Read CHAPTER XVIII-THE SUPPRESSION OF THE FAIRS of The Provost, free online book, by John Galt, on

The spirit by which the Smeddumites were actuated in ecclesiastical affairs, was a type and taste of the great distemper with which all the world was, more or less, at the time inflamed, and which cast the ancient state and monarchy of France into the perdition of anarchy and confusion.  I think, upon the whole, however, that our royal burgh was not afflicted to any very dangerous degree, though there was a sort of itch of it among a few of the sedentary orders, such as the weavers and shoemakers, who, by the nature of sitting long in one posture, are apt to become subject to the flatulence of theoretical opinions; but although this was my notion, yet knowing how much better the king and government were acquainted with the true condition of things than I could to a certainty be, I kept a steady eye on the proceedings of the ministers and parliament at London, taking them for an index and model for the management of the public concerns, which, by the grace of God, and the handling of my friends, I was raised up and set forward to undertake.

Seeing the great dread and anxiety that was above, as to the inordinate liberty of the multitude, and how necessary it was to bridle popularity, which was become rampant and ill to ride, kicking at all established order, and trying to throw both king and nobles from the saddle, I resolved to discountenance all tumultuous meetings, and to place every reasonable impediment in the way of multitudes assembling together:  indeed, I had for many years been of opinion, that fairs were become a great political evil to the regular shop-keepers, by reason of the packmen, and other travelling merchants, coming with their wares and under-selling us; so that both private interest and public principle incited me on to do all in my power to bring our fair-days into disrepute.  It cannot be told what a world of thought and consideration this cost me before I lighted on the right method, nor, without a dive into the past times of antiquity, is it in the power of man to understand the difficulties of the matter.

Some of our fair-days were remnants of the papistical idolatry, and instituted of old by the Pope and Cardinals, in order to make an income from the vice and immorality that was usually rife at the same.  These, in the main points, were only market-days of a blither kind than the common.  The country folks came in dressed in their best, the schools got the play, and a long rank of sweety-wives and their stands, covered with the wonted dainties of the occasion, occupied the sunny side of the High Street; while the shady side was, in like manner, taken possession of by the packmen, who, in their booths, made a marvellous display of goods of an inferior quality, with laces and ribands of all colours, hanging down in front, and twirling like pinnets in the wind.  There was likewise the allurement of some compendious show of wild beasts; in short, a swatch of every thing that the art of man has devised for such occasions, to wile away the bawbee.

Besides the fairs of this sort, that may be said to be of a pious origin, there were others of a more boisterous kind, that had come of the times of trouble, when the trades paraded with war-like weapons, and the banners of their respective crafts; and in every seventh year we had a resuscitation of King Crispianus in all his glory and regality, with the man in the coat-of-mail, of bell-metal, and the dukes, and lord mayor of London, at the which, the influx of lads and lasses from the country was just prodigious, and the rioting and rampaging at night, the brulies and the dancing, was worse than Vanity Fair in the Pilgrim’s Progress.

To put down, and utterly to abolish, by stress of law, or authority, any ancient pleasure of the commonality, I had learned, by this time, was not wisdom, and that the fairs were only to be effectually suppressed by losing their temptations, and so to cease to call forth any expectation of merriment among the people.  Accordingly, with respect to the fairs of pious origin, I, without expounding my secret motives, persuaded the council, that, having been at so great an expense in new-paving the streets, we ought not to permit the heavy caravans of wild beasts to occupy, as formerly, the front of the Tolbooth towards the Cross; but to order them, for the future, to keep at the Greenhead.  This was, in a manner, expurgating them out of the town altogether; and the consequence was, that the people, who were wont to assemble in the High Street, came to be divided, part gathering at the Greenhead, round the shows, and part remaining among the stands and the booths; thus an appearance was given of the fairs being less attended than formerly, and gradually, year after year, the venerable race of sweety-wives, and chatty packmen, that were so detrimental to the shopkeepers, grew less and less numerous, until the fairs fell into insignificance.

At the parade fair, the remnant of the weapon-showing, I proceeded more roundly to work, and resolved to debar, by proclamation, all persons from appearing with arms; but the deacons of the trades spared me the trouble of issuing the same, for they dissuaded their crafts from parading.  Nothing, however, so well helped me out as the volunteers, of which I will speak by and by; for when the war began, and they were formed, nobody could afterwards abide to look at the fantastical and disorderly marching of the trades, in their processions and paradings; so that, in this manner, all the glory of the fairs being shorn and expunged, they have fallen into disrepute, and have suffered a natural suppression.