CONCERNING BYGONES (PREFATORY)
Photograph by Elliott & Fry.
IT was a saying of Dryden that "Anything, though
ever so little, which a man speaks of himself, in my opinion, is still too
much." This depends upon what a writer says. No man is
required to give an opinion of himself. Others will do that much
better, if he will wait. But if a man may not speak of himself at
all—reports of adventure, of personal endeavour, or of service, will be
largely impossible. To relate is not to praise. The two things
are quite distinct. Othello's imperishable narrative of his love of
Desdemona contained no eulogy of himself. A story of observation, of
experience, or of effort, or estimate of men or of opinions, I may venture
upon—is written for the reader alone. The writer will be an
entirely negligible quantity.
Lord Rosebery, who can make proverbs as well as cite them,
lately recalled one which has had great vogue in its day, namely, "Let
bygones be bygones." Life would be impossible or very unpleasant if
every one persisted in remembering what had better be forgotten.
Proverbs are like plants: they have a soil and climate under which alone
they flourish. Noble maxims have their limitations. Few have
universal applicability. If, for instance, the advice to "let
bygones be bygones" be taken as universally true, strange questions arise.
Are mistakes never more to teach us what to avoid? Are the errors of
others no more to be a warning to us? Is the Book of Experience to
be closed? Is no more history to be written? If so philosophy
could no longer teach wisdom by examples, for there would no longer be any
examples to go upon. If all the mistakes of mankind and all the
miscalculations of circumstance be forgotten, the warnings of the sages
will die with them.
He who has debts, or loans not repaid, or promises not kept,
or contracts unfulfilled in his memory, had better keep them there until
he has made what reparation he can. The Bygone proverb does not
apply to him. There are other derelictions of greater gravity than
fall under the head of intellectual petty larceny, such as the conscious
abandonment of principle, or desertion of a just cause, which had better
be kept in mind for rectification.
If an admiral wrecked his ships, or a general lost his army,
or a statesman ruined his country, by flagrant want of judgment—ever so
conscientiously—it is well such things should be borne in mind by those
who may renew, by fresh appointment, these opportunities of calamity.
It would be to encourage incapacity were such bygones consigned to
oblivion. It may be useless to dwell upon "spilt milk," but further
employment of the spiller may not be prudent.
Slaves of the saying, "Let bygones perish," would construct
mere political man-traps, which never act when depredators are about.
In human affairs bygones have occurred worth remembering as guides for the
It is said that "greatness is thrust upon a man"—what is
meant is a position of greatness. Greatness lies in the quality of
the individual, and cannot be "thrust" on any man. It is true that
intrinsic greatness is often left unrecognised. It would be a crime
against progress were these cases, when known, consigned to forgetfulness.
Noble thoughts as well as noble acts are worth bearing in mind, however
long ago they may have occurred.
My friend Joseph Cowen, who from his youth had regarded me as
a chartered disturber of the unreasoning torpidity of the public
conscience, described me as an agitator. All the while I never was a
Pedlar of Opinions. I never asked people to adopt mine, but to
reason out their own. I merely explained the nature of what I took
to be erroneous in theological and public affairs. Neither did I
find fault with prevailing ideas, save where I could, or thought I could,
suggest other principles of action more conducive to the welfare of all
who dwell in cottages or lodgings—for whom I mainly care. I was for
equal opportunities for all men, guaranteed by law, and for equitable
participation in profit among all who, by toil of hand or brain,
contributed to the wealth of the State.
Yet, though I never obtruded my convictions, neither did I
conceal them. No public questioner ever went empty away,—if his
inquiry was relevant and I had the knowledge he sought. Sometimes,
as at Cheltenham (in 1842), when an inquiry was malicious and the reply
penal, the questioner got his answer. My maxim was that of Professor
"Wear thy heart not on thy sleeve,
But on just occasion
Let men know what you believe,
With breezy ventilation."
Thus, without intending it, I came to be counted an "agitator."
As to the matter of the following pages, they relate, as all
autobiographical reminiscences do, to events that are past. But whether
they relate to acts, or events, or opinions, to tragedy or gaiety, they
are all meant to fulfil one condition—that of having instruction or
guidance of some kind in them-which bring them within the class of "
bygones worth remembering."
One day as I was walking briskly along Fleet Street, a person in greater
haste than myself running down Johnson's Court collided with me, and both
of us fell to the ground.
On rising, I said, "If you knocked me down, never mind; if I knocked you
down, I beg your pardon." He did not reciprocate my forgiveness, thinking
I had run against him
intentionally. Nevertheless, I say to any resenting reader who does me
mischief, "never mind." If I have done him any harm it has been
unwittingly, and I tender him real
THESE pages being autobiographic in their nature, something must be said
under this head.
I was born April 13, 1817, which readers complained I omitted to state
in a former work  of a similar kind to this, probably thinking it a "Bygone" of no importance.
It was in 1817 that Robert Owen informed mankind that "all the
religions in the world were in error," which was taken to mean that they
throughout; whereas all the "Prophet of the City of London Tavern" sought
to prove was that all faiths were in error so far as they rested on the
dogma that men can believe if
they will—irrespective of evidence whatever may be the force of it before
them. Mr. Owen's now truistical statement set the dry sticks of every
church aflame for seventy years.
In many places the ashes smoulder still. By blending Theology with
Sociology, the Churches mixed two things better kept apart. Confusion
raged for years on a thousand
platforms and pulpits. I mention this matter because it was destined to
colour and occupy a large portion of my life.
The habit of my thoughts is to run into speeches, as the thoughts of a
poet run into verse; but if there be a more intrinsic characteristic of my
mind it is accurately described
in the words of Coleridge:
"I am by the law of my nature a Reasoner. A person who should suppose I
meant by that word, an arguer, would not only not understand me, but would
contrary of my meaning. I can take no interest whatever in hearing or
saying anything merely as a fact—merely as having happened. I must refer
to something within me
before I can regard it with any curiosity or care. I require in everything
a reason why the thing is at all, and why it is there or then rather than
elsewhere or at another time."
This may be why I entitled the first periodical edited in my name, The
My firstborn child, Madeline, perished while I was in Gloucester Prison.
 There is no other word which described what
happened in 1842. In 1895 (as I had always intended), I had a brass
tablet cast bearing the simple inscription—
"Near this spot was buried
Daughter of George Jacob and Eleanor Holyoake,
This tablet I had placed on the wall over the grave where the poor child
lay. The grave is close to the wall. The cemetery authorities had
objections to the word "Perished."
When I explained to them the circumstances of Madeline's death, they
permitted its erection, on my paying a cemetery fee of two guineas. The
tablet will endure as long as
the cemetery wall lasts. The tablet is on the left side of the main
entrance to the cemetery, somewhat obscured by trees now.
Dr. Samuel Smiles published a book on Self Help in 1859. In 1857, two
years earlier, I had used the same title "Self-Help by the People." In a
later work, "Self-Help, a
Hundred Years Ago," the title was continued. I had introduced it into
Co-operation, where it became a watchword. I have wondered whether Dr.
Smiles borrowed the name
from me. He knew me in 1841, when he was editing the Leeds Times to which
I was a contributor. He must have seen in Mill's " Principles of
Political Economy," "Self-Help by the People—History of Co-operation in Rochdale," quoted in
Mill's book (book iv. chap, viii.),
The phrase "Science is the Providence of Life" was an expression I had
used in drawing up a statement of Secular Principles twenty-four years
before I found it in the poem
Two things of the past I may name as they indicate the age of opinions, by
many supposed to be recent. Co-operators are considered as intending the
competition, but as what we call nature—human, animal, and insect—is
founded upon competition, nobody has the means of abolishing it. In the
first number of the Reasoner,
June 3, 1846, in the first article, I stated that Mr. Owen and his friends
proclaimed co-operation as the "Corrector of the excesses of competition
in social life"—a much more
modest undertaking than superseding it.
The second thing I name that I wrote in the same number of the Reasoner
is a short paper on "Moral Mathematics," setting forth that there is a
mathematics of morality as well as of lines and angles. There are
problems in morality, the right solution of which contributes as much to
mental discipline as any to be found in Euclid. These I thus set
Given—an angry man to answer without being angry yourself.
Given—an opponent full of bitterness and unjust insinuations to reply to
without asperity or stooping to counter insinuations.
Given—your own favourite truths to state without dogmatism, and to praise
without pride, adducing with fairness the objections to them without
disparaging the judgment of
those who hold the objections.
Given—an inconsistent and abusive opponent. It is required to reply to
him by argument, convincing rather than retorting. All opportunities of "thrashing" him are to be
passed by, all pain to be saved him as far as possible, and no word set
down whose object is not the opponent's improvement.
Given—the error of an adversary to annihilate with the same vigour with
which you could annihilate him.
Required—out of the usual materials to construct a public body, who shall
tolerate just censure and despise extravagant praise.
One day I found a piece of twisted paper which I picked up thinking I had
dropped it myself. I found in it a gold ring with a snake's head. It was
so modest and curious that I
wore it. Four years after, on a visit to Mr. W. H. Duignan, at Rushall
Hall, on the border of Cannock Chase, I lost it. Four days later I arrived
by train at Rugby Station with
live heavy-footed countrymen. I went to the
refreshment room. On my return only one man was
in the carriage. The sun was shining brightly on the carriage floor, and
there in the middle, lay, all glittering and conspicuous, my lost ring
unseen and untrodden. I picked
it up with incredulity and astonishment. How it came there or could come
there, or being there, how it could escape the heavy feet of the
passengers who went out, or the
eyes of the one remaining, I cannot to this day conceive. After I had lost
it, I had walked through Kidderminster, Dudley Castle, and Birmingham, and
searched for it several
times. I had dressed and undressed four times. I lost it finally during
Lord Beaconsfield's last Government, at the great Drill Hall meeting at
Blackheath,  in a jingo crush
made to prevent Mr. Gladstone entering to speak there
on the Eastern policy of that day. In future times should the ground be
excavated, the spot where I stood will be marked with gold—the only place
so marked by me in
It is probably vanity—though I disguise it under the name of pride—that
induces me to insert here certain incidents. Nevertheless pride is the
major motive. When I have been
near unto death, and have asked myself what has been the consolation of
this life, I found it in cherished memories of illustrious persons of
thought and action, whose
friendship I had shared. There are other incidents —as Harriet Martineau's Letter to Lloyd Garrison, Tyndall's testimony, elsewhere
quoted—which will never pass from my
The first dedication to me was that of a poem by Allen Davenport, 1843—an
ardent Whitechapel artisan. The tribute had value in my eyes, coming from
one of the toiling
class—and being a recognition on the part of working men of London,
that I was one of their way of thinking and could be trusted to defend the
interests of industry.
The next came from the theological world—a quite unexpected incident in
those days. The Rev. Henry Crosskey dedicated his "Defence of Religion "
to me. He was of the
priestly profession, but had a secular heart, and on questions of freedom
at home and abroad he could be counted upon, as though he was merely
human. The dedication
brought Mr. Crosskey into trouble with Dr. Martineau. Unitarians were
to heretics in private, but they made no secret that they were disinclined
to recognise them in public. Dr. Martineau shared that reservation.
