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Robert Owen
Born 14 May 1771(1771-05-14)
Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales
Died 17 November 1858 (aged 87)
Occupation Co-operator; social reformer
Spouse(s) Caroline Dale
Children Robert Dale (1801)
William (1802)
Anne Caroline (1805)
Jane Dale (1805)
David Dale (1807)
Richard Dale (1809)
Mary (1810)

Robert Owen (14 May 1771 – 17 November 1858), (born in Newtown, Montgomeryshire, Wales), was a social reformer and one of the founders of socialism and the cooperative movement.

Owen's philosophy was based on three intellectual pillars:

  • First, no one was responsible for his will and his own actions because his whole character is formed independently of himself; people are products of their environment, hence his support for education and labour reform, rendering him a pioneer in human capital investment.
  • Second, all religions are based on the same absurd imagination, that make man a weak, imbecile animal; a furious bigot and fanatic; or a miserable hypocrite; (though in his later years he embraced Spiritualism).[1]
  • Third, support for the putting-out system instead of the factory system[citation needed].

Contents

Biography

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Early Life

Robert Owen was born in Newtown, a small market town in Montgomeryshire, Mid Wales, in 1771. He was the sixth child of seven. His father had a small business as a saddler and ironmonger. Owen's mother came from one of the prosperous farming families. Here young Owen received almost all his school education, which terminated at the age of ten. In 1787, after serving in a draper's shop for some years, he settled in London.

Philanthropy in New Lanark (1800)

During a visit to Glasgow he fell in love with Caroline Dale, the daughter of the New Lanark mill's proprietor David Dale. Owen induced his partners to purchase New Lanark, and after his marriage with Caroline in September 1799, he set up home there. He was manager and part owner of the mills (January 1810). Encouraged by his great success in the management of cotton mills in Manchester, he hoped to conduct New Lanark on higher principles and focus less on commercial principles.

The mill of New Lanark had been started in 1785 by Dale and Richard Arkwright. The water-power afforded by the falls of the Clyde made it a great attraction. About two thousand people had associations with the mills. Five hundred of them were children who were brought at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The children had been well treated by Dale, but the general condition of the people was very unsatisfactory. Many of the workers were in the lowest levels of the population; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were neglected; and most families lived in one room. The respectable country people refused to submit to the long hours and demoralising drudgery of the mills.

Many employers operated the truck system, whereby payment to the workers was made in part or totally by tokens. These tokens had no value outside the mill owner's "truck shop". The owners were able to supply shoddy goods to the truck shop and charge top prices. A series of "Truck Acts" (1831-1887) stopped this abuse. The Acts made it an offence not to pay employees in common currency. Owen opened a store where the people could buy goods of sound quality at little more than wholesale cost, and he placed the sale of alcohol under strict supervision. He sold quality goods and passed on the savings from the bulk purchase of goods to the workers. These principles became the basis for the co-operative shops in Britain that continue to trade today.

His greatest success was in the support of the young, to which he devoted special attention. He was the founder of infant childcare in Great Britain, especially in Scotland. Though his reform ideas resemble European reform ideas of the time, he was likely not influenced by the overseas views; his ideas of the ideal education were his own.

He was at first regarded with suspicion as a stranger but he soon won the confidence of his people. The mills continued to have great commercial success, but some of Owen's schemes involved considerable expense, which displeased his partners. Tired of the restrictions imposed on him by men who wished to conduct the business on the ordinary principles, in 1813 Owen arranged to have them bought out by new found investors. These, including Jeremy Bentham and a well-known Quaker, William Allen, were content to accept just £5000 return on their capital, allowing Owen a freer scope for his philanthropy. In the same year, Owen first authored several essays in which he expounded on the principles which underlay his education philosophy.

Owen had originally been a follower of the classical liberal and utilitarian Jeremy Bentham. However, as time passed Owen became more and more socialist, whereas Bentham thought that free markets (in particular, the rights for workers to move and choose their employers) would free the workers from the excess power of the capitalists.

Ar an early age he had lost all belief in the prevailing forms of religion and had thought out a creed for himself, which he considered an entirely new and original discovery. The chief points in this philosophy were that man's character is made not by him but for him, that it has been formed by circumstances over which he had no control, that he is not a proper subject either of praise or blame. These principles lead up to the practical conclusion that the great secret in the right formation of man's character is to place him under the proper influences–physical, moral and social–from his earliest years. The principles of the irresponsibility of man and of the effect of early influences form the key to Owen's whole system of education and social amelioration. They are embodied in his first work, A New View of Society, or Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, the first of four essays appearing in 1813. Owen's new views theoretically belong to a very old system of philosophy, and his originality is to be found only in his benevolent application of them.

Robert Owen's house in New Lanark

For the next few years Owen's work at New Lanark continued to have a national and even a European significance. His schemes for the education of his workers attained to something like completion on the opening of the institution at New Lanark in 1816. He was a zealous supporter of the factory legislation resulting in the Factory Act of 1819, which greatly disappointed him. He had interviews and communications with the leading members of government, including the premier, Robert Banks Jenkinson, Lord Liverpool, and with many of the rulers and leading statesmen of Europe.

New principles were also adopted by Robert Owen in raising the standard of goods produced. Above each machinist's workplace, a cube with different coloured faces was installed. Depending on the quality of the work and the amount produced, a different colour was used. The worker then had some indication to others of his work's quality. The employee had an interest in working to his best. Though not in itself a great incentive, the conditions at New Lanark for the workers and their families were idyllic for the time.

