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The Friends and Following of Richard Carlile

Michael Laccohee Bush

published by Twopenny Press - 2016


Richard Carlile (1790-1843)

Richard CarlileAn extreme radical, deist and publisher and dedicated to republicanism and infidelity, it was Richard Carlile who dared to republish the banned works of Tom Paine. After the Peterloo Massacre in 1819, Carlile advocated tyrannicide. It was too much for the state. He was found guilty of blasphemy and sent to prison.

A banner sign hung outside his London shop throughout the six years: THE SHOP IN FLEET STREET WILL NOT BE CLOSED AS A MATTER OF COURSE. Volunteers including shopmen, printers and newsvendors, men ‘who were free, able, and willing to serve in General Carlile’s Corps’, made sure of that. Women, too, flocked to support him. His wife, Jane, shared his prison cell. Despite her loyalty, Jane would be tossed aside and replaced by Eliza Sharples, who became his ‘moral wife’, as Carlile called it. He had a relaxed attitude to marriage and sex. In What is Love, he advocated the use of contraception to control the number of children produced, but also to make sex more enjoyable. His convictions won him huge support among the people and huge outrage among the establishment. Three biographies have been written – in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Michael Bush now presents a colourful, outrageous and action-packed life using contemporary records that, until now, have been largely unexploited. There was, for example, the Soho bookseller, who ran a penny weekly subscription society and hoped Carlile would continue his efforts ‘till the dust of priests and kings is stripped off every one’s eyes.’ A ‘few humble individuals’ from Carlisle donated £1.4.0. One woman who subscribed referred to herself as ‘a real deist’ who had ‘the misfortune to be the wife of a christian’. These were among thousands of brave men and women throughout the country who dared to support Richard Carlile.

Professor Bush has published a clutch of work on related subjects, including Richard Carlile's Philosophy of Sex (Verso Press, 1998) and The Casualties of Peterloo (Carnegie Press, 2005).

Designed and produced by Gilmour Print, Stewarton Ayrshire Scotland

ISBN 978-0-9561703-5-4

paperback, 478 pages

‘Great stuff. Read about a quarter of it last night. If Mike Leigh doesn't have Mary Fildes sitting on the big drum then I will picket the film!’ Terry Wyke

 ‘...absolutely wonderful and a joy to read.’ Michael Powell

'This is a well-organized and highly detailed study of a significant figure in British Radicalism and the movement he inspired. Michael Bush makes excellent use of the available sources. The main purpose is to identify Carlile’s support base, and therefore Bush’s book breaks new ground. Much is revealed about the background, aspirations and location of Carlile’s supporters. No scholar has described and explained Carlile’s movement - the creation and disintegration of his following - more effectively. This book will be read with interest (and to their great profit) by all who wish for a better understanding of republican and infidel strands in early nineteenth-century British radicalism.'

Michael J. Turner, Appalachian State University


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