey us with surly eyes, as Sabbath breakers, for travelling on the “Lord’s day.” It is curious to reflect that these very persons who have just been listening to the preachers of a gospel of peace, with white upturning eyes and inward groans, who present countenances deeply marked, as it seems to us, with the spirit of severe sanctity, betrayed by their sour looks at us, and not rarely vented in two or three expressions at us among themselves — I say, how curious a fact in the pathology of minds does it present, that these very men will (some of them) reappear in a few hours, or days, in the characters of felons, midnight rebels to law and order, redressing minor wrongs committed by a few against themselves, by a tenfold fouler wrong against all men, against society itself. For a system which consists in defying the laws, is a systematic waging of war against the very element that binds men in society — it is a casting off of civilization, a return to miserable dependence on animal strength alone, on brutish cunning, or midnight hiding in the dark, for all we enjoy. It seems well known that the farmers themselves are the Rebeccaites, aided by their servants, and that the Rebecca is no other than some forward booby, or worse character, who ambitiously claims to act the leader, under the unmanly disguise of a female, yielding his post in turn to other such petticoat heroes. The “Rebecca” seems no more than a living figure to give effect to the drama, as boys dress up an effigy and parade it as the Guy Fawkes.
It is curious to witness the chop-fallen aspect of the poor toll collectors. The “looking for” of a dark hour is depicted on the female faces, at least, and a certain constrained civility mixed with sullenness, marks the manners of the male portion near large towns; for elsewhere, humble civility has always met the traveller in this class of Welsh cottagers. The frequent appearance of dragoons, the clatter of their dangling accoutrements of war, and grotesque ferocity of hairy headgear, and mock-heroic air of superiority to the more quietly grotesque groups of grey-coated men, and muffled up Welsh women gives a new feature to our tour in this hitherto tranquil region, where a soldier used to be a monster that men, women, children, all alike, would run to the cottage door to look at. A very different sort of look than that of childish curiosity now greets these gallant warriors, at least from the farmers. “’Becca” is the beloved of their secret hearts — ’Becca has already given them roads without paying for them! ’Becca is longed for by every honest farmer of them all, whenever he pays a toll-gate. And these fellows are come sword in hand, to hunt down poor innocent ’Becca! Well may the Welshman’s eyes lower on them, whatever may be the looks of the Welsh women.
We have now rode through several toll-gates, the ruins of the toll-houses only remaining, and rode scatheless! No toll asked — no darting forth of a grim figure from his little castle, at the shake of the road by tramp of horses — like the spider showing himself at his hole, on the trembling of his web to the struggle of a luckless fly. Nothing appeared but a shell of a house, with blackened remains of rafters, or a great heap of stones, not even a wall left — and huge stumps of gate-posts, and not a hand extended, or voice raised to demand payment for our use of a road! — that payment which the laws of the land had formally pronounced due! Had new laws been passed? Had a new mode arisen of discharging the debt we had incurred by the purchase of the use of so much road for two horses? Nothing of the kind! A mob at midnight had thrown down the barrier law had built; and law dared not, or neglected to — erect it again! “Rebecca,” like Jack Cade, had pronounced her law — “sic volo, sic jubeo” — and we rode through, by virtue of her most graceless Majesty’s absolute edict — cost free. It was really a very singular feeling we experienced on the first of these occasions. I assure thee, my reader; believe me, my pensive public! I never was transported — never held up hand at the Old Bailey, or elsewhere; am not conscious of any sinister sort of projections about my skull, that phrenologists might draw ugly conclusions from; yet I confess, that after an eloquent burst of Conservative wrath against this strange triumph of anarchy — after looking down on these works of mob law, unreversed, tamely endured — after fancying I saw the prostrate genius of social order there lying helpless — the dethroned majesty of British law there grovelling among the black ruins, insulted, unrestored — left to be trampled over with insolent laughter, by refractory boors, ignorant as savages of that law’s inestimable blessing — I say, after all these hurried thoughts and feelings — let me whisper thee, my reader, that a certain scandalous pleasure did creep up from these finger-ends, instinctively groping the pocket for the pre-doomed “thrippence,” yea, quite up to this lofty, reasoning, and right loyal sensorium, on leaving the said sum in good and lawful money, snug and safe in my own pocket, instead of handing it over to a toll collector. Let us not expect too much from poor human nature! I defy any man — Aristides Redivivus himself, to ride toll free through, or rather over, a turnpike defunct in this manner, and not feel a pernicious pleasure at his heart, a sort of slyly triumphing satisfaction, spite of himself, as of a dog that gets his adversary undermost; in short — without becoming for the moment, under the Circean chink of the saved “coppers,” a rank Rebeccaite!! The Lord and the law forgive me, for I surely loved ’Becca at heart at that moment!
