George Jacob Holyoake
13 April 1817
|Died||22 January 1906 88) (aged|
George Jacob Holyoake (13 April 1817 – 22 January 1906) was an English secularist, co-operator, and newspaper editor. He coined the term "secularism" in 1851and the term "jingoism" in 1878. He edited a Secularist paper, the Reasoner, from 1846 to June 1861, and a Co-operative paper, The English Leader, from 1864 to 1867.
George Jacob Holyoake was born in Birmingham, where his father worked as a whitesmith and his mother as a button maker. He attended a dame school, but began working half-days at the same foundry as his father at the age of eight and also learned the whitesmithing trade. At eighteen he began attending lectures at the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute, where he discovered the socialist writings of Robert Owen and eventually became an assistant lecturer. He married Eleanor Williams in 1839 and decided to become a full-time teacher, but was rejected for promotion because of his socialist views.[ citation needed ] Unable to obtain a full-time teaching position, Holyoake instead took a job as an Owenite Social Missionary. His first post was in Worcester, and the following year he was transferred to a more important position in Sheffield.
Holyoake joined Charles Southwell in dissenting from the official policy of Owenism that lecturers should take a religious oath, to enable them to take collections on Sundays. Southwell had founded the atheist Oracle of Reason , and was soon imprisoned because of its contents. Holyoake took over as editor, having moved to an atheist position as a result of his experiences.
Holyoake was influenced by the French philosopher of science, Auguste Comte, notable in the discipline of sociology and famous for the doctrine of positivism. Comte had himself attempted to establish a secular 'religion of humanity' to fulfil the cohesive function of traditional religion. Holyoake was an acquaintance of Harriet Martineau, the English translator of various works by Comte and perhaps the first female sociologist. She wrote to him excitedly upon reviewing Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859.
In 1842, Holyoake became one of the last persons convicted for blasphemy in a public lecture, held in April 1842 at the Cheltenham Mechanics' Institute, though this had no theological character and the incriminating words were merely a reply to a question addressed to him from the body of the meeting.
It took an intervention by his supporters to stop him being walked in chains from Cheltenham to Gloucester Gaol, and there was a formal memorial of complaint to the then Home Secretary, which was upheld. He was well supported by the Cheltenham Free Press at the time in his actions, but attacked in the Cheltenham Chronicle and Examiner. Those attending the lecture, which was the second in a series, moved and carried a motion 'that free discussion was equally beneficial in the departments of politics, morals and religion'.In 1842 Holyoake and socialist Emma Martin formed the Anti-Persecution Union to support free thinkers in danger of arrest.
Holyoake nevertheless underwent six months' imprisonment, and the editorship of the Oracle changed hands. After the Oracle closed at the end of 1843, Holyoake founded a more moderate paper, The Movement, which survived until 1845. Holyoake also established the Reasoner, where he developed the concept of secularism , and founded Secular Review in August 1876. He was the last person indicted for publishing an unstamped newspaper, but the prosecution was dropped upon the repeal of the tax.
In the 1850s Holyoake and Charles Southwell were giving lectures in East London. Harriet Law, then a Baptist, began debating with them, and in the process her beliefs changed.She "saw the light of reason" in 1855 and became a strong supporter of Holyoake and a prominent secular speaker.
After a split with Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, leaders of the National Secular Society (NSS), in 1877 Holyoake, Charles Watts and Harriet Law founded the British Secular Union, which remained active until 1884.
On 6 March 1881 Holyoake was one of the speakers at the opening of Leicester Secular Society's new Secular Hall in Humberstone Gate, Leicester.
The other speakers were Harriet Law, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh.
Holyoake was Chairman of the Rationalist Press Association, 1899–1906.He retained his disbelief in God, but after the Oracle soon came to regard "atheism" as a negative word - hence his preference for "secularism". Holyoake adopted the word "agnostic" when that was coined.
His later years were chiefly devoted to the promotion of the working class co-operative movement. He served as President of the first day of the 1887 Co-operative Congress.He wrote the history of the Rochdale Pioneers (1857), The History of Co-operation in England (1875; revised ed., 1906) and The Co-operative Movement of To-day (1891). He also published (1892) his autobiography, under the title of Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, and in 1905 two volumes of reminiscences, Bygones worth Remembering.
He died at Brighton, Sussex, on 22 January 1906, and was buried in the eastern section of Highgate Cemetery in London.The grave lies in a north-east section, off the main paths, and is not readily accessed, but is visible between graves on the east side of the main central north path (behind George Eliot's grave).
The Co-operative Movement decided that a lasting monument should be built to him: a permanent home for the Co-operative Union in Manchester.Holyoake House was opened in 1911, and also houses the National Co-operative Archive: a second collection is also held at Bishopsgate Library.
Holyoake coined the term "jingoism" in a letter to the Daily News on 13 March 1878, referring to the patriotic song "By Jingo" by G. W. Hunt, popularised by the music hall singer G. H. MacDermott.
He was the uncle of the independent MP and convicted fraudster Horatio Bottomley and contributed towards the cost of Bottomley's upkeep after he was orphaned in 1865.
New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake was related to him.
Holyoake is listed on the south face of the Reformers Memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery in London.
The National Secular Society unveiled a blue plaque commemorating Holyoake on Friday 17 August 2018. The plaque is mounted on the front of a newsagents' at 4 Woburn Walk in Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0JL and is part of the Marchmont Association's scheme of local history commemorative plaques.