New Lanark itself became a much frequented place of pilgrimage for social reformers, statesmen, and royal personages, including Nicholas, later emperor of Russia. According to the unanimous testimony of all who visited it, New Lanark appeared singularly good. The manners of the children, brought up under his system, were beautifully graceful, genial and unconstrained; health, plenty, and contentment prevailed; drunkenness was almost unknown; and illegitimacy was extremely rare. The relationship between Owen and his workers remained excellent, and all the operations of the mill proceeded with the utmost smoothness and regularity. The business was a great commercial success.

Plans for alleviating poverty through Socialism (1817)

A statue commemorating Owen in Manchester

Robert Owen's work had been that of a philanthropist. His first departure in socialism took place in 1817, and was embodied in a report communicated to the committee of the House of Commons on the Poor Law.

The general misery and stagnation of trade consequent on the termination of the Napoleonic Wars was engrossing the attention of the country. After tracing the special causes connected with the wars which had led to such a deplorable state of things, Owen pointed out that the permanent cause of distress was to be found in the competition of human labor with machinery, and that the only effective remedy was the united action of men and the subordination of machinery.

His proposals for the treatment of poverty were based on these principles. Communities of about twelve hundred persons each should be settled on quantities of land from 1000 to 1500 acres (4 to 6 km²), all living in one large building in the form of a square, with public kitchen and mess-rooms. Each family should have its own private apartments and the entire care of the children till the age of three, after which they should be brought up by the community; their parents would have access to them at meals and all other proper times.

These communities might be established by individuals, by parishes, by counties, or by the state; in every case there should be effective supervision by duly qualified persons. Work, and the enjoyment of its results, should be in common. The size of his community was no doubt partly suggested by his village of New Lanark; and he soon proceeded to advocate such a scheme as the best form for the re-organization of society in general.

In its fully developed form, it did not change much during Owen's lifetime, was as follows. He considered an association of from 500 to 3000 as the fit number for a good working community. While mainly agricultural, it should possess all the best machinery, should offer every variety of employment, and should, as far as possible, be self-contained. "As these townships" (as he also called them) "should increase in number, unions of them federatively united shall be formed in circles of tens, hundreds and thousands", till they should embrace the whole world in a common interest.

In Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race, Owen asserts and reasserts that character is formed by a combination of Nature or God and the circumstances of the individual's experience. Owen provides little real evaluation of the subject but agrees with Socrates' general overview.

Community Experiment in America (1825)

New Moral World, Owen's envisioned successor of New Harmony. Owenites fired bricks to build it, but construction never took place.

In 1825, such an experiment was attempted under the direction of his disciple, Abram Combe, at Orbiston near Glasgow; and in the next year Owen himself began another at New Harmony, Indiana, U.S., sold to him by George Rapp. After a trial of about two years both failed completely, due to Owen's lack of presence to govern either of the communities. Neither of them was a pauper experiment; but it must be said that the members were of the most motley description, many worthy people of the highest aims being mixed with vagrants, adventurers, and crotchety, wrongheaded enthusiasts, or in the words of Owen's son "a heterogeneous collection of radicals... honest latitudinarians, and lazy theorists, with a sprinkling of unprincipled sharpers thrown in."

Josiah Warren, who was one of the participants in the New Harmony Society, asserted that community was doomed to failure due to a lack of individual sovereignty and private property. He says of the community: "We had a world in miniature — we had enacted the French revolution over again with despairing hearts instead of corpses as a result. ...It appeared that it was nature's own inherent law of diversity that had conquered us ...our "united interests" were directly at war with the individualities of persons and circumstances and the instinct of self-preservation..." (Periodical Letter II 1856) Warren's observations on the reasons for the community's failure led to the development of American individualist anarchism, of which he was its original theorist. He established New Harmony, Indiana

London

Portrait of Robert Owen (1771 - 1858) by John Cranch, 1845

After a long period of friction with William Allen and some of his other partners, Owen resigned all connection with New Lanark in 1828. His actual words to William Allen at the time are often quoted as being: "All the world is queer save thee and me, and even thou is a little queer".[2][3] On his return from America, he made London the center of his activity. Most of his means having been sunk in the New Harmony experiment, he was no longer a flourishing capitalist but the head of a vigorous propaganda, in which socialism and secularism combined. One of the most interesting features of the movement at this period was the establishment in 1832 of an equitable labour exchange system in which exchange was effected by means of labour notes; this system superseded the usual means of exchange and middlemen. The London exchange lasted until 1833, and a Birmingham branch operated for only a few months until July 1833.

The word "socialism" first became current in the discussions of the "Association of all Classes of all Nations," which Owen formed in 1835. During these years his secularistic teaching gained such influence among the working classes as to give occasion for the statement in the Westminster Review (1839) that his principles were the actual creed of a great portion of them.

At this period, some more communistic experiments were made, of which the most important were that at Ralahine, in County Clare, Ireland, and that at Tytherly in Hampshire. The former (1831) proved a remarkable success for three-and-a-half years until the proprietor, having ruined himself by gambling, had to sell out. Tytherly, begun in 1839, failed absolutely.

By 1846 the only permanent result of Owen's agitation, so zealously carried on by public meetings, pamphlets, periodicals, and occasional treatises remained the co-operative movement, and for the time even that seemed to have utterly collapsed. He died at his native town on 17 November 1858.

