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Radical Political Groups

London served as a useful site for political radicals, providing them with a place to exchange ideas with each other and inform others of various causes. Many radical political groups formed for this specific purpose. One such group was the London Corresponding Society. This group was formed in 1792 by artisans who sought parliamentary reform, opposing such events as the war on France. Overall, the group was concerned with the rights of working-class citizens, and wished to find ways that these individuals could oppose the aristocracy who depended upon them to perform necessary labor but denied them basic individual rights. The group, it would seem, was all too effective at spreading their message, as they faced nearly constant pressure from the British government, which even resorted to placing spies in the group. The government passed the Seditious Meetings Act in order make political groups such as this one illegal. Because of this act, several members of the group were arrested. However, the group continued until 1799. Poet William Blake was known to attend meetings of political groups and was influenced by the discussion of the government's exploitation of the country's citizens, although Blake, with his emphasis on passion and imagination, would depart somewhat from the rationalistic, enlightenment- influenced philosophy of many of these groups. These concerns are most clear in Blake's poems that deal with oppression in the city of London.

Concerns for the rights of the working class can be observed in the work of many Romantic Poets, particularly in the work of Percy Bysshe Shelly. Poems such as "Men of England" and "Queen Mab" explore the nature of oppression in society and were written for the purpose of making readers aware of their rights. Groups like the London Corresponding Society enabled radical discourse to spread in the city and made London a place in which individuals could spread ideas that could lead to change. Because these poets were located in an urban setting with such ideological exchange, it increased their awareness of their society and inequality within it, which led to the development of radical political content for which many Romantic poems are known.

Brandon Haynes

Select Bibliography

Romantic Metropolis. Eds. James Chandler and Kevin Gilmartin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. New York: Vintage, 1966.