Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Margery Spring Rice & Memories of Post-War Iken

Lucy Pollard, Margery Spring Rice: Pioneer of Women's Health in the Early Twentieth Century

This book, written by her granddaughter from family letters, tells the story of Margery Spring Rice (1887-1970), a remarkable woman who lived a full, at times sad, and certainly a rather unconventional life.(1) Reading it has brought back many childhood memories of Iken, a tiny village on the Alde Estuary close to the Suffolk coast, where Mrs Spring Rice lived from 1936 until 1956. During that time she continued her women's health and family planning work in London and became involved in various music activities in Suffolk including the Aldeburgh Festival.

The river Alde, Iken Cliff, Iken Hall (bottom centre) and Snape Maltings (top left)

Born and brought up in an upper middle class family in London, she was a member of the Garrett family, leading agricultural engineers and entrepreneurs in nineteenth century Leiston and Aldeburgh. Her grandfather Newson Garrett (1812-1893) founded Snape Maltings, now the home of the Aldeburgh Festival.

Snape Maltings from Iken Cliff

The Garrett family produced able, strong women, and Mrs Spring Rice certainly had a number of inspiring role models most notably her godmother Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman in Britain to qualify as a physician and a surgeon.

Having gone through what she describes as a "sometimes-uncomfortable journey", Lucy Pollard provides a very frank account of her grandmother's life. What emerges is a picture of a forceful, highly intelligent, cultured, politically and socially aware woman from a family which by and large valued such qualities in its women.

Margery lost her faith as a young adult, and after a brief flirtation with socialism in her teens became actively involved in Liberal politics and the League of Nations Society, of which she became its first secretary. All her life, whilst not an outright pacifist, she had a strong distaste for war and militarism. After the death of her brother Harry in the Great War she wrote of "the uselessness of all this sacrifice of life." In July 1916 her husband, serving with the Warwickshire Regiment, was killed for a cause in which like her he did not believe. These events as well as the death of her one year old daughter just before the war are chronicled in a chapter entitled simply "Loss", which also provides an account of her and her husband's astonishing experiences in trying to get out of Germany in 1914 after the war had begun.

After all the family tragedy she launched herself into work, quickly remarried because she felt her two young sons needed a father, and had two more children. This was not a wise move, but one which many women took in a world in which men were in short supply. Dominick Spring Rice, the nephew of Britain's wartime Ambassador to the United States, had a drinking problem, was according to his granddaughter a sadomasochist, and a disastrous parent to the two boys who had lost their father.

Mrs Spring Rice was perhaps not untypical of women of her class and generation in her attitudes to feminism, pacifism and sexuality and in her commitment to improving the lot of those less fortunate than herself, nor perhaps in her rather detached approach to child-rearing.

The young Margery Garrett

Not much of the Garrett or Spring Rice wealth seems to have percolated down to Margery, but with the aid of scholarships all her four children were educated privately: two sons who both became Communists were educated at Rugby, the third son at Eton, and the daugher at Wycombe Abbey. Lucy Pollard comments that she loved her children, but never let their presence interfere with her activities.

The book understandably focuses a great deal on the family, but almost equally influential must have been Margery's experience at Cambridge where women students were very much second class citizens, not able to take degrees until 1948. Here she encountered an intellectual world far removed from her Suffolk hinterland and made new friends, among them the distinguished medieval historian Eileen Power. Well connected and cherishing the many distinguished people who crossed her path, including Charlie Chaplin whom she met on a lecture tour in the United States in 1930, Margery was we learn a bit of a snob.

In reading the book I kept being reminded of Bloomsbury, a privileged world of strong egos, fluid relationships, chaotic and unconventional lifestyles and a desire to change the world for the better. It is somehow not surprising to find the recently widowed Margery appear thinly disguised in a novel If all these young men by long forgotten author Romer Wilson, about a group of young people living through the Great War, "which drained the vitality of all those who did not go out to it." (2)

Jumbo Ward's Cottage - more mud than I remember

So Amaryllis, the character apparently modelled on Margery, does not entirely satisfy her future husband. She is in his eyes a country woman, with a "fat short body .. golden hair ", and he liked her best "when she was closest to nature, rough, matter-of-fact, and solid," and because she was older, he rather ominously held her "responsible for everything that may happen between us." (3) We get only an external view of her though. What goes on in Ameryllis's head doesn't seem to interest the author.