My son being a young man about returning to college, it was highly important to conceal this backsliding within; so I launched out the more upon the monster character of this victory of brawny ignorance and stupid rebellion over the spirit of laws — but it wouldn’t do. “But you don’t look altogether so angry about it as you speak, father,” said he, though what he could see to betray any inward chuckling, I am not aware. If the casual saving of a toll could thus operate upon me, who should, perhaps, never pass there again, can it be wondered at that farmers, to whom this triumph must prove a great annual gain, are Rebeccaites to the backbone, and to a man? I fear they must be more than man, not to cry secretly to this levelling lady “God speed!” And this leads me to more serious reflection on the incomprehensible and fatal conduct of the local authorities in the first instance, in not instantly re-erecting the toll-gates, or fixing chains pro tempore, protecting at whatever expense some persons to demand compliance with the laws, that not for a week, a day, an hour, the disgraceful and dangerous spectacle should be exhibited, of authority completely down-trodden, law successfully defied. Surely the first step in vindication of the dignity of legal supremacy could not be difficult. By day, at least, surely a constabulary force might have compelled obedience. A few military at first, stationed near the gates, would have awed rustic rebels. It is the impunity which this unheard-of palsy of the governing strong hand so long ensured to them, which has fostered riot into rebellion, and rebellion into incendiarism and murder. Is it possible for a thinking man to see these poor and (truth to tell) most money-loving people, saving two or three shillings every time they drive their team to market or lime, by the prostration of a gate, and be at a loss to discover the secret of this midnight work spreading like wildfire? Why, every transit which a farmer makes cost free, is a spur to his avarice, a tribute of submission to his lawless will, a temptation to his ignorant impatience of all payments to try his hand against all. The quiet acquiescence in refusal to pay — the vanishing of toll-house and toll-takers without one magisterial edict — the mere submission to the mob, seems to cry “peccavi” too manifestly, and affords fresh colour to indiscriminate condemnation of all. A bonus in the shape of a toll for horse or team remitted, is thus actually presented, many times a-day, to the rioter, the rebel, the midnight incendiary of toll-houses, for this good work, by the supine, besotted, or fear-palsied local authorities. Shall a man look on while a burglar enters his house, ransacks his till, let him depart, and then, in despair, leave the door he broke open, open still all night for his entrance, and then wonder that burglary is vastly on the increase? The wonder, I think, is that one gate remains; and that wonder will not exist long, if government do not do something more than send down a gentleman to ask the Welsh what they please to want? The temptation forced upon the eyes and minds of a poverty-stricken and greedy people, by this shocking spectacle of the mastery of anarchy over order, in the annihilation of an impost by armed mountain peasants, is in itself a great cruelty; for in all Agrarian risings the state has triumphed at last, inasmuch as wealth and its resources are an overmatch for poverty, however furious or savage; hence blood will flow under the sword of justice ultimately, which early vigilance on her part might have wholly spared. “Knock down that toll-house — fire its contents — murder its tenant,” seems the voice of such sleepy justice to pronounce, “and neither I, nor my myrmidons will even ask you again for toll! Do this, and you shall not pay!!”
