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A History of the Four Georges and of William IV, V

In Newgate he lived for some years


The

folly of the Administration did not end with their victory. On the 9th they did what they ought to have done long before, and arrested Lord George Gordon. But even this necessary belated act of justice they performed in the most foolish fashion. Everything that the pomp and ceremonial of arrest and arraignment could do was done to exalt Lord George in the eyes of the mob and swell his importance. He was conveyed to the Tower of London. Though the rising was thoroughly stamped out, and there was practically no chance of any attempt being made to rescue the prisoner, Lord George was escorted to the Tower by a numerous military force in broad daylight, with an amount of display that gave him the dignity of a hero and a martyr. To add to the absurdity of the whole business, the poor crazy gentleman was solemnly tried for high treason. Many months later, in the early February of the next year, 1781, when the riots were a thing of the past, and their terrible memory had been largely effaced, George Gordon was brought to the Bar of the Court of King's Bench for his trial. His wits had not mended during his confinement. He had been very angry because he thought that he was prevented from seeing his friends. His anger deepened when he learned that no friends had desired to see him. The fanatic had served his turn, and was forgotten. He was not of that temper which makes men devoted to a leader. He was but the foolish figurehead of a fanatical outburst, and when he was set
aside he was forgotten. But when he was brought up for trial a measure of popular enthusiasm in the man reasserted itself. He behaved very strangely at his trial, urging his right to read {210} long passages of Scripture in his defence. Happily for him, his defence was managed by abler hands than his own. The genius of Erskine, the gifts of Kenyon, were expended in his behalf. The unwisdom of the Government in prosecuting him for high treason was soon apparent. He was acquitted, to the general satisfaction of his supporters, and of many who were not his supporters. If public thanksgiving were returned in several churches for his acquittal, one grave manly voice was uplifted to swell the approval. Dr. Johnson declared that he was far better pleased that Lord George Gordon should escape punishment than that a precedent should be established for hanging a man for constructive treason.

Thus the great Gordon riots flickered ignominiously out. Lord George made occasional desperate efforts to reassert himself, trying to force himself upon the notice of the King at St. James's. In 1787 he was found guilty of libels upon the Queen of France and the French Ambassador. He fled to Holland, where he was arrested by the Dutch authorities, and shipped back to England. He was committed to Newgate, by curious chance, on the anniversary of the day on which it had been burned by his followers. In Newgate he lived for some years, adjuring Christianity, and declaring himself to be a follower of the Jewish faith. In Newgate the fanatic, renegade, madman, died of jail distemper on November 1, 1793. He was only forty-two years old. In his short, unhappy life he had done a great deal of harm, and, as far as it is possible to judge, no good whatever. Perhaps the example of the Gordon riots served as a precedent in another land. If the news of the fall of the Bastille and the September massacres reached Lord George Gordon in his prison, he may have recalled to his crazed fancy the fall of Newgate and the bloody Wednesday of the June of 1780.


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