SCROLL DOWN FOR THE J.S. MILL LETTER ABOUT ROBESPIERRE AND SCROLL TO THE END FOR THE ROBERT OWEN LETTER
George Edwin Harris was one of the more active and independent-minded of the O'Brienites, noted particularly for his involvement alongside Karl Marx in the International Working Men's Association, but also a contributor to O'Brienite-minded journals and a committed internationalist. At various times in his life he was a tailor, a bookseller and a clerk. Unlike his good friend and political ally Martin Boon, he was not a pamphleteer - and perhaps because of that, he has attracted little detailed attention.
In 2015, I bought second-hand a bound copy of The Working Man for 1862-3, with Harris's ownership signature and various markings in the margins indicating his authorship of articles written anonymously or pseudonymously. I blogged about that - and particularly Harris's account of welcoming the Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin to London. Eighteen months later, that prompted Harris's great-great-granddaughter to get in touch - and I have now acquired Harris's personal papers. There are perhaps sixty or so letters or draft articles - including copies of a few letters from writers and politicians of distinction (Garibaldi, Mazzini, O'Brien, Hugo, Blanc) which had been sold at auction.
The manuscripts include letters or notes from John Stuart Mill, Robert Owen, Ernest Jones, Charles Bradlaugh, Eleanor Boon and Josiah Warren among others. There are notes which refer both to Carl [sic] Marx and to Engels, and letters from the US which tend to bear out Marx's suspicion that Harris was in touch with a libertarian-minded section of the IWMA in New York.
Over the next year or so, I will list, annotate and research these letters, and will post a fuller account of Harris's life and political activity - all I can do here is to give some idea of the gems among these papers.
And how remarkable that in 2016, the papers of a leading radical political figure of 150 years earlier have come to light for the first time. As far as I am aware, they have never been consulted or cited by any historian or researcher.
... a letter from John Stuart Mill
Harris has apparently written to Mill to ask him to attend an event to celebrate the life and political career of the French revolutionary, Robespierre - whose admiring biography O' Brien had written -
Mill replies: 'I beg you to make my acknowledgements to the Council of the National Reform League for the honour of the invitation; but though there is reason to believe that Robespierre was better than his reputation, that many acts in which he had no share have been imputed to him in order to screen others, and that the men by whom he was overthrown were many of them worse men than himself, he yet participated in, and justified, too many atrocities and his name is the symbol of too much that disgraced and ruined the French Revolution to allow of my joining in any demonstration in honour of him.'
... a letter from Victor Le Lubez
Harris sent what appears to have been a similar invitation to honour Robespierre to Victor Le Lubez, a young French emigre who persuaded Karl Marx to get involved in the IWMA. Le Lubez's reply stands in marked contrast to that of Mill:
Le Lubez writes: 'I regret exceedingly that I hadn't your letter in time to enable me to attend at your Soiree, last Friday. I thank you for your kind invitation and I thank the Council of "the National Reform League" for their cosmopolitan ideas which prompt them to do homage to a countryman of mine whom I greatly admire for his ardent love of Liberty and his incorruptibility. / As it happened, last Sunday I was engaged at a meeting in honour of the services rendered to humanity by Thomas Paine, which caused my absence at the "Hall of Science" so that I only received your kind invitation this day. / In the hope of having the pleasure to meet you, Gentlemen, at some such demonstration.'
... a letter from Robert Owen
One more indication of the wealth of Harris's political contacts - a letter from Robert Owen in 1852:
Owen's letter was written from Cox's Hotel, Jermyn Street, on 20th January 1852:
'Having left Spring Grove + been much from home + occupied in public measures that leave me no time to attend to other business. I have been prevented replying to your letter, + I regret today that I have so many similar communications that it is painful to me to reply to them. 'It is impossible for me to attend to individual applications such as yours for all my time and means are expended in unceasing endeavour to terminate the system + remove the causes which continually produces the distress of which you + millions complain + suffer. 'And suffer from the ignorance of society; for there is no other cause that anyone should be unemployed who is willing to work + this ignorance must be overcome before you + other sufferers be relieved. As soon as this ignorance can be overcome it will be discovered that there is, or may be immediately provided an abundance of production beneficial to all + for a much greater population than the world can have for many hundreds years. And this subject I hope to have brought before parliament early the coming session, in order that speedy relief may be given to those like yourself + many others who now so unjustly + unwisely are made to suffer poverty from unwilling idleness. 'Regretting that I cannot assist those individuals who apply to me.'