ArticlePDF Available


Poetry was a major cultural genre of the so-called ‘socialist revival’ in late 19th-century Britain. Poems were sung at meetings and Labour Church services, published in socialist newspapers and periodicals, and gathered together in collections and anthologies. Socialist activists took to verse to make social, political and ideological interventions, and looked back through the literature of the 19th century to construct a democratic canon of verse which seemed to have the ‘Socialist passion for man,’ as one socialist commentator described it, at its heart. In a mixed socialist movement, engaged in heated internal debate over its aims and strategies, discussions about the nature and purpose of socialist poetry fed into wider discussions about the nature and purpose of fin de siècle socialism itself. There has been a burgeoning of scholarly interest in this field in the early 21st century, and this article explores this small but growing body of work, suggesting directions for future research.
Literature Compass 13/11 (2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
Kirsten Harris*
University of Bristol
Poetry was a major cultural genre of the so-called socialist revivalin late 19th-century Britain. Poems
were sung at meetings and Labour Church services, published in socialist newspapers and periodicals,
and gathered together in collections and anthologies. Socialist activists took to verse to make social,
political and ideological interventions, and looked back through the literature of the 19th century tocon-
struct a democratic canon of verse which seemed to have the Socialist passion for man,as one socialist
commentator described it, at its heart. In a mixed socialist movement, engaged in heated internal debate
over its aims and strategies, discussions about the nature and purpose of socialist poetry fed into wider dis-
cussions about the nature and purpose of fin de siècle socialism itself. There has been a burgeoning of
scholarly interest in this field in the early 21st century, and this article explores this small but growing body
of work, suggesting directions for future research.
(Think not that I am in league
With editors hungry for ads.;
My true poems have been scornfully W-P-Bd. more than once.
Courage, poet-comrades, editors shall be suppressed, and our songs yet ring through these islands.)
The lines above begin the fourth stanzaof a poem published in the Labour Leader in May 1896
by one of the papers regular journalists, who signed off as Ben.
The poem, entitled Whit-
manesque,humorously parodies the American poets expansive style to expose and attack
the pervasiveness of advertising for consumer goods in late 19th-century Britain.
Self-reflexively segueing into a consideration of the place of poetry within 19th-century print
culture specifically, within socialist print culture the parenthetical interjection suggests some
salient discussion points. First, that poetry was a major genre of the so-called socialist revival.
Benplays on the familiar joke in socialist newspapers and periodicals that their waste paper bas-
kets (WPBs) were overspilling with submissions from their readers. Poetry was ubiquitous in
these publications; Elizabeth Carolyn Miller argues that it was by far the most important literary
genre of the radical press(Literature and the Late-Victorian Radical Press708). Second, Ben
raises questions about the notion of giving voice about who was allowed to speak, and who
decided what should be heard. The call to the speakersfellowpoet-comradesfigures their
struggle with the editor in terms of the proletarian revolution, a poignant and rather jarring
metaphor to find in a socialist publication. Related questions concern what an appropriate voice
might sound like, what form socialist or democraticpoetry might take, and what a democratic
poetic canon might consist of. Third, Benchallenges the privileging of income-generating text
advertising over affective and truepoetic text, a practice associated with the capitalist print
industry which socialist publications were also often compelled to adopt. Finally, in the
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd
declaration that the songs of the poets would ring through these islands,’‘Bengestures towards
a faith in the redemptive power of poetry.
However, writing on Socialism and Victorian Poetryin this journal in 2004, Ruth Livesey
observed that the two key terms of her title seemed to strain apartin the 21st century (1). There
is a disconnect, she argues, caused in part by a current separation of aesthetics and politics,very
much at odds with the lived experience and theorization of socialism in late 19th-century
Britain (1). Working to dismantle this perceived divide for the 21st century reader, Livesey
sketches a structure of feeling characterized by inclusiveness and pluralism, within a period of
vibrant socialist history that meshed politics with spirituality, literature, art and community-
building. Stephen Yeos seminal 1977 study of the idea of the religion of socialismoffers a
key theoretical orientation for the work that Livesey and others have recently done to locate
poetry (and literature more generally) within this heterogeneous socialist culture. In what
Yeo claims as an important phase of socialist history, broad understandings of what socialism
meant made it subject to a range of philosophical, spiritual and cultural influences, and encour-
aged its literary and artistic as well as political expression. Yeo quotes Robert Blatchford in the
Labour Prophet in 1897: If you want socialism to be a religion, you must widen your definition
of socialism. You must draw out all the ethical and spiritual implications of these desires and
efforts for a juster social orderThe labour movement is but one sign of a new spirit at work
in many directions throughout human affairs(Yeo 56). This expansive conceptualization
worked within a mode of associative socialism a branch life which included choirs, bicycling
and book clubs alongside rallies, reformist agitation and industrial dispute which Chris Waters
has described as the attempt to develop apoliticsofeverydaylifeand a politics of popular
culture(Waters 14).