Letter from Dr. James Martineau to Rev. W. H. Crosskey:—
"It is very difficult to say precisely how far our respect for honest
conviction, and indignation at a persecuting temper, should carry us in
our demonstrations towards men
unjustly denounced. I do confess that, while I would stoutly resist any ill-usage of such a man as Holyoake, or any attempt to gag him, I could
hardly dedicate a book to him:
this act seeming to imply a special sympathy and admiration directed upon
that which distinctively characterises the man. Negative defence from
injury is very different from
positive homage. After all, Holyoake's principles are undeniably more
subversive of the greatest truths and genuine basis of human life than the
most unrelenting orthodoxy.
However, it is a generous impulse to appear as the advocate of a man whom
intolerance unjustly reviles." 
Thus he gave the young minister to understand—that while there was
nothing wrong in his having respect for me, he need not have made it
public. At that time it was chivalry
in Mr. Crosskey to do what he did, for which I respected him all his days.
A third dedication I thought more of, and still value, came from the
political world, and was the first literary testimony of my interest in
it. It came from "Mark Rutherford"
(William Hale White), who knew everything I knew, and a good deal more. He
inscribed to me, 1866, a remarkable "Argument for the Extension of the
had all the characteristics of statement, which have brought him renown in
later years. He said in his prefatory letter to me: "If my argument does
any service for Reform,
Reformers will have to thank you for it, as they have to thank you for a
good many other things." They were words to prize.
Recently a letter came from Professor Goldwin Smith,
who was Cobden's admiration and envy, as he once told me, for the power of
expressing an argument or a career in a sentence. His letter to me
was as follows:—
"You and I have lived together through many eventful and changeful years.
The world in these years has, I hope and believe, grown better than it was
when we came into it.
In respect of freedom of opinion and industrial justice, the two objects
to which your life has been most devoted, real progress has certainly been
The main objects of my life are here distinguished and expressed in six
Reviewers of the autobiographic volumes preceding these, complained that
they contained too little about myself. If they read the last four
paragraphs given here they will be
of opinion that I have said enough now.
At the Co-operative Congress held in Gloucester, 1879, a number of
delegates went down to see the gaol. When they arrived before it, Mr.
Abraham Greenwood, of Rochdale,
exclaimed, "Take off your hats, lads! That's where Holyoake was
imprisoned." They did so. That incident—when it was related to
me—impressed me more than any thing else
connected with Co-operation. I did not suppose those tragical six months
in that gaol were in the minds of co-operators, or that any one had
respect for them.
The chapter, "Things which went as they Would," shows that serving
co-operators had its inconveniences, but there were compensatory incidents
which I recount with
pleasure. One was their contribution to the Annuity of 1876, which Mr.
Hughes himself commended to them at the London Congress. It was owing to
Major Evans Bell and
Mr. Walter Morrison that the project was successful.
The other occurred at the Doncaster Congress, 1903. In my absence a
resolution had been passed thanking me for services I had rendered in Ten
Letters in Defence of
Co-operation. When I rose to make acknowledgment, all the large audience
stood up. It was the first time I had ever been so received anywhere,
services which seemed un-noted at the time, lived in remembrance.
Here I may cite a letter from Wendell Phillips, Of the
great American Abolitionists, Phillips, with his fine presence and
intrepid eloquence, was regarded as the "noblest Roman of them all."
Theodore Parker, he described to me as the Jupiter of the pulpit; and
Russell Lowell has drawn Lloyd Garrison, in the famous verse—
"In a dark room, unfriended and unseen,
Toiled o'er his types, a poor unlearn'd young man.
The place was low, unfurnitured and mean,
But there the freedom of a race began."
I corresponded with them in their heroic days. It is one of the letters of
Phillips to me I quote here:—
"July 22, 1874.
"MY DEAR SIR,—I ought long ago to have thanked you for sending me copies
of your pamphlets on John Stuart Mill and the Rochdale Pioneers and with so
partial a recognition of my co-operation with you in your great cause.
"That on Mill was due certainly to a just estimate of him, but how sad
that human jackals should make it necessary. That on Co-operation I read
and read again, welcoming
the light you throw on it, for one of my most hopeful stepping-stones to a
higher future. Thank you for the lesson—it cleared one or two dark
places—not the first by any
means—for I've read everything of yours I could
lay my hands on. There was one small volume on Rhetoric—'Public Speaking
and Debate,' methods of address, hints towards effective speech,
etc.—which I studied
faithfully, until some one to whom I had praised and lent it, acting
probably on something like Coleridge's rule, that books belong to those
who most need then—never returned
me my well-thumbed essay, to my keen regret. Probably you never knew that
we had printed your book. This was an American reprint—wholly
exhausted—proof that it did
good service. We reprinted, some ten years ago, one of your wisest tracts,
the 'Difficulties that obstruct Co-operation.' It did us yeoman service. But enough, I
shall beg you to accept a volume of old speeches printed long ago, because
it includes my only attempt to criticise you—which you probably never
saw. In it I will put,
when I mail it, the last and best photograph of Sumner, and if you'll
exchange, I'll add one of
"Yours faithfully, and ever,
"Mr. G. J. Holyoake."
With Mr. Charles Bradlaugh I had personal relations all his life. I took
the chair for him at the first public lecture he delivered. I gave him
ready applause and
support. At the time of what was called his "Parliamentary struggle," I
with him and ready to help him. It was with great reluctance and only in
defence of principle, to which I had long been committed, that I appeared
as opposed to him.
He claimed to represent Free Thought, with which I had been identified
long before his day. My conviction was that a Free Thinker should have as
consistency, and self-respect as any Apostle, or Jew, or Catholic,
or Quaker. All had in turn refused to make a profession of opinion they
did not hold, at the peril of death, or, as in the case of O'Connell and
the Jews, at the certainty
of exclusion from Parliament. They had only to take an oath, to the terms
of which they could not honestly subscribe. Mr. Bradlaugh had no scruple
this. In the House of Commons he openly kissed the Bible, in which he did
not believe—a token of reverence he did not feel. He even administered to
himself the oath, which was contrary to his professed convictions.
This seemed to be a reflection upon the honour of Free Thought. Had
I not dissented from it, I should have been a
sharer in the scandal, and Free Thought—so far as I represented it—would
have been regarded as below the Christian or Pagan level.
The key to Mr. Bradlaugh's character, which unlocks the treasure-house of
his excellences and defects, and enables the reader to estimate him
justly, is the perception that
his one over-riding motive and ceaseless aim was the ascendancy of the
right through him. It was this passion which inspired his best efforts,
and also led to certain aberration of action. But what we have to
remember now, and permanently, is that it was ascendancy of the right in political and theological
affairs that he mainly
sought for, fought for, and vindicated. It is this which will long cause
his memory to be cherished.
At the time of his death I wrote honouring notices of his career in the
Bradford Observer and elsewhere, which were reproduced in other papers. Otherwise, I found opportunity
on platforms of showing my estimate of his character and public services. I had never forgotten an act of kindness he had, in an interval of
goodwill, done me. When
disablement and blindness came in 1876, he collected from the readers of
his journal £170 towards a proposed annuity for me. It was a great
pleasure to me to
repay that kindness by devising means (which others neither thought of nor
believed in) of adding thrice that sum to the provision being made for his
survivors. It was a merit
in him that devotion to pursuits of public usefulness did not, in his
opinion, absolve him from keeping a financial promise, as I knew, and have
heard friends who aided him
testify—a virtue not universal among propagandists. No wonder the coarse
environments of his early life lent imperiousness to his manners. In later
years, when he was in the
society of equals, where masterfulness was less possible and less
necessary, he acquired courtesy and a certain dignity—the attribute of
conscious power. He was the
greatest agitator, within the limits of law, who appeared in my time among
the working people. Of his own initiative he incurred no legal danger, and
those who followed him
were not led into it. He was a daring defender of public right, and not
without genius in discovering methods for its attainment. One form of
genius lies in discovering
developments of a principle which no one else sees. Had he lived in the
first French Revolution, he had ranked with Mirabeau and Danton. Had he
been with Paine in
America, he had spoken "Common Sense" on platforms. He died before being
able to show in Parliament the best that was in him. Though he had no
College training like
Professor Fawcett, Indian lawyers found that Mr. Bradlaugh had a quicker
and greater grasp of Indian questions than the Professor. It was no mean
indeed, a distinction any man might be proud to have won—that John Stuart
Mill should have left on record, in one of his latest works, his testimony
to Mr. Bradlaugh's
capacity, which he discerned when others did not. Like Cobbett, the
soldiers' barracks did not repress Bradlaugh's invincible passion for the
distinction of a political
career. In the House of Commons he took, both in argument and debate, a
high rank, and surpassed compeers there of a thousand times his advantages
of birth and
education. That from so low a station he should have risen so high, and,
after reaching the very platform of his splendid ambition, he should die
in the hour of his opportunity
of triumph, was one of the tragedies of public life, which touched the
heart of the nation, in whose eyes Mr. Bradlaugh had become a commanding
It was in connection with the controversy concerning the Oath that I
received a letter from John Stuart Mill, which when published in the Daily
News, excited much surprise.
Mr. Mill was of opinion, that the oath, being made the condition of
obtaining justice, ordinary persons might take it. But one who was known
to disbelieve the terms of it, and
had for years publicly written and spoken to that effect, had better not
take it. This was the well-known Utilitarian doctrine that the
consequences of an act are the justification
of it. Francis Place had explained to me that Bentham's doctrine aas that
the sacrifice of liberty or life was justifiable only on the ground that
the public gained by it. A
disciple should have very strong convictions who differs from his master,
and I differ with diffidence from Mr. Mill as to the propriety of carrying
the Utilitarian doctrine into the
domain of morals. Truth is higher than utility, and goes before it. Truth
is a measure of utility, and not utility the measure of truth.
Conscience is higher than consequence. We are bound first to consider what is right. There may be in
some cases, reasons which justify departure from the right. But these are
The general rule is—Truth has the first claim upon us.
To take an oath when you do not believe in an avenging Deity who will
enforce it, is to lie and know that you lie. This surely requires
exceptional justification. It is
nothing to the purpose to allege
that the oath is binding upon you. The security of
that are the terms of the oath. The law knows no other. To admit the terms
to be unnecessary is to abolish the oath.
When a youth, attending lectures at the Mechanics' Institution, I soon
discerned that the more eminent speakers were the clearer. They knew their
subjects, were masters
of the outlines, which by making bold and plain, we were instructed. Outline is the beginning of art and the charm of knowledge. Remembering
this, I found no
difficulty in teaching very little children to write in a week.
It is a great advantage to children to take care that their first notions
are true. The primary element of truth is simplicity—with children it is
their first fascination. I had only to
show them that the alphabet meant no more than a line and a circle. A
little child can make a "straight stroke" " and a round
The alphabet is made up of fifteen straight line and eleven curved line
letters. The root of the fifteen straight line letters is | placed in
various ways. The root of the eleven
curved line letters is O or parts of
O and | joined together.
A is made by two straight lines leaning against each other at the top, and
a line across the middle.
H is made of two upright lines with a straight line between them.
V is made of two straight lines meeting at the bottom. If two upright
lines are added to the V it becomes
Two V's put together make
W. The letters
L and T and
X and Z make
themselves, so easy is it to place the straight lines which compose them.
O makes itself. A short line makes it into
the side of O be left open it is a
C. If two half
O's are joined together they make
S. Half O and
an upright line make D. An upright line and a half
O make P. Another half added and
B is made.