1953 Coronation in Iken. Mrs Spring Rice with granddaughter Lucy and her two young brothers

From my childhood I remember her as a very self assured, somewhat imperious woman living at Iken Hall and driving around in a rather battered old Land Rover. She belonged to a world of which I had no conception and and at that age no curiosity. She was reputed to be very left wing, even a Communist!(4) I remember a group of children from the village once attending a Christmas Party at the Hall where we were treated to a convincing performance by members of her family involving a magic carpet. I also remember being deputed by a group of boys to ask her if we could borrow her rowing boat. Quite rightly she refused, telling me that she had been in touch with my father, which I doubt, and he had told her I couldn't swim, which was probably true!

Coronation celebrations in the soon to be demolished old village hall

The most surprising thing I learned from the book was of Mrs Spring Rice's friendship with Benjamin Britten, who after his return from the United States lived nearby in the Old Mill at Snape. I knew that Iken Hall featured in a couple of works by Britten, but had never made the association and hadn't realised she was involved in the founding of the Aldeburgh Festival. It seems fitting that the festival is now located in the building designed and built by her grandfather at Snape.

View towards St Botolph's Church

The book provides an amusing account of an encounter between Mrs Spring Rice and Benjamin Britten with Gabriel Clark, the post-war owner of the Anchorage, the former rectory next to Iken church. The latter ultimately succeeded in closing a right of way along the Alde to the Church which Mrs Spring Rice and associates valiantly tried to keep open.

Ben Britten, Ursula Nettleship & I did the ‘grind’ again last Sunday! Clarke [sic] met us at the fallen tree & after the usual sort of ding-dong argument backwards & forwards he became extremely rude to me, saying it was well known that I ought to be in trousers, & that he sympathised with my husband having left me etc. etc. Ben was so angry that there was nearly a fight. Clarke threatened to use violence if we went on, — but I ignored him & we went on, & he merely followed us hurling abuse at us, of the above sort.

Mr Clark was not the most popular person in the village, and the rumours that a person or persons had been paid to lie about that right of way even reached my young ears.

St Botolph's churchyard: an old adversary

I couldn't resist including this long quotation from the book, attributed to an Etonian friend of Mrs Spring Rice's son Stephen.

Then I met Margery Spring Rice, mother of my friend Stephen. She was short and round like Mrs Tiggywinkle, but certainly no domestic drudge. She came down to Eton in a battered old Riley amid the Rolls and Bentleys, in an old overcoat done up with string as a belt […] In my first meeting with her at Eton she said in a very loud voice ‘I hear you are trying to resign from the OTC. Congratulations: I hope you succeed.’ I loved her from that moment; she was my first adult ally […] But her support did me little good at Eton. They thought her a wicked woman because of her advocacy of birth control, and because she was trying to divorce her husband, an Old Etonian and brother of the writer of ‘I vow to thee my country’ and who had turned Catholic in order to thwart the divorce. The MIC [Master in College] even wrote to my father, warning of her influence over me, with dark hints of subversion, atheism and sexual perversion. She threatened to sue him, but as it was only a private letter and not published she was dissuaded by her lawyers: a pity, for it could have made a great cause celebre. ... Margy Spring-Rice put the fire back in my belly and I fought the good fight against the OTC with renewed vigour. (5)

Sadly the fates had not finished with Mrs Spring Rice. Early in the war one of her daughters in law was drowned at Iken in mysterious circumstances, and then in late 1942 her son Stephen was killed when his submarine was depth charged by the Italian navy off Malta, but she soldiered on, maintaining a nursery for young evacuees at Iken Hall for the duration of the war. (6)

Finally, since this book has triggered so many memories, I debated for a long time as to whether to include the most embarrassing photo in my family collection. It offers a glimpse of life almost 70 years ago in a village which is now almost exclusively the preserve of second homeowners, and whenever I visit seems completely deserted. Iken Hall too seems to have disappeared, but I always find plenty of familiar names in the churchyard.

1953 - the Tyrrells in fancy dress - how embarrassing was that!