The interaction of these impulses the visionary and spiritual, the practical and everyday
informed the discursive practices of socialism, including its literary production. Following Anne
JanowitzsleadinLyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition, Livesey explores this dynamic in
Socialism and Victorian Poetryby introducing pairings which seem dichotomous socialism
and poetry, aesthetics and politics, materialism and idealism, collective struggle and the individ-
uated lyric subject and reconstructing them to demonstrate how they worked in a generative
dialectic relationship. A fundamental line of enquiry concerns this productivity, asking what it is
that poetry can be said to do. Putting it another way, as Mike Sanders asks in the Chartist
context, how can poetry possess political agency (Sanders 6)? Invoking Sartre and Adornosthe-
oretical debate about the political value of committedas opposed to autonomousmodes of
writing, Fabian Macphersons 2011 doctoral dissertation on Poetry and Political Commitment
in Late Nineteenth-Century Englandexplores how verse was used in various ways to incite
the reader toeffect change in the worldbut ultimately questions its ability to do so (3). Speaking
of Chartist poetry, Sanders identifies two levels of political agency which also resonate in the
socialist context: first, discrete interventions in specific political debates,where the status of po-
etry itself is incidental; second, the total qualitative transformation of consciousness wrought by
poetry,where the medium is crucial to the aim (Sanders 13). I argue in my recent monograph
that poetry and discussions about the nature and purpose of a democratic canon or aesthetic
were also integrated in nuanced ways into debates about the nature and purpose of socialism it-
self: about what it meant as an oppositional anti-capitalist movement, what a future socialist
society might look like, and how in the interim socialism could construct an alternative public
sphere to challenge capitalist cultural hegemony (Harris 104).
As Livesey observes, the poetry of socialism both what was written and what was read
lends itself to interdisciplinary critical methodologies (Socialism and Victorian Poetry34).
From a literary perspective, the field has developed out of rigorous, historically rich research,
benefitting from what Miller describes as a renewed emphasis on historical and cultural
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism 725
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
approaches to literary study(Literature and the Late-Victorian Radical Press702). An empha-
sis on hybridity and pluralism has, rightly, become something of a commonplace in the analysis
performed by the steadily growing (though still relatively small) group of scholars working in
this cultural field. Historians and literary critics have challenged both the tripartite historiogra-
phy put forward by Stanley Pierson in the 1970s, which divided late 19th-century socialism into
social democracy, Fabianism and ethical socialism,and a rise and declinenarrative separating
this phase of socialist activity from modernist preoccupations.
Thomas Linehan, for instance,
uses the example of Caroline Martyn a popular Independent Labour Party (ILP) orator,
elected to its National Administrative Council, who also belonged to the Fabian Society, the
Guild of St Matthew and the Labour Church to show that the boundaries between the var-
ious branches of socialism tended to be quite fluid and blurred(Linehan 2). This deconstructive
tendency has opened the field for more nuanced explorations of poetry, f iction, music and art,
as they worked across the borderlines of a movement in transition.
The title of Linehanswork,Modernism and British Socialism,pointstoamajorfocalshiftinre-
cent research. Where Yeo had contained this distinctive phaseof socialism in the 13 years
between 1883 and 1896 (Yeo 7), critics such as Anna Vaninskaya warn against glossing the
1900s as a period of sober pragmatismin stark contrast to the idealistic fervourwhich pre-
ceded it in the 1880s and 1890s (Vaninskaya 160). Literature and other cultural modes contin-
ued to operate within socialism as it evolved in the 20th century: The gold of the golden age
was no pure metal, and the iron age that followed it had veins of gold(Vaninskaya 160). Where
LiveseysLiterature Compass article had evocatively played on the incongruous connotations of
the adjective Victorianto uncover a radical 19th-century tradition of claiming the lyric as a
site of collective engagement(Socialism and Victorian Poetry3), scholarship since including
Liveseys more recent work has tended to set its face towards the 20th century and explore
continuities and tensions with the modernist political and literary imagination.
In Modernism and Cultural Con f lict, 1880-1922, Ann Ardis proposes a periodization that recu-
perates these years from the long nineteenth centurycritical paradigm. Turn-of-the-twenti-
eth-century studieswould instead emphasize the fin de siècle sense of living in new times
and interrogate the relationship between literary modernism and other forms of cultural pro-
duction which preceded and developed around it, such as those associated with socialism.
Where Ardis explores the competition between the self-fashioning of high modernism and
socialist aesthetic and political modes, Linehan conversely pursues the affinities between late
19th-century socialism and a broad modernism which extended beyond avant-garde literature
and art into political and social manifestations of revolt(Linehan 6). Linehans cultural history
draws on literary sources as an archive of radical thought and inf luence, integral to understand-
ing continuities such as conceptualizations of utopian modernism, the propagandist power of
myth, ideas about community and social space, and aspirations for spiritual regeneration, tran-
scendence and heightened consciousness(Linehan 7). Edward Carpenter features prominently,
alongside lesser-known poets such as C. Allen Clarke. Associations are drawn between the
socialist belief that the late 19th century was a time of profound crisis, out of which society
would be reborn and regenerated, and the modernist imagination typified by Eliot, Joyce and
Pound (Linehan 52).
Major works by Livesey and Miller consider the intersection of socialist aestheticism and
modernism. Both LiveseysSocialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914
and MillersSlow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture open with chapters
on William Morriss inf luential reclamation of aestheticism as the natural adjunct of social en-
gagement, rather than aesthetic autonomy(Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism 19).
Livesey argues that when aestheticism evolved into decadence and detachment, Morris revised
his earlier theories of beauty in the light of the historical materialism he had learnt from Marx.
726 Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
Associating this development with the advancement of high capitalism, Morris resisted the
aesthetics of consumption,as Regenia Gagnier has called it, proposing instead an aesthetics
of production (33).
Alert to genderings of the socialist aesthetic, Livesey suggests that this mode
reinscribed the manliness of art by locating it in the realm of the body via the pleasures of
labour(34). Art had a meaningful historical basis, being born out of inherited communal
traditions rather than individual genius.
