Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fascinating Historical Figures

Here's someone I've never heard of before but sure sounds like an interesting character: John Wilkes, who's the subject of a new biography by Arthur Cash. Some snippets from Daniel McCarthy's review in Reason:

...John Wilkes—radical journalist, member of Parliament, outlaw, prisoner, lord mayor of London, and self-described libertine.... His life and career go a long way toward dispelling the superstition that liberty must advance hand in glove with order, guided by men of sterling moral character.

...Wilkes helped lay the foundation for some of the most basic rights taken for granted in the United States and Great Britain: freedom of the press, the right to privacy, religious liberty. Most often Wilkes did this—at considerable risk to himself—by goading the government into overreaction and then suing the king’s ministers and agents. Along the way, he conducted innumerable adulterous affairs, dabbled in dueling, accumulated debts he had no intention of paying—“I take the liberty to inform you that at present it is not my interest to pay the principal, neither is it my principle to pay the interest,” he told one creditor—and published what some have considered the filthiest poem in the English language.

...Endorsing one bill for religious tolerance, he declared, “I wish to see rising in the neighborhood of a Christian cathedral, near its Gothic towers, the minaret of a Turkish mosque, a Chinese pagoda, and a Jewish synagogue, with a temple of the sun, if any Persians could be found to inhabit this island and worship in this gloomy climate the God of their idolatry.” At the time, as Cash writes, “Jews had no religious rights at all” and “it was specifically against the law to hold a Roman Catholic mass, and a Catholic who took in pupils or opened a school could be imprisoned for life.”

And this was in the 1760's! Pretty impressive, and definitely someone worth learning more about.


At 9:37 AM, Blogger Speedy said...

Sounds like an interesting read. I'll have to put that on my "to read" list.
See you this Friday!


Post a Comment

<< Home