NOTE - clicking on the photos provides a larger,clearer image.
1. Lucy Pollard, Margery Spring Rice: Pioneer of Womens Health in the Early Twentieth Century Open Book Publishers 2020.
2. Romer Wilson, If all these young men (London 1919) p. 125. The book was published in the year that Margey and Dominic Spring Rice married.
3. Romer Wilson pp 127, 133.
4. Iken Hall was part of what remained the Sudbourne Hall estate when Mrs Spring Rice began to rent it in 1936. In the early twentieth century Sudbourne Hall had been the childhood home of Kenneth Clark. Mrs Spring Rice was one of a few people who lived on the banks of the Alde estuary and were allowed to remain throughout the second world war when the area was used as a battle training area. After the war the tenant farmers never returned, and most of the Iken estate, some 1500 acres, was purchased by James Mann, who became Mrs Spring Rice's new landlord. He used to ride round the village slowly in his Jaguar. He was the brother in law of Henry Fulcher, the owner of Poplar Farm.
5.Anthony Gillingham, Young Rebel: Memoirs 1917–39 (privately printed, 2007), p. 50 - quoted in Lucy Pollard, chapter 6. Dominic Spring Rice was the nephew not the brother of Sir Cecil Spring Rice.
6. After the drowning, her sister in law wrote, "Douglas always speaks of you when your troubles come as ‘My dear old war-horse of a sister’, and like a tried war-horse your wounds heal and you go forth to battle again to bring home once more some wounded warrior."

Monday, 4 May 2020

1918, another Pandemic, another Prime Minister: Lloyd George in Manchester

David Loyd George (1863-1945)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's recent contraction of coronavirus has revived memories of the 1918 pandemic and the illness of another Prime Minister, David Lloyd George. Lloyd George was to be the last Liberal Prime Minister, and in September 1918 was visiting Manchester, the place of his birth and a place very closely associated with liberalism, to receive the freedom of the city.

Very little is remembered about him now, but he was by far the dominant political figure in the early twentieth century. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he had introduced old age pensions and unemployment insurance and can justly be said to have laid the foundations of the welfare state.

Lloyd George's birthplace in Manchester

He was one of those rare Prime Ministers who had never been to Oxford or Cambridge nor to Public School, and had no connection with the landed classes nor even the upper middle classes. He remains the only UK Prime Minister whose first language was not English, but it is doubtful if a better orator has ever sat in Parliament.

Even out of power in the 1930's he still commanded great respect and even fear when he got up to speak in the House of Commons. He was highly regarded by his junior colleague Winston Churchill who in the Liberal phase of his career supported Lloyd George's controversial People's Budget of 1909 when many in their own party did not. Churchill invited Lloyd George to enter his own war cabinet, but he said he was too old.(1)

The only memorial to Lloyd George in Manchester

Lloyd George was born to Welsh parents at 5 New York Place, Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. His father William was a teacher, and the family had moved around a bit. William seems to have been on a short term contract in Manchester, and they moved back to Wales before the young David Lloyd George was a year old. Wiliam died not long after, and the future Prime Minister was brought up by his mother with the aid of her shoemaker brother who struggled to teach him the Latin he needed to become a solicitor.

Lloyd George being greeted by large crowds lining the route from London Road Station to Albert Square

In September 1918 the war was drawing to its close, and Lloyd George, the head of the war time coalition since 1916, was visiting the Northwest. His trip, starting in Manchester and then moving on to Salford, Bolton and Blackpool, was very much a celebration of the anticipated victory in the war, but it also had a political dimension, with a General Election only three months away. (2) He was due to receive the freedom of Salford and Blackpool as well as Manchester, and was to share a platform at Blackpool Tower with the United States trades union leader, Samuel Gompers.

Lloyd George being granted freedom of City of Manchester, Manchester Hippodrome, 12th Septmber 1918

The Prime Minister was given a raptuous reception on arrival on the evening of Wednesday 11th September. He later received representations at Manchester Town Hall from representatives of the Jewish Community, the Armenian Community and the Syrian Community, all of whom were seeking support for their causes in the coming peace.

The following day he was scheduled to go the Hippodrome to receive the Freedom of the City, then to the Midland Hotel for a luncheon, then tea at the Constitutional Club, a recognition that he was leading a coalition Government, then to a meeting with the Welsh community in Albert Hall, the large Methodist assembly room close to the Town Hall, and finally for a formal dinner at the Reform Club.

