In 1791, Thomas Paine published The Rights of Man, a hugely influential work of pamphleteering, in which he expounded the virtues of the French Revolution and its principles. Paine hoped to influence the course of history in England (and Wales!) by disseminating republican ideas. He wrote (Everyman’s Library, 1994, p. 46): ‘Much is to be learned from the French Constitution. Conquest and tyranny transplanted themselves with William the Conqueror from Normandy into England, and the country is yet disfigured with the marks. May then the example of all France contribute to regenerate the freedom which a province of it destroyed’.
After the European elections last week, which saw Le Front National in France make significant progress, Ukip likewise, it seems timely to revisit Tom Paine’s writings. In the 1790s, a piece of music was composed to celebrate his efforts. The hornpipe, The Rights of Man, is still widely known in Ireland, and you can find recordings of it on the internet. I thought it would be nice to write some words that fit the tune. The style is that of a traditional political ballad, and the first verse goes: ‘One thousand seven hundred, the year was eighty nine / The people marched as one against the tyrant in Versailles / As hunger grew the chosen few enjoyed a life of ease / But, fearless foes, the cheerless rose and power seized’. I hope our ‘Songs of Change’ retreat later this month will provide a chance to write some more verses.