Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Riot Act


Of yore, in old England, it was not thought good
To carry two visages under one hood;
What should folk say to you ? who have faces such
plenty, That from under one hood, you last night show'd us
Stand forth, arch-deceiver, and tell us in truth,
Are you handsome or ugly, in age or in youth?
Man, woman, or child—a dog or a mouse'?
Or are you, at once, each live thing in the house ?
Each live thing, did I ask ?—each dead implement,
A workshop in your person,—saw, chisel, and screw!
Above all, are you one individual'! I know
You must be at least Alexandra and Co.
But I think you're a troop— an assemblage—a mob,
And that I, us the Sheriff should take up the job ;
and instead of rehearsing your wonders in verse,
Must read you the Riot-Act, and bid you disperse.

Abbotsford, 23d April.
From "The Complete Works of Walter Scott...".  The Riot Act was legislated by the Parliament of Great Britain on July 20, 1712.  Under this act, an assemblage of 12 or more people could be deemed unlawful by any local authority.  Disobedience to this law was punishable by death, and the law enabled sometimes extreme uses of force.  One notorious instance was the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.  At Manchester's St. Peter's Square, a large crowd (60k-80k) was attacked by cavalry.  The crowd had gathered to petition for representation at Parliament.  The Riot Act was rescinded in 1973.

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