Thursday, 30 October 2008

Two more Chartist biographies

David Shaw: John James Bezer, Chartists and John Arnott, National Charter Association, (Lulu), 2008, 165pp, £7.84, paper, ISBN 978-1-4092-2526-3

It really has been a bumper year for biographies of leading Chartists with Paul Pickering's study of Feargus O'Connor, Stephen Robert's on Thomas Cooper and Arthur O'Neill and we now have David Shaw utilising the material on his website www.gerald-massey.org.uk to produce biographies of two less well-known figures, John James Bezer and John Arnott.  The book utilises and revises material from the website and the result is a book that, for the first time, allows us to look at Chartism through the lives of less prominent figures and provides a model that other historians could use.

The book divides into two uneven parts: Bezer is accorded over 130 pages while Arnott is allocated twenty-four, a result of the greater amount of material available on Bezer.  Much of the material on Bezer is made up of his autobiography, originally published in 1851 in the Christian Socialist, but not readily available to historians.  Unlike other 'Chartist autobiographies', it was not written after a passage of decades but merely years and this gives it a radical edge perhaps lacking in both Cooper and Lovett.  What is especially interesting about Bezer is that he ended up in Australia and this, often forgotten, episode in his life is examined in detail.  John Arnott, by contrast, is less well documented and David Shaw has done well to collect together virtually everything that is extant in his life especially his poetry, such an important element in Chartist rhetoric. 

Although much of this material is already available on the website, it is extremely useful to have it available in book form and at such a reasonable price.  It is to be hoped that David Shaw will publish other gems like this.

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