Mrs & Mrs Lloyd George attending reception given by the Welsh community, The Albert Hall, Manchester

He completed most of the schedule, but felt ill after the meeting with the Welsh community, and retired to his room at the Town Hall, hoping that he would be fit for his later engagement.

Manchester Town Hall 1922, before the Central Library and the Extension were built

He never made the Reform Club, nor any of his other engagements outside Manchester, and didn't venture outside the Town Hall until 20th September, when, wearing a respirator, accompanied by the Lord Mayor and both their wives, he was taken on a drive through the south of the city, along Burnage Lane to Parrswood, then to Northenden and back through Withingon to the city centre.

Initially he said he wouldn't see a doctor, but a distinguished Liberal doctor, Sir William Milligan, had been summoned to the Town Hall to attend one of Lloyd George's daughters who was also ill, and Lloyd George was persuaded to see him. Milligan was to issue a number of medical bulletins over succeeding days which referred to high temperature, fever, restlessness, exhaustion and throat inflammation. To ensure that the Prime Minister would not be disturbed in his room at the Town Hall, traffic was diverted, barriers placed across the road, and the area in front of the Town Hall was kept clear.

The Manchester Guardian speculated that his influenza probably

followed as a result of the cold he may have contracted in the afternoon in Albert Square, when he walked for a time bareheaded in the rain during his inspection of the munition workers and wounded soldiers. It may also have been due to the change in coming from crowded and heated rooms into the open air when rain was falling. The weather in Manchester on Thursday was very trying, a succession of heavy showers and and strong winds being the main characteristic. (3.)

It reported that he had had several such attacks in the past and had thrown them off, and initially he was expected to do the same with this. It made no link with the pandemic which had started to sweep the world several months earlier, but because of censorship had never been reported in the press.

Casket presented to Lloyd George on the occasion of his being granted the Freedom of the City

On Saturday 21st September, 10 days after his arrival he was declared fit enough to return to London. He left the Town Hall around noon, and at London Road Station a special saloon was waiting for him on No 4 platform, away from the crowd boarding the London train on Platform 1. His carriage was them run out of the station and fixed to the front of the train. He was accompanied by Sir William Milligan. On arrival at Euston a number of people recognised him and cheered

the familiar figure in the unfamiliar garb of a greatcoat, a large white muffler, a respirator, and a soft hat turned down over the face. (4)

In its editorial the Manchester Guardian indicated that he was not looking so well when he arrived back in London and obviously required some rest, before he plunges into the thick of the enormous business which .. is still pressed upon the head of the Government.(5) The Times reported that though still wearing a respirator, he appeared to have fairly well recovered from his illness, and walked briskly from the train to his car.(6)

Early twentieth century Northenden, through which Lloyd George was driven on 20th September 1918.

The Times coverage of the whole affair contrasted very much with the Manchester Guardian, which obviously was politically sympathetic to Lloyd George, and relished his tenuous links to its home city. There was virtually no coverage of the visit in the Times, simply a couple of reports on his medical progress and a report on his arrival back in London. On 18th September it had a report from its Manchester correspondent

There were many callers at the Town Hall yesterday,and one lady left a beautiful basket of roses for the sick-room. The immediate front of the Town Hall and the main road at one of its sides have been barricaded from all vehicular traffic. The Prime Minister shows a lively interest in matters of public concern. He conveyed his congratulations to a private of the Manchester Regiment who was presented with the Military Medal at the Town Hall during the morning .. (7)

Two days earlier it had given a couple of medical bulletins and noted

It being desirable that Mr. Lloyd George should have absolute quiet before nightfall, it was considered expedient to divert the tramcars from the side of the hall nearest to the bedroom where he is lying. ..the authorities will take further steps to minimize the sound from street traffic if it is regarded as essential. (8)

In 1918 of course the big news was the war and the shape of the approaching peace. The pandemic, which was to take millions of lives, was not reported, but in any case its full seriousness was not fully appreciated in September 1918, when the far more deadly second wave was just beginning. Manchester as it happens came off relatively lightly compared with other major UK cities, almost certainly due to the efforts of its long term chief medical officer, James Niven, but still by the end of 1918 it had recorded over 2000 deaths from the virus. It was to record even more deaths in the third phase in 1919.
1. Richard Toye, Lloyd George & Churchill, Rivals for Greatness (Pan Macmillan Ltd., 2008), gives a fascinating portrayal of a long,very complex and at times tempetuous relationship. See especially p.407
2. Lloyd George seeems to have made up his mind to call a General Election in early September 1918. Toye p. 190.
3. Manchester Guardian, Sept 14, 1918.
4. Manchester Guardian, Sept 23, 1918.
5. ibid 6. Times, Sept 23, 1918.
7. Times, Sept 18, 1918.
8. Times Sept 16 1918.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Peterloo: "The Manchester Massacre."

