The Industrial Revolution and the Atlantic Economy: Selected Essays

By Brinley Thomas | Go to book overview

6

ROBERT OWEN (1771-1858): A HERO OF THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION

Robert Owen died on 17 November 1858, at the age of 87, and was buried next to his parents in the old churchyard at Newtown. Apart from one visit, he had spent three-quarters of a century away from the land of his birth. We have it on the authority of G.J. Holyoake, one of his most devoted disciples, that

when he came to the border line which separates England and Wales, he knew it again. It was more than seventy years since he passed over it. He raised himself up in his carriage, and gave a cheer. He was in his own native land once more. It was the last cheer the old man ever gave.

(Holyoake 1859:7)

A nineteenth-century biographer, W.L. Sargant, described the end in the following words:

Thus was Robert Owen buried by his own wish, which was held sacred by his friends, in ground consecrated by the Church; with the formalities of a religion which he condemned; attended by mourners who had no sympathy with his opinions; in an ancient graveyard hallowed by historical associations which to him, when living, had little meaning. The bones of the prophet of innovation lie among the picturesque ruins of medieval orthodoxy.

(Sargant 1860:379)

There is no evidence that Robert Owen ever gave any thought to Wales during his long and active life; his influence on Wales has been part of the general impact of his work on the social history of Britain as a whole. As we think of him at this distance of time, we are struck by the paradoxes in his enigmatic personality—the

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