« PreviousContinue »
1. The Life of Francis Place, 1771-1854. By Graham
Wallas. Revised edition. Allen and Unwin, 1918. 2. Le Chartisme, 1830-48. Par E. Dolléans. Two vols.
Paris : Floury, 1912–13. 3. Geschichte des Sozialismus in England. Von M. Beer.
Stuttgart: Dietz, 1913. English translation: A History of British Socialism. With an introduction by R. H.
Tawney. Two vols. Bell, 1919-20. 4. The Chartist Movement in its Social and Economic
Aspects. By Frank Rosenblatt. New York: Columbia
University, 1916. 5. The Decline of the Chartist Movement. By Preston
William Slosson. New York: Columbia University, 1916. 6. The Chartist Movement. By the late Mark Hovell.
. Edited and completed, with a memoir, by Professor
T. F. Tout. Longmans, 1918. 7. A History of the Chartist Movement. By Julius West.
With introductory memoir by J. C. Squire. Constable,
1920. 8. Life and Struggles of William Lovett. With an intro
duction by R. H. Tawney. Two vols. Bell, 1920. THERE comes a time when a period of history is ripe for scientific study; that time has come for Chartism. Mr Graham Wallas was the pioneer, when, being the first to study the Place Papers in the British Museum, he stumbled upon twenty-eight volumes of materials for a history of Chartism. Then came a Frenchman, M. Dolléans, whose history of Chartism may be called massive' or diffuse, or said to be not always strictly accurate, but who certainly has given us a very full and living account of the revolutionary leaders and groups, and of the movement as a whole. A German, Mr M. Beer, followed close upon the heels of the Frenchman, with his well-known, very painstaking, and very narrowminded History of Socialism in England.' What we mean when we say that Mr Beer's mind is narrow will appear from the fact that, in his History, Ruskin's teaching and influence are absolutely left out of account; doubtless because there is not enough of the Marxist atmosphere in Ruskin's philosophy. As for Mr Beer's
scholarly qualities, they nowhere come out better than in his nine admirable chapters on Chartism. Three Americans published works on Chartism in the course of 1916, when we Europeans had no time to spare upon such subjects of ancient history. Not that English scholars had neglected the study of Chartism; two Englishmen were busy working at it when war broke out. And at last their books have been published as the incomplete and posthumous works of their authors; for both Mark Hovell and Julius West were very young, and both died in the war.
Now, valuable as all the books which we have mentioned may be-and we think that they are very valuable indeed—we are afraid that they labour under what we might aptly call the defect of the family biography and of the monograph study. They have, if not always, at all events in many cases, been written by those who, being Socialists, considered themselves as the spiritual grandchildren of the Chartist leaders, and who have in consequence piously emphasised-over-emphasised, as we conceive—the socialistic aspect of Chartism. On the other hand, the writers, immersed as they were in the particular subject of their study, have often lost sight of its historical surroundings, and given Chartism more importance than it deserved in the history of the times. Sir Spencer Walpole, a liberal and broad-minded author, gives on the whole a more faithful account, brief as it is, of Chartism, than do most of these more recent and more laborious writers, because he wrote a general history of England, and because he wrote at a time when Socialism was not yet rampant. It was 'not, after all, sheer accident that England, in the early forties, fell under the influence of the ideas of Richard Cobden, not under the dictatorship of Feargus O'Connor, Let us never forget that Chartism was not the beginning of a thing that succeeded; it was quite decidedly a thing that failed.
How did Chartism begin? The best account of its beginnings is given us by Francis Place, as quoted by Mr Julius West (op. cit., pp. 79, 89):
Three or four years ago (he writes) there were a number of weekly newspapers ... the purpose of which was to excite
insurrections against property which, under the name of capital, they denounced as the principal cause of low wages and the depression of the people, and the poor law as the production of the higher and middle classes, the "plundering" classes, for the purpose of robbing and keeping in ignorance the productive class, who alone were entitled to all the produce and all the commodities in the country. ... There was foolish Owenism, too, operating to some extent, and great mischief was done. As, however, the doctrines of each of these men differed in some particulars, so the people were formed into many different squads, but all believing or hoping that a change in their favour was about to take place. . . But some among the Working Men's Association were displeased with this state of things, and persuaded that it would be much better that a plan should be adopted in which all might concur, and by concurring call the people off from these absurdities, and they proposed Annual Parliaments, Voting by Ballot, Universal Suffrage, etc.'
The original plan, therefore, according to one of its authors, was not to promote Socialism, but to bring back the deluded workmen from Socialism to Radicalism.