Such was the tacit invitation kindly presented by the first torn down toll-gate that remained in ruins, to every Welsh farmer. The farmer has accepted it, and “justice” — justice keeps her promise religiously, for no toll is demanded. If the law had been violated by trustees, we have a body called parliament strong enough to reform, ay, and punish them, as they, some of them perhaps, richly deserve; but was that a reason for the laws to be annulled, and lawlessness made the order of the day, in so important a matter as public roads, by the very men who are to profit by it, self-erected into judges in their own cause?
Being Sunday, a moral charm was added to those of this exquisite natural panorama, from which the curtain of storm-cloud seemed just then drawn up, as if to strike us the more with its flashing glory of sunshine, water, and a whole sky become cerulean in a few minutes. No Sabbath bells chimed, indeed; but the hushed town, and vacant groups come abroad to enjoy the return of that Italian weather we had long luxuriated in, impressed, equally with any music, the idea of Sabbath on the mind. It was hard to believe, revolting to be forced to believe, that this fine scene of perfect beauty and deep repose, as presented to the eye, directed to nature only — to the mind’s eye rolling up to nature’s God — was also the (newly transfigured) theatre of man’s worst and darkest passions; that the army — that odious, hideous, necessary curse of civilization, the severe and hateful guardian of liberty and peace, (though uncongenial to both) — was at that moment evoked by all the lovers of both for their salvation; was even then violating the ideal harmony of the hour, by its foul yet saving presence; was parading those green suburbs, and the sweet fields under those mountain walls, with those clangours so discordant to the holy influences of the hour and scene — emerging in their gay, shocking costume, (the colour of blood, and devised for its concealment,) from angles of rocks, and mouths of bowered avenues, where the mild fugitive from civil war, and faithful devotee of his throneless king, had often wandered, meditating on “Holy Dying” — of “Holy Living” himself a beautiful example — where even still, nothing gave outward and visible sign of incendiarism and murder lurking among those hermitages of rustic life; yet were both in active, secret operation!
In that very park of Dynevor, whose beauty we were admiring from the bridge, a little walk would have led us to — a grave! — no consecrated one, but one dug ready to receive a corpse; dug, in savage threatening of slaughter, for the reception of one yet living — the son of the noble owner of that ancient domain — dug in sight of his father’s house, in his own park, by wretches who have warned him to prepare to fill that grave in ! The gentleman so threatened, being void of all offence save that of being a magistrate — a sworn preserver of the public peace!
To return to the flock from these burly shepherds of souls — this outbreak of a devilish spirit — this crusade against law and order, tolls aud tithes, life and property, is a damning evidence against these spiritual pastors and masters, for such they are to the great body of the Welsh common people, in the fullest sense. The Times newspaper has ruffled the whole “Volscian” camp of Dissent, it appears, by thundering forth against them a charge of inciting their congregations to midnight crime. “John Joneses, and David Reeses, and Ap Shenkinses, have sprung up like the men from the dragon’s teeth, to repel this charge. It is probable that it was not well founded, for the simple reason, that such daring subornation of crime would have brought themselves into trouble. But what sort of defence is this, even if substantiated? You did not excite your followers to rebellion and arson! You, with your unlimited command of their minds, and almost bodies, why did you not allay, resist, put down the excitement, by whomever raised? That is the gravamen of the charge against you! You who make them weep, make them tremble, puff them with spiritual conceit, or depress them with terrors of damnation just as you please, how comes it that you are powerless all at once in deterring them from wild and bad actions — you, who are all-powerful in inciting them to any thing, since to refrain from violence is easier than to commit it?
The increase of these outrages proves, that not the power, but will, is wanting on your part, to put down this spirit of revenge and revolt. You perceive the current of their ignorant minds setting strongly in toward rapine and rebellion, (the feeler put forth being the toll grievance,) and you basely, wickedly, pander to their passions, by a discreet silence in your rostra, an unchristian apathy; while deeds are being done under your very eyes — in your daily path — which no good man can view without horror; no bold good man in the position which you hold, of public instructors in human duties, could see, without denouncing! And as your boldness, at least, is pretty apparent, whatever your goodness may be, other motives than fear must be sought for this unaccountable suspension of your influence — and I find it in self-interest — love of “filthy lucre.” You are “supported by voluntary contribution,” and to thwart the passions of your followers, and stem the tide of lawless violence, though your most sacred spiritual duty, is not the way to conciliate — is not compatible with that “voluntary principle” on which your bread depends, and which too often places your duty and your interest in direct opposition.