Miller explores the implications of Morriss revised, politically engaged aestheticism as it was
issued through his print ventures and as it was passed into other publications with working-class
readerships. True art would only be possible after the overthrow of capitalism, but art could also
hurry the revolution along (Slow Print 35). Literature provided a space to envision postrevolu-
tionary society, Miller argues, and MorrissCommonweal published explicitly utopianverse
(45) which allowed readers to imagine what art might be like in the socialist future(35).
Neither Livesey nor Miller read Morriss own socialist poetry against the aesthetic they identify,
but Millers chapter on Morris discusses C. W. Beckett, a poet practically unknown today who
was published more than any other in the Commonweal. Like many other socialist poets, Beckett
mined the connotative power of dawn imagery, and Miller discusses how this symbolism was
incorporated into poetry which manipulated time and chronology to envision, and therefore
bring about, a utopian post-capitalist future.
Conversely, Ingrid Hansons discussion in William Morris and the Uses of Violence, 1856-1890
rests on the corporeal experience of the revolution itself. Challenging scholarship that has seen
an increasing pacificism in Morriss later years, Hanson gives a version of Morris fiercely com-
mitted to an idea of redemptive violence(135). Paying close attention to Morriss later socialist
poetry, Hanson avers that metaphors of violence drive the content, form and structure of his
propaganda poems(132). Crucially, violent revolution would curtail the symbolic violence
wrought on workers under capitalism by making the enemy visible (132). Hanson agrees that
Morriss socialist poems can be mapped onto the interventionist Romantic tradition that
Janowitz uncovers but argues that they draw equally on the tradition of religious conversion that
invites individuals into a community of struggle,where conversion is rooted in the physical
present and the body itself has the potential to be the centre of violent transformation
The body, inherently associated with labour and labour-value, is a key site in critical discus-
sion. Resisting conceptualizations of art as a higher, intellectual endeavour divorced from work-
ing life, socialist poetry often embodies a complex relationship between manual and artistic
labour. For Edward Carpenter, who together with Morris has been a major focus of scholarship
in this field, the body was also bound into radical ideas about the liberating potential of desire
and sexuality. In Morris, Carpenter, Wilde, and the Political Aesthetics of Labour,Livesey
contrasts Morrisssomatic aesthetics of the pleasures of labor(610) with Carpenters, in which
the intentional Lamarckian evolutionary transformation of the body was a force of social
change. Humanity could direct its physiological development, and would therefore willfully
replace diseased civilization(always a negative term for Carpenter) with a communal society
of beautiful laboring bodies(60910). Evolution was art,Livesey writes, the body was
an aesthetic object and the desiring self was the artist.The poet was to prompt such evolution-
ary development by arousing desirein his readers who would change themselves as a result,
passing down any newly acquired characteristics to succeeding generations (611).
In his chapter on Carpenter in Transatlantic Connections: Whitman U.S., Whitman U.K.,M.
Wynn Thomas offers close readings of the long prose poem Towards Democracy, in which
Carpenter contrasts gleeful, erotic celebrations of human physicality (The heaving breasts of
love, the phallus, the fleshy thighs, / The erect proud head and neck, the sturdy back;Towards
Democracy 360) with the diseased, malformed body caused by, and representative of, Victorian
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism 727
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
society (Thomas 180). Carpenters belief in Lamarckian evolutionary perfectibility is encapsu-
lated in a poetic set-piece, discussed by Thomas, where the speaker wrestles with Satan, as Jacob
had wrestled with an angel, in order to uncover his true self, to reclaim his body, in all its aspects
(180). Body after body is cast aside as the speaker reincarnates stronger each time until, in
victory, he recognizes the divinity in his opponent, and they unite to enter paradise together.
Love, Thomas argues, particularly transgressive same-sex love that civilizationtried to repress,
offered a vital means of resistance to the antihuman threat of social convention(181). Physical
self-improvement was therefore both a means by which socialism could resist capitalist civiliza-
tion,and a metaphor for other forms of social and spiritual evolution.
Where Livesey locates Carpenters Lamarckian aesthetic in the body, my work on Carpenter
in Walt Whitman and British Socialism focuses on its application to the soul. Carpenter believed
that in order to achieve a socialist democracy, humanity needed to evolve from self-
consciousness to universal consciousness. Again, the poet was able to instigate widespread social
change by inspiring an enlightened spiritual awareness in his readers which would be passed on
to the next generation. Walt WhitmansLeaves of Grass and Edward CarpentersTowards
Democracy have become as a kind of Twentieth-Century Old and New Testament,avowed
the ILPs Katharine Bruce Glasier in 1931, pointing to a notion of spiritual inheritance which
is central to my reading. Carpenter believed that his sacred duty was not merely to disseminate
the older poetspropheticmessage but to shape its evolution into a more explicitly reformist,
socialist ideology (Harris 3233; Glasier 86).
Thomas alternatively employs a model of cultural translationin which Carpenter converts
Whitmans American poetry into the different sociopolitical idiomof his own English cul-
ture, inf lecting the text of Towards Democracy with his developing socialist philosophy
(Thomas 171). The result is an angrily confrontational, radically anticapitalist text(174),
which rails against systems of land and property ownership, and does not only celebrate the
dignity of labour but exposes its brutality under capitalist conditions. As this suggests, the
WhitmanCarpenter literary pairing is a common feature of recent scholarship, as it was in
contemporary discussions. In The Making of British Socialism, for instance, Mark Bevir identifies
Whitmans inf luence in the ideas about spirituality, simple living and comradeship that
Carpenter brought to ethical socialism(24753), and in Whitman, Democracy, and the
English ClerisyAndrew Elfenbein suggests that Carpenter actively reshapedWhitman to
meet radical English desires (81).