After a second or third time a child will understand the whole alphabet.
Such is the innate faculty of imitation and construction in children that
they will put the letters together themselves when the method is made
plain to them, and within a
week will compose their own name and their mother's. At the same time they
learn to read as well as to write. What they are told they are apt to
forget, what they write they
Reason is the faculty of seeing what follows as a consequence from what
is, but to define distinction well is a divine gift. My one aim was to
make things clear.
One of my suggestions to the young preachers, who had two sermons on
Sunday to prepare, was that they should give all their strength to the
evening discourse and
arrange with their congregation to deliver the other from one of the old
divines of English or Continental renown, which would inform as well as
delight hearers. It would
be an attraction to the outside public. Few congregations know anything of
the eloquence, the happy and splendid illustrations and passages of
thought to be found in the
fathers of the Church of every denomination. Professor Francis William
Newman, whose wide knowledge and fertility of thought had few equals in
his day, told me that he
should shrink from the responsibility of having to deliver a proficient
and worthy discourse fifty-two times a year. Anyhow, for the average
preacher, better one bright ruddy
discourse, than two pale-faced sermons every Sunday.
Those who remained true to Chartism till the end of it are recorded in the
following paragraph under the title of the "National Charter
Association," which appeared in Reynolds's Newspaper, January
4, 1852 :—
"On Wednesday evening last, the scrutineers appointed by the metropolitan
localities attended at the office, 14, Southampton Street, Strand, and
having inspected the votes received, gave the following as the result, in
favour of the following nine:—
Ernest Jones (who received 900 votes), Feargus O'Connor, John Arnott, T.
M. Wheeler, James Grassby, John Shaw, W. J. Linton, J. J. Bezer, G. J.
"Messrs. J. B. O'Brien, Gerald Massey, and Arthur Trevelyan having
declined to serve, the votes received on their behalf have not been
"We, the undersigned, hereby declare the nine persons first named to be
duly elected to form the Executive Committee for the ensuing year.
"JOHN WASHINGTON, City Locality.
"EDWD. JOHN LOOMES, Finsbury Locality.
"December 31, 1851."
After I became an octogenarian, I was asked whether my years might be
ascribed to my habits. I could only explain what my habits were. In the
first half of my life I ate
whatever came to hand, and as not enough came I easily observed moderation. But then I was disposed to be moderate on principle, having read in
the Penny Magazine, about 1830, that Dr. Abernethy told a lady "she might
eat anything eatable in moderation." In the second and later half of my
life I gave heed to Carnaro, and sought to limit each meal to the least
necessary for health. The limitation of quantity included liquids as well
as solids, decreasing the amount of both "in relation to age and
activity," as Sir Henry Thompson
advised. Not thinking much of meat, I limited that to a small amount, and
cereals to those that grow above ground. A tepid bath for the eye (on the
recommendation of the
Rev. Dr. Molesworth, of Rochdale) and a soap bath for the body every
morning ends the catalogue of my habits.
My general mode of mind has been to avoid excess in food, in pleasure, in
work, and in expectation. By not expecting much, I have been saved from
worry if nothing came.
When anything desirable did arrive, I had the double delight of
satisfaction and surprise. Shakespeare's counsel
"Be not troubled with the tide which bears
O'er thy contents its strong necessities,
But let determined things to destiny
Hold, unbewailed their way"—
ought to be part of every code of health.
The conduciveness of my habits to longevity may be seen in this. More than
forty of my colleagues, all far more likely to live than myself, have long
been dead. Had I been as
strong as they, I also should have died as they did. Lacking their power
of hastening to the end, I have lingered behind.
For the rest—
"From my window is a glimpse of sea
Enough for me,
And every evening through the window bars
Peer in the friendly stars."
The principles and aims of earlier years are confirmed by experience at
88. Principles are like plants and flowers. They suit only those whom they
nourish. Nothing is adapted
Goethe said: "When I was a youth I planted a cherry-tree, and watched its
growth with delight. Spring frost killed the blossoms, and I had to wait
another year before the
cherries were ripe—then the birds ate them—another year the caterpillars
ate them—another year a greedy neighbour stole them—another year the
blight withered them.
Nevertheless, when I have a garden again, I shall plant another
cherry-tree." My years now are "dwindling to their shortest span"; if I
should have my days over again, I shall
plant my trees again—certain that if they do grow they will yield verdure
and fruit in some of the barren places of this world.
MY first public discussion in London was with Mr.
Passmore Edwards—personally, the handsomest adversary I ever met. A
mass of wavy black hair and pleasant expression made him picturesque.
He was slim, alert, and fervid. The subject of debate was the famous
delineation of the Bottle, by George Cruikshank, which I regarded as a
libel on the wholesome virtue of Temperance. Exaggerations which
inform and do not deceive, as American humour, or Swift's Lilliputians,
Aztecs, and giants of Brobdingnag, have instruction and amusement.
The exaggeration intended to deride and intimidate those who observe
moderation is a hurtful and misleading extreme. Mr. Edwards took the
opposite view. Cruikshank could not be moderate, and he did right to
adopt the rule of absolute abstinence. It was his only salvation.
To every man or woman of the Cruikshank tendency I would preach the same
doctrine. To all others I, as fervently, commend the habit of use
without abuse. Without that power no man would live a month.
Had Mr. Edwards been of this way of thinking, there had been no debate
Mr. Edwards had much reason on his side. Mankind are
historically regarded as possessing insufficiency of brains, and it is bad
economics to put an incorrigible thief into their mouths to steal away
what brains they have.
I had respect for Mr. Edwards' side of the argument.
For when a man makes a fool of himself, or fails to keep an engagement, or
departs, in his behaviour from his best manner—through drink—he should
take the next train to the safe and serene land of Abstinence.
The first person who mentioned to me the idea of a halfpenny
newspaper was Mr. Passmore Edwards. One night as we were walking
down Fleet Street from Temple Bar, when the Bar stood where the Griffin
now stands. Mr. Edwards asked me, as I had had experience in the
publishing trade whether I thought a halfpenny newspaper would pay, which
evidently had for some time occupied his mind. The chief difficulty I
foresaw was, would newsagents give it a chance? It afterwards cost the
house of Cassells'—the first to make the experiment—many thousands. The
Workman, in which I had a department, was intended, I was told, to be a
forerunner of the halfpenny paper. But that title would never do, as I
ventured to predict. Workmen, as a rule with no partnership in profits,
had enough of work without buying a paper about it. Tradesmen,
middle-class and others, did not want to be taken for workmen, and the
Workman was discontinued. But, strange to say, the same paper issued
under the title of Work became successful. Everybody was interested
in work but not in being workmen. Such are the subtleties of titles! Their right choice—is it art or instinct? The Echo was the name
fixed upon for the first halfpenny paper. Echo of what? was not indicated. It excluded expectations of originality. Probably curiosity was the charm.
It committed no one to any side. There were always more noises about than
any one could listen to, and many were glad to hear the most articulate. I
wrote articles in the earliest numbers under the editorship of Sir Arthur
The House of Allsop, as known to the world of progress in the last
century, is ended. The first who gave it public interest was Thomas Allsop,
who assisted Robert Owen in
1832 in the Gray's Inn Lane Labour Exchanges. He was a watchful assistant
of those who contributed to the public service without expecting or
receiving requital. His
admiration of genius always took the form of a gift—a rare but
encouraging form of applause. Serjeant Talfourd somewhere bears testimony
to the generous assistance Mr.
Allsop rendered to Hazlitt, Lamb, and Coleridge. To Lamb, he continually
sent gifts, and Coleridge dined at his table every Sunday for nineteen
years. Landor, who had always nobility of character, and was an impulsive
writer—represented Mr. Allsop's interest in European freedom as
proceeding from "vanity," forgetful of his own letter to Jessie Meriton
White, offering £100 to any assassin of Napoleon III.; and John Forster
preserves Landor's remark
upon Mr. Allsop, but does not, so far as I remember, give Landor's
Assassin Letter. The fact was, no man less sought publicity or disliked it
more than Mr. Allsop. When
Feargus O'Connor was elected member for Nottingham, Mr. Allsop qualified
him by conferring upon him lands bringing an income of £300. He divided
his Lincoln estate into
allotments for working men, but he never mentioned these things himself. His son Robert held his father's intellectual views. His eldest son
Thomas, who was class-mate
with Mr. Dixon Galpin at Queenwood, a considerable landowner in British
Columbia, was the philosopher of the family, and like Archbishop Whately,
had a power of stating
them with ever apt and ready illustrations.
They were like Mr. Owen, Conservative in politics; but in social and
mental matters they were intrepid in welcoming new truth. It was at
Thomas's suggestion that I omitted
name altogether in my chapter, "Mr. Secretary Walpole and the Jacobin's
Friend."  Landor was quite wrong, there was no "vanity" in the Allsop
family. Were Thomas Allsop the younger now living I should not write
these paragraphs. As it is, I may say that I owed to his generosity
an annuity of £100. He commenced it by a subscription of £200,
and by Mr. Robert Applegarth's friendly secretaryship, which had devotion
and inspiration in it, a committee to which the Rev. Dr. Joseph Parker,
with his intrepid tolerance,
gave his name, was formed, and an annuity of £100 was purchased for me.
When the Taxes on Knowledge were repealed, Mr. Collet and I attempted to
procure the repeal of the Passenger Tax on Railways. For forty years after
the imposition of the
tax of Lord Halford, 1832, the workman was taxed who went in search of an
employer. When a poor sailor, arriving in London after a long voyage,
desired to visit his poor
mother in Glasgow, the Government added to his fare a tax of three
shillings, to encourage him in filial affection. In the interests of
locomotion and trade, two or three
associations had attempted to get this pernicious tax repealed, without
success. It was remarked in Parliament in 1877 that no committee
representing the working class
asked for the repeal of this discreditable impost, which most concerned
them. This was the reason of the formation of the Travelling Tax Abolition
Committee, of which Mr. Collet became secretary and the chairman. We
assisted by an influential committee of civic and industrial leaders. After six years' agitation we were mainly instrumental (that was in Mr.
Gladstone's days) in obtaining the
repeal of the penny a mile tax on all third-class fares, effected by Mr.
Childers in 1883, which ever since has put into the pocket of
working-class travellers £400,000 a year,
besides the improved carriages and improved service the repeal has enabled
railway companies to give. We continued the committee many years longer in
the hope of
freeing the railways wholly from taxation, which still hampers the
directors and is obstructive of commerce. I was chairman for twenty-four
years, during which time twenty-two
of the committee died. Our memorials, interviews with ministers,
correspondence with officials, petitions to Parliament, public meetings
and various publications, involved a
large and incessant amount of work without payment of any kind. Subsequently a committee of publicists, journalists and members of
Parliament, for whom Mr. Applegarth
was the secretary, caused £80 to be given to me, in recognition of my
services. Though it represented less than £4 a year as the salary of the
chairman, it was
valuable in my eyes from the persons who gave it, as they were not the
persons much benefited by the work done, and who really taxed themselves
on behalf of others. A subscription of a halfpenny each from the
working-class travellers who had profited by the
repeal would have amounted to a handsome acknowledgment. But from them it
was impossible to collect it. Testimonials, I believe, are often given by
generously subscribe for others upon whom the obligation of making it more
It would seem insensibility or ingratitude not to record, that on my
eightieth birthday—now eight years ago—I was entertained at a numerously
attended dinner party in the
National Liberal Club, at which to my gratification, Mr. Walter Morrison
presided. The speakers, and distinction of many in the assembly, were a
surprise, transcending all I
had foreseen. The words of Mr. Morrison's speech, to use Tennyson's words,
That on the stretch'd forefinger of all time
Sparkle forever "
in my memory.
