Recently a tattered volume of twenty one English pamphlets, a gift of Dean Roscoe Pound to the Law Library in July 1929, crossed my desk in need of cataloging. All the pamphlets were printed between 1832 and 1837, most in London, a few in Newcastle. The title of the first work, from about 1835, gives an indication of the “radical” nature of the volume’s contents: George Edmonds’ appeal to the labourers of England, an exposure of aristocrat spies, and the infernal machinery of the poor law murder bill. Accompanied by appalling proofs of the alarming progress of cruelty, cannibalism, gluttony, ignorance, prodigality, lying, slandering, atheism, blasphemy, sedition, and sexual profligacy, in the high-priced aristocrat press, and especially the six shilling Quarterly review.
The pamphlets report on meetings and public dinners at taverns and music halls and reproduce stirring speeches (including that of Irish rebel Robert Emmet (1778-1803) two days before his execution for high treason). They reprint articles from “The Radical” and include long poems such as Wat Tyler; a dramatic poem, in three acts about a leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt and Lord Byron’s controversial Cain; a mystery. Interestingly, several of the pamphlets are clearly marked across the title page as the property of the reading room of a “Working Men’s Association.”
The London Working Men’s Association was founded in 1836 by four men with a radical bent: Henry Hetherington (1792-1849) “penny press” publisher; printer/publishers James Watson (1799-1874) and John Cleave (1794 or 1795–1850), and cabinet maker turned writer, William Lovett (1800-1877).“Besides circulating information for the good of the working classes, [the Working Men’s Association] wanted ‘to seek by every legal means to place all classes of society in possession of their equal, political, and social rights’. The Association discussed the ideas that would later form the central document of the Chartist movement: The People’s Charter. This was written by William Lovett, with the help of Francis Place, in 1838 and detailed the six reforms that comprised the core of Chartist doctrine.”A few pamphlets in this volume are identified as having belonged, in 1837, to the Newcastle Working Men’s Association.Together this collection of pamphlets provides an intriguing look at writings reflecting the British working class labor movement and the stirrings of the Chartist movement.