Lot 98
Sold for £ 86,400 (US$ 116,207) inc. premium

Lot Details
Archive of letters addressed to Thomas Walker, radical, reformer and Manchester merchant, some to his fellow reformer Thomas Cooper, comprising autograph letters by Thomas Paine, Joseph Priestley and an array of leading radical and intellectual figures of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries; with list of contents, arranged in alphabetic order (from A to R inclusive being the first volume, only, of two), over 160 letters bound in one volume (lacking covers), some usual dust-staining etc but in good condition throughout, 4to, Manchester, London and elsewhere, late 18th to early 19th century


  • THE POLITICAL CORRESPONDENCE OF THOMAS WALKER, one of the heroic figures of the late eighteenth century battle for constitutional reform, civil liberty and abolition of the slave trade; as well as being, in his capacity as a cloth merchant, at the leading edge of the Industrial Revolution and a prominent figure in enlightenment Manchester.

    This archive is practically a 'Who's Who' of radical and industrial Britain in these revolutionary times. Outstanding, even among this distinguished company, are the letters by Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestley. Those by Paine are dated 30 March and 30 April 1792 (and not to be found in his Collected Works). They discuss publication of the first two parts of The Rights of Man and the third, the Letter Addressed to the Addressers of the Late Proclamation: "I...have taken that opportunity of getting my Letter on the Subject of a Convention ready for the press and I shall go to Town in a few days to put it into the printer's hands, but if they [the authorities] make any attempt at all, which I think they will be afraid to do, it will be now. I feel however content that in an attempt they make they will miscarry. It will not bear them out... The first and second Part of the Rights of Man are printing compleat, and not an extract, they will come at ninepence each. The letter on the Convention will contain full as much matter as Mrs Macauly's half crown ans.r to Mr. Burke, it will be printed close and come at 6d – of the same size paper as the Rights of Man – As we have now got the stone to roll, it must be kept going by cheap publications. This will embarress the Court Gentry more than anything else, because it is a ground they are not used to". In the earlier of the two letters he gives news of the second part of The Rights of Man ("...We gain ground every day. The Pamphlet. 2d part holds its head up well..."), recommends "Mr Francis. Son of a worthy friend of mine in Philadelphia Casheer of the National Bank established in that City" and announces that "when I have got my letter on the Convention out I intend to make a Visit to Manchester, after which I shall go over to France". Priestley is represented by a letter thanking Walker and his fellow well-wishers for their help after the Birmingham riot that destroyed his house: "It will... be a motive with me to continue my exertions, whatever they have been, in favour of truth and science".

    As well as urging political and constitutional reform, Walker served as Chairman of the Manchester Anti-Slavery Society. One of the longest series is by Thomas Clarkson (14 letters). The majority of these date from around 1792, with the earliest dating from 1788 at the time of Wilberforce's breakdown: "The very great attention which he has bestowed on this Subject, and his equal Anxiety to relieve the oppressed Africans, as well as the Pain which he has constantly experienced in contemplating their wretched Situation, have, in a great Measure, conduced to bring him into his present State. He is fully resolved in returning, as soon as he is restored, to move the Question in Parliament, where alone, I am confident, we can only hope for redress. In the privy Council, where but little transpires, the venal Evidence for the Slave Trade may have their Effect, but in the open Senate of the Nation, where we have an Opportunity of facing them". (Two Wilberforce letters are recorded as having been in the missing S to W section). Although Clarkson's battle against slavery was single-minded, he does at one point take up the cudgel for political reform, exclaiming: "I fear the Freedom of all the People of Europe is at Stake, I take the Liberty of addressing myself to you, as a warm Friend to the French Revolution". As a pleasing footnote – of the sort in which this archive abounds – one can point to a letter in which Clarkson recommends to Walker's notice the painter Benda (who had just executed his portrait and who was indeed to go on to paint several members of the Lunar Society).

    An archive such as this is capable of yielding unexpected revelations, as for example in the letter to Walker by John H. Moggridge of Stoke House, near Bristol. He is unusual in being one of the very few people here who does not appear in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The letter was written on 8 January 1796 and was handed to Walker by its bearer, a young poet and Pantisocrat, then making a tour of Midland towns: "I am happy to have an opportunity of introducing to your acquaintance Mr Coleridge from whose conversation, I am confident you will derive great pleasure, possessed of first rate talents he has generously devoted them to the Cause of Virtue and Freedom. He will inform you of a very useful plan which he has in agitation in the promotion of which I am sure you will feel interested". (Walker's close friend Thomas Cooper shared in Coleridge's utopian ideals, and like Priestley did actually emigrate to America).