On my eighty-sixth birthday a reception was given me by the Ethical
Society of South Place Chapel, Finsbury—the oldest Free Thought temple in
London, where the duty of free inquiry was first proclaimed by W. J. Fox. The place was filled with
faces familiar and unfamiliar, from near and far, of artists, poets,
publicists, journalists, philosophers, as at the National Liberal Club,
but in greater numbers. Lady
Florence Dixie purchased a large and costly oil painting,  and sent it
for me to present to the Library of the Rationalist Press Association. Among the
letters sent was one, the last sent to a public meeting, by Herbert
Spencer. The reader will pardon the pride I have in quoting it.
Writing from 5, Percival Terrace, Brighton, March 28, 1903, Mr. Spencer
"I have not been out of doors since last August, and as Mr.
Holyoake knows, it is impossible
for me to join in the Reception to be given to him on the occasion of his
eighty-sixth birthday. I can do nothing more than express my warm feeling
of concurrence. Not
dwelling upon his intellectual capacity, which is high, I would emphasise
my appreciation of his courage, sincerity, truthfulness, philanthropy, and
Such a combination of these qualities, it will, I think, be difficult to
For a period I had the opportunity accorded me of
editing a daily newspaper—The Sun. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Parker had been my predecessor. I
was left at liberty to say
whatever I pleased, and I did. In one week I wrote twenty-nine articles. But opulent opportunity of working was afforded me. As I was paid ten
times as much as I had received before, I thought myself in a paradise of
In the correspondence of Robert Owen, now in possession of the
Co-operative Union Memorial Committee, Manchester, is the following letter
from his customary legal
adviser, who then resided at Hornsey.
"6, OLD JEWRY,
"February 17, 1853.
"R. OWEN, Esq.,
"DEAR SIR,—I am glad to see your handwriting upon an envelope conveying
to me a pamphlet of yours.
"Holyoake I expect will breakfast with me on Sunday morning. He comes down
by the railway to Hornsey, which leaves London at nine o'clock precisely.
"I am afraid it is too cold for you, and that the walk from the railway to
our house, which is three quarters of a mile, may not be agreeable.
"W. H. ASHURST.
"H. will return about 12 or 1."
After breakfast Mr. Owen walked briskly with me into town. He was then
eighty-two. On his way he explained to me that, when walking as I
often had done from Birmingham to Worcester, or from Huddersfield to
Sheffield—to lecture, I should find it an advantage to use the horse
road, as on the footpath there is
more unevenness and necessity of deviation to allow persons to pass, which
increases the fatigue of a day on foot. So thoughtful and practical was
the reputed visionary.
Of letters on public affairs I confine myself to three instances. When the
South Kensington Exhibitions were in force, more than twenty thousand
visitors a day thronged the
Exhibition Road. Mothers with their children had to cross the wide Museum
Road, where policemen, stationed to protect the passengers, had enough to
do to keep their own
toes on their feet, in the undivided traffic of cabs. I wrote to the
suggesting that a lamp should be erected in the middle of the wide road
serving as a light, a retreat, and
a division of traffic. All the cabmen who could write protested against
the danger, or the necessity, and possibility of the proposal. But it was
done, to the great joy of
mothers and advantage to the public.
After the fall of the French Assassin at Sedan when Marshal Bazaine was
hanging about Europe in obscurity and ignominy, Mr. Arthur Arnold proposed
that he should be
invited to a banquet in London. Seeing that the citizens of Paris went out
at night in bands of twenty or thirty heroically to
help to raise the siege—on what ground could we offer to honour Bazaine,
who with 192,000 soldiers under his command, was afraid to attempt it?
asked the question in the
Press, and the proposal, which had a sentiment of chivalry in it to a
fallen general, and was commanding some concurrence—went out—like the
Marshal—into outer darkness.
When public opinion was in the balance respecting the South American War,
Mr. Reverdy Johnson and a Copperhead colleague arrived in London and began
to do a
respectable business in public mystification. From information supplied to
me I wrote letters explaining the real nature of that sinister mission, in
consequence of which the
two emissaries of slavery made tracks for New York.
But of instances, as of other things, there must be an end.
FIRST STEPS IN LITERATURE
SURELY environment is the sister of heredity? Mr.
Gladstone once said to me that "The longer he lived the more he thought
of heredity." Next to heredity is environment—the moulder of mankind. My
first passion was to be a prize-fighter. Nature, however, had not made me
that way. I had no animosity of mind, and that form of contest was not to
my taste. But prize-fighting was part of the miasma the Napoleonic war had
diffused in England.
It was in the air; it was the talk of the street. "Hammer" Lane, so
called from the iron blow he could deliver, was the local hero of the Ring
in the Midlands in my youth.
He was a courtier of my eldest sister, and created in me a craving for
fistic prowess. I fought one small battle, but found that a lame wrist,
which has remained permanent,
cut me off from any prospect of renown in that pursuit. Next, to be a
seemed to me the very king of careers. My idea was to leap into the
arena exclaiming :—
"Well, I never! Did you ever? I never
"Never did what?" the clown was to ask me, when my reply was
"I could only disclose that before a Royal
Commission"—alluding to a political artifice then coming into vogue in
Parliament. When a Minister did not know what to say to a popular
demand, or found it inconvenient to say it if he did know, he would
suggest a Commission to inquire into it, as is done to this day.
Then the clown would demand, "What is the good of a Royal
Commission?" when the answer would be: " Every good in the world to a
Ministry, for before the Commission agreed as to the answer to be given,
the public would forget what the question was." Under this diversion
of the audience, no one noticed that no answer was given to the original
question put to the jester. Whether I could have succeeded in this
walk was never decided. It was found that I lacked the loud,
radiant, explosive voice necessary for circus effects, and I ceased to
dream of distinction there.
I suppose, like many others who could not well write
anything, I thought poetry might be my latent—very latent—faculty.
So I began. For all I knew, my genius, if I had any, might lie that
way. To "body forth things unknown," which I was told poets did,
must be delightful. To "build castles in the air"—as my means did
not enable me to pay ground rent—was at least an economical project.
So I began with a question, as new Members of Parliament do, until they
discover something to say. My first production, which I hoped would
be mistaken for a poem, was in the form of a "Question to a Pedestrian":—
"Saw you my Lilian pass this way?
You would know her by the ray
Of light which doth attend her.
Her eye such fire of passion hath,
That none who meet her ever pass,
But they some message send her."
The critics said to me, as they said to Keats, to whom I bore
no other resemblance, "This sort of thing will never do. It is an
imitation of Shenstone, or of one of the Shepherd and Shepherdess School
of the Elizabethan era"—of whom I knew nothing. So I was lost to
the Muses, who, however, never missed me.
But my career was not ended. I was told there might be
an opening for me in criticism, especially of poetry, as there were many
persons great in the critical line, who could not write a verse themselves
-and yet lived to become a terror to all who could. My first effort
in this direction was upon the book of a young poet whom I knew
personally. Not venturing upon longer pieces at first, I selected
two sonnets—as the author, Emslie Duncan, called them. The opening
was very striking, and was thus expressed:—
"Great God: What is it that I see?
A figure shrimping in the sea."
How natural is the exclamation, I began. The poet
invokes the Deity on the threshold of a great surprise. Luther did
the same in his famous hymn beginning—
"Great God! What do mine eyes behold!"
Our sonneteer may be said to have borrowed the exclamation
from Luther.  But we have no doubt the
exclamation of our poet is purely original. He next demands an
interpretation of his vision. It is early morning, though the poet
does not mention it (great poets are suggestive, and stoop not to detail).
An evasive grey mist spreads everywhere, like the new fiscal policy of the
Bentinckian type (then in the air), obscuring the landmarks of long-time
safety. Still there is one object visible. The poet's eye in
"fine frenzy rolling" sees something. He is not sure of the
personality that confronts him, and with agnostic precaution worthy of
Huxley, he declines to say what it is—until he knows—and so contents
himself with telling the reader it is a "figure" out shrimping. The
scene is most impressive. As amateurs say, when they do not
understand a picture they are praising, "It grows upon you." So this
marvellous sonnet grows upon the reader. If there be not imagination
and profundity here, we do not know where to look for it.
Next our poet returns to town, and in Whitechapel meets with
the statue of a lady attired only in a blouse. Notwithstanding his
astonishment he varies his abjuration, and exclaims
"Judge ye gods, of my surprise,
A lady naked in her chemise!"
This is unquestionably very fine. True, there is some
contradiction in nudity and attire; but splendid contradiction is an
eternal element of poetry. What would Milton's "Paradise Lost" be
without it? The reader cannot tell whether the surprise of the poet
is at the lady or her drapery. There is no use in asking a great
poet what he meant in writing his brilliant lines. If as candid as
Browning, he would answer as Browning did, that "he had not the slightest
idea what he meant." Nothing remains for us but to congratulate the
public on the advent of a new poet who is equally great on subjects of
land or sea.
There is a good deal of reviewing done on this principle, and
reputations made by this sort of writing as fully without foundation, and
I looked forward to further employment.
The editor to whom I sent these primal specimens of my new
vocation seemed undecided what to do with them—throw them into his
waste-paper basket or submit them to his readers. I assured him I
had seen a number of criticisms less restrained than mine, on performances
quite as slender as the sonnets I had described. With kindly
consideration, lest he might be repressing a rising genius in me, he asked
me to give my opinion upon a charming little poem by Longfellow—to
commend, as he hoped I could, as a new edition in which he was interested
was about to be published.
The object of the poet, I found, was to awaken certain young
ladies, whose only fault consisted in getting up late in the morning.
The lines addressed to them, if I rightly remember, began thus:—
"Awake! Arise! and greet the day.
Angels are knocking at the door.
They are in haste and may not stay,
And once departed come no more."
This verse reminds the readers of Omar Khayyám.
Two ideas in it are his, and the terms used are his; but I resisted this
temptation to imitate those popular critics, whose aim is not to discover
the graces of a new poet, but his plagiarisms, and to show that everybody
reproduces the ideas of everybody else, and prove that—
"Nothing is, and all things seem
And we the shadows of a dream"—
and of old, antediluvian dreams. Disdaining this royal road to
critical renown, I commenced by praising the enchanting invocation of the
poet, who when the ladies heard it would leap out of bed and dress.
I observed that to the reader who did not look below the surface—did not
"read between the lines," is the favourite phrase—the poem presented some
mysteries of diction. Instead of appearing as the angel in Leigh
Hunt's "Abou Ben Adhem" did, who diffused himself in the room like a
vision, these peripatetic visitants presented themselves like celestial
postmen "knocking at the door." Then why were they out so early
themselves? Had they more calls to make than they could well
accomplish in the time allowed them? Why were they "in haste"?