Socialism, wrote Robert Blatchford in his Clarion pamphlet The New Religion,wasonall lips
and pens(3). In what he saw as a sign of the movements ascendency, it had established alit-
erature of its own, and a Press of its own.In fact, socialist literary culture was in large part a pro-
duction of its press: a broad democratic canon was instituted through the poems, stories, plays
and critical works that were printed, quoted, reviewed and advertised in its periodicals and
newspapers. It is appropriate, then, that the first sustained analysis of the movementspoetry
as a genre that extended beyond a familiar few players is anchored in its periodicals. Millers
discussion of socialist poetry in her chapter Measured Revolution: Poetry and the Late
Victorian Radical Pressis situated within her wider project which explores how late Victorian
radicals turned to what she calls slow print(independent small-scale printdirected towards a
limited community) in the effort to resist the political failingsof the capitalist print industry
(Slow Print 6). She reads this largely forgotten body of poetry in the context of the periodicals
they were published in (some were later gathered into collections, anthologies
and songbooks), joining a burgeoning school of archival criticism concerned with literature as
it was experienced in a polyvocal medium which included articles, advertisements, pictures,
cartoons and notices. As digitization remains relatively limited, reference texts such as Deborah
MutchsEnglish Socialist Periodicals, 1880-1900, which indexes a selection of the movements
728 Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
periodical poetry, and Laurel Brake and Marysa DemoorsDictionary of Nineteenth-Century
Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland, are useful in getting an initial lay of the land.
As Linda K. Hughes has established in her article What the Wellesley IndexLeft Out,
poetry matteredin Victorian periodicals: it was rarely used as filler(prose was better suited
to that purpose), but was instead a value-addedliterary feature that also introduced visual
variation to the printed page (103). Millers interrogation of how poetry matteredin socialist
periodicals draws on a wide range of poems (many by unknown or little-known poets) to com-
bine historicist analysis with detailed close readings. A number of digital images are included,
allowing the reader to see the poems as they appeared on the page. Observing that the majority
of poems included in socialist periodicals took traditional forms, Miller argues that the political
value of formal innovation was not privileged in socialist poetry, although it was discussed by the
movements critics. Rather, socialist poetry depicted revolutionary political aims in measured
terms,situating radical ideals within the familiar forms and rhythms of the pastand claiming
poetic tradition as a precapitalist formation(Slow Print 16768). Readings of poems by Henry
Glasse, J. L. Joynes, John Bruce Glasier and case studies of Tennyson parodies, the poetry of
MorrissCommonweal,andTomMaguirethe young ILP and Social Democratic Federation
(SDF) activist who died aged 29 after contributing prolifically to the Labour Leader under the
pen name Bardolph’–lead Miller to conclude that socialist poets were deeply concerned with
the idea of rupture, specifically that of revolution, and formulated a poetics of political rupture
that precedes modernisms aesthetic rupture(170). New ways of thinking and living could be
brought about by adapting familiar cultural forms.
Millers discussion surrounding tradition and innovation suggests an area that has significant
scope for future research. Writing of Chartism, Janowitz comments in Lyric and Labour that
poetry was a flattering mirror to a movement-in-formation, offering conventions for group
identity, and a social matrix within which people could discover themselves as belonging to
an on-going set of traditions, goals, and expectations(135). Chartist poetry was to excavate
and invent that sense of tradition.There is more work to be done on how this duality operated
within the socialist context on how a sense of radical tradition was uncovered but also crafted
to tell an evolutionary narrative that located the socialist struggle as its final iteration, at the
avant-garde of human and social transformation. The recent recuperation of Chartist literature
by Sanders and others mirrors a similarly energetic reclamation a century earlier in the socialist
press, as socialism both excavatedand inventeda radical literary tradition for itself. Chartist
poetry was regularly printed in socialist periodicals, and socialist literary critics looked back to
the earlier movement to claim a radical inheritance. Alongside the Chartist poets, established
figures such as William Blake and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were co-opted for the socialist
cause and integrated into its democratic canon.
Writing in the Labour Leader in 1897, Henry Salt, for example, glosses the revolutionary
poets he had included in his Songs of Freedom anthology (Some Revolutionary Poets23).
Prefiguring Janowitzsdouble trajectoryof transcendence and intervention, Salt drew a dem-
ocratic poetic line of inheritance from the Romantic poets through the Chartists and on to the
socialist writers of his own time, identifying two primary strains: the Chartists worked out of
prosaic fields of political activity,giving their poetry a direct power,whereas Wordsworth,
Coleridge, Byron, Keats and Shelley wrote from the high mountain-land of poetic vision.Ac-
cording to Salt, the latter found their successors in John Barlas, Francis Adams, Morris and espe-
cially the formally innovative Carpenter and Whitman. Perhaps paradoxically, this idea of
innovation was fundamental to discussions about literary inheritance. A new spirit’–what
one journalist defined as the Socialist passion for man’–was seen to populate 19th-century lit-
erature (W. B.22). For some, this nebulous idea of a new spiritwas more important than for-
mal stipulations, but other socialist critics demanded new forms of expression. For instance, in
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism 729
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
his regular literature column in the Labour Leader, a young Alfred Orage called for a poetic form
befitting the gospel of unitythat he believed socialism preached (ABookishCauserie328):
To express the universal in terms of humanitythis is the function of the poet of Democracy
(Towards Democracy197). Orage talked about new oldconceptions which should direct
poetic development: fundamental, age-old democratic truths demanded novel applications,
and new forms were needed to reflect and shape the direction of humanitys social and spiritual
evolution. Miller examines Shelleys inf luence within the socialist movement, and I have con-
sidered Whitman, but there is more work to be done on what socialists read as well as what they
wrote, and how they negotiated and reworked a perceived democratic literary inheritance.