The six members of Parliament who were appointed together with six workmen, members of the London Working Men's Association, to draw the Universal Suffrage Scheme, were Benthamites, headed by O'Connell. A story was current, half a century ago, that O'Connell invented the name which was eventually given to the scheme-The People's Charter; and, though the report has since been deemed, by universal consent, untrustworthy (not one of the authors of the books before us, except Mr Rosenblatt, accepts it; most of them do not even think it worth a denial), we do not believe that it should be dismissed as being absolutely without a foundation. If not literally true, it is at all events one of those legends which in a sense are truer than history; it links up, and rightly links up, the early youth of Chartism with the name of O'Connell. He had unsuccesfully, in the course of the preceding years, tried to rouse the spirit of the people against the House of Lords. He observed the Anti-Poor-Law agitation, led by such Tories as Stephens and Oastler, becoming noisier day by day, and opening a kind of chasm between the Liberal Party and the masses. Being a professional agitator, he knew
that you must always be careful to provide the people with a war cry if you want to keep them on what you think is the right path. He patronised the new movement, in the spring and summer of 1837, because he thought that Universal Suffrage, or the Charter of the People, was a very good cry indeed.
That such was the state of mind of the six parliamentary Radicals who helped in drafting the Charter of the People, our readers will be ready to grant, but what of the six working men? Were they not revolutionists at heart, who thought that the Charter might be used for quite another purpose than O'Connell and his confederates believed, as a foundation-stone for some kind of democratic Socialism? Recent writers on Chartism, being democratic Socialists, have favoured this view; but let anybody read with an open mind, in Mr Tawney's new edition, William Lovett's invaluable autobiography, and say, after having read it, whether Lovett, the leader of the London Association and the real author of the Charter, does not come out as the perfect representative of the artisans and skilled workmen who, towards. 1840, gradually became democratic individualists, after having been disgusted with all kinds of revolutionary plans to bring about the abolition of private property. Mr Graham Wallas speaks of Lovett's 'Socialism'; but, if it is true that William Lovett had been a Socialist and a devoted follower of Robert Owen, it is just because he was in 1837 a disenchanted Owenite that he became a Chartist. William Lovett is, according to Mr Tawney, a Social Democrat’; unfortunately this sentence of Mr Tawney's occurs in the midst of a most admirable account of William Lovett's philosophy, which does not exhibit one single distinctively social-democratic feature. If a strong belief in education for the people and international peace are enough to make up a social-democratic creed, then not only William Lovett but John Bright was a social-democrat. There was no sudden conversion, of course, and William Lovett went on for a time repeating the familiar Owenite formulas; but the faith was no more there, and Chartism was his way of escape from Socialism. What he asked the London workmen to do was, as he expressly wrote to Place in 1840 (Hovell, p. 204), 'to give up their various hobbies of anti-poor laws, factory bills, wages-protection laws and various others, for the purpose of conjointly contending for the Charter.' Well might Francis Place rejoice when he saw William Lovett and his friends coming to his shop in Charing Cross in order to discuss Universal Suffrage and the Ballot; the founders of the London Working Men's Association were flocking back, even though perhaps at first unconsciously, into the fold of Political Democracy pure and undefiled.
This was the first phase (or should we rather say the preliminary phase?) of Chartism. Now comes the second, which, oddly enough, in all these new books on Chartism, except Mr Hovell's, has passed practically unnoticed. While a big strike was going on among the Glasgow cotton-spinners, a workman happened to be murdered. The strikers were, by public rumour, made responsible for the crime; and finally eighteen cottonspinners were sentenced, upon a charge not of assassination but of conspiracy, to seven years' transportation. The trial and sentence occasioned a double outburst of indignation among the middle class against the brutal and tyrannical proceedings of the Trade Unionists, among the workmen against what looked like the first sign of a Whig reaction against their right to combine. It happened, moreover, that just at the same time O'Connell had got into trouble with the Dublin trades; and he, though in some ways a Revolutionist, was, in other ways, and particularly as an economist, a very conservative statesman. He came forward as the ally and the advocate of the employers against the working class, and delivered in the House of Commons what was a very violent and at the same time a very able indictment of Trade Unionism. And here was a difficult problem for Lovett to solve.
William Lovett was a Trade Union leader, and as such was appealed to by the Glasgow cotton-spinners. He could not, however, unreservedly take up the case of the cotton-spinners without breaking with O'Connell; and he could not break with O'Connell without endanger. ing the compact of alliance of the summer of 1837. He and his associates of the London Working Men's Association finally struck upon a scheme of compromise; they suggested-and the plan was adopted a full parliamentary inquiry into the alleged misdeeds of the