“The mills of God grind slowly, but they grind
exceeding small; Though with patience He stands
waiting, with exactness grinds He all.”
FRIEDRICH VON LOGAU.
The great impulse of the French Revolution was not confined by geographical boundaries. Flashing hope into the dark places of the earth, far down among the poor and long oppressed, or startling the oppressor in his guarded chambers like that mountain of fire which fell into the sea at the sound of the apocalyptic trumpet, it agitated the world.
The arguments of Condorcet, the battle-words of Mirabeau, the fierce zeal of St. Just, the iron energy of Danton, the caustic wit of Camille Desmoulins, and the sweet eloquence of Vergniaud found echoes in all lands, and nowhere more readily than in Great Britain, the ancient foe and rival of France. The celebrated Dr. Price, of London, and the still more distinguished Priestley, of Birmingham, spoke out boldly in defence of the great principles of the Revolution. A London club of reformers, reckoning among its members such men as Sir William Jones, Earl Grey, Samuel Whitbread, and Sir James Mackintosh, was established for the purpose of disseminating liberal appeals and arguments throughout the United Kingdom.
In Scotland an auxiliary society was formed, under the name of Friends of the People. Thomas Muir, young in years, yet an elder in the Scottish kirk, a successful advocate at the bar, talented, affable, eloquent, and distinguished for the purity of his life and his enthusiasm in the cause of freedom, was its principal originator. In the twelfth month of 1792 a convention of reformers was held at Edinburgh. The government became alarmed, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of Muir. He escaped to France; but soon after, venturing to return to his native land, was recognized and imprisoned. He was tried upon the charge of lending books of republican tendency, and reading an address from Theobald Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen before the society of which he was a member. He defended himself in a long and eloquent address, which concluded in the following manly strain:–
“What, then, has been my crime? Not the lending to a relation a copy of Thomas Paine’s works,–not the giving away to another a few numbers of an innocent and constitutional publication; but my crime is, for having dared to be, according to the measure of my feeble abilities, a strenuous and an active advocate for an equal representation of the people in the House of the people,–for having dared to accomplish a measure by legal means which was to diminish the weight of their taxes and to put an end to the profusion of their blood. Gentlemen, from my infancy to this moment I have devoted myself to the cause of the people. It is a good cause: it will ultimately prevail,–it will finally triumph.”
He was sentenced to transportation for fourteen years, and was removed to the Edinburgh jail, from thence to the hulks, and lastly to the transport-ship, containing eighty-three convicts, which conveyed him to Botany Bay.
The next victim was Palmer, a learned and highly accomplished Unitarian minister in Dundee. He was greatly beloved and respected as a polished gentleman and sincere friend of the people. He was charged with circulating a republican tract, and was sentenced to seven years’ transportation.
But the Friends of the People were not quelled by this summary punishment of two of their devoted leaders. In the tenth month, 1793, delegates were called together from various towns in Scotland, as well as from Birmingham, Sheffield, and other places in England. Gerrald and Margarot were sent up by the London society. After a brief sitting, the convention was dispersed by the public authorities. Its sessions were opened and closed with prayer, and the speeches of its members manifested the pious enthusiasm of the old Cameronians and Parliament-men of the times of Cromwell. Many of the dissenting clergy were present. William Skirving, the most determined of the band, had been educated for the ministry, and was a sincerely religious man. Joseph Gerrald was a young man of brilliant talents and exemplary character. When the sheriff entered the hall to disperse the friends of liberty, Gerrald knelt in prayer. His remarkable words were taken down by a reporter on the spot. There is nothing in modern history to compare with this supplication, unless it be that of Sir Henry Vane, a kindred martyr, at the foot of the scaffold, just before his execution. It is the prayer of universal humanity, which God will yet hear and answer.