The sea-coast was divided into districts, under the charge of a captain in the navy, who again delegated subdistricts to lieutenants; and in this manner all homeward-bound vessels were watched and waited for, all ports were under supervision; and in a day, if need were, a large number of men could be added to the forces of his Majesty’s navy. … Men were kidnapped, literally disappeared and nothing was heard of them again. The street of a busy town was not safe from such press-gang captures…. Nor yet were lonely inland dwellers more secure; many a rustic went to a statute fair or “mop” [hiring fair], and never came home to tell of his hiring; many a stout young farmer vanished from his place by the hearth of his father, and was no more heard of by mother or lover; so great was the press for men to serve in the navy during the early years of the war with France, and after every great naval victory of that war.
Politics in those days were tickle subjects to meddle with, even in the most private company. The nation was in a state of terror against France, and against any at home who might be supposed to sympathized with the enormities she had just been committing. The oppressive act against seditious meetings had been passed the year before…. Even the law authorities forgot to be impartial, but either their alarms or their interests made too many of them vehement partisans instead of calm arbiters, and thus destroyed the popular confidence in what should have been considered the supreme tribunal of justice.
The shops were almost deserted; there was no unnecessary expenditure by the men; they dared not venture out to buy lavish presents for the wife or sweetheart or little children.
… Indeed, all along the coast of Yorkshire, it seemed as if a blight hung over the land and the people. Men dodged about their daily business with hatred and suspicion in their eyes….
A cosmic convulsion might utterly destroy all the other printed works in the world, and still if a complete set of Everyman’s Library floated upon the waters enough would be preserved to carry on the unbroken tradition of literature.