No wonder mankind lack repose if angels are in a hurry. The Kingdom
of the Blest is supposed to be the land of rest. Manifestly these
morning angels had to be back by a stipulated time, and like a
tax-collector could make no second call. Apparently Longfellow's
angels are like Mr. Stead's favourite spirit Julia. They are
harassed with appointments, commissions, and cares. It is of no use
being a spirit if you cannot move about with regal leisureliness, such as
was displayed by the first Shah of Persia who visited us. The writer
has seen nothing like it in any European monarch. While in the lines
now in question supernatural misgivings of angelic perturbation are
awakened. But as an example of poetry, irrespective of its meaning
and suggestions, every reader will covet a new edition of the American
poet, and no library could be complete without a copy upon its shelves.
I had visited the poet at his Cambridge home, and was proud
of the opportunity of adding ever so small an addition to the pyramid of
regard raised to his memory.
The editor looked dubious on reading this review, and said
the higher criticism might be entertaining in theology, but the higher
criticism of poetry, which dealt with its meaning, was a different thing
and might not be well taken. In vain I suggested that a poet ought
to mean something, as Byron did, whose fascination is still real, and
there was pathos and beauty, tragedy, tenderness and courtesy enough in
the world to employ more poets than we have on hand. I received no
more commissions in the way of criticisms, and had to think of some other
Some of the happiest evenings of younger days were spent in
the rooms of university students. It was pleasant to be near persons
who dwelt in the kingdom of knowledge, who could wander at will on the
mountain tops of science and literature, and have glimpses of unknown
lands of light which I might never see. Who has seen London under
the reign of the sun, after a sullen, fitful season, knows how wondrous is
the transformation. Like the sheen of the gods the glittering rays
descend, dispelling and absorbing the sombre clouds. A radiance
rests on turret and roof. Then hidden creatures that crawl or fly
come forth and put on golden tints. The cheerless poor emerge from
their fireless chambers with the grateful emotions of sun worshippers.
How like is all this to the change which comes over the realm
of ignorance! Light does not change vegetation more than the light
of knowledge changes the realm of the mind. The thirsty crevices of
thought drink in, as it were, the refreshing beams. Once conscious
of the liberty and power which comes of knowing—ignorance itself becomes
eager, impatient—covetous of information. Faculties unsuspected
disclose themselves. Qualities undreamed-of appear. So it came
to be my choice to enter the field of instruction. It seemed to me a
great thing to endow any, however few, in any way, however humble, with
the cheeriness and strength of ideas. True, I began to teach what I
did not know—or knew but partially—yet not without personal advantage,
since no one knows anything well until he has tried to teach it to
another. The dullest pupil will make his master sensible of defects
in his own explanation. Formerly, the dulness of a learner was
supposed to discover the necessity of a cane, whereas all it proved was
incapacity or unwillingness to take trouble—on the part of the teacher.
The result was that I wrote several elementary books of instruction.
All owed their existence, or whatever success attended them, to the
experience of the class-room.
All things have an end, as many observant people know, and
before long I turned my attention to journalism. I had read
somewhere a saying of Aristotle—"Now I mean to speak conformably to the
truth." That seems every man's duty—if he speaks at all.
Anyhow, Aristotle's words appeared to constitute a good rule for a
journalist. I had never heard or never heeded the injunction of
"Let him who speaks beware
Of whom, of what, and when, and where."
The Aristotelian rule I had adopted soon brought me into
difficulties, probably from want of skill in applying it. It was in
propagandist journalism that I had ventured, which I mention for the
purpose of saying that it is not, as many suppose, a profitable
profession. It is excellent discipline, but it is not thought much
of by your banker. Its securities are never saleable on the Stock
Exchange. Nevertheless, the Press has its undying attraction.
It is the fame-maker. Without it noble words, as well as noble
deeds, would die. Day by day there descend from the Press ideas in
fertilising showers, falling on the parched and arid plains of life, which
in due season become verdant and variegated. Difficulties try men's
souls, but true ideas expand them. And they have done so.
Literature is a much brighter thing than it was when I first began to
meddle or "muddle" in it, as Lord Salisbury would say. Nothing was
thought classical then that was not dull. No definition of
importance was found to be utterly unintelligible until a University man
had explained it. All is different now—let us hope.
Instances of the progress of literary opinion are perhaps
more instructive and better worth remembering. In 1850, when George
Henry Lewes and Thornton Hunt included my name in their published list of
contributors to the Leader, it cost the proprietors, I had reason
to know, £2,000. It set the Rev. Dr. Jelf, of King's College, on
fire, and caused an orthodox spasm of a serious kind in Charles Kingsley
and Professor Maurice, as witness their letters of that day.
One journal projected by me in 1850 is still issued—Public
Opinion. Mr. W. H. Ashurst asked me to devise a paper I thought
the most needed. As Peel had said, "England was governed by
opinion," I suggested that this opinion should be collected. I wrote
the prospectus of the new journal, specifying that each article quoted
should be prefixed by a few words, within brackets, setting forth what
principles, party, or interest it represented—whether English or foreign.
Mr. Ashurst put the prospectus into the hands of Robert Buchanan, father
of the late Robert Buchanan, and the earlier issues followed the plan I
had defined. The object was to collect intelligent and responsible
In 1866 the Contemporary Review announced that it
would "represent the best minds of the time on all contemporary questions,
free from narrowness, bigotry, and sectarianism." It professed "to
represent those who are not afraid of modern thought, in its varied
aspects and demands, and scorn to defend their faith by mere reticence, or
by the artifices commonly acquiesced in." This manifesto of 1866 far
surpassed in liberality any profession then known in the evangelical
world. It was at the time a bold pronouncement. When it is
considered that Samuel Morley was the most influential of the supporters
of the Contemporary, it shows that intellectual Nonconformity was
abreast of the age—as Nonconformity never was before.
In 1877 I was taken by Thomas Woolner, the sculptor, to dine
at Mr. Alfred Tennyson's (Lord Tennyson later). I believe my
invitation was owing to Mrs. Tennyson's desire to make inquiries of me
concerning the advantages of Co-operation in rural districts, in which,
like the Countess of Warwick, she was interested. The Poet Laureate
gave me a glass of sack, the royal beverage of poets, of more exquisite
flavour than I had tasted before. I did not wonder that it was
conducive to noble verse—where the faculty of it was present.
Mr. Knowles, now Sir James, founder of the Nineteenth Century and After,
was of the party, and the new review—then projected—being mentioned, it
came to pass that my name was put down among possible contributors. The
Nineteenth Century proposed to go further, and include a still wider
range of subjects, with free discussion on personal responsibility. Its
prospectus said "it would go on lines absolutely impartial and unsectarian."
The Prefatory Poem, written by Tennyson twenty-seven years ago, which may
not be in the memory of many now, was this:—
"Those that of late had fleeted far and fast,
To touch all shores, now leaving to the skill
Of others their old craft, seaworthy still,
Have charter'd this; where, mindful of the past,
Our true co-mates regather round the mast;
Of diverse tongues, but with a common will,
Here in this roaming moor of daffodil
And crocus, to put forth and brave the blast.
For some, descending from the sacred peak
Of hoar, high-templed Faith, have leagued again
Their lot with ours to rove the world about,
And some are wilder comrades, sworn to seek
If any golden harbour be for men
In seas of Death and sunless gulfs of Doubt."
Tennyson, with all his genius, never quite emerged from the theologic
caves of the conventicle. The sea of pure reason he took to be "the sea of
Death." Doubt was a "sunless gulf." He did not know that "Doubt" is a
translucent valley, where the light of Truth first reveals the deformities
of error—hidden by theological mists. The line containing the words "wilder comrades" was understood to include me. Out of the "One Hundred
Contributors," whose names were published in the Athenæum
(February 10, 1877), there were only six:—Professor Huxley, Professor
Tyndall, Professor Clifford, George Henry Lewes, myself, and
possibly Frederic Harrison, to whom the phrase could apply. If the
remaining ninety-four had any insurgency of opinion in them, it was not
then apparent to the public, who are prone to prefer a vacuum to an
insurgent idea. New ideas of moment have always been on hand in the
Nineteenth if not of the "wilder" kind.
After issuing fifty volumes of the Nineteenth Century Review, the
editor published a list of all his contributors, with the titles of the
articles written by them, introduced by these brief but memorable words:—
"More than a quarter of a century's experience has sufficiently tested the
practical efficacy of the principle upon which the Nineteenth Century was
founded, of free public discussion by writers invariably signing their
"The success which has attended and continues to attend the faithful
adherence to this principle, proves that it is not only right but
acceptable, and warrants the hope that it may extend its influence over
periodical literature, until unsigned contributions become quite
"No man can make an anonymous speech with his tongue, and no brave man
should desire to make one with his pen, but, having the courage of his
opinions, should be ready to face personally all
the consequences of all his utterances. Anonymous letters are everywhere
justly discredited in private life, and the tone of public life would be
raised in proportion to the disappearance of their equivalent—anonymous
articles—from public controversy."
Than the foregoing, I know of no more admirable argument against anonymity
in literature. There is nothing more unfair in controversy than permiting
writers, wearing a mask, to attack or make replies to those who give their
names—being thereby enabled to be accusative or imputative without
responsibility. There is, of course another side to this question. Persons
of superior and relevant information, unwilling to appear personally, are
thereby excluded from a hearing—which is so far a public loss.
But this evil is small compared with the vividness and care which would be
exercised if every writer felt that his reputation went with the work
which bore his name. Besides, how much slovenly thinking, which is
slovenly expressed—vexing the public ear and depraving the taste and
understanding of the reader—would never appear if the writer had to
append his signature to his production? Of course, there is good writing
done anonymously, but power and originality, if present, are never
rewarded, by fame, and no one knows who to thank for the light and
pleasure nameless writers have given. The example of the Nineteenth
Century and After is a public advantage.
GEORGE ELIOT AND GEORGE HENRY LEWES
George Henry Lewes
MORE than acquaintanceship, I had affectionate
regard for George Henry Lewes and George Eliot. Lewes included me in the
public list of writers and contributors to the Leader—the first
recognition of the kind I received, and being accorded when I had only an
outcast name, both in law and literature, I have never ceased to prize it.
George Eliot's friendship, on other grounds I have had reason to value,
and when I found a vacant place at the head of their graves which lie side
by side, I bought it, that my ashes should repose there, should I die in
On occasions which arose, I had vindicated both, as I knew well the
personal circumstances of their lives. When in America I found statements
made concerning them which no editor of honour should have published
without knowledge of the facts upon which they purported to be founded,
nor should he have given publicity to dishonouring statements without the
signature of a known and responsible person. On the first opportunity I
spoke with Lewes's eldest son, and asked authority to contradict them. He
thought the calumnies beneath contempt, that they sprang up in theological
soil and that they would wither of themselves, if not fertilised by
disturbance. I know of no instance of purity and generosity greater than
that displayed by George Eliot in her relation with Mr. Lewes. Edgar Allan
Poe was subject to graver defamation, widely believed for years, which was
afterwards shown to be entirely devoid of truth. George Eliot's personal
reputation will hereafter be seen to be just and luminous.
George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans)
For myself, I never could see what conventional opinion had to do with a
personal union founded in affection, by which nobody was wronged, nobody
distressed, and in which protection was accorded and generous provision
made for the present and future interest of every one concerned. Conventional opinion, not even in its ethical aspects, could establish
higher relations than existed in their case. There are thousands of
marriages tolerated conventionally and ecclesiastically approved, in every
way less estimable and less honourable than the distinguished union, upon
which society without justification affected to frown.
