Melton prior Institut

Linton

Linton- Life in the Collections

William James Linton ed.:

2) The English Republic. (4 series)

In December 1850, close to two years after the revolutionary hopes of a democratic change had been buried Europe-wide below a mantle of resignation and depression, Linton began to proclaim his forceful vision of a democratic English Republic. In his characteristic overheated diction, he exhorted his fellow countrymen to renew the ancient republican ideals of the English Revolution by establishing a strong national party which would be able to put the basic republican principles into practice: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. In the following five years, he would amplify and equip his vision of a direct democracy in a flood of articles that poured out of his pen into his newly founded auteur journal.

The English Republic was issued at first in the form of weekly tracts and later continued as a monthly. At first it was printed at Leeds, “in the hope of there taking up some of the subscribers to the Present Age, a serious, liberal magazine edited by Dr. F. R. Lees, the head of the Temperance agitation. The expected advantage on both sides not arriving, the Present Age was discontinued and I went on with my own venture, still printing at Leeds, my publisher in London my old friend James Watson. (...) In 1852 and 1853 the Republic was issued in four-page weekly tracts, bound together for monthly parts, still printed at Leeds. In the spring of 1852 I removed to Brantwood, and in 1854 resumed the monthly issue, by then having printing press and types, and registering myself as a printer, without which my printing material was liable to seizure and confiscation by the authorities. At Brantwood I had the assistance of three young men from Cheltenham, who came across the country to offer themselves at my service, at any wage that I could afford them. Two were printers, and the third was a gardener. They were zealous and efficient helpers.” (Memories)

The nearly one thousand pages in close type comprise an outline of a new society which consists of four interacting circles of community: the family, the local parish, the republic nation and the world federation of democratic nations forming the Universal Republic. Linton’s call for the nationalization of land owes a lot to the early agrarian communism of the Levellers and of Thomas Spence. One of the central postulations of the English Republic is the national regulation of the economy. Linton advocated a nationalization of the banking system: “It is one Business of the Goverment to be the nation’s banker, to furnish each individual with the material means, the capital for work, at all times and under all circumstances.” Francis Barrymore Smith has characterized Linton’s vision of republic as “an open programme to be worked for rather than an obsessively detailed final plan.” Already in 1973 he could grasp as a strong point of the scheme that it would be “still a creative, stimulating project when most other utopias are dead.”

Linton’s vision of republic was in no account an isolated nationalistic one. He was a follower of Guiseppe Mazzini’s ideal of a union of democratic European republics, and the core of his journal is a map of a projected Republican Europe, which resets all the arrangements of the Restoration. In the pre-revolutionary phase, he had strove to join the international republican networks and throughout 1851 he had been busy organizing relief and employment for a large number of republican refugees who came from all over Europe. Beside Mazzini himself, some of the most prominent ideologists of the revolutions of ‘48 belonged to his friends and contributed to the journal: Alexander Herzen, the Russian philosopher, wrote on Russian Socialism and on his friend Bakounin, Karl Stolzman, the emigrant from Warsaw on the Polish fight for liberty and Wendell Philipps from Boston on American abolitionism. Another prominent contributor was the noted republican poet and critic Walter Savage Landor. Besides, there are translations of the Chatiments of Victor Hugo, which were executed by the editor himself, and excerpts of pamphlets by Milton, Lamennais and Ledru-Rollin. For Francis Barrymore Smith, The English Republic represents “the fullest and most venturesome transposition of European republicanism into English.” 

In artistic terms, Linton’s new journal can be considered as a consistent realization of the aesthetics of Guiseppe Mazzini, who had proclaimed that political art should represent a perfect unity of theory and action. Former editorial concepts of Linton and his circle with generalized headings like Repository or Library were addressed to a limited public, to a certain class and a certain nation. The English Republic, though spatially much more specific in its heading, was addressed to the whole of humanity. In its nationalist presumption of an ideological English hegemony, it reflects that stage of enhanced imperialism which had filled the ideological gaps after the failure of ‘48. More particularly it can stand for a traditional drive towards expansiveness of English Puritanism with its intrinsic promise of universal salvation. Internationalism in its original Benthamite sense had meant first and foremost the true shaping of national English interests. What Bentham had meant exclusively in economic respects was in Mazzini’s and Linton’s view even more relevant in ideological and spiritual terms. Their expanded utilitarianism was no longer pragmatically concerned with national interdependence and processuality but was targeted at a final eschatological entity. After the international re-establishment of autocracy by the Congress of Vienna, the emotional sum of national interests could no longer result in a stately association of reasoned interests. Although the crucial concept of a Univeral Republic had been founded decades earlier in the writings of Kant and Bentham on a rather abstract level, it was due to the visions of Mazzini and Linton that it became a pressing and more physical kind of shaping. As soon as the English would revive their ancient communitarian spirit, so the suggestions of Linton’s journal, they would ignite as a natural avant-garde the realisation of that global state of egalitarianism which had been conceived by Lamennais as the true embodiment of God.

