In every age the left, before it can do anything else, has to debunk the pretensions of those who hold the social and political power. This is especially true when the ruling class is prosperous, triumphant and confident. The British capitalist class was very confident indeed in the first decades of the 19th century, when Britain was becoming the “workshop of the world”, was mistress of the Seas, and had recently conquered the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte. It's bourgeoisie was puffed up with pride. In those years, and for the rest of the 19th century and beyond, radicals and socialists quoted, reprinted, and recited these splendid lines from John Keats' poem, “Isabella.” Keats pours righteous scorn on the pretensions and pride of a bourgeoisie which lives by mean and inhuman exploitation.
With her two brothers, this fair Lady dwelt,
Enriched from ancestral merchandise,
And for them many a weary hand did swelt
In torched mines and noisy factories,
And many once proud-quiver’d loins did melt
In blood from stinging whip;—with hollow eyes
Many all day in dazzling river stood,
To take the rich-ored driftings of the flood.
For them the Ceylon diver held his breath,
And went all naked to the hungry shark;
For them his ears gush’d blood; for them in death
The seal on the cold ice with piteous bark
Lay full of darts; for them alone did seethe
A thousand men in troubles wide and dark:
Half-ignorant, they turn’d an easy wheel,
That set sharp racks at work, to pinch and peel.
Why were they proud? Because their marble founts
Gush’d with more pride than do a wretch’s tears?—
Why were they proud? Because fair orange-mounts
Were of more soft ascent than lazar stairs?—
Why were they proud? Because red-lin’d accounts
Were richer than the songs of Grecian years?—
Why were they proud? again we ask aloud,
Why in the name of Glory were they proud?