Interest in social and political liberty was an abiding feature in George
Eliot's mind. When Garibaldi was at the Crystal Palace, she asked me to
sit by her and elucidate incidents which arose.
On the publication of my first volume of the History of
Co-operation, I received the following letter from Mr. Lewes:—
THE ELMS, RICKMANSWORTH,
"Aug. 15, 1875,
"MY DEAR HOLYOAKE,—Mrs. Lewes wishes me to thank you for sending her
your book, which she is reading aloud to me every evening, much to our
pleasure and profit. The light firm touch and quiet epigram would make the
dullest subject readable; and this subject is not dull. We only regret
that you did not enter more fully into working details. Perhaps they will
come in the next volume.
"Ever yours truly,
"G. H. LEWES."
The second volume of the work mentioned supplied to her the details she
In 1877 I visited New Lanark and saw the stately rooms built by Robert
Owen, of which I sent an account to the Times. The most complete
appliances of instruction known in Europe down to 1820 are all there, as
in Mr. Owen's days. A description of them may be read in the second volume
of the "History of Co-operation" referred to. When George Eliot saw the
letter she said, "the thought of the Ruins of Education there described
filled her with sadness." I made an offer to buy the neglected and
decaying relics, which was declined. I wrote to Lord Playfair, whose
influence might procure the purchase. I endeavoured to induce the South
Kensington Museum authorities to secure them for the benefit of
educationists, but they had no funds to use for that purpose.
Some women, not distinguished for personal beauty when young, become
handsome and queenly later in life. This was so with Harriet Martineau. George Eliot did not come up to Herbert Spencer's conception of personal
charm. One day when she was living at Godstone, she drove to the station
to meet Mr. Lewes. He and I were travelling together at the time, and he
caused the train to be delayed a few minutes that I might go down into the
valley to meet his wife. I had not seen George Eliot for some years, and
was astonished at the stately grace she had acquired.
One who knew how to state a principle describes the characteristic
conviction of George Eliot, from which she never departed, and which had
abiding interest for me.
"She held as a solemn conviction—the result of a lifetime of
observation—that in proportion as the thoughts of men and women are
removed from the earth on which they live, are diverted from their own
mutual relations and responsibilities, of which they alone know anything,
to an invisible world, which can alone be apprehended by belief, they are
led to neglect their duty to each other, to squander their strength in
vain speculations, which can result in no profit to themselves or their
fellow-creatures, which diminish their capacity for strenuous and worthy
action during a span of life, brief, indeed, but whose consequences will
extend to remote posterity." 
WHEN BIRMINGHAM WAS A TOWN
WHEN Birmingham was a town it had a national
reputation for Liberalism. At present I prefer to call myself a "townsman" rather than a "citizen." The old pride of owning to being a Birmingham
man is merged into the admission of being born in Warwickshire. Some of
the political scenes in its town days may be instructive to its
The famous Birmingham Political Union of 1832 was "hung up like a clean
gun" on G. F. Muntz's suggestion and never taken down. Many years later a
new Union was projected. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was in the chair. I was on
the platform, and the only person present who was a member of the former
Union. I had no opportunity of speaking—nor indeed had anybody, save
movers and seconders of motions. There was nothing radical about the
proceedings. Nobody's opinion was asked. No opportunity of discussion was
given. The meeting was a mere instrument for registering the business of
the chair. The impression that afternoon made upon me has never left me. Nothing afterwards surprised me in the performances of the "quick-change
artiste" of the Parliamentary music-hall.
Mr. John Morley wrote an article in the Fortnightly on Mr. Chamberlain,
which first gave him a position before the public. Not even in Birmingham
could any one see adequate justification for it. But Mr. Morley proved
right, and had discerned a capacity which had not then unfolded itself.
About that time Mr. Chamberlain made some remark on Mr. Disraeli in the
Birmingham Town Council, which did not amount to much. Mr. Disraeli did
the municipal speaker the honour to call him to account. Had any one in
like case called Mr. Disraeli to account he would have said in his airy
and evasive way: "Every public speaker is liable to the misconstruction
of unheeding and ill-hearing reporters, and he could not be expected to
answer for them." Mr. Chamberlain gave no sign of any such adroitness
which was ready to his hand, but wrote what read like an abject apology. He did not dare to say to Mr. Disraeli "What I have said I have said."
Mr. Jesse Collings was one of the minor merchants of Birmingham. He came
originally from Exeter, and was held in great respect for his earnest
Liberalism, and for promoting the education of the people—though he was
himself a sectarian pure and simple, with little, if any, secularity in
him. When he came to be Mayor, the Tories of Birmingham—who had not then
and never had any man of mark or genius among them—were capable of
outrage. It was the only art they knew. When Mr. Collings presided one day
at a public meeting in the town hall, they drew an ass's head on a large
sheet of pasteboard, and hung it over the clock in front of the chair
labelled—the "Portrait of the Mayor." For two hours they made all
business impossible by shouting "Mr. Mayor, look at your portrait." At
length the Mayor took courage and ordered the Chief Constable—Major
Bond—to remove the picture placard and the ringleader of the disturbance. This was construed as an insult, which Mr. Kynersley, the principal Tory
magistrate, supported. I was one who urged Mr. Collings to apply to the
bench for a case, that it might be determined in the higher courts whether
a mayor had legal power to preserve order at a public meeting. The case
was refused by Mr. Kynersley. This was the treatment of the Right
Honourable Jesse Collings for being a Liberal. Is there a stranger sight
in England than seeing this Liberal mayor dressed in Tory livery, fetching
and carrying in Parliament for the intolerant party which treated him with
such ostentatious indignity? What must be his sense of humiliation under
his new convictions? Equally tragic and unforeseen must be the
humiliation of the Tory party in parliament who used to boast of
their pride, their dignity, and self-respect at having to accept as a
leader the great "caucus-monger," as they called Mr. Chamberlain, who was
the object of their epithets and hatred during so many sessions. The
tragedy of political convictions can no further go.
Far be it from me to deny that Mr. Collings and Mr. Chamberlain have not
honest reasons for their strange professions, though I do not understand
them. Like gravitation, I admit the fact, though its cause is inscrutable. In politics motives are as though they were not. They cannot be taken into
account. If alleged, they admit of no proof. Resentment rages among the
partisans of the accused and the tendency of their principles, which it is
alone instructive to discuss, is lost sight of. It is common for partisans
to disparage those who have left their ranks—forgetting that conviction
depends upon evidence. Those who leave a party may be as honest as those
who remain. Whoever has rendered aid to liberty and gone over to the other
side should be honoured for what he has done. He who has once stood upon
the side of humanity deserves more respectful treatment than he who never
took the part of the right. Mr. Collings and Mr. Chamberlain rendered
important service to the cause of public progress, and their abandonment
of it was a loss. For the rest, the career of Joseph Chamberlain, like
that of Joseph Cowen, has its explanation in the passion for paramountcy.
THE TENTH OF APRIL, 1848—ITS INCREDIBILITIES
IT is not easy to determine which of many historic
incidents of interest should take precedence. The 10th of April, known as
the day of Chartist Terror—still spoken of in hysterical accents—will
do, as it shows the wild way with which sober, staid men can write
history. I was out that day with the Chartists, and well know how
different the facts were from what is believed to be the peril of the
metropolis on that day. I have long regarded it as one of the "bygones"
having instruction in them.
The French have their 9th Thermidor (July 27, 1794), when the
Reign of Terror ended, and their 18th Brumaire (November 9, 1799), when
the Napoleonic Terror began, and the English have their 10th of April,
1848, when a million special constables were out staff in hand, to prevent
a National Petition of the people being presented to the House of Commons. Yet no conspiracy existed—nor even had the police fabricated a plot (as
they often did in those days)—no disorder had been threatened, not a man
was armed; the only imaginable enemy was the Chartist Convention of less
than two hundred persons. The most distinguished of the Special
Constables was Louis Napoleon, who four years later became known as the
assassin of French liberty, and whose career is one of the infamies of
The 10th of April, 1848, has for more than half a century held a place in
public memory. The extraordinary hallucination concerning it has become
historic, and passes as
authentic. Canon Charles Kingsley was the chief illusionist in this
matter. He wrote: "On the 10th of April, the Government had to fill
London with troops, and put the Duke of
Wellington in command, who barricaded the bridges and Downing Street, and
other public buildings."  Nobody "had" to do what Kingsley relates. Nine years had
elapsed since any one had taken the field against the Government, and that
was in a Welsh town 147 miles away. John Frost and his tiny band of
followers were the
insurgents. All were put down in twenty minutes
by a few soldiers. Frost came to London in 1839 to consult James Watson,
Henry Hetherington, Richard Moore, William Lovett, and other responsible
Chartists, whom he
most trusted. They besought Frost to abandon his idea of an attack upon
Newport, as no one would support him. There were no arms in London on
April, 1848, no
persons were drilled, no war organisation existed, and no intention of
rising anywhere. The Government knew it, for they had spies everywhere. They knew it as well or better in 1848
than in 1839. For nine years John Frost had then been in penal servitude,
and no one had attempted to imitate him. Nor had he any followers in
London in 1848. At his trial
no noblemen, no aristocratic ladies, crowded the court to cheer him by
their sympathy, or mitigate his sentence by their influence—as they did
when Dr. Jameson and others
were on trial for their wanton and murderous raid on the Government of
South Africa. Such is the difference between the insurgency of poverty
seeking redress, and the
insurgency of wealthy insolence seeking its further aggrandisement. There
was absolutely nothing in the field against the Duke of Wellington in
London but a waggon, on
which a monster petition was piled.
Politically speaking, London has seen no tamer day than the 10th of April,
1848. There was less ground for alarm than when a Lord Mayor's procession
passes through the
city. The procession of actual Chartists, able to leave their work to join
it, could never have amounted to four thousand. There was not a single
weapon among them, nor any
intention of using it had they possessed it. There was only one weapon
known to be in London, in the hands of the Chartists, and that was a
Colonel Macerone's spear,
fabricated in 1830, to
assist in carrying the first Reform Bill. That was hidden up a chimney in
3, Queen's Head Passage, Paternoster Row. It came into my possession, and
I have often
shown it to members of the Government to convince them what risks Society
ran in Wellington's days—and are exposed to still.
The Chartists had held a Convention in London the week before the 10th ,
and were unable to obtain any place of meeting except a small social
institution in John Street,
Tottenham Court Road, which could not seat 150 persons at the Convention
table. The hall was lent to them by the most pacific body of politicians
in London—the followers of
Robert Owen. Yet Mr. Thomas Hughes adopted and authenticated Kingsley's
incredible belief, that the country was in danger of these earnest but
entirely impotent Chartist
petitioners; and Mr. Hughes actually quotes believingly in his
introduction to "Alton Locke" a statement that: "The Duke of Wellington
declared in the House of Lords that
no great society had ever suffered as London had during the proceeding,
while the Home Secretary telegraphed to all the chief magistrates of the
kingdom the joyful news
that the peace had been kept in London." 
Never did the craziest despotic Government in Europe engage in such a
political imposture. It was pitiable that the Duke of Wellington should
have had no more self-respect
than to compromise his great career by fortifying London against an imaginary
enemy. The Government had plentiful information and must have known the
truth—the contrary of
what they alleged.
