An ‘indescribable jabber’ at Marlborough Street

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It would seem that even the radical press in the nineteenth century were not above a little bit of casual racism. We might have expected The Charter, as a newspaper founded to represent Chartist views in London, to be more inclusive (to use a modern term) in portray of foreigners in the capital. Instead it seems to have replicated exactly the sort of representation of ‘others’ as all its less ‘radical’ rivals did.

Perhaps this was deliberate; in appearing to be as ‘normal’ as every other organ The Charter could position itself as a legitimate weekly newspaper covering all aspect of daily life but with a clear political purpose – that of promoting the People’s Charter and its call for universal manhood suffrage and five other demands. The Morning Star (the mouthpiece of the British Communist Party) does much the same thing today, providing its readership with a left of centre version of the news plus sport and entertainment.

So, let us return to the pages of the paper in October 1839, when it was at the height of its popularity. It reported the London Police Courts in much the same way as all the other newspapers did, and, as I suggested above, wasn’t shy of poking fun at foreign visitors to the capital. Two men appeared before the sitting justice (Mr Long) at Marlborough Street, one Prussian (Dirk Singer) and other Swedish (Tjebbes Raynor). Both men were tailors and they had come to blows after exchanging insults.

This was all fairly common material for the reportage of the summary courts; assault was a daily occurrence and most cases were settled or dismissed with just a few being sent on to the Sessions for a jury trial and some being dealt with by fines or even a short period of imprisonment. Unless an assault involved weapons or actual bodily harm it was unlikely to trouble the magistrates for very long.

Singer accused Raynor of putting ‘him in bodily fear, á-la-mode-Anglais‘ (which I take to mean with his fists). The case was conducted in weak English which the paper rendered in dialect for maximum comic effect. The essence of the case was that Singer has supposedly insulted Raynor by calling him ‘a Jew’.

To add to the European melting pot the main witness for the prosecution was Swiss. He explained what happened:

‘dey bote had much loud words. Dis-a man they call my fren a “Jew,” ven he am nevare dos von Jew’.

‘And I suppose this epithet was considered as a sort of affront?’ enquired the magistrate.

‘Vet mosh, Sare; zo my fren call upon him back as von verdomd “scheinhalt,” dat is der hedgehog ; and den dey stock upon each other’.

Earlier Singer had complained that the Swedish tailor had punched him in the face: ‘he made his fist for his box’ he said, ‘and knock upon my nose very not much’.

On can imagine the scene in court: a collection of angry and argumentative tailors dressed in their work clothes, with bristling beards and moustaches, and a cacophony of European accents being raised together. All of this was being conducted in a form of English which Mr Long struggled to understand. On top of this the case was clearly one which involved fault on both sides; insults had flown back and forth and both men had hit each others. It was hard for anyone to determine who was to blame and so, in the end, Mr Long declared that he ‘couldn’t make out who is in the wrong’ and dismissed the warrant against Raynor.

No one was satisfied with this outcome and the paper reported (with a last comic flourish) that the ‘foreigners set up an indescribable jabber, and were ushered into the passage’. Sadly even humorous stories like this were not enough to keep The Charter commercially viable. It launched in 1838 and reached a circulation of about 5-6,000 before folding in 1840. In London competition for readers was fierce and only a handful of papers continued to dominate the newsstands and survive into the 20th century.

[from The Charter, Sunday, October 27, 1839]

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