John Britton 1771-1857: War and Memory

Britton held both the Army and Navy in very poor regard feeling they were undeserving of their wealth and rewards. Britton felt as though war itself was a ‘horrid business’ and that people who promoted peace were more ‘estimable’ and ‘praiseworthy’. Britton wrote the following quote in his autobiography,

‘It has been common in this rich and enterprising country to reward successful commanders, both in the Army and in the Navy, with rank and titles — with public monuments, and ample fortunes. Indeed, these two classes of society have had more than their fair proportion of national honours; as if persons who have merely done “their duty,” in the horrid business of war, were more estimable and praiseworthy than those who devote their lives and talents to promote the blessings of peace, and the welfare and happiness of their species.’

Britton once again writes about the unfair treatment authors, inventors and people in the arts receive compared to people who have received extravagant rewards for being heroic in war. Britton writes the following in his autobiography in regards to the disparity between the testimonials received by people involved in war and people involved in the arts.  ‘Within the present century it has become a practice with the public generally, and with particular sections and classes, to compliment and reward persons who are considered to have rendered services to their fellow-men. These rewards have obtained the name of Testimonials, and it will be seen by the subjoined Tabular View, that some fortunate individuals have received large and even extravagant rewards for heroic, and political services ; whilst Authors of important works in literature, and discoverers and inventors in science and art, have experienced but trifling remuneration.’

      Britton gives a scathing opinion of people involved in the state, the church, the army and the navy calling them the most ‘unworthy class’. Britton wrote the following about said ‘unworthy classes’,      ‘The various departments of the State, the Church, the Army, and the Navy abound with persons who have lived for years on money which has been derived from the labour, the prudence, and the privations of the middle and lower classes of society. In the last century, as well as in the early part of the present, the greatest abuses were committed by the Government in granting pensions and places to court favourites of the most unworthy class.’ In this quote Britton also suggests that the ‘unworthy class’ profiteer from the hard work of both the working class and middle class by using them. Britton towards the end of his autobiography once again touches on the army and again portrays them in a very negative way writing the following,   ‘This incident with others I witnessed in consequence of a congregated army of soldiers at a sea-port, tended not only to strengthen my previous antipathy to everything belonging to war, but led me to view the costume and business of the soldier with sorrow and regret; and to consider the Monarchs and ministers who promoted and instigated national or intestine wars, as the most heartless and reckless of human beings’ From this quote we can see that Britton believes that the people who promote war (Monarchs and ministers) are ‘the most heartless and reckless of human beings.’

Historian and author John Belchem wrote in his book ‘Industrialization and the Working Class’ about the civil unrest the Victorian public felt about war and the army. In his book Belchem wrote the following, ‘Trapped between falling wages and spiralling prices, the cotton workers of the north-west rallied behind a new set of slogans — ‘No War’, ‘Damn Pitt’ and `A Free Constitution’. A similar change occurred in London where ‘No Corruption’ replaced ‘No Popery’ as the most popular cry on the streets, a reflection of popular indignation at the mounting cost and incompetence of the protracted war effort.’ From this quote, we can see that the public were complaining about how the government were willing to pump so much into a war that nobody wanted while people’s wages were falling and they were struggling to survive. Similarly, Britton also criticised those involved in war and the expediential amount of money they were receiving.




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