King Chaunticlere; or, the Fate of Tyranny

An Anecdote, related by Citizen Thelwall, at the Capel Court Society, during the discussion of a question, relative to the comparative Influence of the Love of Life, of Liberty, and of the Fair Sex, on the Actions of Mankind.

You must know then, that I used, together with a variety of youthful attachments, to be very fond of birds and poultry; and among other things of this kind, I had a very fine majestic kind of animal, a game cock : a haughty, sanguinary tyrant, nursed in blood and slaughter from his infancy — fond of foreign wars and domestic rebellions, into which he would sometimes drive his subjects, by his oppresive obstinacy, in hopes that he might increase his power and glory by their suppression. Now this haughty old tyrant would never let my farmyard be quiet; for, not content with devouring by far the greater part of the grain that was scattered for the morning and evening repast, and snatching at every little treasure that the toil of more industrious birds might happen to scratch out of the bowels of the earth, the restless despot must be always picking and cuffing at the poor doves and pullets, and little defenceless chickens, so that they could never eat the scanty remnant, which his inordinate taxation left them, in peace and quietness. Now, though there were some aristocratic prejudices hanging about me, from my education, so that I could not help looking with considerable reverence, upon the majestic decorations of the person of king Chaunticlere — such as his ermine spotted breast, the fine gold trappings about his neck and shoulders, the flowing role of plumage tucked up at his rump, and, above all, that fine ornamented thing upon his head there — (his crown, or coxcomb, I believe you call it — however the distinction is not very important) yet I had even, at that time, some lurking principles of aversion to barefaced despotism struggling at my heart, which would sometimes whisper to me, that the best thing one could do, either for cock and hens, or men and women, was to rid the world of tyrants, whose shrill martial clarions (the provocatives to fame and murder) disturbed the repose and destroyed the happiness of their respective communities. So I believe, if guillotines had been in fashion, I should have certainly guillotined him: being desirous to be merciful, even in the stroke of death, and knowing, that the instant the brain is separated from the heart, (which, with this instrument, is done in a moment,) pain and consciousness are at end — while the lingering torture of the rope may procrastinate the pang for half an hour. However, I managed the buisness very well; for I caught Mr. Tyrant by the head, and dragging him immediately to the block, with a heavy knife in my hand, separated his neck at a blow : and what will surprise you very much, when his fine trappings were stripped off, I found he was no better than a common tame scratch-dunghill pullet: no, nor half so good, for he was tough, and oily, and rank with the pollutions of his luxurious vices.

From Politics for the people; or, A salmagundy for swine, number 8, 1793, published by Daniel Isaac Eaton.

For telling this farmyard story, both Eaton and Thelwall (who had rooms on the Strand, near today’s Trafalgar Square) were tried for sedition.

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