Lovett, William (DNB00)
LOVETT, WILLIAM (1800–1877), chartist, son of William Lovett, master-mariner, and Keziah Green, his wife, was born in Church Lane, Newlyn, near Penzance, on 8 May 1800. His father was drowned at sea before his birth, and his mother earned a precarious livelihood by selling fish in Penzance. He was bound apprentice to a ropemaker. The introduction of chain cables having much injured the ropemaking business, he made his way to London in 1821. For some weeks he was unable to obtain work, and suffered considerable privation, but he had much mechanical ingenuity, and at last obtained employment in carpentering and cabinet-making. He had not been apprenticed to the trade, and consequently met with much opposition from his fellow-workmen, but after some years he was admitted into the Cabinet-makers' Society. He busily educated himself, joined a discussion society, the ‘Liberal,’ in Gerrard Street, Soho, a mechanics' institute, and other associations. On 3 June 1826 he married a lady's-maid, and having opened a confectioner's shop, which failed, he and his wife joined the first London co-operative association, in which they obtained precarious employment. Becoming thus interested in co-operative societies in the earliest days of co-operation, he was about 1830 appointed secretary of the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge, which failed after three or four years. At this time he became acquainted with Owen, Hunt, Cobbett, Cleave, Hetherington, and Watson, and took an active part in various projects of reform. He drew up a petition for the opening of museums on Sundays in 1829, the earliest of its kind. In 1830 he became connected with the agitation against stamp duties on newspapers. He was sub-treasurer and secretary of the ‘Victim Fund,’ which was raised to assist persons prosecuted by the revenue authorities. In 1831 he refused to serve in the militia, for which he had been drawn, or to pay for a substitute, and execution was accordingly levied upon his furniture, but attention being called to the subject by Hunt and Hume, the practice of drawing was discontinued. In 1831 he joined the ‘National Union of the Working Classes,’ a political organisation modelled on the plan of the methodist connexion. He was arrested and sent for trial in March 1832 for rioting in connection with a procession which he headed on the cholera fast day, but he was acquitted in May. He continued his political activity in spite of private misfortunes, such as the failure of a coffee-house which he opened in Greville Street, Hatton Garden, in 1833. He assisted to draft the Benefit Societies Act of 1836, and to form the London Working Men's Association, 16 June 1836, writing for this society an appeal to the nation on the franchise question, and agitating for those reforms which ultimately became the ‘six points’ of the ‘People's Charter.’ He drafted bills embodying the ‘points,’ and addresses to the crown, the houses of parliament, the people of England at large, and the working classes of Europe. He was secretary of the general committee of the trades of London, which was formed to represent the views of the working classes before the select parliamentary committee on Trades Unionism and the Combination Act in 1838, and he wrote the analysis of the evidence which his committee subsequently published. Holyoake calls him ‘the greatest radical secretary of the working class.’ He drafted the bill which was afterwards circulated among the working men's associations as the ‘People's Charter,’ and in his first draft included universal female suffrage, a provision afterwards dropped. The ‘charter’ was first published 8 May 1838. In the subsequent agitation he and his friends were careful to hold themselves aloof from the physical force doctrines of O'Connor and Stephens. At the first meeting of the chartist convention, 4 Feb. 1839, he was unanimously elected its secretary, and as such took part in the preparation of the monster chartist petition in that year, until he was arrested at Birmingham in June for his manifesto of protest against the action of the police in breaking up the popular meetings in the Bull Ring there. It was only after he had been nine days in custody that he was able to procure bail, and during this period he was treated as if he had been already convicted. He was tried on 6 Aug. 1839 at the Warwick assizes for seditious libel. He persisted in defending himself, was convicted, and was sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment (Gammage, Hist. of the Chartist Movement, p. 146; Trial of W. Lovett, published by H. Hetherington, 1839: the trial is reported in ‘State Trials,’ new ser. iii. 1178; ‘Correspondence as to the Treatment of William Lovett and John Collins,’ Parl. Papers, 1839 xxxviii. 447, 1840 xxxviii. 751). His health appeared to have suffered permanently from the abuses then prevailing in Warwick gaol, but in May 1840 he refused an offer, made by the government, of release before the expiry of his sentence if he would consent to be bound over to good behaviour for the remainder of the term. On 25 July he was released, and, with his fellow-prisoner, Collins, was entertained at a banquet at the White Conduit House on 3 Aug. by the combination committee and the Working Men's Association. He then opened a bookseller's shop in Tottenham Court Road, and published a work on ‘Chartism,’ written by himself and Collins in gaol (Chartism; a New Organisation of the People, 2nd edit. 1841). This, the best book on the organisation of the chartist party, dealt with schemes of practical education as well as political action. It was fiercely attacked by O'Connor and most of the other chartists as a middle-class scheme for destroying the chartist movement. The foundation of a National Association for the political and social improvement of the people, which was to establish schools, libraries, and public halls for amusement and instruction, incurred the hostility of Feargus O'Connor, who denounced Lovett and his friends in his paper, the ‘Northern Star,’ and of the chartist associations which were under O'Connor's