The good woman of our inn in this village has just been apologizing for the almost empty state of her house, the furniture being chiefly sent away to Pembree, whither she and her family hoped to follow in a few days. The cause of her removal was fear of the house being set fire to, it being the property of Mr Chambers, a magistrate of Llanelly, and the “Rebecca’s company” had warned all his tenants to be prepared for their fiery vengeance. His heinous offence was heading the police in discharge of his duty, in a conflict that has just occurred at Pontardulais gate, near this place, in which some of the ’Beccaites were wounded. [Since this, farmhouses and other property of this gentleman have been consumed, his life has been threatened, and his family have prevailed on him to abandon his home and native place.] The wounded men, now prisoners, were of this village, the focus of this rebellion that dares not face the day. It is here that the murderous midnight attack was made on the house of a Mr Edwards, when the wretches fired volleys at the windows, where his wife and daughter appeared at their command. They escaped, miraculously it might be said, notwithstanding. The poor old hostess complained, as well she might, of the hardship of being thus put in peril, purely in hostility to her landlord. We slept, however, soundly, and found ourselves alive in the morning; whether through evangelical Rebecca’s scruples about burning us out (or in) on a “Lord’s Day” night, or her being engaged elsewhere, we knew not.
And here also we rode through a crowd, murmuring hymns, pouring from the chapel, where, no doubt, they had heard some edifying discourse about the “sweet Jesus,” and “sweet experiences,” and “new birth,” the omnipotence of faith to salvation, and all and every topic but a man’s just indignation, and a religious man’s most solemn denunciation against the bloody and felonious outrages just committed by those very villagers — against the night-masked assassins, who had just before wantonly pointed deadly weapons against unoffending women — against the chamber of a sick man, a husband, and a father!
The headquarters of vindictive rebellion, arson, and spiritual oratory! An ugly populous town near the sea, now in a ferment of mixed fear and fury, from recent savage acts of the Rebeccaites against a most respectable magistrate, resident in the town, Mr W. Chambers, jun., the denounced landlord of our old Welsh hostess at Llanon. Two of his farm-houses have been burned to the ground, and his life has been threatened. His grievous offence I stated before. Soldiers are seen every where; and verily, the mixture of brute-ignorance and brute-ferocity, depicted in the faces of the great mass of “operatives” that we meet, seem to hint that their presence is not prematurely invoked. Their begrimed features and figures, caused by their various employments, give greater effect to the wild character of the coatless groups, who, in their blue check shirt-sleeves, congregate at every corner to cabal, rather than to dispute, it seems; for, fond as they are of dissent, (though not one in fifty could tell you from what they dissent, or to what they cleave in doctrine,) there seems no leaning to dissent from the glorious new Rebecca law of might (or midnight surprisals) against right.
In this neighbourhood, our Welsh annals will have to record — the first dwelling-house, not being a toll-house, was laid in ashes; the first blood was shed by “Rebecca’s company,” as they call the rioters here. And here resides, rants, prays, and preaches, and scribbles sedition, an illiterate fanatic, who is recognised as an organ of one sect of Methodists, Whitfieldites, publishing a monthly inflammatory Magazine, called Y Diwygiwr, (the “Reformer!”) — God bless the mark!
