Mad Martins

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A Special Instrument (Charles Dickens on Jonathan Martin, Part 1)



His mode of expression was vehement, his language rude and unpolished - I think it had the Northumbrian twang - he was dogmatical and peremptory, as if he spoke with authority; indeed, if there were anything of which he was truly convinced, it was that he was a special instrument appointed by God to do great works - works too great to be committed to any but the most highly privileged exponents of the Divine will.

He once said to me in prison, "Is there any one, from the king on his throne to the lowest of the people, who is not thinking of and speaking of Jonathan Martin; and would this be so, unless Jonathan Martin had to do what can be done by nobody but myself?”

No apprehension of consequences, no fear of punishment, ever entered into his mind except as an encouragement to carry out his designs.

"What can they do" he said, "if they do their worst? They can do nothing except to accomplish the purpose of God".

(Words: Charles Dickens / Tune: ‘La Melodie Sans Nom’ - Trad. arr. Richard Doran & Mick Tyas)

© 2017 Whippet Records

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Additional Text

On December 26th, 1828, having left his son Richard at school in Lincoln, Jonathan arrived in York with his second wife Maria, where they lodged for four and a half weeks at the home of a shoemaker, one William Lawn. It was now that he saw his destiny calling…

“I dreamt that a wonderful thick cloud came from heaven and rested upon the Minster, and it rolled towards me at my lodgings - it awoke me out of sleep, and I asked the Lord what it meant - and he told me it was to warn these Clergymen of England, who were going to plays, and cards, and such like - and the Lord told me he had chosen me to warn them - and reminded me of the prophecies that there should in the latter days be signs in the heavens… I felt a voice inwardly speak, that the Lord had chosen me to destroy the Cathedral.”

He sent warnings of dire retributions, in the form of various letters, which he either pinned to the door of York Minster, or fastened to the choir gates, or wrapped around stones that he flung through the windows of the Minster…

“I write to you, O Clergymen! To warn you to repent, and fly the wrath which will come upon you. I warn you to repent, the torch is already lighted, and the Sword of Justice hangs over you. Your churches and your Ministries will come tumbling about your ears. Repent O, you Clergymen! You who have brought grievous curses on the land! You whitened sepulchres; you will suffer in hell for what you are doing! The son of Bonaparte is preparing that for you, and will finish that work which his father left undone.”
Jonathan Martin, Your sincere Friend.

The letters were ignored, as the staff at the Minster saw all sorts of religious zealots and dissenters keen to make their voices heard. So, whilst Jonathan became a familiar face around the church, he was seen as harmless and permitted to go about his daily life.


Recording Credits

Keith Armstrong - Recitation
Mick Tyas - Mandolin
Richard Doran - Dulcimer

London's Overthrow [ink and wash on paper], Jonathan Martin, c1830.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind.


Hell's Gate [ink and wash on paper], Jonathan Martin, 1830.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind.


The Lambton Worm and Self Portrait, Jonathan Martin, 1830.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind.


The Likeness of My Father, Jonathan Martin, 1830.
Bethlem Museum of the Mind.