St Peter's Fields Manchester August 16th, 1819

As we approach the bicentenary of Peterloo, it is surprising how relatively few people in the UK know anything about it. History is written by the victors, or perhaps as George Orwell more sinisterly put it,

He who controls the past, controls the future; and he who controls the present, controls the past.
Trafalgar, Waterloo and The Great Reform Bill are uncontroversially remembered, but Peterloo is not a part of our accepted national story.

A basic summary of the events of August 16th 1819:- A mass meeting of some 50,000 men, women and children, campaigning for universal suffrage, met in Manchester to hear the radical politician, Henry "Orator" Hunt. The local magistrates gave the order to arrest Hunt, the Manchester Yeomanry charged into the crowd, killing a child, and then the 15th Hussars were ordered to disperse them. 18 people were killed, and around 700 injured. Hunt and nine others were in 1820 tried in York on a charge of conspiracy to overthrow the Government. They were convicted on a lesser charge and imprisoned. Hunt got the longest term, serving a sentence of two and a half years.

Peterloo was followed by a period of suppression, which in the eyes of many became associated with the victor of Waterloo and later Tory Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington. When the latter made his only appearance in Manchester over ten years later, to attend the opening of the Manchester Liverpool railway, he was roundly booed and soon left.

Statue of the Duke of Wellington,1856

A statue of Wellington now stands in Piccadilly Gardens, and there are many other reminders of him and Waterloo on streets throughout Greater Manchester. The memorial to Henry Hunt has long since disappeared!

The term Peterloo, an ironic reference to the “killing fields of Waterloo” was quickly adopted by radicals. Some have associated this with the betrayal and disillusion of many soldiers who faced exceptionally hard times after the war with France, and indeed among Peterloo's victims was one Waterloo veteran, John Lees. This explanation seems to ignore the climate of opinion amongst radicals and a number of Whigs in 1815 and after. Whilst the victory at Waterloo became a staple of Tory propaganda before the dust had even settled on the battlefield, the celebration was not shared by their political opponents, many of whom had publicly opposed the resumption of war against Napoleon in 1815. As one Loyalist newspaper explained to its readers, Waterloo was “a great offence in the opinion of Reformers.

Talk of Waterloo was much in the air in the months before the Manchester Massacre. It is to be found in the poems of Samuel Bamford, one of the local radical leaders imprisoned after Peterloo, and it became the focal point of a speech by the radical leader Sir Charles Wolseley who predicted that Sandy Brow in Stockport would be more famous than Waterloo. On his first visit to Manchester in January 1819, outside a theatre that had been closed to prevent his attendance, Henry Hunt somewhat prophetically urged his followers to "be peaceable, lest you should draw down upon you the BLOODY BUTCHERS OF WATERLOO." In Court a few days later Hunt said he was actually speaking ironically, "I thought them more like Lambs. "

In Manchester a number of events have been organised to commemorate the massacre. I recently attended a talk by Professor Robert Poole, whose new book has just appeared.

Peterloo, The English Uprising by Robert Poole

In his talk Professor Poole gave a fascinating insight into Regency Manchester. A town with a fiercely Loyal tradition, with some adherence to the Stuart cause lingering well into the eighteenth century, run by a close knit oligarchy centred in the magistracy, the Anglican church and the military. There had been Loyalist riots in Manchester in the 1790's, there were frequent burnings of effigies of Tom Paine, and the first Orange Lodges in England were to be found there. Manchester Pitt Club, founded in 1812 was a centre of Loyalism and had about 400 members committed to

resist the arms of France .. To check the Contagion of Opinion, To array the loyal, the sober-minded and the good in defence of the venerable Constitution of the British Monarchy." (1)
Manchester Pitt Club Medal 1813
Faced with a growing industrial population outside the reach of parson and squire the local rulers made use of a large number of spies to maintain control. In 1817 they created the Manchester Yeomanry, and by 1819 Manchester had according to Professor Poole become a "garrison town."