Robert Owen Memorial, next to The Reformers Memorial, Kensal Green Cemetery, London

Role in spiritualism

In 1854, at the age of 83, and despite his previous antipathy to religion, Owen was converted to spiritualism after a series of "sittings" with the American medium Maria B. Hayden (credited with introducing spiritualism to England). Owen made a public profession of his new faith in his publication The Rational quarterly review and later wrote a pamphlet entitled The future of the Human race; or great glorious and future revolution to be effected through the agency of departed spirits of good and superior men and women.[4]

Owen claimed to have had mediumistic contact with the spirits of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and others, the purpose of whose communications was, "to change the present, false, disunited and miserable state of human existence, for a true, united and happy state...to prepare the world for universal peace, and to infuse into all the spirit of charity, forbearance and love."[5]

After Owen's death spiritualists claimed that his spirit dictated the "Seven Principles of Spiritualism" to the medium Emma Hardinge Britten in 1871.[6]

Children

Robert and Caroline Owen's first child died in infancy. They had seven surviving children, four sons and three daughters: Robert Dale (born 1801), William (1802), Anne Caroline (1805), Jane Dale (1805), David Dale (1807), Richard Dale (1809) and Mary (1810). Owen's four sons, Robert Dale, William, David Dale, and Richard, all became citizens of the United States. Anne Caroline and Mary (together with their mother, Caroline) died in the 1830s. Jane, the remaining daughter, joined her brothers in America, where she married Robert Henry Fauntleroy.

Robert Dale Owen, the eldest (1801-1877), was for long an able exponent in his adopted country of his father's doctrines. In 1836-1839 and 1851-1852 he served as a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and in 1844-1847 was a Representative in Congress, where he drafted the bill for the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. He was elected a member of the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1850, and was instrumental in securing to widows and married women control of their property and the adoption of a common free school system. He later succeeded in passing a state law giving greater freedom in divorce. From 1853 to 1858, he was United States minister at Naples. He was a strong believer in spiritualism and was the author of two well-known books on the subject: Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859) and The Debatable Land Between this World and the Next (1872).

Owen's third son, David Dale Owen (1807-1860), was in 1839 appointed a United States geologist who made extensive surveys of the north-west, which were published by order of Congress. The youngest son, Richard Dale Owen (1810-1890), became a professor of natural science at Nashville University.

Works

  • 1813. A New View Of Society, Essays on the Formation of Human Character. London.
  • 1815. Observations on the Effect of the Manufacturing System. 2nd edn, London.
  • 1817. Report to the Committee for the Relief of the Manufacturing Poor. In The Life of Robert Owen written by Himself, 2 vols, London, 1857-8.
  • 1818. Two memorials behalf of the working classes. In The Life of Robert Owen written by Himself, 2 vols, London, 1857-8.
  • 1819. An Address to the Master Manufacturers of Great Britain. Bolton.
  • 1821. Report to the County of Lanark of a Plan for relieving Public Distress. Glasgow: Glasgow University Press.
  • 1823. An Explanation of the Cause of Distress which pervades the civilized parts of the world. London. & Paris.
  • 1830. Was one of the founders of the Grand National Consolidated Trade Union (GNCTU)
  • 1832. An Address to All Classes in the State. London.
  • 1849. The Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race. London.

Robert Owen wrote numerous works about his system. Of these, the most notable are:

  • the New View of Society
  • the Report communicated to the Committee on the Poor Law
  • the Book of the New Moral World
  • Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race

The Robert Owen Collection, that includes papers and letters as well as copies of pamphlets and books by him and about him is deposited with the National Co-operative Archive, UK.[7]

See also

References

  1. ^ See Gerald O'Hara. "Dead men's embers" (Saturday Night Press Pubs., 2006), p75.
  2. ^ "1828: Information from". Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/1828?cat=technology#human_rights_social_justice. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  3. ^ "Who said this: "all strange but thee and Me" - Literature Network Forums". Online-literature.com. http://www.online-literature.com/forums/showthread.php?t=18866. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 
  4. ^ See Lewis Spence. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology" (Kessinger Pub. Co., 2003), p679.
  5. ^ See Frank Podmore. Robert Owen, a biography - Vol. 2, p600ff.
  6. ^ History of Spiritualism (SNU international)
  7. ^ "National Co-operative Archive". Archive.co-op.ac.uk. http://archive.co-op.ac.uk/. Retrieved 2009-07-13. 

Sources

Biographies

There are also Lives of Owen by:

Other works about him

External links


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

It is confidently expected that the period is at hand, when man, through ignorance, shall not much longer inflict unnecessary misery on man; because the mass of mankind will become enlightened, and will clearly discern that by so acting they will inevitably create misery to themselves.

Robert Owen (14 May 177117 November 1858) was a Welsh socialist and social reformer, considered to be the father of the cooperative movement.

