MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
TOPICS OF THE DAY.
AS PERFORMED BY HIS MAJESTY'S SUBJECTS ON FENENDEN HEATH.
WE last week indulged in some remarks adverse to the principle of County Meetings as applicable to the present times. They were written before the particulars of the late Kentish muster were known in London, and were founded on recollections of similar assemblages in other places. From all statements it appears that the speakers of but one side were allowed the benefit of a hearing, and that the most powerful Stentor on the field, who is reported to have been Lord WIN- CHILSEA, could not make himself heard by above one-tenth of the assemblage. So much for the character of the meeting in its deliberative capacity. It certainly surprised us to find a sensible man like Lord RADNOR, described as rising—at a moment too of confusion worse confounded—" with some warmth, to ask whe- ther they had met there to deliberate or not ?" His Lordship's warmth must have been excessive indeed, or he would scarcely have put so idle a question. "Deliberate!" quoth he—the de- mand could not have been more malapropos, if we suppose one of the unhappy persons thrust into the Black-hole of Calcutta, rising " with some warmth to ask whether they had met there to deliberate or not." The Standard takes a juster view of the pur- pose for which so many thousands are congregated on a particular spot—" It is for the expression and not the formation of opinions such assemblies are held." Even this is not a sufficiently precise definition of the purpose; for you or I might go to the top of Primrose Hill for the expression of an opinion, and make it known to the sheep and the bullocks feeding thereon. Such assem- blies are held to ascertain, how many out of a given district will be at the pains to repair to a given spot to express a particular opi- nion ; and, if the persons so repairing are not unanimous, how many are of one opinion, and how sunny of the other. Now, we complain of the meeting on Penenden Heath, that, like most other assemblages of the same kind, it has left us scarcely better in- formed as to the prevalence of a particular opinion, or as to the preponderance of one opinion over another, in the county of Kent, than we were before.
I. In the midst of conflicting statements which make the number of persons present to amount to 60,000 (Standard), 30,000 (Cob- belt), 20,000 or 25,000 (Times), we are unable to settle a matter of importance. For we do not think with the Standard that it mat- ters little whether 30,000 or 60,000 be supposed. On the contrary, it seems to us, that the expression of an opinion by the latter num- ber would be worth twice as much as a similar expression by the former, since it would show that twice as many people felt strongly enough on the subject to be at the pains to express an opinion at all. But no official report has satisfied the rest of England on this point. Nobody was at tile pains to take measures for ascertaining the number—save only the Standard. The Standard measured the ground, and found it to be three acres, neither more nor less ; from which, and from the fact that Lord WINCHILSEA could not be heard through a tenth part of the meeting—" and vast indeed must have been the assemblage by any part of which his Lordship was unheard"—it infers that the number could not be less than
2. We are at a still greater loss to decide satisfactorily as to the relative numbers of the opposite parties. The Brunswickers have been stated to be 5-8ths, 6-8ths, and 2-3ds, &c. of the entire meet- ing. Others again have represented them as contriving to make themselves appear more numerous than they really were, by such ruses as standing wide, and diffusing their hats over a larger space than they fairly filled ;—acting in concert by means of signals, &c. ; whilst the other side, on which the majority really lay, being jammed close together, and acting without concert, fell under the unjust imputation of being the minority. Of these contradictory statements, to which is the rest of England to adhere ? Why, every man will adhere to that of his own partisans ; or, at least, will have ground for disputing that of his opponents. With a little previous preparation, and a little management on the part of those who conduct the business of the day, this question might in all such meetings be settled beyond dispute. Why not, after the me- thod pursued by the Romans in their Comilla, prepare for either party one or more pens, each ascertained by actual calculation to be capable of containing a certain number of persons—and let the people of opposite sentiments file respectively into the enclosures ? Whilst the trouble and expense were inconsiderable, the advantage would be no less than complete satisfaction to the whole kingdom. As it is, the calculation is made under so many circumstances likely to introduce error into it, that a county meeting seldom or never answers satisfactorily the only purpose which it is good for. .3. We