Related to the formal politics of socialist poetry the discussion about what it should look
and sound like was the question of who should do the talking. As literacy rates improved,
and technological developments and the repeal of the so-called taxes of knowledgemade read-
ing more affordable, the latter half of the nineteenth century saw the progressive democratiza-
tion of print (Rubery 49). The sheer volume of publications produced opened platforms to a
much broader range of speakers. This general shift received a particular slant in the socialist con-
text where the democratization of the cultural sphere was integral to the movementspolitical
aims. Through its periodicals and presses (such as the Manchester Labour Press Society), numer-
ous opportunities to publish literature and contribute to political and cultural discussion were
afforded to socialists far removed from the metropolitan literary scene. However, hopeful sub-
missions to periodicals such as the Commonweal and the Labour Leader often received frank and
fairly unfraternal public rejections in answers to correspondentscolumns. Not simply a ques-
tion of artistic worth, this hierarchal dynamic could be further examined in the framework of
the friction between the aspirational, affective structures of socialist poetry and the economic
forces impacting its print production. Dissemination of socialist poetry cost money; even poems
transmitted orally and aurally as they were sung together at socialist meetings and Labour
Church services were distributed in print form in songbooks.
Periodicals and pamphlets
required readers who were prepared to pay, and issues of audience, reception and the pragmatics
of print are increasingly being incorporated into discussions about socialist literary aesthetics.
The subgenre of socialist poetry concerned metapoetically with its own workwould be fruit-
ful to explore in this regard. J.L. Joynes, for example, former Eton schoolmaster turned SDF
activist, introduced his 1884 collection, Socialist Rhymes, with an unsettlingly defeatist poem
built around the symbolic association of the swan with the poet (2). A swan offers a quill to
the speaker to write the tale of human ill; the speaker first uses his tears as ink but as the people
could not read his words, he pierces his veins to use his blood instead. A fruitless sacrifice, the
poet is left broken on the riverbank begging the swan to take back the quill. The juxtaposition
of the elevated connotations of the swan, which presumes the readers familiarity with its
classical symbolism, and the titles informal self-categorization as rhymesuggests a disjoint
which somehow needed to be navigated. The frustration that workers were as deaf to the
socialist message as their oppressors was one frequently voiced in socialist discourse, and this
poem, which questions what socialist poetry can do, critically asks how the writing of poetry
could be adapted to enable its message to be better heard and understood.
A solution offered by some working-class poets was to give space to writers like themselves,
who hailed from the communities that socialism wished to reach. C. Allen Clarke, for example,
also made the association between ink and blood, writing in a prose piece that My pen is a hot,
oily spindle, and my ink a horrible mixture of soot and sweat coloured with human blood
(Effects of the Factory System 25). Literary labour is again associated with self-sacrifice but for
Clarke, who spent his childhood working in Boltons factories, the metaphor was not merely
a literary affectation but a powerful expression of self-identification. In Clarkes collection of
poetry, Voicesand Other Verses, the right to intercede on behalf of the inarticulateis explained
730 Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
first in a framing introductory poem by an elevated bard-like speaker who gathers together the
human voices of the collection (910), and secondly by one of these voices, the poor poet,
who uses less lofty language to restate the same intention (3435). Like Clarke himself, Clarkes
speaker both mediates from above and speaks from within; the ability to manipulate these dif-
ferent modes allows him to campaign for a cultural space for the labouring classes. For Joseph
Whittaker, a Labour Church activist who grew up in the slums of Wolverhampton, the
working-class poet had great agency. In his poem The Better Singer,the speaker is a learned
and accomplished poet who wishes to write a poem to cheer those who labour but fails because
his verse soared too highand could not connect with the people (Whittaker 7072). In con-
trast, when one from themselvessang simple songs,he was able to control a million hearts.
Even as it is manipulated pointedly for effect by labouring-class poets, this kind of reductive
categorization the upper-class poet soaring transcendent, exploiting the complexity of the
English language, while the humble lower-class poet sits close to the soil, using simple words
and rhythms reads uncomfortably today. And yet very little work has been done on socialisms
labouring-class poets, though the class politics of the early socialist movement is frequently
discussed. Partly, as John Goodridge suggests in Some Rhetorical Strategies in Later
Nineteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poetry,this may be due to conditioned prejudice against
literary forms that labouring-class poets often used, such as melodrama and sentimental verse.
These forms, however, could evince powerful social protest and the recognition of their
performativity and inventiveness invites a richer critical response(544). Tom Maguire, for
instance, moved adroitly between different performative modes humour, sentiment, melo-
drama, parody, occasional verse while working under the pressure of tight print deadlines.
His poem about writing poetry, Advertisement,wittily sketches the travails of being a minor
poet:Yet, know the minor poet is for now and evermore! / Though you vote him down a
bother and a bore(Maguire 1819).