Contents

Sourced

  • Man is the creature of circumstances.
    • "The Philanthropist"
  • As there are a very great variety of religious sects in the world (and which are probably adapted to different constitutions under different circumstances, seeing there are many good and conscientious characters in each), it is particularly recommended, as a means of uniting the inhabitants of the village into one family, that while each faithfully adheres to the principles which he most approves, at the same time all shall think charitably of their neighbours respecting their religious opinions, and not presumptuously suppose that theirs alone are right.
    • "Rules and Regulations for the Inhabitants of New Lanark" (1800)
  • My friends, I tell you that hitherto you have been prevented from even knowing what happiness really is, solely in consequence of the errors — gross errors — that have been combined with the fundamental notions of every religion that has hitherto been taught to men. And, in consequence, they have made man the most inconsistent, and the most miserable being in existence. By the errors of these systems he has been made a weak, imbecile animal; a furious bigot and fanatic or a miserable hypocrite; and should these qualities be carried, not only into the projected villages, but into Paradise itself, a Paradise would no longer be found!
  • I was forced, through seeing the error of their foundation, to abandon all belief in every religion which had been taught to man. But my religious feelings were immediately replaced by the spirit of universal charity — not for a sect, or a party, or for a country or a colour — but for the human race, and with a real and ardent desire to do good.
  • The working classes may be injuriously degraded and oppressed in three ways:
    1st — When they are neglected in infancy
    2nd — When they are overworked by their employer, and are thus rendered incompetent from ignorance to make a good use of high wages when they can procure them.
    3rd — When they are paid low wages for their labour
    • Two Memorials on Behalf of the Working Classes (1818)
  • Eight hours daily labour is enough for any human being, and under proper arrangements sufficient to afford an ample supply of food, raiment and shelter, or the necessaries and comforts of life, and for the remainder of his time, every person is entitled to education, recreation and sleep.
    • "Foundation Axioms" of Society for Promoting National Regeneration (1833)
  • The lowest stage of humanity is experienced when the individual must labour for a small pittance of wages from others.
    • Paper Dedicated to the Governments of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and the United States of America (1841)
  • Is it not the interest of the human race, that every one should be so taught and placed, that he would find his highest enjoyment to arise from the continued practice of doing all in his power to promote the well-being, and happiness, of every man, woman, and child, without regard to their class, sect, party, country or colour?
    • Paper Dedicated to the Governments of Great Britain, Austria, Russia, France, Prussia and the United States of America (1841) 17th of "20 Questions to the Human Race"
  • It is therefore, the interest of all, that every one, from birth, should be well educated, physically and mentally, that society may be improved in its character, — that everyone should be beneficially employed, physically and mentally, that the greatest amount of wealth may be created, and knowledge attained, — that everyone should be placed in the midst of those external circumstances that will produce the greatest number of pleasurable sensations, through the longest life, that man may be made truly intelligent, moral and happy, and be thus prepared to enter upon the coming Millennium.
    • A Development of the Principles & Plans on which to establish self-supporting Home Colonies (1841)
  • My life was not useless; I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time.

A New View of Society (1813 -1816)

A New View of Society, Or, Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, and the Application of the Principle to Practice
  • Train any population rationally, and they will be rational. Furnish honest and useful employments to those so trained, and such employments they will greatly prefer to dishonest or injurious occupations. It is beyond all calculation the interest of every government to provide that training and that employment; and to provide both is easily practicable.
  • All the measures now proposed are only a compromise with the errors of the present systems; but as these errors now almost universally exist, and must be overcome solely by the force of reason; and as reason, to effect the most beneficial purposes, makes her advance by slow degrees, and progressively substantiates one truth of high import after another, it will be evident, to minds of comprehensive and accurate thought, that by these and similar compromises alone can success be rationally expected in practice. For such compromises bring truth and error before the public; and whenever they are fairly exhibited together, truth must ultimately prevail.
  • It is confidently expected that the period is at hand, when man, through ignorance, shall not much longer inflict unnecessary misery on man; because the mass of mankind will become enlightened, and will clearly discern that by so acting they will inevitably create misery to themselves. As soon as the public mind shall be sufficiently prepared to receive it, the practical detail of this system shall be fully developed. For the extensive knowledge of the facts which present themselves on the globe, makes it evident to those whose reasoning faculties have not been entirely paralysed, that all mankind firmly believe, that everybody except themselves has been grievously deceived in his fundamental principles; and feel the utmost astonishment that the nations of the world could embrace such gross inconsistencies for divine or political truths. Most persons are now also prepared to understand, that these weaknesses are firmly and conscientiously fixed in the minds of millions, who, when born, possessed equal faculties with themselves. And although they plainly discern in others what they deem inconceivable aberrations of the mental powers, yet, in despite of such facts, they are taught to believe that they themselves could not have been so deceived; and this impression is made upon the infant mind with the greatest ease, whether it be to create followers of the most ignorant, or of the most enlightened systems.
  • All that is now requisite, previous to withdrawing the last mental bandage by which hitherto the human race has been kept in darkness and misery, is, by calm and patient reasoning to tranquillize the public mind, and thus prevent the evil effects which otherwise might arise from the too sudden prospect of freely enjoying rational liberty of mind. To withdraw that bandage without danger, reason must be judiciously applied to lead men of every sect (for all have been in part abused to reflect that if untold myriads of beings, formed like themselves, have been so grossly deceived as they believe them to have been, what power in nature was there to prevent them from being equally deceived? Such reflections, steadily pursued by those who are anxious to follow the plain and simple path of reason, will soon make it obvious that the inconsistencies which they behold in all other sects out of their own pale, are precisely similar to those which all other sects can readily discover within that pale. It is not, however, to be imagined, that this free and open exposure of the gross errors in which the existing generation has been instructed, should be forthwith palatable to the world; it would be contrary to reason to form any such expectations. Yet, as evil exists, and as man cannot be rational, nor of course happy, until the cause of it shall be removed; the writer, like a physician who feels the deepest interest in the welfare of his patient, has hitherto administered of this unpalatable restorative the smallest quantity which he deemed sufficient for the purpose. He now waits to see the effects which that may produce. Should the application not prove of sufficient strength to remove the mental disorder, he promises that it shall be increased, until sound health to the public mind be firmly and permanently established.

Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark (1816)

"Address to the Inhabitants of New Lanark" at the opening of the Institute for the Formation of Character (1 January, 1816)
  • What ideas individuals may attach to the term "Millennium" I know not; but I know that society may be formed so as to exist without crime, without poverty, with health greatly improved, with little, if any misery, and with intelligence and happiness increased a hundredfold; and no obstacle whatsoever intervenes at this moment except ignorance to prevent such a state of society from becoming universal.
  • The Institution has been devised to afford the means of receiving your children at an early age, almost as soon as they can walk. By this means many of you, mothers and families, will be able to earn a better maintenance or support for your children; you will have less care and anxiety about them, while the children will be prevented from acquiring any bad habits. and gradually prepared to learn the best.
  • They would receive the same care and attention as those who belong to the establishment. Nor will there be any distinction made between the children of those parents who are deemed the worst, and of those who may be esteemed the best members of society: indeed I would prefer to receive the offspring of the worst, if they shall be sent at an early age; because they really require more of our care and pity and by well-training these, society will be more essentially benefited than if the like attention were paid to those whose parents are educating them in comparatively good habits.
    • On educating children of the poor, and of neighboring communities.
  • Believe me, my friends, you are yet very deficient with regard to the best modes of training your children, or of arranging your domestic concerns.
There is but one mode by which man can possess in perpetuity all the happiness which his nature is capable of enjoying, — that is by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.

