Coleridge, Godwin, and the 1795 Gagging Acts
This chapter examines the 1795 “Gagging Acts” not merely as pieces of legislation but as cultural phenomena. It traces the representational practices that shape the responses to this legislation during six heated weeks in late 1795 (after the appearance of the bills but before they passed into law) by Coleridge, Godwin, Thelwall, Peter Pindar (John Wolcot), James Gillray, Thomas Beddoes, and others. Despite this loud public outcry, the Gagging Acts received Royal Assent on 18 December 1795. The “deathlike silence” that Coleridge shuddered to predict in his assessment of the repressive measures did indeed descend on the nation. Yet if we shift our audit from loud radicalism to other, more oblique modes, we find a variety of politically engaged writing enduring in the aftermath of the Gagging Acts.
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