Tuesday, April 18, 2006


For heinous crimes committed in former lives, I studied the Reform Acts for A-level, and manage to keep unmuddled the names, arguments and outcomes of the debates in '32, '67 and '84 long enough to sit my exams. Now it's all something of a hodge-podge in my mind.

For about a year, Edward Pearce's "Reform! - the fight for the 1832 Reform Act" has been sat by the computer where it has been of some use to the Dr. (It gets a mention on page 138 of History of Christmas, on the basis of being at hand.) I've started it a couple of times, and yesterday got to page 156 before deciding to read something else.

For one thing, as my History A-level showed, the British nineteenth century is not nearly so exciting as Europe's. There were no revolutions, just lots of serious talking in the Houses of Parliament.

Secondly, the book mostly paraphrases Hansard, so there's a lot on how many columns each MP spoke for, and how the interruptions were transcribed. Pearce does throw in some good anecdotes and insight from other sources, but often he's repeating stuff we've already heard before (that Spencer Perceval's killing was not politically motivated, or how Mrs Arbuthnot fitted in).

While there are some fun characters and nice gags, the book runs the danger of being as longwinded and pompous as its subjects, and the last straw was losing an entire thread of argument by not understanding a cricketing metaphor. For a book about the opening up of the franchise, it's a pretty unaccessible text. Anyway, what's said in the House always requires some judicious pruning, as any Hansard hack will tell you.

It is, though, full of lovely details about the thoroughly rotten system of government developed from Magna Carta:
"In corrupt Cornwall [...], grotesquely overrepresented and blissfully rotten, largely because medieval kings, owning tracts of Cornwall personally by way of the Duchy, took care to enfranchise pelting villages of few fish and fewer people because they would readily comply. In consequence, Cornwall acquired early most of its forty-eight seats in Parliament, eighteen of them within 'a stretch 28 miles long by twelve miles deep around Liskeard'."

Edward Pearce, "Reform! - the fight for the 1832 Reform Act", pp. 32-3.

Centuries of tyrant-bolstering over-representation at the expense of the rest of the nation, I feel, should be remembered when considering the case for rydhsys rag Kernow lemmyn. (Hee hee.)

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