It was never good times in England since the poor began to speculate upon their condition. Formerly they jogged on with as little reflection as horses; the whistling ploughman went cheek by jowl with his brother that neighed. Now the biped carries a box of phosphorus in his leather breeches; and in the dead of night the half-illuminated beast steals his magic potion into a cleft in a barn, and half the country is grinning with new fires. Farmer Graystock said something to the touchy rustic that he did not relish, and he writes his distaste in flames. What a power to intoxicate his crude brains, just muddlingly awake, to perceive that something is wrong in the social system; what a hellish faculty above gunpowder!
Now the rich and poor are fairly pitted, we shall see who can hang or burn fastest. It is not always revenge that stimulates these kindlings. There is a love of exerting mischief. Think of a disrespected clod that was trod into earth, that was nothing, on a sudden by damned arts refined into an exterminating angel, devouring the fruits of the earth and their growers in a mass of fire! What a new existence; what a temptation above Lucifer’s! Would clod be anything but a clod if he could resist it? Why, here was a spectacle last night for a whole country,—a bonfire visible to London, alarming her guilty towers, and shaking the Monument with an ague fit: all done by a little vial of phosphor in a clown’s fob! How he must grin, and shake his empty noddle in clouds, the Vulcanian epicure! Can we ring the bells backward? Can we unlearn the arts that pretend to civilize, and then burn the world? There is a march of Science; but who shall beat the drums for its retreat? Who shall persuade the boor that phosphor will not ignite?
Seven goodly stacks of hay, with corn-barns proportionable, lie smoking ashes and chaff, which man and beast would sputter out and reject like those apples of asphaltes and bitumen. The food for the inhabitants of earth will quickly disappear. Hot rolls may say, “Fuimus panes, fuit quartem-loaf, et ingens gloria Apple-pasty-orum.” That the good old munching system may last thy time and mine, good un-incendiary George, is the devout prayer of thine, to the last crust,
February 22, 1831.
Dear Dyer,—Mr. Rogers and Mr. Rogers’s friends are perfectly assured that you never intended any harm by an innocent couplet, and that in the revivification of it by blundering Barker you had no hand whatever. To imagine that, at this time of day, Rogers broods over a fantastic expression of more than thirty years’ standing, would be to suppose him indulging his “Pleasures of Memory” with a vengeance. You never penned a line which for its own sake you need, dying, wish to blot. You mistake your heart if you think you can write a lampoon. Your whips are