Thursday, 5 May 2011

Jersey's Independent Media 1856-1862 - Part 5

"The perseverance of Englishmen in taking their pleasure gravely, under the most adverse meteorological circumstances cannot be too highly commended, especially by doctors and undertakers." (George Harney)

The Chartist George Julian Harney had taken over as editor of the Jersey Independent. During his tenure, because of his baiting of François Godfray over the the injustice of a legal system that robbed tenants of their immediate inheritance if they had no direct heirs, he had been hauled into court under a suit of defamation; this was to eventually collapse. He was also subject to personal attacks by François Godfray on the basis of his involvement with Chartism. But he replied in an open and dignified letter in the Jersey Independent to Godfray's attacks, and defended his past:
"Far from being ashamed of having been connected with the Chartist movement, I feel proud in avowing that I have asserted the rights of the industrious but unrepresented classes of Great Britain. . . . You set your creatures to talk about what you and they are profoundly ignorant of. Were I to discuss Chartism with you, and you were to begin by explaining your ideas of that 'ism', I am certain that you would exhibit the most thorough ignorance of principles which have not only been agitated by the working men of England and their friends, but which are in the course of gradual but certain adoption by the Legislature; and which in time will be grafted upon, and become part and parcel of the British Constitution."
Here we see a gradual shift in Harney's attitude from the more militant outlook of his younger self of 1839; he now believed that the six points of Chartism would inevitably, if slowly, end up as part of British law. There were other changes which may well have tempered his radical temper, and that was his second marriage and more domestic routines:
Harney's material well-being had increased a good deal more than most of his class. As a leader of the radical petit-bourgeoisie in St. Helier, he had found at last a snug backwater which offered security and amusement and prestige of a sort, even if it was far from the mainstream of events. He had doubts at first: his Christmas 1856 greeting to old friends in England conveys an unmistakable sense of isolation; and in his lonely walk about St. Helier on that rainy Christmas Eve -- not speaking to an attractive young woman through shyness, and finally having a drink by himself in a pub -- there is more than a suggestion of the rootlessness of the émigré. But these were passing uncertainties.

Presumably, a man could remain a bachelor in St. Helier only by strength of will. As an observer in the late 'forties noted, "St. Helier is, par excellence, the retreat of old maids. Out of 2,400 souls, there are 1,300 unmarried adult females. There are only 400 men in the town."  Whether the woman Harney married was an old maid or not, she was evidently a person of some intelligence, possessing as well the invaluable trait of admiring her husband.
Harney's first marriage had been when he was in exile in Scotland, to a weaver's daughter, Mary Cameron, on 14 September 1840, at Mauchline, Ayreshire. But she had died about 1853, and he had arrived and settled in Jersey as a single man, and a widower. Sometime during his stay, he also met Marie Métivie (nee Le Sueur), who was the widow and James Métivie, and the change from bachelor status to married man clearly effected a change in his personal demeanour. Marie was the widow of a prosperous shopkeeper, and Harney also acquired a stepson, James (b. 1853).
In their house on one of the steep streets overlooking the lovely harbour of St. Helier, Harney sank deeper into Victorian respectability. Evidently Marie Harney had brought a lot into the marriage, for the rosewood ottomans, Chinese porcelain and damask curtains of their home were not the sort of thing a provincial newspaper editor's salary would buy. The contrast between this and the rooms in the noisome alleys of Blackfriars and Southwark of his youth was as great as the gap between "George Julian Harney, Esquire", the signature he now adopted, and the deliberately class-conscious way he had signed his name to the manifestos of the East London Democratic Association: "George Julian Harney, Labourer".
Yet Harney was pleased to welcome old acquaintances from his past, such as the poet Gerald Massey. Gerald Massey (29 May 1828 - 29 October 1907) was an English poet and self-styled Egyptologist who had been sending Harney copies of his poetical works over the years, and Harney was able also to assist Massey in obtaining a short course of lectures in Jersey and Guernsey in 1862.
Massey's lectures were as follows:
Massey lecturing in Jersey and Guernsey: "Sir Charles James Napier, the Conqueror of Scinde"; "England's Old Sea Kings; how they lived, fought and died"; a poetry reading by Massey's wife, Rosina; and in Guernsey, a further "England's Old Sea Kings". Four reports in the British Press and Jersey Times, November and December 1862.
I haven't been able to track down copies of these lectures, but Massey's poem "We Know There's Something Wrong" gives a good indication of his themes of faith and justice; it is a powerful indictment of a Victorian church that all too often might ignore social ills in its devotion to personal piety:
WHEN this bright world's a blessed place
    Where Paradise might be-
If Love but lampt the sweet, sad, face
    Of our humanity-
When heaven is full of sunshine, earth
    Full of fruit, flowers, and song,
Yet starvelings groan 'mid nature's mirth,
    We know there's something wrong.
When God's dear sunshine's taxt for gold,
    The smile of green fields bought,
And rulers league in power's stronghold,
    To crush the people's thought;
And statesmen cower tremblingly
    Before the pleading throng,
Nor stand in conscious dignity,-
    We know there's something wrong.
When prison-ration, pauper-fare,-
    Is better than theirs who plod
Twelve hours a day like slaves, yet wear
    The image of a God.
When Mother Church breaks hearts for bread,
    And sanctions drop and thong-
We read what Christ the master said,
    And know there's something wrong.
Harney's friend Gerald Massey had previously submitted an article to Harney to his English newspapers which was fulsome in its praise of the poet Pierre-Jean Béranger, the "Shakespeare of France", and Harney consequently would provide a glowing obituary to the poet.
Pierre-Jean de Béranger (August 19, 1780 - July 16, 1857) was a prolific French poet and chansonnier (songwriter), who enjoyed great popularity and influence in France during his lifetime, but faded into obscurity in the decades following his death.
The songs of Béranger would scarcely be called songs in England. They are elaborate, written in a clear and sparkling style, full of wit and incision. It is not so much for any lyrical flow as for the happy turn of the phrase that they claim superiority.
As editor of the Jersey Independent, Harney gave the news of Béranger's death extensive coverage :
Notice of Béranger's serious illness appeared in The Jersey Independent on July 8 and again on July 18; the death was prominently noted in a black-bordered announcement, terminating with lines from Byron, on July 22; a satirical editorial, "The Imperial Undertaker", appeared on July 25; a biographical notice of over three columns, some letters from the poet to Madame Hugo, and a full-page portrait of Béranger, ready for framing, were printed on August 1; and in each of the issues of August 5, 8, and 12 similar space was devoted to Béranger's poems, together with English translations.
Harney kept up correspondence all his life, and thought that the art of letter writing was dying out; while he was in Jersey, this also kept him in touch with wider current affairs across England and Europe:
He himself, however, did his utmost to keep the art of letter writing alive. Hundreds of his letters, now lying in lavender, testify to his epistolary industry-all characteristic and all long, some long enough to fill a newspaper column.
But he was to leave Jersey, because of a dispute with the proprietor. The American civil was raging between 1861-1865, and most Jersey society was at odds with Harney's stance, supporting the South and slavery. The final section on Harney's time in Jersey will explore this.
A. R. Schoyen The chartist challenge: a portrait of George Julian Harney, 1958,
The Harney papers, 1969, M. Hambrick A chartist's library, 1986 and D.
Goodway 'The Métivier collection and the books of George Julian Harney', Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, volume 49 (1984), pages 57-60.

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