It may be said in extenuation of these affected Ministerial terrors, that
the Parisian revolution of that year had communicated unrest to the people
of England. It had inspired
them with pleasure, but not with insurgency, for which they were as
uninclined as they were unprepared, and none knew this better than the
Duke of Wellington. The Parisian
population had seen military service. They understood the use of arms, had
them, and knew how to settle their differences at the barricade. London
had never seen a
barricade. The people were all unused to arms, and were without the means
or the knowledge to storm a police station. Yet, according to Canon
Kingsley, Wellington told
the Government "that no capital had gone through such days as England had
on the 10th of April," when no man was struck—no man was killed—no riot
anywhere. It would seem that ignorance, rashness, wildness, and
irresponsible language are by no means peculiar to the working classes. We
must cease to wonder,
at the Duke of Wellington when an accredited publicist like Judge Thomas
Hughes, who was educated at Rugby, could tell the world himself that "It
is only by an effort that
one can realise the strain to which the nation was subjected."
On that awful day, nobody was reported as found looking into a shop window
with a predatory glare in his eyes, and no account came up from the
provinces that a single
Chartist was observed to peep over a hedge in a menacing manner.
I was out on the 10th of April. On Sunday, the night before, I was the
lecturer at John Street. The audience was composed largely of delegates to
Convention that so perturbed the "Iron Duke."
My advice to them, published at the time, was to "Beware of the police,"
and not to strike again if they were struck. Many of them, I knew, were
willing to die for their country,
if that would save it. They would serve it much better by dying without
resistance, than dying with it. If any were killed whilst walking in the
procession their comrades should
move quietly on. Nothing would tell more strongly on public opinion than
such heroic observance of order. Hetherington, one of the bravest who
walked in the ranks, told me
he would do it. The Government, by their ostentatious provocation, in
garrisoning the Bank with soldiers, crowding Somerset House with them,
parading troops on Clerkenwell
Green, had brought, it is computed, more than two millions of persons into
the streets. The conclusion to which the Chartist leaders came, was that
the Government wanted
to create a conflict, shoot down a number of the people, and then proclaim
to Europe that
they had "saved Society," by murder, as one of their chief special
constables did soon after in Paris.
As I had been personally associated with all the chief Chartists, in
prison and out, from the beginning of the movement, I can speak with some
knowledge of them on that
On the morning of the 10th of April, Mr. C. D. Collet, the well-informed
Secretary of the People's Charter Union, myself, Richard Moore, and
others, organised a band of forty
persons, who were to distribute themselves over London, note-book and
pencil in hand, in the character of reporters. The police took kindly to
us, and gave us good positions
of advantage, where we could see everything that took place thereabouts,
and even protected us from being incommoded. We were there to watch the
police, not the
people, as the disorder, if there were any, would come from them. My
station was in Bridge Street, Blackfriars, where a row of constables was
drawn up. I found a coarse,
plethoric alderman, going from man to man, saying only three words: "Strike hard to-day."
The people behaved admirably. Not a blow was struck which gave a
colourable ground for outrage on the part of the police. In justice to the
police, it ought to be
said, neither did they incite disorder.
At night the Home Secretary spent the money of the State, in telegraphing
to all the mayors in
the land "the day had passed off quietly," thus creating a false terror
everywhere that London had been in danger—danger of the Government's
Contemporary artist's impression of a Chartist riot
The Bull Ring Riots in Birmingham in 1839, when I was resident there, were
created entirely by the magistrates, who introduced a hundred London
policemen into the town,
which led to the loss of life and property.
I and others on the deputation to Mr. Walpole told him at the time, when
the railings were broken down in Hyde Park, that if he made a show of
soldiers and policemen,
people were sure to be killed. At the peril of his own reputation, he kept
them out of sight, and no disorder took place, though violent members of
the Government tried to
destroy Mr. Walpole for his wise and noble forbearance. Dean Stubbs, in
his interesting book on Charles Kingsley, says (p. 97): "On the 10th of
April, 1848, a revolution
was threatened in England. One hundred thousand armed men were to meet on
Kennington Common and thence to march on Westminster, and there to compel,
physical force, if necessary, the acceptance of the People's Charter by
the Houses of Parliament." Could such a lunatical statement be written by
any one, and his friends
not procure a magistrate's order for his removal to the nearest asylum?
the "hundred thousand " to get the arms into London—if they had them. Whence were they
to procure them? Where could they store them, seeing that at that time
there was not a single place of Chartist meeting that was not known to be
in debt, unless its rent
was paid by the charity of some well-to-do sympathiser? What were muskets
or pikes to do against the stone walls of the Houses of Parliament or the
were cannon to be drawn from the centre of London to Kennington Common
with ample service of powder and shot? Marvellous is the history which
Churchmen can write!
Chartist demonstration, Kennington Common, 10th April
(from a daguerreotype)
The utterly groundless and incredible representations of the "10th
April," which Charles Kingsley and Thomas Hughes published, as we have
seen, were to my amazement
resuscitated as late as 1902 for the historic instruction of the students
of the Working Men's College in Great Ormond Street, London, by Mr. R. P.
Lichfield, vice-principal of
the college, who for forty-seven years has rendered it important service,
for which all friends of education for workmen are grateful. Yet in his
address to the students (October 1, 1902), he tells them that in 1848 "the wave of democracy which swept
over Europe gave fresh impetus to the
Chartist agitation. On the memorable 10th of April it looked as if we were
to have a revolutionary outbreak on the Parisian pattern. This we were
saved from, partly by an
army of volunteers, special constables, partly by the Duke of Wellington's
discreet placing of his troops. . . . The attempt to overawe Parliament by
a 'physical force' demonstration was a fiasco." The world knows a good deal of historians who draw upon their imagination for their facts, but here is
a responsible teacher, drawing upon his terrors of fifty years ago, for
statements which nobody believes now or believed then, who knew the facts.
The Duke of Wellington's
great name in war imposed upon amateur politicians. The Duke—contrary to
his reputation for military veracity—readily lent himself to the
Government of that day, that they
might figure before the country as the deliverers of England, from the
nation-shaking assault of a miscellaneous crowd of penniless and unarmed
combatants, who had
neither cannon nor commissariat. Everybody was aware that the knowledge of
the Iron Duke, outside war, was very limited, and his political credulity
At the end of the Peninsular War he wrote to the Government of that day,
informing them "the bankers of Paris were furnishing large sums to
Revolutionists in England."
Only old residents in Bedlam would believe that. There were no leaders of
Revolutionists in England, to whom the money could be assigned or
consigned, and bankers were
the last persons in the world to subscribe money for a wild, speculative,
and uncertain enterprise. No spy of Pitt, or Sidmouth, would have sent
home so insane a report,
from fear of instant dismissal from their sinister employment.
This is but a sample of the airy, false, and fictionary foundation on
which the Legend of the Tenth of April was built. These incidents of
historic perversion, though bygones of
half a century ago, are worth remembering.
THE CHARTISTS OF FICTION
THE Chartists have made as much noise in the world
as they knew how—yet to the generation of to-day they are ambiguous.
They have had no historian. Carlyle went to look at them in prison,
and defamed them with that bitterness and contempt he had for partisans
who lacked the sense of submission to the dictates of those superior
persons who knew what was best for everybody, of whose aspirations they
knew nothing, and for whose needs they had no sympathy. Chartism,
however, has won conspicuous treatment in fiction. What it was in
fact, is a very different thing. There is the Church Chartist by
Canon Kingsley, and the Positivist Chartist by George Eliot, drawn by two
famous artists. The pictures are hung upon the line in the great
gallery of literature. So brilliant is the work of Kingsley that it
has imposed on so accomplished a connoisseur as Dean Stubbs, who, in his
life of the fervid Rector of Eversley, has taken it for a painting from
real life. I present the Church Chartist first.
In my time I have seen much good done by Christians with a
view to extend their faith. Some few, like Samuel Morley, who excelled all
lay Dissenters I have known in the manly sense of the dignity and
independence of Nonconformity, would do generous things from the
humaneness of their own minds alone. Some Quakers and Unitarians have had
this quality. Others, Churchmen, Roman Catholics, and orthodox Christians,
I have known to mitigate privation for the "Lord's sake," not for
humanity's sake. This was to some extent the case of the Rev. Frederick
Denison Maurice, Canon Kingsley, and their noble colleagues, Edward Vansittart Neale, Judge Thomas Hughes, and J. M. Ludlow. They became
Christian Socialists not so much because they cared for Socialism, as
Maurice owned his "object was not to Socialise society, but to
Christianise Socialism." Startled by the dislike and even resentment
against Christianity expressed by men of poverty and intelligence at being
asked to adopt a belief which brought them no relief, Maurice, Kingsley,
and their associates concluded that privation was the cause of alienation
from the Church. In like manner Dissenters thought that it was the bad
condition of industrial life which kept working people from chapel. None
realised that alienation from Christianity had its seat in the
understanding—in intellectual dissatisfaction with the tenets of
Theology. The absentees from church and chapel alleged that no relief came
of belief, and never had since the days when manna fell in the Jewish
wilderness, and loaves and fishes were miraculously plentiful on the hills
of Galilee. There was no sense or profit in adopting a faith which had
been unproductive for nearly 2,000 years. It had taken the slave, the
serf, and the hired worker a long time to see this. But at last experience
had told upon the thoughtful. But the theologians neither in the dominant,
nor dominated camps perceived it.
Very generous is Kingsley's sympathy, in "Alton Locke," with
the lot of working people, but he believed that when the rebellious
shoemaker fully realises that good priests would mitigate the lot of those
who labour in workshops or in fields and mines, he will become
reconciled to the Thirty-nine Articles. Alton Locke is a Church
Chartist—not one of the Chartists of real life whom I knew, who were
current in Kingsley's days, who signed the famous document which Place
drew and Roebuck revised. They had principles. They did not seek paternal
government of friendly Churchmen, nor of Positivists, nor that nobly
organised kind of passive competence which Mr. Ruskin meditated for the
people. The real Chartists—like the Co-operators—sought self-government
for the people by the people. The alienation of the people from church and
chapel was not founded on lack of spiritual patronage, or thirst for it,
but from intellectual dissatisfaction with theological tenets.
Christians, from the Vatican to the Primitive Methodist
conventicle, are all so persuaded of the infallibility of their
interpretation of the Scriptures, and are so convinced of the perfect
sufficiency of their tenets for the needs of all the world, that they
regard difference of opinion as springing from wilful misunderstanding, or
from the "evil heart at enmity with God"—a mad doctrine beneath the
notice of the average lunatic. Natural variety of intellect, the infinite
hosts of personal views, and the infinitude of individual
experience—which silently create new convictions—are not taken into
account, and conscientious dissent seems to the antediluvian theologian an
impossibility. Even the most liberal of eminent Unitarians in England, W.
J. Fox, regarded, what we now know as the Agnostic—hesitation to declare
as true that which the declarer does not know to be so—as a species of
That Kingsley lived in a refracting medium, in which the
straightest facts appeared bent when placed in it, was evident when he
wrote: "Heaven defend us from the Manchester School, for of all narrow,
conceited, hypocritical, and atheistic schemes of the universe the Cobden
and Bright one is exactly the worst." There was no reason why Kingsley
should be a Chartist, since he had all he wanted secured, and had contempt
in his heart for Chartist tenets. He wrote: "The Bible gives the dawn of
the glorious future, such as no universal suffrage, free trade, communism,
organisation of labour, or any other Morrison pill measure can give." He
exulted in the existence of the forces which made against the people. He
exclaimed: "As long as the Throne, the House of Lords, and the Press are
what I thank God they are!" he was grateful. The state of things which
existed, it was the object of Chartism to change.
