Thursday, 2 February 2017

A shared view of the Chartists: L'Illustration and the Illustrated London News

It is interesting to note that the great Chartist rally of 10 April 1848 made news across Europe at a time when many European radicals had other things on their mind. This was, after all, the Year of Revolutions, during which, it has rather unfairly been suggested, other countries overthrew their monarchs and proclaimed constitutions while in Britain we organised a petition.

In France, the front page of L’Illustration on 22 April was dominated by a picture showing arms being distributed among the people of Paris – a reasonable news choice given that Louis-Philippe had recently been driven out of the city and universal suffrage declared. But just a few pages in, a full page was given over to the events on Kennington Common in London.

One striking feature of the report is that it is illustrated with two engravings that had appeared in the Illustrated London News (with which L’Illustration had much in common) only a week earlier. The first is a half-length portrait of Feargus O’Connor. The second, showing the crowd on Kennington Common, is clearly based on the photographs in the British royal collection by William Edward Kilburn.

Like its British counterpart, L’Illustration was hostile towards the British Chartists. It would be interesting to know whether the words as well as the picture originated from a common source. The French paper recounts O’Connor’s claim that the Chartist petition carried 5,706,000 names – and, at somewhat greater length, the counter-claim that it had just 1,975,476.

It goes on to report that, as was their usual practice, the Chartists had retired after the rally to a tavern in Tottenham Court Road, where they spent the evening making bold speeches toasting their success before writing up an account of their activities for a friendly newspaper.

As L’Illustration concluded: “This is the destiny of the English revolution. Today all is calm. None of the shops in London are closed. The return of the aristocracy is announced. The French are back in favour, and the summer promises to be brilliant.”

No comments: