Open main menu

Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 42.djvu/457

This page needs to be proofread.
Owen
Owen
451


wards president of the short-lived community at Queenwood, Hampshire, but not an active member. From 1844 to 1847 he was again resident in America, and after his return published ' Revolution in Mind and Practice,' 1849, and 'Letters to the Human Race,' 1850. He spent many of his later years with a family at Sevenoaks.

Owen continued his appeals to the public in various forms, till his mind was evidently growing feeble. In November 1850 he began to publish a weekly 'Journal,' which lasted till the end of 1852. He petitioned parliament in 1851 for a committee to examine his schemes. During the same year he circulated tracts, translated into French and German, for distribution among visitors to the exhibition. He began to publish his 'Rational Quarterly* in June 1853, including letters to the Prince Consort and ministers. About the same time he proposed himself for election by any constituency which would elect him 'free of all trouble and expense.' He was converted to spiritualism by a medium in America about 1854, and in 1854 began the 'New Existence of Man upon Earth,' with an 'outline of his early life.' Eight parts of this appeared, and contain some documents in regard to his Irish experience and his disputes with Allen. It afterwards diverges into spiritualism, and gives communications from Franklin, Jefferson, the Duke of Kent, and some posthumous dramas by Shakespeare. Owen held meetings at St. Martin's Hall in 1855, where he announced the inauguration of the 'true millennial state of human existence,' and afterwards published a series of tracts called 'The Millennial Gazette.' His autobiography, a very interesting and clear account of his early life, appeared in 1857-8. In 1857 he convened a 'Congress of the Advanced Minds of the World,' He presented himself at an educational conference held at Willis's Rooms in June 1857 under the presidency of the Prince Consort ; and he appeared at the first two meetings of the Social Science Association held at Birmingham in October 1857 (where he read a paper), and at Liverpool in October 1858. Though very feeble, he was placed on the platform and introduced by his old friend Brougham to the meeting. He pronounced a few words, and was then carried to bed. After a fortnight's confinement he begged to be taken to his native place, Newtown. He went thither, made another journey to Liverpool, and finally returned to Newtown, and died there in the hotel on 17 Nov. 1858, in presence of his son, Robert Dale Owen. He was buried very simply in the grave of his parents in the ruins of St. Mary's, after the Anglican service had been performed at the new church. Many of his old friends and persons interested in socialism and co-operation attended the funeral. Mr. Holyoake soon afterwards delivered an eloquent oration upon him at a meeting at Rochdale, under the presidency of Mr. Jacob Bright.

He left three sons — Robert Dale, Daniel Dale, and David Dale Owen— the first of whom is separately noticed ; the other two became professors in American colleges.

Owens works have been mentioned above. The early 'New View of Society, or Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character,' originally published in 1813-16, is reprinted at the end of his 'Life,' and gives his essential views. The numerous periodicals which he wrote or inspired, and various unpublished addresses and discussions, contain little more than repetitions of the same theme. A list of the more important is given in Mr. Holyoake's 'Life and Last Days.' A drawing in crayons of Owen by S. B. and a medallion by Leverotti are in the National Portrait Gallery, London.

Owen may be described as one of those intolerable bores who are the salt of the earth. To the whigs and the political economists he appeared chiefly as a bore. Macaulay describes him (letter of 8 June 1831) at a fancy ball trying to convert Sheil to cooperation, and then proving to the catholic Mrs. Sheil that moral responsibility did not exist. Miss Martineau (Autobiogr. i. 230-3) describes his attempts to convert her in the same spirit ; and he seems to have been regarded in such circles as a social butt, whose absurdity was forgiven for his good humour (see Hazlitt, Table Talk, i. 73, 'Of People with One Idea' ; and for a characteristic criticism in 1816, Hazlitt, Political Essays, pp. 97-104). He was essentially a man of one idea ; that idea, too, was only partially right, and enforced less by argument than by incessant and monotonous repetition. Yet he will certainly be recognised as one of the most important figures in the social history of the time. His great business capacities enabled him to make an important stand against some of the evils produced by the unprecedented extension of the factory system. He was not in sympathy with any political party. Cobbett, who shared some of his views, treats him with contemptuous ridicule (Political Register, August 1817). Southey, while approving his social aims, was alienated by his religious teaching (see especially Southey, Colloquies, 1829, d. 62, where he is called the 'happiest, most bene-