Look About You is a 1828 political tract against Catholic emancipation. It takes the form of a fictional dialogue between a tradesman and a farmer, in which the tradesman explains to the farmer the dangers of allowing Catholic Members of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons.

Catholic emancipation

Catholic emancipation is the general term for the late 18th and early 19th-century process that removed barriers preventing Catholics from participating in the legal and political life of the United Kingdom. As Look About You indicates, by the late 1820s the campaign for Catholic emancipation was specifically targeted at changing the law so that Catholic Members of Parliament could sit in the House of Parliament. Their campaign was successful and the law changed in 1829, with the passing of the Catholic Relief Act.

The dialogue

Look About You begins with the tradesman telling the farmer that ‘O’Connel [sic], an Irish Papist, is returned a Member of Parliament’. He refers to Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), one of the leading figures in the fight for Catholic Emancipation. The tradesman goes on to argue that if the United Kingdom allowed Catholic MPs in Parliament, ‘they would soon vote away our civil and religious liberties, and make us … slaves to a foreign Prince, called the Pope’. The dialogue continues in similarly lurid fashion.

Catholic emancipation in Middlemarch

George Eliot's novel Middlemarch opens in 1830, shortly after the passing of the Catholic Relief Act. The ‘Catholic question’ is common topic of conversation among Middlemarchers, and contributes to the novel’s atmosphere of reform, as well as to its historical specificity.