Not only labouring-class poets, but minorpoets from across the social classes have tended to
be overlooked in favour of Morris and Carpenter. Many of these poets were not minor in the
movement leading activists such as Joynes, John Bruce Glasier and even Keir Hardie wrote
verse in the name of the socialist cause. Others were less involved in the organization of the
movement but were well-known for their literary and journalistic work. Exceptions include
Liveseys chapter on Dollie Radford, which explores how Radfords poetry can be read as an
attempt to challenge the gendered communal socialist aesthetic disseminated by Carpenter and
Morris (Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism 13260). In Francis Adams and Songs of the
Army of the Night,Meg Tasker considers the British-born socialist who emigrated to Australia
in 1884 aged 22. She invokes a Bakhtinian dialogic framework to analyze to the textsmultiplic-
ity of voices, arguing that the co-existence of these voices allows the implied poetof the whole
volume to be constructed as both a member of the oppressed masses and a middle-class sympa-
thizer(71). Millers recuperation of little-known writers such as Maguire is a field-defining in-
tervention, and Fabian Macpherson also offers a welcome venture into this body of work in his
analysis of poems by Joynes, Salt, Maguire and E. Nesbit, in addition to verse collected in
CarpentersChants of Labour. Philip K. CohensJohn Evelyn Barlas, A Critical Biography includes
discussions of his socialism, and Paul Salveson has written on the life of C. Allen Clarke in
Lancashires Romantic Radical.
Writing in 2010, Miller accounts for the growth in critical interest in the radical literature of
the late 19th century aradical turn’–in the light of disciplinary developments (increased dig-
itization, the dominance of historicist and cultural approaches, the conscious recognition of class
politics within an expanding canon) and our social and political context: the political
shockwaves of the Bush years, especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan(Literature and the
Late-Victorian Radical Press702). A year later, Bevir also looked to current events, suggesting
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism 731
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
a resurgence of interest in socialist ideas in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis (Bevir 1).
In 2016, socialism is again hitting the headlines with the political ascent of Jeremy Corbyn in
Britain and Bernie Sanders in the United States. Although aesthetics and politics may have
become separated on the main political stage, activists have continued throughout the 20th
century to work out of a proud tradition of associative, community-minded politics which
integrates committed poetry, spoken word, storytelling, music, art and performance into its
consciousness-raising activity. As this kind of socialism what Edward Carpenter called a larger
socialism’–is becoming more visible in the movements surrounding Corbyn and Sanders, an
increased aesthetic energy is also noticeable. In the United States rappers such as Killer Mike
and spoken word heavyweight Saul Williams have endorsed Sanders, and exhibitions such as
The Art of a Political Revolutiondemonstrate a willingness to invest creative energy into
his politics (
bernie-sanders/). In September 2015 poets contributed to a volume in support of Corbyns
leadership campaign; Poets for Corbyn, including poems by Michael Rosen, Pascale Petit and
Ian Pindar, was made freely available on the internet and was downloaded 5,000 times in its first
week ( The #JC4PM tour in February 2016
brought poets, comedians, campaigners, musicians and politicians together to rally for a different
kind of labour politics. In Britain, as this branch of the left looks to distance itself from New
Labour by reclaiming its political inheritance, we might anticipate that activists and artists will
engage in the excavationand inventionof a sense of radical tradition and that interest in
the poetry of the early socialist movement will continue to grow.
Short Biography
Currently working at the University of Bristol, Kirsten Harris has previously lectured in English
Literature at the University of Nottingham. She specializes in nineteenth-century radical poetry
and print culture and is interested in issues of inf luence and reception. She has published articles
on Walt Whitmans inf luence on British socialism, and Edward Carpenter, and her book Walt
Whitman and British Socialism: The Love of Comrades was published by Routledge in 2016. She
holds a BA in English Literature, an MA in Nineteenth-Century Studies, and a PhD in English
Literature, all from the University of Sheffield.
*Correspondence: School of Modern Languages, University of Bristol, 17 Woodland Road, Bristol, BS8 1TE, UK.
Benis likely to be one of two men that David Lowe, the sub-editor of the Labour Leader and both a journalist and poet
himself, recalled being on the newspapers staff: Ben Shaw, who would holdthe postof secretary of the Scottish Labour Party
for 17 years, or Ben Gardner (Lowe 42).
See, for example, Piersons sketch of the socialist landscape, The Differentiation of the Socialist Ideology,in British
Socialists: The Journey from Fantasy to Politics (2642). As the loading of the books title suggests, Pierson reads a progressive
narrative in which the path toward a better mastery of reality led beyond fantasy into ideology(23). Conversely,
contemporary accounts such as Joseph ClaytonsThe Rise and Decline of Socialism in Great Britain oftenemphasizedasense
of diminished ideological force as socialism developed along parliamentary lines in the 20th century.
See also the articles reworked by the authors in their longer studies, LiveseysMorris, Carpenter, Wilde, and the Political
Aesthetics of Labor,and MillersWilliam Morris, Print Culture, and the Politics of Aestheticism.
For Gagnier, see The Insatiability of Human Wants (123, 167).
Macpherson points to the caustic response that the reliance on such optimistic imaging drew from G.K. Chesterton
(Macpherson 153): They were always waiting for the Dawn; without the least anticipation that they might be shot at
dawn, or the least intelligent preparation for shooting anybody else at dawn. England awake [sic]; the long long night is
732 Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
over; faint in the east behold the dawn appear.They were all like that; they were all Songs before Sunrise; as if the sun that
rose on the just and the unjust did not also rise on the conquered and the conqueror. But the English revolutionary poet
wrote as if he owned the sun and was certain to be the conqueror(Chesterton 285-86).
See Miller, Literature and the Late-Victorian Radical Press(710, n.3), for a detailed overview of the current state of
digitized periodical resources. Increasingly, digital reproductions of pamphlets and books in their original form are freely
available through digital repositories such as HathiTrust Digital Library ( and Internet
Archive ( Poetry can also be found in the LSE Selected Pamphlets collection on JStor.
