‘Song for the Luddites’ was included in a letter to Thomas Moore dated 24 December 1816, but was not published until 1830 when Moore included it in the second volume of his biography of Byron.
Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords, 1812, was against the Frame Breaking Act and in defence of the Luddites:
“As the sword is the worst argument that can be used, so should it be the last. In this instance it has been the first; but providentially as yet only in the scabbard. The present measure will, indeed, pluck it from the sheath; yet had proper meetings been held in the earlier stages of these riots, had the grievances of these men and their masters (for they also had their grievances) been fairly weighed and justly examined, I do think that means might have been devised to restore these workmen to their avocations, and tranquillity to the country.”
“…Are we aware of our obligations to a mob? It is the mob that labour in the fields and serve in your houses – that man your army and recruit your navy – that have enabled you to defy the world, and can also defy you when neglect and calamity have driven them to despair.”
The weavers, he asserted: “were not ashamed to beg, but there was none to relieve them: their own means of subsistence were cut off, all other employment preoccupied; and their excesses, however to be deplored and condemned, can hardly be subject to surprise”. Nor was this simply the reaction of those frightened by technology but of men “willing to dig, but the spade was in other hands”.
“[S]uppose one of these men, as I have seen them meagre with famine, sullen with despair, careless of a life which your lordships are perhaps about to value at something less than the price of a stocking-frame; suppose this man surrounded by those children for whom he is unable to procure bread at the hazard of his existence, about to be torn for ever from a family which he lately supported in peaceful industry, and which it is not his fault than he can no longer so support; suppose this man – and there are ten thousand such from whom you may select your victims, – dragged into court to be tried for this new offence, by this new law, – still there are two things wanting to convict and condemn him, and these are, in my opinion, twelve butchers for a jury, and a Jefferies for a judge!”
Song for the Luddites
As the liberty lads o’er the sea
Bought their freedom, and cheaply, with blood,
So we, boys, we
Will die fighting, or live free,
And down with all kings but King Ludd!”
When the web that we weave is complete,
And the shuttle exchanged for the sword,
We will fling the winding sheet
O’er the despot at our feet,
And dye it deep in the gore he has poured.”
Though black as his heart its hue,
Since his veins are corrupted to mud,
Yet this is the dew
Which the tree shall renew
Of Liberty, planted by Ludd!