The Dickensian doyen of utilitarian facts and figures would surely have had an apoplectic fit if, for example, he had read Shelley’s The Masque of Anarchy, whose revolutionary sentiments went on even to influence Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent campaign for a free India.
So while the Gradgrinds of society are thick dolts unable to comprehend the power of Art to wreak huge social change, Shelley’s poem, written after the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, has been described as “perhaps the first modern statement of the principle of nonviolent resistance”.
Some commentators even say it is the greatest political poem ever written in English. Certainly, it helped the push for universal suffrage in England and resulted in the establishment of what became today’s Guardian newspaper.
So it is no surprise that Salford-raised film director Mike Leigh (he was born in Welwyn, Hertfordshire) should choose that paper to disclose his intention to make a film about the massacre and I suggest that his announcement was timed to coincide with the preparations for next month’s U.K. Parliamentary General Election.
I close here with an excerpt from Shelley’s famous verses:
“As I lay asleep in Italy
There came a voice from over the Sea,
And with great power it forth led me
To walk in the visions of Poesy.
“I met Murder on the way—
He had a mask like Castlereagh—
Very smooth he looked, yet grim ;
Seven blood-hounds followed him :
“All were fat ; and well they might
Be in admirable plight,
For one by one, and two by two,
He tossed them human hearts to chew
Which from his wide cloak he drew.
“Next came Fraud, and he had on,
Like Lord Eldon, an ermined gown ;
His big tears, for he wept well,
Turned to mill-stones as they fell.
“And the little children, who
Round his feet played to and fro,
Thinking every tear a gem,
Had their brains knocked out by them”.
“Clothed with the Bible, as with light,
And the shadows of the night,
Like Sidmouth, next, Hypocrisy
On a crocodile rode by.
And many more Destructions played
In this ghastly masquerade,
All disguised, even to the eyes,
Like Bishops, lawyers, peers, and spies.
“Last came Anarchy : he rode
On a white horse, splashed with blood;
He was pale even to the lips,
Like Death in the Apocalypse”.
© Natalie Wood (18 April 2015)