The Rights of Asses is a satire on Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man; the fact that it was satirised shows how much people were aware of and were reacting to it.
What was Rights of Man?
Paine’s Rights of Man – a brilliant attack on aristocracy and a defence of the ideals of the French Revolution – was published in 1791. The ideas expressed in it caught the public’s imagination, though the ideas that were passed around were not well developed – this text reiterates complaints about shortages of food, a feeling that the poverty of the many was caused by the comfort of the wealthy, and the idea of democracy as a weapon of mass-dissent. People reacted against heavy taxation, and the heavy-handed use of the military to put down any subversive demonstrations against the government.
How was William Blake involved in the revolutionary atmosphere?
William Blake had welcomed the spirit of liberty, and took to wearing a red cap in the manner of French revolutionaries during his walks around London. In the first draft of ‘London’ he writes of ‘german forged links’, a reference to foreign mercenaries engaged by the king to restrain any potential English rebellion. ‘Each dirty street’ became ‘each charter’d street’, a line that echoed Paine’s description of ‘Every chartered town’ as an ‘aristocratical monopoly’. A sketch in Blake’s notebook offers what may be a portrait of Paine himself.
- Article by:
- Andrew Lincoln
- Power and politics, Romanticism, Poverty and the working classes
The French Revolution inspired London radicals and reformers to increase their demands for change. Others called for moderation and stability, while the government tried to suppress radical activity. Professor Andrew Lincoln describes the political environment in which William Blake was writing.