I also obtained a copy of a graphic novel co-authored by Professor Poole which I found surprisingly effective at putting over the basic story and allowing the reader to access the atmosphere of the period. The words are all original, the pictures obviously are not.

PETERLOO, Witnesses to a Massacre, Polyp, Schlunke, Poole

In many ways it is more effective than Mike Leigh's recent film. You can click on the image below to read what the characters were saying.

Finally, as a postscript, on 16th August 1821, two years after Peterloo, 9 children were christened with the name "Henry Hunt", and 3 days later at a meeting in George Leigh Street, a toast was made to the immortal memory of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon and others were toasted using non-alcoholic drinks, and had the 1819 meeting at St Peter's Field been allowed to take place it would have passed a resolution abjuring the drinking of strong liquor. Not all the radical leaders were able to live by that rule, and it has definitely not become part of the Manchester tradition!
1. Quoted in Loyalism and the Formation of the British World, 1775-1914 edited by Allan Blackstock and Frank O'Gorman (Woodbridge 2014) p 39.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Manchester: Engels at Home

Soviet-Era Statue of Friedrich Engels now resident in Manchester

Friedrich Engels has a good claim to be one of the most famous residents of Manchester. In 1842-1844, his first period in the city, Engels researched the horrific conditions under which so many lived and wrote his Die Lage der arbeitenden Klasse in England, which greatly impressed Karl Marx whom he had not yet met. (1) During his second longer stay in the city Marx visited him a number of times.

Over a year ago in my previous post I commented that there was no memorial to either Marx or Engels in Manchester. Little did I know then that plans were underfoot to remedy this! The artist Phil Collins had retrieved a crude concrete statue of Engels from post communist Eastern Ukraine and transported it to Manchester. In the summer it was moved to Tony Wilson Place, the latter named after a more celebrated recent resident associated with the city's once highly successful popular music industry. So there it now stands, outside Home, Manchester's contemporary cultural centre, a mass produced remnant of a world whose memory has steadily been erased, artistically even more undistinguished than Manchester's statue of Abraham Lincoln.

Engels surrounded by incurious Mancunians

The transport of this statue from a place where it was associated with a failed social experiment and a repressive regime to a totally different social context fascinates Phil Collins. Whilst the object first of veneration and then of hatred in the former Soviet Union, it is now seemingly met largely with indifference. Engels is not part of the history which English people have been taught. Collins evidently hopes that at a time of austerity when as in Engels' day, poverty and deprivation sit closely alongside material wealth the statue will help to reconnect with Manchester's radical heritage.

Temporary Ice Rink beside the Engels statue

Manchester has an important place in the history of industrial capitalism, free trade, liberalism, the working class movement and Marxist socialism. In Engels' time it was at the heart of the economic developments that were transforming the world. Now, apart perhaps from its football teams, Manchester is very much on the periphery; the UK is exiting the European Union, and in any case power and focus is seemingly shifting away from Europe to the East. In a period of change and crisis in the UK, amidst talk of a "northern hub" and plans to build yet more large towers, Manchester is probably entering a period of introspection. Its political and artistic community will doubtless engage with the city's radical history as the bicentenary of Peterloo, the Manchester Massacre, approaches in 2019. It will be interesting to see whether the Engels statue in Tony Wilson Place reignites interest in that phase of Manchester's history. It seems to me that it has considerable competition from the Christmas Market, another German import, and the outdoor ice rink.
1. It was translated into English in the 1880's and published as "The Condition of the Working Class in England" in New York in 1887 and in London in 1891.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Manchester: Lincoln and Marx

The Lincoln Statue in Manchester, surrounded by the European/German Christmas Market

Close to Manchester Town Hall is a place now known as Lincoln Square, in which may be found George Grey Bernard's statue of Abraham Lincoln. This statue was given to Manchester by Mr and Mrs Charles Phelps Taft of Cincinnati in 1919.

A copy of a statue in Illinois, it was originally intended for London, but the rather bucolic depiction of Lincoln with stooped shoulders, shabby clothes and big hands and feet was apparently considered by some to be grotesque and defamatory, so it ended up in Manchester! (1) It is inscribed "in commemoration of Lancashire's friendship to the cause for which Lincoln lived and died, and of the century of peace among English-Speaking peoples."

