Friday, 5 November 2010

Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

The Spring 1966 issue of the Journal of the William Morris Society (vol II, no1) contains James Alfred Wilkes’s genial memoir of political meetings in the Kelmscott House coach house in the late 1880s and early 1890s. In the course of this he fondly remembers, among many other vivid occasions, a lively talk by Annie Besant on socialist tactics in relation to the unemployed. After Besant’s stirring address, Wilkes notes, ‘one of the speakers in the debate created a small sensation by the statement that he carried in his pocket an explosive which was sufficient to send us all to kingdom come’.

A ‘small’ sensation?! I’d have been sprinting out of the coach house and leaping off the bastion into the Thames before this speaker (who sounds as though he might have been the Professor from Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent) had even finished his sentence. Which just shows that, though we sometimes bemoan the fact that our scholarly papers in the coach house today don’t have the fire and passion of the socialist lectures in the same venue in the late nineteenth century, there are benefits to this more sedate approach too!