Commentary: The Statesman’s Soliloquy

The satire of ‘The Statesman’s Soliloquy’ rests on the character’s ludicrous fears of the word ‘reform’, imagined here as a demonic and destructive power that has come to purge all traces of the existing democratic system.  Libertior’s joke is grounded in bathos. This is funny because reform is not an apocalyptic force but a civilized aspect of the political process. That said, the poem’s ambitions are two-fold, Simultaneously lampooning the statesman’s fears of reform whilst reassuring the Register’s readers that these fears are absurd.

In framing the poem as a soliloquy (the act of speaking one’s thought aloud, often seen in theatrical drama) Libertoir takes the tendency of previous Register poems to ironically adopt an opposing attitude to even more overt extremes. In the opening lines we witness the Statesman’s sheer panic upon hearing the forbidden word ‘reform.’. It is a torturous, tormenting force to be dreaded. However, though it is initially feared for the violence of its execution we soon see the true reason our Statesman flees from reform. He is afraid he would lose his pension and no longer be at liberty to partake in bribery and treachery. The juxtaposition of the Statesman’s initial notion of reform as an almost cosmic force of destruction and the banality of its actual effects not only achieves bathos but also invite readers to scrutinise representations of reform that they might encounter elsewhere.

It is only in the final couplet that the poem’s narrative voice speaks for itself, observing the Statesman as he hurries off to Stephen’s Gate (in Westminster) and promising readers that despite the politician’s ability to avert his fears this long, reform is still coming for him:

—- He ceas’d and hurrying to Stephen’s Gate,
Finds still new cause to curse his pending fate.

For a concise overview of significant campaigns for reform at the dawn of the 19th century and their impact on later Chartist movements we recommend Dorothy Thompson’s The Chartists: Popular Politics in the Industrial Revolution (Aldershot, 1986) and Christopher Harvie and Henry Matthew’s Nineteenth-Century Britain (2000).