influence. Lovett took part in Joseph Sturge's complete suffrage conferences at Birmingham in 1842, and endeavoured to bring the middle-class reformers into line with the working-class radicals by joint organisations, an effort which was to some extent successful until the conference split in December upon the question whether the old bill, called the ‘People's Charter,’ should be superseded by a new bill called the ‘New Bill of Rights,’ or ‘People's Bill of Rights,’ promoted by the middle-class representatives in order to get rid of the party of Feargus O'Connor (see Life of Thomas Cooper, by himself, 1873, p. 223; see, too, Gammage, Chartist Movement, p. 261). In 1844 Lovett assisted to bring the practice of opening letters in the post-office before parliament. He sent a letter to his intimate friend Mazzini so folded that if opened the fact could with certainty be detected. The letter was opened, and the matter was brought before the House of Commons by Duncombe. In the same year he assisted to form a society called the ‘Democratic Friends of All Nations,’ principally composed of French, German, and Polish refugees, to promote brotherhood among nations by issuing pacificatory manifestoes to them at political crises. He wrote the society's first address ‘to the friends of humanity and justice among all nations,’ but being couched in peaceful terms it alienated the physical force party from the society. Addresses were, however, issued to the working classes of France and of America. He became a member of the council of the Anti-Slavery League in 1846, but shortly afterwards resigned his secretaryship of the national association, and withdrew from active politics. He had undertaken the publication of ‘Howitt's Journal’ for William and Mary Howitt, work which occupied all his time. In 1848 he again attempted, in conjunction with Hume and Cobden, to find some mode of uniting the middle class and the workmen adherents of radical reform, and a conference was assembled which passed a resolution in favour of universal suffrage, but in terms less wide than those adopted by the conference in 1842. The People's League, which was then formed, was so fiercely attacked by the violent chartists that it proved abortive, and was finally dissolved in 1849.
This was the last political association with which Lovett was actively connected; from this time he chiefly devoted his energies to the promotion of popular education. About May 1849 he undertook the management of the school supported by the National Association. Desirous of having elementary anatomy and physiology taught there, he devoted himself to the study of these subjects, and taught them himself in the association's school and in several Birkbeck schools, and wrote a text-book, ‘Elementary Anatomy and Physiology for Schools’ (1851; 2nd edition, 1853), which passed through two editions with some success. He was now well known as a moderate and representative working-man reformer, was examined before the House of Commons committee on free libraries in 1849 (see Report on Free Libraries, 1850, pp. 176–81), and became, on Wilberforce's invitation, a member of the ‘working-class committee of the Great Exhibition’ in 1850. In 1852 he wrote a book on ‘Social and Political Morality,’ which was published in 1853, and in 1856 a poem called ‘Woman's Mission.’ The National Association's school broke up in 1857, the National Hall (formerly the Gate Street Chapel, and subsequently the Royal Music Hall, Holborn) passed out of their hands, and Lovett became a teacher of anatomy in St. Thomas Charterhouse schools, and in Richardson's grammar school, Gray's Inn Road, and wrote a number of school-books on elementary science. But as age crept on him he found himself less and less able to support himself. ‘Few persons,’ he writes pathetically, ‘have worked harder or laboured more earnestly than I have; but somehow I was never destined to make money.’ He continued to write on scientific subjects, but could not get his writings published; his earlier works were published at his own expense. A portion of his writings on social science appeared in the ‘Beehive’ in 1868. His last years were spent in feeble health. He wrote his ‘Autobiography,’ a garrulous work, containing the full text of his political addresses and manifestoes, but throwing considerable light on the history of the chartist movement, and it was published in 1876. He died at 137 Euston Road, London, on 8 Aug. 1877, and was buried at Highgate. Gammage says of him that he was the ablest writer and best man of business among the London chartists, and had a clear and masterly intellect and great powers of application, but he was suspicious of others, and somewhat impracticable. Francis Place, writing in 1836, described him as a tall, thin, and somewhat hypochondriacal, but ‘honest, sincere, and courageous man.’ He ridiculed him for having been first an Owenite, and then an advocate of ‘opinions no less absurd, respecting the production and distribution of everything which results from the labour of men's hands,’ but anticipated his becoming ‘a reasonable and valuable member of society’—a forecast to some extent verified by the individualistic tone adopted by Lovett in his autobiography (Place MSS., Brit. Mus. Addit. 27791 f. 241).
Besides the works mentioned above, Lovett wrote addresses and broadsheets; ‘An address to the political and social reformers of the United Kingdom,’ 1841; ‘Letter to Donaldson and Mason refusing to be Secretary to the National Charter Association,’ 1843; ‘Letter to Dr. O'Connell,’ 1843; ‘A proposal for the consideration of the Friends of Progress,’ 1847; ‘Justice safer than expediency,’ 1848.
[The principal authority is W. Lovett's Autobiography, but, especially for the later years and on points not immediately connected with his political activity, it is inaccurate, and is corrected by G. J. Holyoake's History of Co-operation and R. G. Gammage's History of Chartism. See, too, Place MSS. in Brit. Mus.; Poor Man's Guardian, 1831–5; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis; H. B. Stanton's Reforms and Reformers; Examiner, 18 Aug. 1877.]