The Social System (1826)

The Social System — Constitution, Laws, and Regulations of a Community (1826) [written in 1821, published in 1826]
  • There is but one mode by which man can possess in perpetuity all the happiness which his nature is capable of enjoying, — that is by the union and co-operation of all for the benefit of each.
    Union and co-operation in war obviously increase the power of the individual a thousand fold. Is there the shadow of a reason why they should not produce equal effects in peace; why the principle of co-operation should not give to men the same superior powers, and advantages, (and much greater) in the creation, preservation, distribution and enjoyment of wealth?
  • In advanced age, and in cases of disability from accident, natural infirmity or any other cause, the individual shall be supported by the colony, and receive every comfort which kindness can administer.
  • To train and educate the rising generation will at all times be the first object of society, to which every other will be subordinate.

The Book of the New Moral World (1836-1844)

Published as The Book of the New Moral World, in 7 volumes 1836-1844; published as one volume in 1845.
  • The advanced members of the medical profession know that the health of society is not to be obtained or maintained by medicines; — that it is far better, far more easy and far wiser, to adopt substantive measures to prevent disease of body or mind, than to allow substantive measure to remain continually to generate causes to produce physical and mental disorders.
    • 3rd Part
  • To preserve permanent good health, the state of mind must be taken into consideration.
    • 3rd Part
  • It is the interest of the individual and of all society, that he should be made, at the earliest period, to understand his own construction, the proper use of its parts, and how to keep them at all times in a state of health; and especially that he should be taught to observe the varied effects of different kinds of food, and different quantities, upon his own constitution~ He should be taught the general and individual laws of health, thus early, that he may know how to prevent the approach of disease. And the knowledge of the particular diet best suited to his constitution, is one of the most essential laws of health.
    • 3rd Part
  • Where are these rational practices to be taught and acquired? Not within the four walls of a bare building, in which formality predominates... But in the nursery, play-ground, fields, gardens, workshops, manufactures, museums and class-rooms. …The facts collected from all these sources will be concentrated, explained, discussed, made obvious to all, and shown in their direct application to practice in all the business of life.
    • 3rd Part
  • The advantage of pure, and the disadvantage of impure air are experienced each time we breathe, and all who understand the causes of disease know that an impure atmosphere is most unfavourable to the enjoyment of health, and an efficient cause to shorten human existence within the natural life of man. It is therefore most desirable that decisive measures should be devised and generally adopted to ensure to all a pure atmosphere, in which to live during their lives.
    • 3rd Part
  • Women will be no longer made the slaves of, or dependent upon men ... They will be equal in education, rights, privileges and personal liberty.
    • Sixth Part
I gave important truths to the world, and it was only for want of understanding that they were disregarded. I have been ahead of my time.

Quotes about Owen

  • Thou needest to be very right, Robert, for thou art very positive.
    • Advice to Owen by David Dale, father of Owen's wife, Caroline.
  • I would class Owen in a triad as one of the three men who have in this generation given an impulse to the moral world, Clarkson and Dr. Bell are the other two.
  • I think that everyone who is compelled to look closely into the problem of popular education, must be led to Owen's conclusions that the infants' school is, so to speak, the key of the position. Robert Owen, discerned this great fact, and had the courage and patience to work out his theory into a practical reality. That is his claim — if he had no other — to the enduring gratitude of the people.
  • He organised infants schools. He secured the reduction of the hours of labour for women and children in factories. He was a liberal supporter of the earliest efforts to obtain national education. He laboured to promote international arbitration. He was one of the foremost Britons who taught men to aspire to a higher social state by reconciling the interests of capital and labour. He spent his life and a large fortune in seeking to improve his fellowmen by giving them education, self-reliance, and moral worth. His life was sanctified by human affection and lofty effort.
    • Epitaph on the Owen Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery, London, England
  • Mr. Owen looked upon men through the spectacles of his own good-nature. He seldom took Lord Brougham's advice "to pick his men." He never acted on the maxim that the working class are as jealous of each other as the upper classes are of them. The resolution he displayed as a manufacturer he was wanting in as a founder of communities. ... No leader ever took so little care as Mr, Owen in guarding his own reputation. He scarcely protested when others attached his name to schemes which were not his. The failure of Queenwood was not chargeable to him. When his advice was not followed he would say : "Well, gentlemen, I tell you what you ought to do. You differ from me. Carry out your own plans. Experience will show you who is right." When the affair went wrong then it was ascribed to him. Whatever failed under his name the public inferred failed through him. Mr. Owen was a general who never provided himself with a rear guard. While he was fighting in the front ranks priests might come up and cut off his commissariat. His own troops fell into pits against which he had warned them. Yet he would write his next dispatch without it occurring to him to mention his own defeat, and he would return to his camp without missing his army. Yet society is not so well served that it need hesitate to forgive the omissions of its generous friends. To Mr. Owen will be accorded the distinction of being a philosopher who devoted himself to founding a Science of Social Improvement and a philanthropist who gave his fortune to advance it. Association, which was but casual before his day, he converted into a policy and taught it as an art. He substituted Co-operation for coercion in the conduct ot industry and the willing co-operation of intelligence certain of its own reward, for sullen labour enforced by the necessity of subsistence, seldom to be relied on and never satisfied.
  • Moved by a generous eagerness to turn men's attention to the power which dwelt in circumstances, Mr. Owen devised the instructive phrase, that "man's character was formed for him and not by him." He used the unforgettable inference that "man is the creature of circumstances." The school of material improvers believed they could put in permanent force right circumstances. The great dogma was their charter of encouragement. To those who hated without thought It seemed a restrictive doctrine to be asked to admit that there were extenuating circumstances in the career of every rascal. To the clergy with whom censure was a profession, and who held that all sin was wilful, man being represented as the "creature of circumstances," appeared a denial of moral responsibility. When they were asked to direct hatred against error, and pity the erring — who had inherited so base a fortune of incapacity and condition — they were wroth exceedingly, and said it would be making a compromise with sin. The idea of the philosopher of circumstances was that the very murderer in his last cell had been born with a staple in his soul, to which the villainous conditions of his life had attached an unseen chain, which had drawn him to the gallows, and that the rope which was to hang him was but the visible part. Legislators since that day have come to admit that punishment is justifiable only as far as it has preventive influence. To use the great words of Hobbes, "Punishment regardeth not the past, only the future."
Is it not the interest of the human race, that every one should be so taught and placed, that he would find his highest enjoyment to arise from the continued practice of doing all in his power to promote the well-being, and happiness, of every man, woman, and child, without regard to their class, sect, party, country or colour?

