ABSTRACT

In 1838, an anonymous pamphlet, The Ghost of John Bull; or, the Devil’s Railroad: A Marvellously Strange Narrative, offered a satirical commentary on an array of socio-economic problems that threatened to undermine Britain’s notion of itself as morally upstanding and humane. Horrified by the corruption, greed and selfishness he sees around him, John Bull retires from society and dies; but one day an out-of-control railway train bolts from its tracks and brings a carriage with five men down into a valley where the Ghost of John Bull walks. The Ghost confronts the five men, each of whom represents one social group or issue: a railway director, an unscrupulous M.P., an assistant commissioner for the New Parish or Poor Law, a theatre manager who produces plays that have no literary merit, and an old, ill-tempered man called Blunt Humanity. The Ghost sharply questions the railway director first: ‘So you are one of the heads of the railroad makers?’ retorted John Bull. ‘I am connected with one of those roads’, said the director timidly. ‘You have told me so’, said John Bull fretfully. ‘And pray for what particular purpose did you and your coadjutors undertake such a concern?’ ... ‘It was done for the benefit of the Public’, answered the director, trembling. ‘It’s a lie!’ roared John Bull; ‘it was done for the benefit of the directors’ (51–52).