Linton had broken off this project in frustration. He hadn’t met his objective to encourage the foundation of a progressive Young England movement as a republican alternative to highbrow Social Toryism. Also in commercial respect The English Republic was just another failure in a long list of debacles. Only thirty years later, it had reached a wider audience in the condensed form of a popular compilation by Kineton Parkes, at a time when the Socialist International had already been founded and radical utopianism had become an essential element of the Aesthetic Movement. Parkes, the young co-editor of the journal of the Ruskin-Society could easily recognize the present significance of the work of the old Chartist and its function as a blueprint for the socialist schemes of his mentor Ruskin and of William Morris, who had been artistically inspired by the example of Linton’s work. But also at the time when the original edition was published, the English Republic had played a role as a transmitter in the history of British radicalism that should not be underestimated as “it supplied a social democratic programme, a focus for egalitarian fervour (...) that kept alive the `moral force´ Chartist ideology through the period of Chartist demoralization.” (F.B. Smith)

In contrast to the expressive imagery of The National, Linton here had preferred a graphic concept of stringent relevance and purity according to his intention to update ancient puritan virtues. He tolerated only very few images, and these rare ones had to serve the “Cause” in a pointed way: The colours of the illuminated republican flag, which crowned the front pages, were of such symbolic significance that it subsequently became the emblem of the National Republican Conference of 1872; the illuminated map of Republican Europe was printed as a foldout, so it could be pinned to the wall for demonstration purposes; a small number of heroic portraits of major exponents of the English Revolution is contrasted with caricatures of the villains of Restoration and Imperialism to point out the crucial difference.

Vol. I (378 pages, Leeds / London 1851) includes some of Linton’s most effective interventionist poetry. The Gathering of the People (A Storm Song) was written in 1839. The communitarian hymn about the power of accumulation was reprinted several times. In 1849 it had been performed on the occasion of a Chartist celebration in London with a quartet and choir to the music of Beethoven. The cycle Rhymes and Reasons against Landlordism consisting of forty-six poems, was published as a sequel running through nine issues of The English Republic. It was introduced by an essay on The Land Question and the Irish Tenant-League. Sixteen years later, an enlarged edition with a new preface (On Fenianism and Republicanism) and four additional poems was issued in New York under the title: Ireland for the Irish.


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Vol. II (396 pages, Leeds / London / Brantwood 1852-53)  The heading Words and Meanings collects a group of republican teaching pieces by Linton, whom Stefanie Kuduk Weiner refers to as definitional poems: Concise, lexical verses, which “delineate the meaning of the noun they take as their title, sometimes straightforwardly, sometimes more obliquely through metaphor, image or vignette. Sometimes, these poems embed definitions within a short ode to a virtue, and sometimes (...) Linton’s emphasis shifts from forwarding a definition to interrogating (....) the processes of signification itself. For Linton, thus, the definitional poem serves several purposes. It seeks both to offer a definition and also to inspire his readers to weave the republican virtue in question to their own lives. (....) Not evidently sophisticated or innovative, it is only when seen as a group (...) that these poems are revealed in their complexity as definitional poems and therefore poems about language and poetry itself. His experiments with definition knitted his poems together into a sustained meditation on poetic meaning-making, on the relation between poetic lexis and the everyday language that is the medium of poetry and that poetry in turn transmutes through compression, figures, and form. The definitional poems analyze political struggles over rhetoric, highlight gaps between authoritative utterances and the plain-speaking of common folk, and in the process which explores how poetry participates in political speech.” (Stefanie Kuduk Weiner) A preliminary prose form of lexical poetry is included in Vol. I of The English Republic where Linton grouped a series of short prose definitions together under the heading A Republican Catechism. Kuduk Weiner also counts major parts of the lyrical cycles Hymns for the Unenfranchised (1839) and Rhymes and Reasons against Landlordism (1849) among this category.

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Vol. III. (498 pages, Brantwood 1854) The volume largely consists of a wide range of international contributions, among them articles by Alexander Herzen, Arnold Ruge, Theodore Parker, Charles Stolzman and Guiseppe Mazzini. Of central interest is the a hand coloured map of a visionary Republican Europe, and also a lengthy excerpt from Blomfield’s History of Norwich (ca. 1737) that gives an account of a revolt of the “lower order” during the reign of Edward VI. This record of a powerful peasants’ rebellion in the early 14th century, which was led by Kett, a tanner of Wymondham, once more provides evidence of Linton’s interest in the construction of history. The subtitle of this sequel, which ran through five issues of the journal, was A Chapter of the Suppressed History of England. It was the generation of ‘48 – in Germany, Wilhelm Zimmermann, Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx - that had discovered the medieval peasant rebellions as the historic predecessors of the contemporary socialist movements.

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Vol. IV (108 pages, Brantwood 1855) The few final issues are mainly dedicated to topics of the Crimean War and the conclusions that should be drawn from its emerging results. Matters of pressing importance such as the national independences of Italy, Hungary and Poland would remain unsolved. Linton took the view that the next campaign that has to be fought out, “the beginning of the revolution,” would take place at home.

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