Memorial dedication (1902)

Dedicatory address by George Jacob Holyoake at the unveiling of a monument for Owen's grave, Newtown, Wales (12 July 1902) PDF document
  • It is said by parrot-minded critics that Owen was "a man of one idea," whereas he was a man of more ideas than any public man England knew in his day. He shared and befriended every new conception of moment and promise, in science, in education, and government. His mind was hospitable to all projects of progress; and he himself contributed more original ideas for the conduct of public affairs than any other thinker of his generation. ... Because some of his projects were so far reaching that they required a century to mature them, onlookers who expected them to be perfected at once, say he "failed in whatever he proposed." While the truth is he succeeded in more things than any public man ever undertook. If he made more promises than he fulfilled, he fulfilled more than any other public man ever made. Thus, he was not a man of "one idea" but of many. Nor did his projects fail. The only social Community for which he was responsible was that of New Harmony, in Indiana; which broke up through his too great trust in uneducated humanity — a fault which only the generous commit. The communities of Motherwell and Orbiston, of Manea, Fen, and Queenwood in Hampshire were all undertaken without his authority, and despite his warning of the adequacy of the means for success. They failed, as he predicted they would. Critics, skilled in coming to conclusions without knowing the facts, impute these failures to him.
  • He was the first to advocate that eight hours a day in the workshop was best for industrial efficiency. The best employers in the land are now of that opinion. He did not fail there. Who can tell the horrors of industry which children suffered in factories at the beginning of the last century? Were not the Factory Acts acts of mercy? The country owed them to Robert Owen's inspiration. ... He was the first who looked with practical intent into the kingdom of the unborn. He saw that posterity — the silent but inevitable master of us all — if left untrained may efface the triumphs, or dishonour, or destroy the great traditions of our race. He put infant schools into the mind of the world. Have they been failures? He, when it seemed impossible to anyone else, proposed national education for which now all the sects contend. Has that proposal been a failure?
  • He carried no dagger in his mouth, as many reformers have done. He cared for no cause that reason could not win. There never was a more cautious innovator, a more practical dreamer, or a more reasoning revolutionist. Whatever he commended he supported with his purse. It was this that won for him confidence and trust, given to no compeer of his time.
  • It was he who first taught the people the then strange truth that Causation was the law of nature and of mind, and unless we looked for the cause of an evil, we might never know the remedy. Every man of sense in Church and State acts on this truth now, but so few knew it in Owen's day that he was accused of unsettling the morality of the world. It was the fertility and newness of his suggestions, as a man of affairs, that gave him renown, and his influence extends to us. This memorial before us would itself grow old, were we to stay to describe all the ideas the world has accepted from Owen. I will name but one more, and that the greatest.
    He saw, as no man before him did, that environment is the maker of men. Aristotle, whose praise is in all our Universities, said "Character is Destiny." But how can character be made? The only national way known in Owen's day was by prayer and precept. Owen said there were material means, largely unused, conducive to human improvement. Browning's prayer was — "Make no more giants, God; but elevate the race at once." This was Owen's aim, as far as human means might do it.
  • Great change can only be effected by unity. But "Union without knowledge is useless; Knowledge without union is powerless." Then what is the right knowledge? Owen said it consisted in knowing that people came into the world without any intention of doing it; and often with limited capacities, and with disadvantages of person, and with instinctive tendencies which impel them against their will, and which disqualifications they did not give themselves. ... Dislike dies in the heart of those who understand this, and the spirit of unity arises.
  • This was the angerless philosophy of Owen, which inspired him with a forbearance that never failed him, and gave him that regnant manner which charmed all who met him. We shall see what his doctrine of environment has done for society, if we notice what it began to do in his day, and what it has done since.
    Men perished by battle, by tempest, by pestilence, Faith might comfort, but it did not save them. In every town, nests of pestilence co-existed with the churches, who were concerned alone with worship. Disease was unchecked by devotion. Then Owen asked, "Might not safety come by improved material condition?" As the prayer of hope brought no reply, as the scream of agony, if heard, was unanswered, as the priest, with the holiest intent, brought no deliverance, it seemed prudent to try the philosopher and the physician.
    Then Corn Laws were repealed, because prayers fed nobody. Then parks were multiplied because fresh air was found to be a condition of health. Alleys and courts, were begun to be abolished-since deadly diseases were bred there. Streets were widened, that towns might be ventilated. Hours of labour were shortened, since exhaustion means liability to epidemic contagion. Recreation was encouraged, as change and rest mean life and strength. Temperance — thought of as self-denial — was found to be a necessity, as excess of any kind in diet, or labour, or pleasure means premature death. Those who took dwellings began to look, not only to drainage and ventilation, but to the ways of their near neighbours, as the most pious family may poison the air you breathe unless they have sanitary habits.
  • Thanks to the doctrine of national environment which Owen was the first to preach — Knowledge is greater; Life is longer; Health is surer; Disease is limited; Towns are sweeter; Hours of labour are shorter; Men are stronger; Women are fairer; Children are happier; Industry is held in more honour, and is better rewarded; Co-operation carries wholesome food and increased income into a million homes where they were unknown before, and has brought us nearer and nearer to that state of society which Owen strove to create — in which it shall be impossible for men to be depraved or poor.