Some examples of popular socialist songbooks include CarpentersChants of Labour, LeathamsSongs for Socialists,The
Labour Church Hymnbook, PearcesThe Clarion Song Book and John Bruce GlasiersSocialist Songs.Onthesocialist song
see Waters, British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture (107-120), and Bowan and Pickerings chapter Singing for
Works cited
Ardis, A. L. Modernism and Cultural Conict, 1880-1922. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
[Ben]. Whitmanesque.Labour Leader 30 May 1896: 183.
Bennetts, R., ed. Poets for Corbyn. London: Pendant, 2015 <>.
Bevir, M. The Making of British Socialism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2011.
Blatchford, R. The New Religion, 1897. Reprinted in Pass on Pamphlets Series. London: Clarion, 1909.
Bowan, K. and P. A. Pickering. Singing for Socialism.Heritage, Labour and the Working Classes. Ed. L. Smith, P. A. Shackel,
and G. Campbell. Abingdon: Routledge, 2011. 192215.
Brake, L. and M. Demoor, eds. Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism in Great Britain and Ireland. Gent: Academia Press,
Carpenter, E., ed. Chants of Labour. 6th ed. London: George Allen, 1922.
—— Towards Democracy. Complete ed. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1905.
Chesterton, G. K. The Autobiography of G. K. Chesterton. Ed. R. Paine. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2006.
Clarke, C. A. The Effects of the Factory System. London: Grant Richards, 1899.
—— ‘Voicesand Other Verses. Manchester: Labour Press, 1895.
Clayton, J. The Rise and Decline of Socialism in Great Britain, 1884-1924. London: Faber & Gwyer, 1926.
Cohen, P. K. John Evelyn Barlas, A Critical Biography: Poetry, Anarchism, and Mental Illness in Late-Victorian Britain.High
Wycombe: Rivendale, 2012.
Elfenbein, A. Whitman, Democracy, and the English Clerisy.Nineteenth-Century Literature 56.1 (June 2001): 76104.
Gagnier, R. The Insatiability of Human Wants: Economics and Aesthetics in Market Society.Chicago:UniversityofChicagoPress,
Glasier, J. B., ed. Socialist Songs. Glasgow: Labour Literature Society, 1893.
Glasier, K. Edward CarpentersInuence.Edward Carpenter: In Appreciation. Ed. G. Beith. London: George Allen and
Unwin, 1931.
Goodridge, J. Some Rhetorical Strategies in Later Nineteenth-Century Laboring-Class Poetry.Criticism 47.4 (Fall 2005):
Hanson, I. William Morris and the Uses of Violence, 1856-1890. London: Anthem Press, 2013.
Harris, K. Walt Whitman and British Socialism: The Love of Comrades.New York: Routledge, 2016.
Hughes, L. K. What the Wellesley IndexLeft Out: Why Poetry Matters to Periodical Studies.Victorian Periodicals Review
40.2 (Summer 2007): 91125.
Janowitz, A. Lyric and Labour in the Romantic Tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Joynes, J. L. Socialist Rhymes. London: Modern Press, 1885.
The Labour Church Hymn Book. Manchester: Labour Church Institute, 1892.
Leatham, J., ed. Songs for Socialists. 3rd ed. Aberdeen: James Leatham, 1890.
—— Modernism and British Socialism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Livesey, R. Morris, Carpenter, Wilde, and the Political Aesthetics of Labor.Victorian Literature and Culture 32.2 (September
2004): 601616.
—— ‘Socialism and Victorian Poetry.Literature Compass 1 (2004): 16.
—— Socialism, Sex, and the Culture of Aestheticism in Britain, 1880-1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Lowe, D. From Pit to Parliament: The Story of the Early Life of James Keir Hardie. London: Labour Publishing, 1923.
Macpherson, F. Poetry and Political Commitment in Late Nineteenth-Century England.Diss. UniversityCollege London.
Maguire, T. Tom Maguire: A Remembrance. Manchester: Labour Press Society, 1895.
Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism 733
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
Miller, E. C. Literature and the Late-Victorian Radical Press.Literature Compass 7/8 (2010): 702712.
—— Slow Print: Literary Radicalism and Late Victorian Print Culture. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2013.
—— ‘William Morris, Print Culture, and the Politics of Aestheticism.Modernism/modernity 15.3 (September 2008):
Mutch, D. English Socialist Periodicals,1880-1900: A Reference Source. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005.
Orage, A. A Bookish Causerie: Past, Present, and Future.Labour Leader 19 September 1896: 328.
——.Towards Democracy.Labour Leader 6 June 1896: 197.
Pearce, G., ed. The Clarion Song Book. London: Clarion Press, 1906.
Pierson, S. British Socialists: The Journey from Fantasy to Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979.
Rubery, M. The Novelty of Newspapers: Victorian Fiction after the Invention of the News. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Salt, H. Some Revolutionary Poets of the Century.Labour Leader 19 June 1897: 207.
——.ed.Songs of Freedom. London: Walter Scott, 1893.
Salveson, P. Lancashires Romantic Radical: The Life and Writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton.Hudderseld: Little Northern
Books, 2009.
Sanders, M. The Poetry of Chartism: Aesthetics, Politics, History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
Tasker, M. Francis Adams and Songs of the Army of the Night: Negotiating Difference, Maintaining Commitment.Victorian
Poetry 40.1 (Spring 2002): 7186.
Thomas, M. W. Transatlantic Connections: Whitman U.S., Whitman U.K. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2005.