This little pope, within his little circle of the “great unwashed,” is very oracular, and his infallibility a dogma with his followers and readers. How much he himself and his vulgar trash of prose run mad, stand in need of that wholesome reform which some of his English brother-firebrands have been taught in Coldbathfields and Newgate, let my reader judge from the following extract. The Times newspaper did good service in gibbeting this precious morceau, supplied by its indefatigable reporter, in its broad sheet. How great was the neglect of Welsh society, and every thing Welsh, when this sort of war-cry of treason could be raised, this trump of rebellion sounded, and, as it were, from the pulpit “Evangelical,” with perfect impunity to the demagogue, thus prostituting religion itself to the cause of anarchical crime!—
“We cannot regard these tumults, with their like in other parts, but as the effects of Tory oppression. Our wish is to see Rebecca and her children arrayed by thousands, for the suppression of Toryism. These are the only means to remove the burden from the back of the country. … Resolve to see the sword of reason plunged in oppression’s heart.” He goes on to say, “there must be a hard-blowing storm before the high places in State and Church can be levelled,” &c. &c. There is the usual twaddle about “moral force,” forsooth, under which saving periphrasis, now-a-days, every rebel ranter in field, or tub, or conventicle, insinuates lawless violence without naming it. Jack Cade would have made it the rallying cry of his raggamuffins, so would Wat Tyler, had it been hit upon in his day.
I haven’t been able to find the article he refers to on-line, but I did find another excerpt from it, which is pretty explicit about this “moral force” being exclusive of violence: “Seize the weapons you are sure to conquer with. Yours is a moral force exclusively. Work it out, but the resource of your oppressors is physical force. They are much too strong for you on this ground. Resolve to see the sword of reason plunged in oppression’s heart.”
The array of thousands is intelligible “to the meanest capacity.” The dullest Welsh “copper-man,” or collier, or wild farm cultivator, could not miss the meaning. But as to this magical weapon, “moral force,” which they are to handle when so arrayed — the brightest capacity must be at a loss to know what it means. How absurd (if he pretends such a thing) to expect that enlightened statesmen will stand reformed, restrained, stricken through, with a new light in politics by the exhibition of these smutty patriots’ minds alone! — by the force of conviction, wrought by ascertaining their convictions, (the illuminati of Llanelly coal-works, of Swansea copper-works, of Carmarthen farm-yards,) will instantly tack — put the vessel of State right about, and bring her triumphant into the placid haven of Radicalism! And why physical “array” to wield such shadowy arms as “moral” force? This favourite stalkinghorse of incendiary politics is but the secret hiding-place of retreat from the “force of government.” The peace, the forbearance it breathes, is like the brief silence maintained — the holding of the breath — by those snugly ensconced within that other horse of famous memory, the Trojan, which served admirably to lay vigilance asleep, and evade the defensive force of the garrison, till the hour came to leap from its protection, and fire the citadel. This “moral force” covert of revolt, is every whit as hollow, as treacherous, as fatal, if trusted to. Inflame, enrage, and then gather together “thousands” of the most ignorant of mankind, pointing to a body, or a class, or a government, as the sole cause of whatever they suffer or dislike, and then — tell them to be moral! peaceable! not to use those tens of thousands of brawny arms, inured to the sledge-hammer; oh, no! tell them that force means to stand still — or disperse — or gabble — any thing but to — fight! And such vile “juggling with us in a double sense” as this, is evangelical morality!
It was pleasant to emerge from that dingy seat of fanaticism and fury, pseudo religion and moral violation of religion’s broad principles. Its aspect almost recalled the description of one of Rome’s imperial monsters, equally in physiognomy and nature — “a mixture of dirt and blood.” …
We were beginning to dismiss ugly Rebeccaism from our thoughts, meditating where we should find one of those Isaac Waltonian hostelries, with a sign swinging from an old tree, which we delight to make our evening quarters; for Pontardulais, we knew, was too lately a little battle-field to afford hope of this tranquil bliss, for here had occurred the first conflict, in which men had been wounded and prisoners made. The advance of evening, with its halcyon attributes of all kinds, had the effect of a lullaby on the mind, disturbed at every stage by some hurrying dragoon, some eager gossiping group, or fresh “news” of some farm “burned last night,” or rumours of “martial law” being actually impending over us poor rebels of South Wales.
Reaching the little houses in their lonely crossway, we were startled by the appearance of a gutted house; the walls alone having remained to present to us, on the higher ground, the semblance of a white cottage. The old thatch, fallen in, and timber, were still smouldering visibly, though the house was fired about .