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

ROBERT OWEN (1771-1858), English social reformer, was born at Newtown, Montgomeryshire, in North Wales, on the 14th of May 1771. His father had a small business in Newtown as saddler and ironmonger, and there young Owen received all his school education, which terminated at the age of nine. After serving in a draper's shop for some years he settled in Manchester. His success was very rapid. When only nineteen years of age he became manager of a cotton mill in which five hundred people were employed, and by his administrative intelligence arid energy soon made it one of the best establishments of the kind in Great Britain. In this factory Owen used the first bags of American sea-island cotton ever imported into the country; it was the first sea-island cotton from the Southern States. Owen also made remarkable improvement in the quality of the cotton spun; and indeed there is no reason to doubt that at this early age he was the first cotton-spinner in England, a position entirely due to his own capacity and knowledge of the trade. In 1794 or 1 795 he became manager and one of the partners of the Chorlton Twist Company at Manchester. During a visit to Glasgow he had fallen in love with the daughter of the proprietor of the New Lanark mills, David Dale. Owen induced his partners to purchase New Lanark; and after his marriage with Miss Dale he settled there, as manager and part owner of the mills (1800). Encouraged by his great success in the management of cotton factories in Manchester, he had already formed the intention of conducting New Lanark on higher principles than the current commercial ones.

The factory of New Lanark had been started in 1784 by Dale and Arkwright, the water-power afforded by the falls of the Clyde being the great attraction. Connected with the mills were about two thousand people, five hundred of whom were children, brought, most of them, at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The children especially had been well treated by Dale, but the general condition of the people was very unsatisfactory. Many of them were the lowest of the population, the respectable country people refusing to submit to the long hours and demoralizing drudgery of the factories; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were alike neglected; most families lived only in one room. It was this population, thus committed to his care, which Owen now set himself to elevate and ameliorate. He greatly improved their houses, and by the unsparing and benevolent exertion of his personal influence trained them to habits of order, cleanliness and thrift. He opened a store, where the people could buy goods of the soundest quality at little more than cost price; and the sale of drink was placed under the strictest supervision. His greatest success, however, was in the education of the young, to which he devoted special attention. He was the founder of infant schools in Great Britain; and, though he was anticipated by reformers on the continent of Europe, he seems to have been led to institute them by his own views of what education ought to be, and without hint from abroad. In all these plans Owen obtained the most gratifying success. Though at first regarded with suspicion as a stranger, he soon won the confidence of his people. The mills continued to be a great commercial success, but it is needless to say that some of Owen's schemes involved considerable expense, which was displeasing to his partners. Tired at last of the restrictions imposed on him by men who wished to conduct the business on the ordinary principles, Owen formed a new firm, who, content with 5% of return for their capital, were ready to give freer scope to his philanthropy (1813). In this firm Jeremy Bentham and the well-known Quaker, William Allen, were partners. In the same year Owen first appeared as an author of essays, in which he expounded the principles on which his system of educational philanthropy was based. From an early age he had lost all belief in the prevailing forms of religion, and had thought out a creed for himself, which he considered an entirely new and original discovery. The chief points in ' this philosophy were that man's character is made not by him but for him; that it has been formed by circumstances over which he had no control; that he is not a proper subject either of praise or blame, - these principles leading up to the practical conclusion that the great secret in the right formation of man's character is to place him under the proper influences - physical, moral and social - from his earliest years. These principles - of the irresponsibility of man and of the effect of early influences - are the keynote of Owen's whole system of education and social amelioration. As we have said, they are embodied in his first work, A New View of Society, or Essays on the Principle of the Formation of the Human Character, the first of these essays (there are four in all) being published in 1813. It is needless to say that Owen's new views theoretically belong to a very old system of philosophy, and that his originality is to be found only in his benevolent application of them. For the next few years Owen's work at New Lanark continued to have a national and even a European significance. His schemes for the education of his workpeople attained to something like completion on the opening of the institution at New Lanark in 1816. He was a zealous supporter of the factory legislation resulting in the act of 1819, which, however, greatly disappointed him. He had interviews and communications with the leading members of government, including the premier, Lord Liverpool, and with many of the rulers and leading statesmen of Europe. New Lanark itself became a much-frequented place of pilgrimage for social reformers, statesmen, and royal personages, including Nicholas, afterwards emperor of Russia. According to the unanimous testimony of all who visited it, the results achieved by Owen were singularly good. The manners of the children, brought up under his system, were beautifully graceful, genial and unconstrained; health, plenty, and contentment prevailed; drunkenness was almost unknown, and illegitimacy was extremely rare. The most perfect good feeling subsisted between Owen and his workpeople, and all the operations of the mill proceeded with the utmost smoothness and regularity; and the business was a great commercial success.

Hitherto Owen's work had been that of a philanthropist, whose great distinction was the originality and unwearying unselfishness of his methods. His first departure in socialism took place in 1817, and was embodied in a report communicated to the committee of the House of Commons on the poor law.

