It was Bill and Ann’s wedding anniversary today. 432 years: An amazing feat though I have no idea what the traditional gift needs to be made out of for 432 years of wedding bliss. Anyway, congratulations, Bill and Ann.
Not so much congratulations for the people who live opposite Dog Minder Sue, as disappointment. For reasons known only to themselves, they have already put up their Christmas tree, complete with decorations and fairy lights. It’s not even December! I’m sure it’s unlucky; I know it’s ridiculous. And while it’s lighting, it’s not enlightened.
Similarly, in 1831, the British government proved how the Age of Enlightenment seemed to have completely passed them by.
It was in London, in 1831, that cholera struck. Of course, the idiots in the general populace started claiming it was retribution from an angry god who had some sort of problem with theatre, gambling and drink. This minority of the population lobbied the government, demanding it did something.
And the chant went up in churches across the land:
“What do we want?”
“The end of fun!”
“When do we want it?”
The government, completely misunderstanding and ignoring the desires of the majority of (normal) people decided to declare a National Day of Fasting and Humiliation. The King (at least, as the head of the Anglican church, he had an excuse…of sorts) declared the day to be 21 March 1832 and went back to the cosy warmth of his big palace to have a jolly good chuckle at the stupidity of his subjects. He possibly spent a moment of reflection on how gullible people are and how lucky this was for him. After all, without a god, he’d have no god given right to rule.
Some people in the government thought the idea was ridiculous and said so, claiming the proposer, a Mr Perceval, was clearly an idiot. And it wasn’t just the government that thought the idea was stupid. The Political Union of London, as if channeling the plot from an Eeling Comedy, called for a National Farce Day. For some reason, this wasn’t taken seriously while the real farce was.
One commentator wrote that to make the poor fast was ridiculous since they rarely ate anyway. I’m sure this was met with a lot of sage nods in the East End pubs.
As the day approached, preachers took to their pulpits and declared that anyone who wrote adversely about their Special Day was clearly the reason why it was needed in the first place. As usual, it was the newspapers that were to blame and the public was told how Satan was working through them to try and destroy mankind.
The country was held in a thrall of religious fervour not seen since the Crusades. Actually, that’s not exactly true. The preachers were extolling the virtues of virtue which their congregations soaked up like so much opium while the smart people just shook their heads in disbelief and sadness. Had mankind’s accomplishments come to nothing? Would the march towards the truth of science suddenly turn about face and walk back into the dark veil of ignorance?
In a pamphlet written specifically to inform people how to observe the National Day of Fast and Humiliation and the reasons why it was so necessary, it said, in a very small part:
“By pride and vain glory, by covetousness and rapacity, and luxury, by frauds in trade, by slander and quarrelling, by swearing, cursing and perjuries, we have as a nation, grievously sinned against God.” Edward Bickersteth, The National Fast of 1832, a help for duly observing it, Volume Two.
The more sensible people followed the progress of cholera as it spread from India to Russia to Germany then, inevitably, to London. Ships were quarantined as they arrived on the Thames and all efforts to keep the disease at bay were put in place. This had a lot more effect than the silly people doing nothing but pleading to an invisible and non-existent entity in the sky.
As it turned out, only about 800 people died of the disease in London. This was a lot less than those dying of tuberculosis, especially when the life expectancy of a labourer in Bethnal Green was a mere 16 years.
The death toll in Paris, however, was close to 9,000 and I bet that a lot of people in Britain blamed the fact that they were probably all Catholics. Because, of course, the Protestant god didn’t like Catholics very much.
Anyway, like all storms in teacups, this all died down pretty quickly and has been largely forgotten. But it shouldn’t be. If we look at what religion is doing in various places in the world at the moment, with attempts to reduce mankind to primitive puppets without any thought or freedom, it’s important to remember the National Day of Fasting and Humiliation for the sheer stupidity of it’s inception and ‘celebration.’
I fear there may be a lot of more of this rubbish when we all shrug off the religious; laughing while we let them proselytise and claim they speak the words of a mythical overlord. It’s scary and it’s dangerous.
Still, that’s not the point I really wanted to make. The more obvious point is how the National Day of Fasting and Humiliation happened while Europe was embraced in the so called Age of Enlightenment. I guess the timing was just incidental.
* I should add that I made this chant up. The rest of the post, however, is completely and sadly true.