Before the near adjoining cottage a quiet crowd of somo twenty persons appeared, and a few rustic articles of furniture on the roadside. Where was their owner? Dismounting, we entered this cottage, that had looked all peaceful security so lately to our eyes. It had not been injured, but was all dismantled and in confusion: and stretched on some low sort of bench or seat, lay the murdered owner of that smoking ruin — the Hendy tollhouse. Her coffin had been already made, (the coffin-plate giving her age, 75,) and stood leaning against the wall, but the body was preserved just as it fell, for the inspection of the jury. (The jury! a British jury! Is there a British man, incapable of perjury, of parricide, of bloody and blackest felony, himself, who will ever forget, who will ever cease to spurn, spit upon in thought, execrate in words, that degraded, wretched, most wicked knot of murder-screeners — the Hendy Gate jury?)
There was nothing in this dismal spectacle for a poet to find there food for fancy. All was naked, ugly horror. An old rug just veiled the corpse, which, being turned down, revealed the orifice, just by the nipple, of a shot or slug wound, and her linen was stiff and saturated with the blood which had flowed. Another wound on the temple had caused a torrent of blood, which remained glued over the whole cheek. The retracted lips of this poor suffering creature, gave a dreadful grin to the aged countenance, expressing the strong agony she must have endured, no doubt from the filling up of the breast with those three pints of blood found there by the surgeons. The details of this savage murder have been too fully given in all the papers to need repetition here. Suffice it to say, that to any one viewing the body as we thus happened to do, the atrocity of this heartless treason against society and the injured dead becomes yet more striking; it seeming wonderful that the piteousness of the sight — the mute pleading of that mouth full of cloated blood — the arousing ocular evidence of the unprovoked assassin’s cruelty — the helplessness of the aged woman — her innocence — all should not have kindled humanity in their hearts, (if all principle was dead in their dark minds,) just enough to dare to call a foul murder “murder” — to turn those twelve Rebecca-ridden, crouching slaves into men! Some of them, probably, had old helpless mothers at home; did no flying vision of her white hairs all blooded, and the breast, where they had lain and fed, full of blood also, cross the conscience of one of them, when, by their conspiracy, protection for life was to be denied to her, to all, by their unheard-of abuse of the only known British protective power — trial by jury? It is almost an apology for them to imagine, that one or more of them were actually part of the gang. Self-preservation, under instant danger, (involved in a just verdict,) is less revolting than the less urgent degree of the same natural impulse, implied in the hypothesis of pure selfish and most dastardly dread of some remoter evil to self from the ill-will of those impugned by a righteous verdict.
The verdict, it will be remembered, was, that Sarah Williams died from effusion of blood, but from what cause is to this jury unknown!!! The designed trick — the sly juggle concocted by these men, sworn before Almighty God to tell truth respecting the cry of blood then rising to his throne, evidently was to leave a loophole for a doubt whereby justice might be defeated — a possibility, so they flattered themselves, that, just in the nick of time, a bloodvessel burst, or fright destroyed her, or any thing but the bloody hand of “Rebecca.” Though, as the slugs were actually found in the lungs, the hope they “dressed themselves in” was as “drunk,” as swinishly stupid, as their design was unmanly, inhuman, and devilish — to wink at this horror! to huddle up this murder, and hurry into the earth a murdered woman, as if she had lived out her term!
Whatever was the prompting feeling of this monster-jury, let us hope that the arm of the law will reach them yet, for this double crime against bleeding innocence and against their country. It would be a fitting punishment to them, to pronounce every individual an outlaw — to deny him all benefit of those laws he has done his best to defeat, and leave the craven traitor to his kind — to adopt his beloved “’Becca’s” disguise for ever, skulk about the land that disowns him in petticoats, and blush out his life (if shame be left him;) and let his name be fixed up, as a scarecrow to deter such evil doers, on the wall of every court of justice:— “To the infamous memory of A.B., one of the perjured protectors of murder — The Hendy Gate Jury!”
