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25 February, 1918.



THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT.  By the late Mark Hovell, M.A., second lieutenant the Sherwood Foresters, and Lecturer in Military History in the University of Manchester. Manchester: The University Press. Pp. xxxvii. 327.        7s. 6d. net.

    This posthumous volume has a twofold interest—that of the book and that of the author.  Mr. Hovell, who was killed in the trenches near Vermelles in August, 1916, was one of the ablest students that Manchester University has ever had on the arts side.  Born in Manchester in 1888 in very straitened circumstances, he won a scholarship at the Grammar School at ten, was obliged through poverty to leave it at twelve, later became a pupil teacher, and finally won the Hulme Scholarship at the University in 1906.  His subsequent academic career was extremely brilliant.  The half-dozen post-graduate years which remained to him before he joined the army were spent partly in conducting Workers' Education Association classes (chiefly in Lancashire towns), partly in acting as an assistant to Professor Lamprecht at Leipzig, partly as Lecturer in Military History at Manchester, and partly in original research, of which the present volume is the principal fruit.  Professor Tout, its editor, who has revised and where necessary reshaped Mr. Hovell's incomplete draft with the utmost care and with assistance from several of the few specialists on the period, has prefixed to it an admirable memoir at the author, in which enough is said, and not too much.

    The draft in question carried the story of Chartism to the summer of 1842; the declining years of the movement, including the Plug Plot of 1842, the petition and meeting on Kennington Common in 1848, and the slow ringing-down of the curtain under Ernest Jones, have been covered by Professor Tout in a supplementary chapter which, it is no derogation to Mr. Hovell to say, is one of the best in the book.  Thus rounded off, we have a complete study of Chartism, based on original research and embodying freshly formed conclusions.  It is not the least remarkable feature of Chartist phenomenon that its total disappearance, its utter extinction from the field of British politics ten years after the Kennington fiasco induced a total cessation of interest even in its history.  Only in the twentieth century—with such works as Mr. Graham Wallas's "Francis PIace," M. Dolléans's "Le Chartisme," and Herr Beer's "Geschichte des Sozialismus in England"— have anything like clear and scientific lights been thrown on it.  Mr. Hovell's is an important addition to these, informed by a kind of dry native understanding of a movement in which his own Lancashire working class had played a prominent part.  The general effect which he conveys to the reader is not very different from that left by the others.  Chartism was a movement extraordinarily rich in idealism at the bottom.  It had also the motive-force of revolt against very genuine and widespread oppressions.  Why did it so completely fail?  Because it did not produce a single great leader.  Those who were honourable were men, like Lovett, of insufficient calibre; those who had the capacity for leadership on a large scale were either unmitigated charlatans like Feargus O'Connor or doctrinaire revolutionaries like Bronterre O'Brien.  If an honest and noble idealism in the rank and file could alone save a Labour movement, the Chartists would have been saved.  But this quality, though so strongly present, never enabled them to distinguish brilliant impostors from genuine workers or pretentious theorists from reformers of constructive intelligence.  And it left them still less able to choose between policies than between leaders.

    In all this there is a great deal that may be suggestively paralleled in the many Socialist and Labour movements of the later British phase—the phase of the last forty years.  And if history is written for our instruction few histories could help the modern Labour movement more than that of Chartism, at least in showing it what to avoid.  It was in this spirit of helpfulness that Mr. Hovell addressed himself to his task, sympathising as he did intensely with the upward movement of the people, but believing steadily in fidelity to truth and fact as the only principle that can make men free.                                                                                                             R. C. K. E.


The Times
21 September, 1920.



    "There is your Charter.  Agitate till you get it."  These words, attributed to Daniel O'Connell, are celebrated in the story of the Chartist Movement.  Now, it seems, they must go the way of Cambronne's "The Guard dies ――" and Walpole's "All men have their price," to take place among the great unspoken sayings of history.  Such is the conclusion of the late Mr. Julius West, whose "History of the Chartist Movement" (Constable, 16s. net), a young man's book, witty and pungent, has just been published, with a memoir of its brilliant author, who was a Russian of Jewish extraction domiciled all his short life in England, from the pen of his friend, Mr. J. C. Squire.

