The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney

The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney

The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney

The Chartist Challenge: A Portrait of George Julian Harney

Excerpt

The impersonal nature of most of the available materials on Julian Harney, mainly newspapers and periodicals in which he wrote, leave one with no more than conjectures about some aspects of his life. Though Harney, like such other "typical" Victorians as Gladstone and Disraeli, was an extraordinarily prolific correspondent, of the hundreds of his letters which survived him only a handful were discovered. Almost as disappointing was my inability to find the invaluable hoard of correspondence from his friends--Marx, Engels, Louis Blanc, Ledru Rollin, Feargus O'Connor, and so on--to which he casually alluded in the 1890's as reposing in a Cambridge (Massachusetts) attic.

It may have been the lack of such personalia, or perhaps frustration at the impossible task of really knowing the man (which I suspect everyone who attempts biography feels) that led to a recurrent dream. In the dream, Harney was still living in the house at Richmond, Surrey, where he spent his last bedridden days, and I was taken there by one of his friends to be introduced. The friend rapped on the old man's door, and I could just glimpse the foot of Harney's bed as he entered, leaving me filled with an inexpressible anticipation. At last I should know the answers to all the questions left in doubt. Finally, after a long conversation within, in which I could hear the muffled, faintly irascible tones of Harney without being able to understand what he said, the friend came out. The old man was too ill to see me. Now I should never know--and never did, though I was to stand outside the door again in other dreams.

There remained, however, the materials for describing his political life and the movements in which he played a leading part: and for help in unearthing these I have to thank many people. Foremost among them is Mr. H. L. Beales of the London School of Economics, to whose fertility in imaginative generalization and knowledge of nineteenth-century English social history a generation of grateful students and scholars has paid due. I must also express my gratitude to the institution with which he is connected, the University of London, for a grant in aid of research.

One hesitates to select from those in the British Museum, the Public Record Office, and the provincial libraries, whose efforts . . .

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