The statue was moved from Rusholme to its present place in the 1980's, and inscribed on its base was Lincoln's famous letter thanking the Working Men of Manchester for their decision to boycott southern cotton and acknowledging his awareness of "the sufferings which the working-men of Manchester, and in all Europe, are called to endure in this crisis". Unfortunately the wording of the letter was changed to "working people", a reflection of the political sensibilities that governed Manchester in the 1980's!

Chethams Library Exterior, on a fine sunny day

Within walking distance of Lincoln Square is a fine medieval building that has since 1653 been the site of the oldest free library in the United Kingdom. Most Mancunians are probably unaware of its existence. It is an amazing place, dark and mysterious, it contains thousands of old books and manuscripts. On my last visit an original copy of Vol II of Samuel Johnson's Dictionary (1755), the oldest in the English language, was displayed on the table in the reading room.

Chetham's Library will always be associated with the two German exiles and political radicals, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. Engels spent may years working for the family firm in Manchester, and wrote his Condition of the Working Class in England during his first stay in the city. On many occasions Marx came to see Engels in Manchester, and was a frequent visitor to the library.

Marx and Lincoln

Marx greatly admired Lincoln, whom he called "a unique figure in the annals of history" and he regarded the proclamation abolishing slavery as the most important since the establishment of the Union. Marx appeared to think that the US pointed the way for the rest of the world: there "ordinary people of goodwill can accomplish feats which only heroes could accomplish in the old world". (2)

Chethams Library, A Light shining from the window where Marx and Engels used to sit

Marx was devastated by Lincoln's assassination, and wrote an uncharacteristically emotional letter on behalf of the International Working Men's association to the new President, Andrew Johnson, describing Lincoln as "one of the rare men who succeed in becoming great, without ceasing to be good." (3)

Chethams Library Interior, looking towards the Reading Room

Marx's admiration of the first US President from a Republican Party which was to become synonymous with global capitalism might seem surprising. But in the aftermath of the failure of the 1848 Revolutions many radicals, from Germany in particular, fled to the United States and were active in the circles in which Lincoln moved in Illinois. Lincoln himself was also an avid reader of the radical New York Tribune to which Marx contributed a number of articles. (4) Curiously enough though, Marx's own brother in law, Edgar von Westphalen, himself an early follower of Marx, actually fought on the side of the Confederacy during the Civil War!

The table in the Reading Room where Marx and Engels used to work

In 1864 the International Working Men's association sent Lincoln a letter, drafted by Karl Marx. The letter congratulated Lincoln on his re-election, and indicated Marx's own view of the place of the Civil War and the struggle against slavery, in world history:

From the commencement of the Titanic-American strife the workingmen of Europe felt instinctively that the star-spangled banner carried the destiny of their class .. The workingmen of Europe feel sure that, as the American War of Independence initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class, so the American Antislavery War will do for the working classes. They consider it an earnest of the epoch to come that it fell to the lot of Abraham Lincoln, the single-minded son of the working class, to lead his country through the matchless struggle for the rescue of an enchained race and the reconstruction of a social world.(5)

There is of course no statue of Marx or Engels in Manchester. In the Town Hall though may be found a bust of Oliver Cromwell, a regicide, admired by radical Liberals in the nineteenth century, and there used to be a statue in the city centre, now located at Wythenshawe Hall, over 6 miles outside the city. Its presence horrified Queen Victoria when she visited the city.

1. Apparently the Manchester Guardian first raised the possibility of Manchester acquiring it in November 1918, and after the visit of Woodrow Wilson a formal request was made, and it duly arrived in 1919.
2. Mary Gabriel, Love and Capital, Karl and Jenny Marx and the Birth of a Revolution. (New York, Boston & London, 2011) p. 302
3. Gabriel pp 325-6
4. Reading Karl Marx with Abraham Lincoln
5. Marx's Letter to Lincoln, 1864

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Life Is Not a Journey

Alan Watts Life is not a Journey.

Worth listening to I think. Journeys have become a modern cliché. It is even in the title of my main blog! I can't recall hearing so much about journeys in my youth, perhaps because most of us travelled far less, or maybe my memory is playing tricks on me! Alan Watts died in the early 1970's, so that would tend to prove me wrong, except that he spent much of his life in California, which many believed gave us a foretaste of the future!