Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Few More Words on William Hone and justice. . .

My most recent ebay book acquisition is the The Trials of William Hone. This book is an account of the three trials to which Mr. Hone was subjected for the publication on his part of several books which were deemed dangerously subversive against the government and crown. The book is very interesting and a full PDF version can be viewed or downloaded at Google Books. My particular copy is a thin quarto volume bound in one quarter leather. It is fairly poor condition and the front board is dethatching at the hinge making it difficult to read without breaking the binding. But there is something magical about reading a book published in 1817. The book even contains an advertisement for a subscription that was raised for Mr. Hone to cover the costs of his legal problems.

The book is interesting and worth reading on a rainy day while watching the funeral of Ted Kennedy. Mr. Hone did not mount an elaborate defense. Instead of defending his most radical political views or attacking the injustice of the prevailing system of power, Hone simply said that his works were parodies, works of art like the prints of Gillray. Fair enough. Hone lived in a time when even the simplest freedoms, like the freedom of expression had to be constantly struggled for. When even simple threats of the government or crown creates a threat of prosecution, it is hard to imagine how one struggles against the dire poverty of child-laborers or the basic rights of workers to a safe workplace and a decent living wage.

But the conservative forces that attacked Mr. Hone are the same with which we grapple with today. And one does not need a wild imagination to understand that the conservatives today would love to turn the clock back to a time when workers had few rights, when social and economic inequity were legally as well as systemically ensured, and when average people were unable to struggle and speak out against basic injustice. 

Today Ted Kennedy's funeral takes place. Despite his immense wealth and power Kennedy always struggled for the rights of workers and was a voice for those who had no voice. He did this in a country where real left-wing politics is not even possible. I don't know if Ted Kennedy knew of William Hone but I am sure he would have considered himself to be part of the same tradition. 

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