These rampant ideas of Kingsley were far from being Chartist
sentiments. At a meeting in Castle Street, London, the Rev. Charles
Kingsley and Mr. Thomas Hughes were present, working men comprising the
audience, an old grey-headed Chartist, of a Republican way of thinking,
whose experience of monarchy was limited to his share of taxation for its
support, hissed at the introduction of the Queen's name. Mr. Hughes, then
a young athlete, turned upon the old Six Points politician and said: "Any one who hissed at the Queen's name would have to reckon with him"—meaning that he would knock him down, or put him out of the meeting. If,
at a Chartist meeting, one athletic leader had similarly threatened an old
grey-headed Royalist who hissed some Republican name, it would have been
described, in all respectable papers, as "a ruffianly proceeding." The
Hughes incident showed Christian Socialist sympathy with Chartism was not
of an enthusiastic character. At other times Mr. Hughes had nobler moods,
but he, like Kingsley, had few qualifications for delineating Chartists.
Judge Hughes, like Canon Kingsley and his Christian Socialist
colleagues, saw everything in the light of Theology. He saw nothing else
by itself. He relates "the appearance of a little grey, shrivelled man at
the grave of Mr. Maurice at the cemetery at Hampstead, one of the staff of
the leading Chartist newspaper," as a proof of his conversion. This was
gratitude, not conversion. Had I not been at the Bolton Co-operative
Congress at the time, I should have been at the same grave. When the news
came of Maurice's death, it did not occur to his friend, Mr. Neale, that
the Congress would pass a resolution in honour of Maurice. I suggested it
to him, and he said to me, "You had better draw up the resolution," which
I did, and moved it. It was unanimously and gratefully passed. Though I
was foremost to express the respect of working men, and the sense of
obligation they were under, for Maurice's great services to Co-operation,
and his establishment of the Working Men's College, it did not imply that
I had come to accept the Thirty-nine Articles. Relevant appreciation, real
gratitude, and admiration, do not imply coincidence of opinion on other
and alien questions.
How little the creator of Alton Locke was a Chartist, or a
sympathiser with Chartism, was seen when he described "Mr. Julian Harney
and Feargus O'Connor and the rest of the smoke of the pit." Kingsley said
"his only quarrel with the Charter was that it did not go far enough." All
his meaning was that it should have comprised social, instead of political
reform, which was what all who were opposed to political freedom said. This only meant that he wanted Chartists to take up social, and drop
political reform. This appears in the passage in which he said, "The
Charter disappointed me bitterly when I read it. It seemed a harmless cry
enough, but a poor, bald, constitution-mongering cry as ever I heard. The
French cry of organisation of labour is worth a thousand of it."  Organisation of labour is a great thing, but it is not political equality
or liberty. Kingsley's Chartist had no political soul.
There is noble sympathy with labour, and there are passages
which should always be read with honour in "Alton Locke." But the book is
written in derision of Chartism and Liberal politics. Alton Locke himself
was like his creator. Kingsley's acts were the acts of a friend, his
arguments the arguments of an enemy; and Alton Locke, despite the noble
personal qualities with which he is endowed, was a confused political
traitor, who bartered the Kingdom of Man for the Kingdom of Heaven, when
he might have stood by both.
So much for the Church Chartist. Now turn to the positivist
Chartist, and see whether there be any backbone of political emancipation
in him, or whether his vertebra is of jelly, like Alton Locke's. To the
Positivist Chartist is given the stronger name of "Radical."
One of the remarkable volumes George Eliot gave to the world
bears the name of "Felix Holt, the Radical." But when she comes to
delineate the Radical, he turns out to be a Positivist—of good quality of
his kind, but still not a Radical.
As Canon Kingsley drew the Church Chartist, so George Eliot
drew the Positivist Radical. Neither drew the selected hero as he was, but
as each thought he ought to be.
A Radical is one who goes to the root of things. He deals
with evils having a political origin, which he intends to remove by
political means. Radicals were far older than the Chartists. Radicalism
was a force in reform before Chartism began. The Radical more or less
evolves his creed by observation of the condition of things surrounding
him; the Chartist had his creed ready made for him. The Chartist may be
said to begin with political effects, the Radical with political causes. Anyhow, the Radical was always supposed to know what he was, and why he
was what he was. Felix Holt was not built that way. George Eliot had
greater power of penetrating into character than Kingsley, but she made
the same mistake in Felix Holt that Kingsley made in Alton Locke. Felix
Holt is a revolutionist from indignation. His social insurgency is based
on resentment at injustice. Very noble is that form of dissatisfaction,
but political independence is not his inspiration. Freedom, equality of
public rights, are not in his mind. His disquiet is not owing to the
political inability of his fellows to control their own fortunes. Content
comes to Felix when the compassion of others ameliorates or extinguishes
the social evils from which his fellows suffer. He is the Chartist of
Positivism without a throb of indignation at political subjection. That
may be Positivism, but it is not Radicalism.
Felix Holt discloses his character in his remark that "the
Radical question was how to give every man a man's share in life. But I
think that is to expect voting to do more towards it than I do."
"A man's share in life" was the Babœuf doctrine of
Communism, which English Radicals never had. Holt's depreciation of the
power of voting was the argument of the benevolent but beguiling Tory. It
was part of the Carlylean contempt of a ten-thousandth part of a voice in
the "national palava." This meant distrust, not only of the suffrage, but
of Parliament itself. When both are gone, despotism becomes supreme. When
Felix Holt talked so, he had ceased to be a Radical—if he ever was one. The power of voting has changed the status and dignity of working men—not
much yet, but more will come. Hampered and incomplete as the suffrage is,
it has put the workers on the way to obtain what they want, though they
are a little puzzled which turning to take now they are on the road.
Felix Holt continues: "I want the working men to have power .
. . and I can see plainly enough that our all having power will do little
towards it at present. . . . If we have false expectations about men's
characters, we are very much like the idiot who thinks he can carry milk
in a can without a bottom. In my opinion the notions about what mere
voting will do, are very much that sort." Felix declares that all the "scheme about voting and districts and annual parliaments [all points of
the Charter] will not give working men what they want." 
Felix has much more to say in disparagement of political
aspiration which is like reading one of Lord Salisbury's speeches when he
was Lord Cranborne, but without the bitterness and contempt by which we
knew the genuine Salisbury mind. The Eliot spirit is better—the
argument more sympathetic, but the purport is the same. It means: "Leave
politics alone. You will find all the redress that is good for you
This, if true, is not Radicalism which sought to help itself,
and not rise by compassion. Radicals may have expected too much from
political reform—they may have thought political power to be an end
instead of a means whereby better public conditions can be obtained, by
which social effort could better be compassed, and its projects carried
out. It is true that social condition can be improved by men of purpose
and character under despotism, but this does not prove that despotism is
desirable, since it can make itself at will an effectual obstacle to
progress, and as a rule does so. The policy of seeking the best political
condition in which social progress can be made, is Radicalism. The policy
of contentment with things as they are, seeking social condition apart
from politics, is Socialism, as it has been understood in England. "Felix
Holt," like "Alton Locke," abounds in noble sentiments, exalts the
character of working men, vindicates their social claims with eloquence. But Felix Holt was no more a Radical than Alton Locke was a Chartist. Alton Locke is against Chartism. Felix Holt is against Radicalism. Sir
Leslie Stephen has written the most fascinating estimate of the writings
and genius of George Eliot that has been produced. He has interesting
things to say of Felix Holt, but it does not occur to him to say what he
was so well able to say, whether he was a Radical or not—or if one, of
what species. Therefore it has been necessary to place before the reader
the evidence which will enable him to decide the question for himself.
[In reference to this chapter, Mr. J. M. Ludlow wrote to me,
"That you above all men should find fault with Kingsley or
any one else for setting social above political reform, I own, amazes me. But it is not true in any sense of the words that Kingsley wanted
Chartists to 'take up social and drop political reform.' In his first
letter to Thomas Cooper (Life, vol. i. p. 182), he expressly says: 'I
would shed the last drop of my blood for the social and political
emancipation of the people.' [The italics are mine.] Again, you misquote
General Maurice's (not Mr. Maurice's) words, when you say that 'Maurice
owned that his object was not to socialise society, but to Christianise
Socialism.' General Maurice's words are: 'Beyond all doubt he dreaded
becoming the head of a party of Christian Socialists. His great wish was
to Christianise Socialism, not to Christian-socialise the universe' (Life,
vol. ii. p. 47).
"Your story about the 'old grey-headed Chartist' and T.
Hughes does not tally altogether with the statement in Mr. Maurice's Life
(vol. ii. p. 13), but as I do not recollect being present (nor, I believe,
were you) on the occasion, I cannot say which is right. I should have
thought that an 'old grey-headed Chartist' would have had more courtesy as
well as more sense than to hiss the Queen."
Mr. Ludlow's letter throws a flood of light on the mistakes
of Canon Kingsley and his colleagues. Mr. Ludlow "is amazed that I above
all men should blame any man for setting social above political reform." It is now some fifty years since Mr. Ludlow first did me the honour to
notice what I wrote or said. Yet I think he never knew me to subordinate
political to social reform. I always thought it base to teach men to
barter political freedom for social benefits. The leaders of early
co-operation in the days before Mr. Ludlow knew it—being like Robert
Owen, mostly of a Tory way of thinking—deprecated political reform, and
thought its pursuit unnecessary, as their social remedy would do
everything for the people. I always dissented from this doctrine and
resented it, as the politician, if you do not watch him, will come some
day and throw the savings of a century into a sea of imperial blood. Mr.
Ludlow quotes a letter from Kingsley to Thomas Cooper, in which he says he
"would shed the last drop of his blood for the social and political
emancipation of the people." What! for the "smoke of the pit"? as he
described the agitation for the Charter. What! "shed his blood" for a "Morrison pill measure"—shed the last drop of his blood "for a poor,
bald, constitution-mongering cry as ever he heard"? I agree that this is
extraordinary political enthusiasm. Still it was no proof that Kingsley
was a Chartist, and that was my point. General Maurice's version of his
father's saying that "his object was not to socialise society," shows that
Maurice cared no more for Socialism (which at that time meant co-operative
communism) than Kingsley cared for Chartism. Both meant well to the people
in a theological—not a political way. The old grey-headed Chartist hissed
the Queen's office, not herself. Republicans ever made that distinction.]
1. "Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life," afterwards referred to as "Sixty
2. See "Last Trial for Atheism."
3. November 30, 1878.
4. From "Life of W. H. Crosskey," p, 90.
"Sixty Years," chap. LXX. p. 72.
By my nephew, Roland Holyoake.
7. The opening of Luther's fine hymn:—
"Great Great God! What do mine eyes behold!
The end of things created"—
which long imposed on my imagination and does so still.
8. Congregationalist, April, 1881, p. 297. Bray's
9. Introduction to "Alton Locke," by Thomas Hughes.
10. Prefatory Memoir of Kingsley's Works, by Thomas Hughes, p.
11. Prefatory Memoir, by T. Hughes, p. 16.
12. See "Felix Holt, the Radical," vol i. Pp. 265-266,
Blackwood's edition of George Eliot.