    Mr. West, who had the credit of unearthing in the Hendon Annexe to the British Museum a series of MS. volumes put together by Francis Place, the famous tailor leader of the Chartists, which had not been examined by any earlier historian, traces the origin of the movement which eventually crystallized round the "People's Charter" to a pamphlet demanding drastic Parliamentary reform, written in 1776 by Major Cartwright.  Cartwright was a man of ideas, but he suffered from the delusion that there had been a Golden Age in England somewhere about the time of King Alfred.  Later in his long life he begged the Greeks to use pikes (of an Anglo-Saxon pattern) instead of bayonets in their war of independence.  Does this medieval obsession, which several of the earlier Radicals seem to have shared, account subconsciously for the ultimate choice of the term "Charter" by the party in the later years of its development?

    The Reform Act of 1832, though it was the issue of a prolonged and gallant struggle, and though it was probably all that could have been passed at that date without the overthrow of society, proved a grievous disappointment to the labouring classes.  "The organized working men," Mr. West irreverently remarks, "were in the position of a savage tribe which has captured, at considerable cost to itself, a supposed wonder-working idol, only to find that it was a completely useless golliwog."  Hence the fierce recrudescence of agitation which led to the publication on May 8, 1838, of "The People's Charter," with its Six Points of universal suffrage, annual Parliaments, vote by ballot, equal constituencies, payment of members, and abolition of the property qualification for Parliament.  Mr. West discusses in detail the parts taken by William Lovett and Francis Place in the framing of this document, rejecting, as has been said, O'Connell's traditional lion's share in the authorship.  The ultimate control of the movement, however, passed into the sole hands of the fantastic demagogue, Feargus O'Connor, who is vividly painted in these pages, with his large heart and empty head, his wealth of florid oratory and poverty of solid ideas, his vainglory and his disinterestedness--"he demanded limelight, but scorned lucre"—his recklessness, and his pusillanimity.  A born stage-manager of grandiose disasters!


    It is for once true to say that "every schoolboy knows" all about the fiasco of the great Chartist mass-demonstration and petition, on April 10, 1848.  He remembers it because the forged signatures which the House of Commons discovered in the petition—"No ,Cheese," "Pug Nose," "Punch"—light up the pages of his history book with sudden amusement.  He is led by them to take a frivolous view of the whole business.  So, for different reasons, is Mr. West.  He, too, regards the threatened march on Westminster as a ludicrous piece of mismanagement, exalted into a revolutionary legend by "crowd-suggestion" acting on the credulity of historians.  He may be right in saying that no more than 20,000 Chartists assembled on Kennington Common (The Times of the day after said the same), but he is wrong in his failure to appreciate the significance of what occurred; just here his grip on English psychology slackens.  It is easy to make fun of the Government preparations to meet the stroke—the Chelsea pensioners called out as staunch triarii to defend Vauxhall and Battersea; the junior clerks at the Foreign Office armed with new service muskets and barricading their lower windows with the great bound volumes of The Times, "which it was supposed would resist bullets"; Prince Louis Napoleon gravely patrolling a West-end "beat," remote from the action, in company with the cook of the Athenæum Club and no doubt reflecting, as he twirled his moustaches, and contemplated his toy truncheon with the neat little crown at its apex, on the insanity of English public life.  The humorous side of it all was well appreciated by a contemporary social historian—one of the greatest England has ever known—John Leech.  But he was penetrating enough to see something else, which he summed up in his sketch of the minute special constable menacing a colossal antagonist with the words: "Now mind, you know, if I kill you its nothing, but if you kill me by Jingo it's murder."  How aptly this little top-hatted figure symbolizes not only the English people's unexpected resentment of threats which has brought to the ground so many hopeful schemes of conquering or converting them, but their resolve to take their most daring Revolutions (the substance of the Charter among them) under due form of law.

    This was the year when Paris streets were red with the blood of the Days of June and the Milanese belted, pelted, and fusilladed their masters out of their city.  But on Kennington Common, just as O'Connor was about to begin his harangue, he was invited to step aside and have a word with Mr. Richard Mayne, Commissioner of Police.  He was told that the bridges were closed; that there were troops and guns in places where he did not suspect them—in short, to use the London policeman's classic phrase, that "You don't want to get into trouble, you know."  And there was no trouble.  O'Connor conceded the authorities their main point by abandoning the procession to Westminster, and trampled on their dignity by getting across Blackfriars Bridge with the great roll of the petition in a cab, in spite of all their pickets.  This most characteristic page of English history is Greek to Mr. West; Mr. Santayana, alone of foreigners, might perhaps understand it.




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