    Thomas Cooper is represented by seven letters, one of which is written on a visit France at the height of the Revolution, bearing a postscript by his travelling companion James Watt the younger, scion of the great manufacturing dynasty. Watt is bubbling over with excitement: "it was some time ago agitated in the Constitutional Society of your place [Manchester] to establish a correspondence with the French patriotic clubs, Cooper & myself will be most obliged to you if you will get the Society to delegate us to the Club de Jacobins". Another run of letters are by John ('Major') Cartwright. These nicely combine Walker's interests in reform and business. For example, in one letter he writes of "that Christian wickedness, whereby an hundred thousand Africans are annually murdered", while in another he solicits Walker' support for his brother Edward's power loom (" will see that I am endeavouring to bring our machines into use at reduced rate. – If you can procure me a List, of Wool Spinners & other manufacturers to whom our papers might be sent with effect, you wd do me a great kindness...").

    More mainstream political figures abound. Charles James Fox is represented by five letters which clearly reveal that he used Walker as a sounding board for gauging opinion among northern manufacturers. More unexpected, perhaps, is his letter casting doubts on the effectiveness of Wilberforce as a parliamentary campaigner: "My sentiments on the African Trade are just what you suppose them, and I had some thoughts of having attacked it myself in Parliament if Mr Wilberforce had not been beforehand with me... Nothing, I think, but such a disposition or a want of judgment scarcely credible, could induce him to throw cold water upon petitions. It is from them and other demonstrations of the opinion without doors that I look for success; and I am the more happy that the town of Manchester sees the matter in this light". His great rival, William Pitt, is represented by four letters (albeit ones unrepresentative of this archive in that they are brief notes arranging appointments). While Tom Paine's opponent, Edmund Burke, is represented by one letter, arranging a meeting to discuss "what Mr Pitt really means to do on the Business in the next Session". That theirs was a real friendship, political differences notwithstanding, is shown by the three letters by his wife Elizabeth, one thanking Walker for his condolences on her husband's death. Burke's political ally and executor French Laurence is represented by a further group of letters.

    One can only give some idea of the wealth of this archive by providing a list of the names found therein, many represented by letters of great interest, and nearly all to be found in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; with a preponderance, naturally, of Manchester's radical elite: William Adam, Dr John Aikin, James Anderson ("Wealth to the Generous,/ Honour to the Brave;/ Power to the Merciful/ Freedom to the Slave"), Attorney General Arden, Robert Bakewell ("...I shall take the liberty of requesting your assistance in promoting political information, and the cause of liberty..."), John Blomfield of Warham ("...I am heartily sorry to hear & see the distress of the good people of England..."), the Duke of Bridgewater, Dennis O'Bryen ("...The whole Irish nation is in a blaze of exultation..."), General John Burgoyne, George Ramsey McCallum of New Orleans, Lord Carlisle, F.L. Chantrey, James Cheetham, Thomas Cleary, Henry Clifford, Henry Cline, Thomas William Coke, the Rev Thomas Coke ("...I not only feel gratitude for Your generous aid to my poor endeavours for the good of mankind, but a great respect and great esteem, Sir, for You ..."), Patrick Colquhoun, John Christian Curwen, Lord Daer, Lord Derby, John Disney, Lord Dudley and Ward, George Dyer, Thomas Erskine (" will be of infinite service to the cause of reform & bring the Government into great disgrace ..."), William Fawkener, John Ferriar, Earl Fitzwilliam, William Frend ("...I am doomed to meet with no small opposition to my publications..."), Lord George Gordon, Charles Grey, Thomas Hardy, Lord Holland ("...I had a good cause but the deadness of the house made me spoil it..."), Sir Abraham Hume, Thomas Brand Hollis ("...I write now to give you intelligence & put you on your guard -- a Person has been some time at Leeds has made a connection with many dissenters & being induced by free conversation to open themselves he has informed against them... This is wrote in confidence least he should come to Manchester..."), John Jebb, John Knight ("...Since I had the pleasure of seeing you in the Street Major Cartwright has been in Town... and I am told has strengthened the hope of those who were with him respecting a reform in Parliament..."), Lord Lansdowne ("...I read the account of the attempt made upon your Brother's House... The Times require Patience Prudence and Firmness..."), Edward Law (Lord Ellenborough), Ashton Lever, Capel Lofft ("...The Cause of parliamentary Reform revives with vigour in London..."), Lord Chancellor Loughborough ("...My wish concurs with yours for the total abolition of so detestable a traffick, but I confess that it is a doubt with me, whether to that extent, the pursuit is practicable?..."), Gamaliel Lloyd ("...It was with the greatest concern I read the accounts of the outrages you suffered and the risk you ran of your life from a violent infatuated mob..."), George Lloyd, Robert Mylne, Lord North, Sir John Newport, Thomas Percival ("...congratulates Mr Walker on the honourable termination of the iniquitous prosecution..."), James Phillips (with anti-slavery flyer), Sir Arthur Piggott, the Duke of Portland ("...the British Empire has been rescued from the most imminent danger..."), William Roscoe, George Rose and Edward Rushton.

    It appears that these papers (and the missing second volume) were made available to Blanchard Jerrold, who quoted extracts in his 'Biographical Sketch of Thomas Walker' which prefaces the 1874 reissue of The Original by Walker's son. The originals were not known to Frida Knight, author of the only full-length biography, The Strange Case of Thomas Walker (1957); nor are they listed by Michael T. Davis in his notice of Walker for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
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