An Exile in Paris

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An Exile in Paris – 1764

John Wilkes and Daughter PollyExcept for two brief clandestine visits to London in a vain endeavour to seek a pardon, Wilkes remained in exile from England during the next four years.  For this long banishment he had no reason to blame his advisers.  Immediately his friends knew that he had crossed the Channel he was overwhelmed with entreaties to return.  Those best able to advise him, like George Onslow and William Fitzherbert, the two most zealous partisans amongst his fellow-members of Parliament, sent word that the House of Commons could do no more than expel him, while Earl Temple assured him that he had nothing to fear from the House of Lords.  It was the opinion, also, of Alexander Philipps, his lawyer, that no British jury would convict him.  But his friends warned him that if he remained abroad he would lose his popularity, since the public could not be expected to fight the battles of a man who had run away.

Influenced by this unanimous advice, in which Humphrey Cotes and his brother Heaton had joined most earnestly, he determined to set out for London on the 13th of January, so as to arrive in time for the meeting of Parliament on the 16th of the month.  It was a grave risk, as he knew well enough, for should the House decide upon his expulsion it might be difficult for him to avoid a debtor’s prison.  The wonderful good fortune that attended him at some of the most perilous moments in his career did not fail him at this crisis.  A genuine but an opportune relapse seized him.  Ever since his flight from London he had been much indisposed.  The jolting of the coach and the sickness he had suffered on the stormy sea had re-opened his wound, and though still weak and in much pain he had plunged into the gaities of Paris with accustomed ardour.  Consequently he grew worse, and two days before he should have left for England he was obliged to take to his bed.  It was a most fortunate indisposition.  Had he returned to London on the 13th of January he would have suffered a long imprisonment, during which the fickle public must have lost all interest in “Wilkes and Liberty”.  On the other hand, his exile although in most respects a delightful holiday, gave him the prestige of martyrdom, and he was able to arrive in his native land at a time of his own choosing, when he could make a dramatic re-appearance upon the political stage.

Excerpt from Life of John Wilkes by Horace Bleackley – 1917

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Further Reading and External Links

John Wilkes on Google Books

John Wilkes on Wikipedia

John Wilkes on Spartacus Educational