Most revolting was the betrayed bias of almost all we spoke with, toward palliation of this dark act. “Didn’t she die in a fit; or of fright; or something?” was a frequent question, even from those near the scene of this tragedy. “What did ail the old creature to go near ’em? Name of goodness! didn’t they order her not?” Even from her own sex, a disgusting lack of warm-hearted pity and indignation was most palpable. Truly, morality and the meeting-house have a deep gulf between them, if these are the morals of the people. The regular church is really so little prized here, that we can only turn to the dissenting ministers of religious instruction, for the lower orders. And seeing these doings and sentiments in the flocks, one turns with astonishment to those professing teachers of the Welsh, and is ready to exclaim — “What is it that you do teach?” Only the mechanical part of religion, only the necessary outer mummery, I shall venture to say, which, perhaps, all revealed religions require, to maintain a hold on the reverence of the common people. It seems impossible that the voice of true religion can have reached hearts that a slight pecuniary interest, the abatement of a turnpike toll, or the like, can sear against the death-shriek of murdered woman; the cry of blood out of the earth; the fear of God’s judgment against perjury, and connivance at murder!”
Kidwelly, Carmarthenshire, .
Riding from Llanelly to this place, by a road skirting the coast, we, for the first time, heard the horn of Rebecca sounded, and replied to from among the darkling hills, the night being one of dusky moonlight. We at first believed it the signal of some persons in the collieries, but learned that “’Becca’s company” had been out round Kidwelly that night, and an incendiary fire was the “good work” accomplished. It being near , and our road wild and solitary, we felt rather pleased to gain the covert of this usually most quiet little town, with its air of antiquity and dead repose, as agreeable to a sentimental traveller, as unwelcome to its few traders and dwellers.
The innkeepers and shopkeepers, being much injured in their trades by the terrifying effect of Rebeccaism on strangers, who have kept aloof all the summer, lift up the voice (but cautiously) against this terrible lady. Hardly an expression of regret for the poor victim at Hendy Gate reaches our ears; but rather, they seem to visit on her the anticipated severity of future dealing with the rioters, which they foresee.
We see already posted placards, offering L.500 for the discovery of the actual perpetrator of the murder of the poor toll-collector. It is headed “Murder,” in the teeth of the audacious, solemn declaration by the jury, of their ignorance of the cause of death. Query, Was a coroner warranted in receiving such a verdict? Was he not empowered — required — to send the jury back to learn common sense?
Inn between Carmarthen and Llandilo.
Just as we were sauntering in the rural road, admiring the placidity of the night, , and the twilight landscape of the banks of the Towey, a sudden light opened up to us the whole night prospect, where the farther side of this broad vale rises finely covered with woods, round Middleton Hall, and soon learned the nature of this sudden illumination and pyramidal fire, being the conflagration of extensive property belonging to its owner, Mr Adams, close to the mansion.
The terror of the female inhabitants may be imagined, there being, I believe, not any male inmates but servants at home, and the incendiaries doing their work at that early hour in the most daring manner, firing guns, blowing horns, &c. Mr Adams drove in just as the fire was at its height, (having, indeed, believed the house to be in flames while he approached,) and found the goods and moveables all brought out in fear of its catching fire; but it escaped — so did the Rebeccaites, of course.