The general misery and stagnation of trade consequent on the termination of the great war was engrossing the attention of the country. After clearly tracing the special causes connected with the war which had led to such a deplorable state of things, Owen pointed out that the permanent cause of distress was to be found in the competition of human labour with machinery, and that the only effective remedy was the united action of men, and the subordination of machinery. His proposals for the treatment of pauperism were based on these principles. He recommended that communities of about twelve hundred persons each should be settled on quantities of land from 1000 to 1500 acres, all living in one large building in the form of a square, with public kitchen and mess-rooms. Each family should have its own private apartments, and the entire care of the children till the age of three, after which they should be brought up by the community, their parents having access to them at meals and all other proper times. These communities might be established by individuals, by parishes, by counties, or by the state; in every case there should be effective supervision by duly qualified persons. Work, and the enjoyment of its results, should be in common. The size of his community was no doubt partly suggested by his village of New Lanark; and he soon proceeded to advocate such a scheme as the best form for the reorganization of society in general. In its fully developed form - and it cannot be said to have changed much during Owen's lifetime - it was as follows. He considered an association of from 500 to 3000 as the fit number for a good working community. While mainly agricultural, it should possess all the best machinery, should offer every variety of employment, and should, as far as possible, be self-contained. "As these townships," as he also called them, "should increase in number, unions of them federatively united shall be formed in circles of tens, hundreds and thousands," till they should embrace the whole world in a common interest.

His plans for the cure of pauperism were received with great favour. The Times and the Morning Post and many of the leading men of the country countenanced them; one of his most steadfast friends was the duke of Kent, father of Queen Victoria. He had indeed gained the ear of the country, and had the prospect before him of a great career as a social reformer, when he went out of his way at a large meeting in London to declare his hostility to all the received forms of religion. After this defiance to the religious sentiment of the country, Owen's theories were in the popular mind associated with infidelity, and were henceforward suspected and discredited. Owen's own confidence, however, remained unshaken; and he was anxious that his scheme for establishing a community should be tested. At last, in 1825, such an experiment was attempted under the direction of his disciple, Abram Combe, at Orbiston near Glasgow; and in the next year Owen himself commenced another at New Harmony, Indiana, U.S.A. After a trial of about two years both failed completely. Neither of them was a pauper experiment; but it must be said that the members were of the most motley description, many worthy people of the highest aims being mixed with vagrants, adventurers, and crotchety, wrongheaded enthusiasts. After a long period of friction with William Allen and some of his other partners, Owen resigned all connexion with New Lanark in 1828. On his return from America he made London the centre of his activity. Most of his means having been sunk in the New Harmony experiment, he was no longer a flourishing capitalist, but the head of a vigorous propaganda, in which socialism and secularism were combined. One of the most interesting features of the movement at this period was the establishment in 1832 of an equitable labour exchange system, in which exchange was effected by means of labour notes, the usual means of exchange and the usual middlemen being alike superseded. The word "socialism" first became current in the discussions of the Association of all Classes of all Nations, formed by Owen in 1835. During these years also his secularistic teaching gained such influence among the working classes as to give occasion for the statement in the Westminster Review (1839) that his principles were the actual creed of a great portion of them. His views on marriage, which were certainly lax, gave just ground for offence. At this period some more communistic experiments were made, of which the most important were that at Ralahine, in the county of Clare, Ireland, and that at Tytherly in Hampshire. It is admitted that the former (1831) was a remarkable success for three and a half years, till the proprietor, having ruined himself by gambling, was obliged to sell out. Tytherly, begun in 1839, was an absolute failure. By 1846 the only permanent result of Owen's agitation, so zealously carried on by public meetings, pamphlets, periodicals, and occasional treatises, was the co-operative movement, and for the time even that seemed to have utterly collapsed. In his later years Owen became a firm believer in spiritualism. He died at his native town on the 17th of November 1858.

Owen left four sons, Robert Dale, William, David Dale and Richard, all of whom became citizens of the United States. Robert Dale Owen, the eldest (1801-1877), was for long an able exponent in his adopted country of his father's doctrines. In 1836-39 and 1851-52 he was a member of the Indiana House of Representatives and in 1844-47 was a Representative in Congress, where he drafted the bill for the founding of the Smithsonian Institution. He was elected a member of the Indiana Constitutional Convention in 1850, and was instrumental in securing to widows and married women control of their property, and the adoption of a common free school system. He later succeeded in passing a state law giving greater freedom in divorce. From 1853 to 1858 he was United States minister at Naples. He was a strong believer in spiritualism and was the author of two well-known books on the subject: Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1859) and The Debateable Land Between this World and the Next (1872). Owen's third son, David Dale Owen (1807-1860), was in 1839 appointed United States geologist, and made extensive surveys of the north-west, which were published by order of Congress. The youngest son, Richard Owen (1810-1890), was a professor of natural science in Nashville University.

Of R. Owen's numerous works in exposition of his system, the most important are the New View of Society; the Report communicated to the Committee on the Poor Law; the Book of the New Moral World; and Revolution in the Mind and Practice of the Human Race. See Life of Robert Owen written by himself (London, 1857), and Threading my Way, Twenty-seven Years of Autobiography, by Robert Dale Owen (London, 1874). There are also Lives of Owen by A. J. Booth (London, 1869), W. L. Sargant (London, 1860), Llo y d Jones (London, 1889), F. A. Packard (Philadelphia, 1866) and F. Podmore (London, 1906). See also H. Simon, Robert Owen: sein Leben and seine Bedeutung fier die Gegenwart (Jena, 1905); E. Dolleans, Robert Owen (Paris, 1905); G. J. Holyoake, History of Co-operation in England (London, 1906); and the article COM Munism.


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