Wednesday, 6 August 2014

6th August 1814: "You are a damned Luddite, and back the Luds."

The Leeds Mercury of Saturday 6th August 1814 carried an article about a case at the recent York Summer Assizes for an assault. The case is interesting because the plaintiff used the argument that he had been accused of being a Luddite as an aggravating factor in the assault, with the Judge ultimately agreeing with him. Also noticeable is the anti-semitism on display. This may have been the first recorded use of the term 'Luddite' as an insult outside of a newspaper editorial.


This was an action for an assault.

MR. SCARLET stated, that his client was a respectable linen-draper, in Huddersfield, and that the defendant was a commercial traveller. It happened that these parties met at the King’s Head inn, Huddersfield, when some conversation having arisen respecting some articles bought by the Plaintiff off a Jew pedlar, the Defendant abused these Jew traders in the grossest terms, and at length proposed that the Israelite should be sent for into the room, that the company might have the pleasure of abusing him to his face. This was opposed by Mr. Clay, as scandalous and improper, which opposition brought upon him the resentment of Mr. Burman, the defendant, who, in a scoffing tone, enquired how his friend Major Cartwright did, adding that he looked well when he was in the carriage with him. Though this was meant as an insult to the plaintiff, he received it with perfect good humour, and replied, that he believed the Major was in very good health, and that he thought himself honored by being in his company. The Defendant, disappointed in this attack, turned upon him and said, "Why Clay, you know you are a damned Luddite, and back the Luds." The plaintiff felt this as a most false and gross imputation; it was, in fact, charging him with the greatest of crimes. To this slander, he replied in terms, which perhaps most persons would have been tempted to use on a similar provocation, and said,—"You are a damn’d lying scoundrel." The defendant, apparently not moved by this language, coolly lay down his stick and said, "My rule is, when a man calls me a liar, to give a knock on the face; upon which he went and struck the Plaintiff a violent blow over the face. This blow the learned Counsel admitted was returned by this client. After this, a Mr. Dobson interfered, who attacked the Plaintiff, and having got his head fixed against his breast, the Defendant, in that situation gave him a doubler.

MR. SCARLET called several Witnesses, who proved the above facts, and which it is not necessary to repeat.

MR. TOPPING spoke in mitigation of damages, but called no Witnesses.

His Lordship said, this appeared to be a mere ale-house quarrel, an assault, however, had been proved and the imputation upon the defendant of being a Luddite, was certainly calculated to excite a considerable degree of indignation; and those who know the nature of the disturbances in that part of the country, would be aware, that it was accusing him of being an extremely bad and dangerous man. The assault had been proved, and the only question for the Jury to consider would be, the amount of damages.

Verdict the Plaintiff Five Pounds.

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