Not to extend too far these hasty Notes, I shall throw together the heads of a few made on the spot. Our “sentimental journey” occupied about three weeks, and brought us to almost every part infested by the disturbers. Having put up at an inn in the outskirts of a town in Cardiganshire for the night, leaving the horses, we walked to the town. As we returned, the night being rather dark, I was not conscious of any one being on the same road behind, and was talking to my son, rather earnestly, of the iniquitous verdict of the Hendy Gate assassin jury, when a voice behind asked in English, saucily, if I was going to attend the future trial of the “Hugheses, and them of the Llanon village, then in Swansea jail?” The tone clearly indicated how alien to the Welshman’s feelings were those I was expressing, though but those of common humanity. Giving the voice in the dark such short answer, refusing to satisfy him, as the question deserved, and with responsive bluffness, we left the man behind, who, it proved, was bound to our inn. We found our parlour filled with farmers, who instantly became mum as we entered, but their eyes suspiciously surveyed us. It was near eleven o’clock, so we retired to our double-bedded chamber, which happened to be situated over the parlour. The inn (whose owners were ultra “Welshly,” speaking English very badly,) was well situated for holding a midnight council of (Rebecca) war, being lonely, at the confluence of two roads, and this proved to be the nature of this late assemblage. We were jus’ in bed, (having secured the door as well as we could,) when we heard through the imperfect flooring a very animated mêlée of Welsh tongues all astir at once, and I fancied I recognized the voice of the pious Christian in the dark, who had been moved by the spirit (of religion of course) to hint or betray his dissent from the Saxon “stranger’s” rebuke of perjury and murder-screening. A few minutes after, several hurried out, and three or four discharges of guns followed in front of the house, but nothing more. I was pleased to think that the said house and windows were “mine host’s,” and not mine, otherwise a little hail of shot might have followed the “short thunder;” but as it was, nothing more than this warning bravado (as I imagine it to have been) occurred.
A great deal of solo spouting, by orators in orderly succession, went on till near two in the morning — Sunday. At least, falling asleep, I left this little patriot parliament sitting, and found it in full tongue on awaking at that hour. I suppose this sitting in judgment on toll-houses (and possibly other houses) of these anti-landlord committees, are not breaches of the observance of the Sabbath.
On the whole, we may remark, that neither Poor-Law, nor Tory, nor Whig, nor right rule, nor misrule, nor politics, nor party, had the slightest influence in this astounding moral revolution among an agricultural people. Utterly false is almost all that the London Press broached and broaches, implicating ministers in the provocation of this outbreak. Twenty years of residence, and leisure for observation among them, allows me to positively deny that any feeling of discontent, any sense of oppression, any knowledge of “Grievances,” now so pompously heading columns of twaddle — ever existed before the one daily, weekly spur in their side, goaded this simple people to a foolish mode of resistance to it.
Why, not one in ten of the farmers has yet heard of Sir Robert Peel’s accession to office! and I doubt if one in twenty knows whether they live under a Whig or Tory administration. Nor does one in a hundred care which, or form one guess about their comparative merits.
The only idea they have of Chartists, is a vague identification of them with “rebels,” as they used to call all sorts of rioters, not dreaming of their forming any party with definite views, unless that of seizing the good things of the earth, and postponing, sine die, the day of payment.
Judge what chance the brawling apostles of Chartism would have among them, especially under the difficulty of haranguing them through interpreters!
The Poor-Law they certainly hate, but from no pity for paupers. The dislike arises from a wide spread belief, that the host of “officers” attached to it swallows up great part of what they pay for the poor. They grudged the poor-rate before, even when their own overseer paid it away to poor old lame Davy or blind Gwinny; but now that it reaches them by a more circuitous route, and in the altered form of loaves or workhouse support, they seem to lose sight of it, and fancy that it stops by the way, in the pockets of these “strange” new middlemen, as we may call them, thrust in between the farmers and their poor and worn-out labourers.
The prevalence of the Welsh language perpetuates the ignorance which is at the root of the mischief. Of their native writers, I have given a specimen from the monthly magazine published at Llanelly, and the evil of these is uncorrected by English information.
The work of mounting heavenward was, we are told, defeated by a confusion of tongues — the advance of civilization (which we may designate a progress toward a divine goal, that of soul-exalting and soul-saving wisdom) is as utterly prevented by this non-intercourse system between the civilized and the half civilized; which, with all deference to the ancient Britons, I must venture to consider them. Camden, the antiquary, has preserved a tradition, that “certain Brittaines” (Britons) going over into Armorica, and taking wives from among the people of Normandy, “did cut out their tongues,” through fear that, when they should become mothers, they might corrupt the Welsh tongue of the children, by teaching them that foreign language! The love of their own tongue thus appears to be of very old standing, if we are to believe this agreeable proof of it. I believe the extirpation of Welsh, as a spoken language, would pioneer the way to knowledge, civilization, and religion here, of which last blessing there is a grievous lack, judging from the morals of the people.