have but slender data also for forming an estimate of the re- lative numbers of freeholders, tenantry, and labourers present ; and we are without any at all for ascertaining in what proportions these classes were respectively distributed between the opposite parties. The most moderate computation makes the total amount of per- sons on the Heath more than double that of all the freeholders of Kent ; of whom, to judge from every probability, not more than one-third would be present. The freeholders on the ground, then, according to the lowest estimate of the total number, were about one in six; and according to the highest not more than one in twelve. Involved in a crowd so many times greater than their own number, how was it possible to ascertain on which side the majority of the freeholders lay? It might, for any means there was of de- ciding the point, have lain on that which is supposed by most to have been in a minority. The populous town of Maidstone is not two miles from the scene of action, and would doubtless pour out its thousands. We have known the place of rendezvous, in a county much larger and more populous than Kent, filled, two-parts out of three, by the inhabitants of the neighbouring town, and of the adjacent villages. Five out of every six must have been supplied by Maidstone and the vicinity ; because they would belong chiefly to that class which has no means of conveyance but its own limbs, and who, therefore, would not come from a distance, unless indeed transported by charitable waggons ; which, as each party stead- fastly disclaims all packing and preparation, we have no right to assume was the case. As then, in the vast mass congregated, we are utterly unable to say in what proportions the freeholders held up their hats for and against the petition ; and as we are in the same ignorance with regard to the tenantry in general, who must have been many times outnumbered by the labourers and townsmen, the only satisfactory conclusion is, that we have got an expression of opinion (if there was a decided expression of opi- nion) from the inhabitants of Maidstone and the rural population round about Penenden Heath. 4. We complain of this meeting, as of a sucil ruttingst that the immensity of the assemblage, not to mention the impossibility of maintaining order in it, not only puts deliberation out of the question, but precludes us from the satisfaction of knowing that the printed resolutions were actually the understood resolutions of the meeting. If the latter was so multitudinous that the stoutest pair of lungs on the field,—which happened to be in the posses- sion of the person who was also the most favourably received,— could not send his voice over more than a tenth part of the assemblage, how was it possible for the inferior power of Mr. GIPPS to make generally understood the purport of the petition he proposed ; or for the yet feebler energies of the Sheriff or his substitute, in the tremendous confusion in which the question was put, adequately to inform the meeting what par- ticular resolution or amendment it was, on which he demanded their hats ? Mr. COBB ETT declares that he held up his hat for Mr. GIPPS'S petition, believing that it was his own, which the Sheriff had just proposed ; and that, being very conspicuous by" a white waistcoat, a very white head, and a very red face," he misled all the Radicals, who, according to him, constituted the bulk of the assembly. It certainly is of importance that a party, or the individuals of a party, should be aware of the purport of the ques- tion put ; for the holding up of the hat is but the outward and visiblgsign ; and in the present instance, there is too much reason to apprehend, that a very great proportion of the G 0,00 0 were with- out the inward sense that should have accompanied the outward visible sign. Finally, we complain of this and all similar meetings, that the better part of a day is wasted to no purpose ; for if, as the Standard says, everybody, as well as the Marquis of CAMDEN, brings his opinion to the spot ready made up, to what end all the spouting, shouting, hissing, and hooting, but to gratify the itch of speech- ifying in the orators, and to exercise the lungs and exasperate the temper both of the speakers and their audience ? How much more like rational beings would it be acting, if pains were taken, in the first place, to make the propositions submitted to the meet- ing generally known and understood; and in the second, to as- certain beyond dispute which proposition or propositions carried the majority ; and what or nearly what that majority was ; and, this being done, the assembly were dismissed—the ploughman to his plough, the cobbler to his stall, and every man to his business and desire ?—" for every man bath business and desire, such as it is."
An expression of opinion, delivered under these circumstances, and with scrupulous care to preclude mistake, misconception, or rnisdecision, would he deserving of the attention of the people of England.