Vaninskaya, A. William Morris and the Idea of Community: Romance, History and Propaganda, 1880-1914. Edinburgh: Edinburgh
University Press, 2010.
Waters, C. British Socialists and the Politics of Popular Culture, 1884-1914. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1990.
[W. B.]. The Socialist Spirit in Victorian Literature.Labour Leader 19 June 1897: 206.
Whittaker, J. Poems.Wolverhampton:ArthurWhitehead,1892.
Yeo, S. A New Life: The Religion of Socialism in Britain, 1883-1896.History Workshop 4.1 (1977): 556.
734 Poetry and Fin de Siècle Socialism
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Literature Compass 13/11(2016): 724734, 10.1111/lic3.12332
Full-text available
If poetry is sometimes bracketed as an arcane or elitist literary form apart from popular culture, "magazine verse" has become a signifier of trite or sentimental "filler" worth no one's time. This second assumption underlies the decision of one of the founding documents of periodical studies, the Wellesley Index to Victorian Periodicals, to exclude poetry from its magisterial index. In the preface to volume 1 the fact is simply noted, as if requiring no comment: "poetry . . . is not included." Some demurs prompted this "defensible . . . explanation" in volume 2: "To have included verse would have added an enormous number of worthless items . . . and a large number of obscure authors to be identified and then described . . .."1 Eileen Curran, one of the original Wellesley associate editors, reverses Walter Houghton's policy in her index of Bentley's Miscellany poems.2 Nonetheless, the long-term effect of Houghton's policy has been to discourage attention to poetry as a recurring feature of Victorian periodicals. I contend, however, that poetry should matter to all who are interested in Victorian periodicals whether they care for poetry or not.3 Though I briefly review why periodicals mattered to poets, the more pressing questions, in my view, are why original poetry mattered to Victorian editors and readers and what poetry can tell us about Victorian periodicals as a whole. Important work on poetry and periodicals has of course been done, including Brian Maidment's study of self-taught artisanal poets; Florence Boos's of working-class women poets; Alexis Easley's of the signed versus unsigned poems of Christina Rossetti; and Kathryn Ledbetter's of Tennyson's career-long engagement with periodicals.4 As their scholarship establishes, poetry like other material in periodicals is context-dependent, inflected by topicality, marketplace competition, available contributors, and the shifting editorial policies and class register of specific titles, as well as by pressures exerted from within poetic tradition and aesthetic innovation. Since it is impossible to speak [End Page 91] knowledgeably about all original poems in periodicals, my argument rests principally upon the following sampling: The Labourer, the Chartist periodical co-edited by poet Ernest Jones and Feargus O'Connor from 1847-1848; the London Journal of 1857-1858, when the editorship passed from George Stiff to Mark Lemon; Cornhill Magazine and Macmillan's Magazine in the 1860s; Fortnightly Review from 1865 into the early 1870s; and Belgravia Magazine from 1877-1878. The presumptive association of poetry with "filler" is belied by the sheer extent of poems first published in Victorian periodicals that are now deemed canonical. As Appendix I indicates, it is possible to construct a course syllabus using work by canonical poets first published in periodicals. Not only poems responding to public events, like Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" or Elizabeth Barrett Browning's "Cry of the Children," but also Matthew Arnold's "Stanzas from the Grand Chartreuse"-often considered a defining poem of the era-first appeared in weekly and monthly periodicals. Restoring such poems to their first publication context exposes their participation in cultural dialogues rather than their retreat into autonomous aesthetic realms. In the April 1855 Fraser's Magazine, for example, Arnold expresses the dilemma of "Wandering between two worlds, one dead,/The other powerless to be born" sandwiched between a serial novel and James Anthony Froude's review of Four Years at the Court of Henry VIII.5 The installment of Hinchbrook by historian, novelist, and journalist J. C. Jeaffreson ends with Leonard, soon to sail to India as shipboard surgeon, wishing that he could induce a pious wife to reject Christian dogma and rebel against the abusive husband she "honours as lord and master," while his friend Ardour asserts that she finds comfort in framing her husband's "brutal attack[s]" as "a trial sent from Heaven" (436). Froude's review expresses impatience with the trivia recorded in the diary of Venetian ambassador Giustiniani during the crucial Tudor years of 1515-19. Arnold's representation of a visit to a Carthusian monastery and medieval era of faith from which he is excluded is thus contested...
Book This is the first sustained examination of Walt Whitman’s influence on British socialism. Harris combines a contextual historical study of Whitman’s reception with focused close readings of a variety of poems, books, articles, letters and speeches. She calls attention to Whitman’s own demand for the reader to ‘himself or herself construct indeed the poem, argument, history, metaphysical essay’, linking Whitman’s general comments about active reading to specific cases of his fin de siècle British socialist readership. These include the editorial aims behind the Whitman selections published by William Michael Rossetti, Ernest Rhys, and W. T. Stead and the ways that Whitman was interpreted and appropriated in a wide range of grassroots texts produced by individuals or groups who responded to Whitman and his poetry publicly in socialist circles. Harris makes full use of material from the C. F. Sixsmith and J. W. Wallace and the Bolton Whitman Fellowship collections at John Rylands, the Edward Carpenter collection in the Sheffield Archives, and the Archives of Swan Sonnenschein & Co. at the University of Reading. Much of this archive material – little of which is currently available in digital form – is discussed here in full for the first time. Accordingly, this study will appeal to those with interest in the archival history of nineteenth-century literary culture, as well as the connections to be made between literary and political culture of this era more generally.