A famous novel had for its second heading, "'Tis sixty years since." That novel—"Waverley"—was published anonymously just five years before 1819, and, we need not say, proved an era in literature. The sixty years behind him to which Walter Scott—a man of forty-three—looked over his shoulder, carried him as far back as the landing of Prince Charlie in Moidart, and the brief romantic campaign of the '45, with the Jacobite songs which embalmed it and kept it fresh in Scotch memories.
The wounds dealt at Waterloo still throbbed and burnt on occasions in 1819. Many a scarred veteran and limping subaltern continued the heroes of remote towns and villages, or starred it at Bath or Tunbridge. The warlike fever, which had so long raged in the country, even when ruined manufacturers and starving mechanics were praying for peace or leading bread-riots, had but partially abated; because whatever wrong to trade, and misery to the poor, closed ports and war prices might have meant, the people still depended upon their armed defenders, and in the hardest adversity found the heart to share their triumphs, to illuminate cities, light bonfires, cheer lustily, and not grudge parliamentary grants to the country's protectors. The "Eagle" was caged on his rock in the ocean, to eat his heart out in less than half-a-dozen years. Still there was no saying what might happen, and the sight of a red coat and a sword remained cheering—especially to soft hearts.
The commercial world was slowly recovering from its dire distress, but its weavers and mechanics were blazing up into fierce, futile struggle with the powers by which masses of the people believed themselves oppressed. If the men of war had no longer anything to do abroad, there was great fear that work might be found for them at home. All Europe was looking on in the expectation that England was about to follow the example of France, and indulge in a revolution on its own account—not bloodless this time.
Rarely since the wars of the Commonwealth had high treason been so much in men's mouths as it was in Great Britain during this and the following year. Sedition smouldered and burst into flame—not in one place alone, but at every point of the compass. The mischief was not confined to a single class; it prevailed mostly among the starving operatives, but it also fired minds of quite another calibre. Rash, generous spirits in every rank became affected, especially after an encounter between the blinded, maddened mobs and the military, when dragoons and yeomanry charged with drawn swords, and women and children went down under the horses' hoofs. Great riotous meetings were dispersed by force at Manchester, Birmingham, Paisley. Political trials went on at every assize. Bands of men lay in York, Lancaster, and Warwick gaols. At Stockport Sir Charles Wolseley told a crowd armed with bludgeons that he had been in Paris at the beginning of the French Revolution, that he was the first man who made a kick at the Bastille, and that he hoped he should be present at the demolition of another Bastille.