Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Emigrants, Book I, pp. 29-30

Ye venal, worthless hirelings of a Court!
Ye pamper'd Parasites! whom Britons pay
For forging fetters for them; rather here
Study a lesson that concerns ye much;
And, trembling, learn, that if oppress'd too long,
The raging multitude, to madness stung,
Will turn on their oppressors; and, no more
By sounding titles and parading forms
Bound like tame victims, will redress themselves!

This passage, from the first book of Charlotte Smith's The Emigrants, sets forth one of the key explanations of the political turmoil and uncertainty that permeated Britain throughout the romantic period. In 1789, of course, the French Revolution had initiated a series of events across the English Channel that led eventually to the exile of large numbers of French churchmen and nobles. Accustomed to lives of privilege and luxury, these persons—the "emigrants" of Smith's title—now wandered along the English seacoast, disoriented, impoverished, and pricked by the inescapable recollection of the recent tragic loss of friends and family to the violence of the revolution. Though Smith is hardly an aristocratic sympathizer, and though she is critical of the French Catholic church, the image of human suffering nonetheless elicits expressions of sorrow and empathy. Whatever their background and whatever their ideology, these are suffering people.

What is more, as the excerpt above suggests, the suffering of these exiles is potentially instructive to the current powers of England. In the view of many political critics (including Smith), the British government was bloated by pensioners (persons who received government salaries), monarchist sycophants, and an unreformed parliament that gave little voice and virtually no power to ordinary Englishmen. These are the "worthless hirelings" and "pamper'd Parasites" of the opening lines. And what follows is, in essence, an ominous warning to those who uphold this aristocratic status quo. The experience of the French aristocratic emigrants offers a "lesson" to their English counterparts: if they continue to oppress the common citizens of England, then these citizens will become a "raging multitude" which will no longer be quieted by the usual forms of aristocratic power (e.g. "sounding titles and parading forms"). Instead, they will rise up against their oppressors and pull them down, just as the French aristocratic emigrants have been reduced to a pinched and hungry homelessness, wandering on this alien English shoreline.


Anonymous said...

thanks it been helpful for my exam

Anonymous said...

Hopefully you used better grammar on the exam.