The Rights of Man: The Origin of the Phrase

Here Lies A Cave By A Shoreline Wherein Mr Spence Could Have Witnessed His Famous Phrase

One hears much of the “Rights of Man” and similar phrases, but rarely is one told of its origin. I for one was enchanted to recently learn the purported place from whence it came. Be it a sentimental fabrication or not, one cannot help but appreciate the evocative, inspiring 1794 recollection given to us by the great English radical Thomas Spence whilst partaking in His Majesty’s Lesiure.

“the first, who as far as he knows, made use of the phrase “RIGHTS OF MAN”, which was on the following remarkable occasion: A man who had been a farmer, and also a miner, and who had been ill-used by his landlords, dug a cave for himself by the seaside, at Marsdon Rocks, between Shields and Sunderland, about the year 1780, and the singularity of such a habitation, exciting the curiosity of many to pay him a visit; our author as one of that number. Exulting in the idea of a human being, who had bravely emancipated himself from the iron fangs of aristocracy, to live free from impost, he wrote extempore with chaulk above the fire place of this free man, the following lines:

Ye landlords vile, whose man’s peace mar,
Come levy rents here if you can;
Your stewards and lawyers I defy,
And live with all the RIGHTS OF MAN”

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