'Kindness and Reason' - William Lovett and Education

A passion for self-improvement and enriched opportunity mark Lovett out as an archetypal Victorian – far more than a mere Chartist agitator.

Just across the road from Karl Marx in Highgate cemetery, William Lovett lies buried. Yet his grave has few visitors; indeed, until last autumn its inscription was indecipherable – obscured by a century's neglect, lichen and weathering. Yet he is far more representative than Marx of nineteenth-century British working-class politics, was far better known in his day, and was much more accurate in his predictions about British social trends.

Most people, if they've heard of Lovett at all, know of him as a Chartist – as the high-minded secretary of the London Working Men's Association which gave birth to Chartism, and as the courageous champion of 'moral force' methods against the 'physical force' methods of the rival Chartist leader Feargus O'Connor. Yet this is misleading, for it locates Lovett in the pre-Victorian context of class conflict that died away in the mid-1840s, and sees his career as ending prematurely; 'as far as it influenced history', writes G.D.H. Cole, his career 'was over before he was forty: the rest of his life was merely an epilogue of dogged, disillusioned faith'.

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