E.P. Thompson

E.P. Thompson’s most influential book is The Making of the English Working Class, published in 1963 when he was a lecturer in the extramural department at Leeds University. His other books include The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays, Time, Work-Discipline and Industrial Capitalism, Whigs and Hunters: The Origin of the Black Act and Witness against the Beast: William Blake and the Moral Law, which was published just after his death in 1993. In the late 1950s he was co-editor of the New Reasoner, which joined with the Universities and Left Review to form New Left Review in 1960. He was also a founder member of CND.

Benevolent Mr Godwin

E.P. Thompson, 8 July 1993

A feast for the Godwinians. First comes the handsome facsimile of the quarto first edition of Political Justice (1793) in the series edited by Jonathan Wordsworth for Woodstock Books. This series makes available facsimiles of works which were significant to the Romantic poets, and in particular to Wordsworth and Coleridge. Jonathan Wordsworth’s breezy and unpedantic introduction seeks to bring the leader into that circle at that time, so that s/he can place the two heavy volumes on a desk and be drawn into the self-satisfied philosophical benevolence and contempt for all received opinion and custom which inspired those young enthusiasts. We open them beside the solicitor’s clerk, Henry Crabb Robinson, who later recalled: ‘It made me feel more generously. I had never before, nor … have I ever since felt so strongly the duty of not living to one’s self, but of having for one’s sole duty the good of the community.’ The 1793 edition sold 3000 copies at the high price of three guineas – too pricey for the Government to worry about a prosecution. Woodstock Books will count itself fortunate if it can sell as many. At £150 it will also not be prosecuted.’

Blake’s Tone

E.P. Thompson, 28 January 1993

Just under forty years ago David Erdman provided for William Blake historical contexts in abundance in Blake: Prophet against Empire (1954). It was a remarkable work of literary detection, which still dominates the field. Some Blake readers have felt that his attribution of correspondence between text and contemporaneous events was over-literal (as well as hazardous), and Jon Mee is one of these. Mee’s contexts are less literal: they concern the characteristic rhetorics, preoccupations and discourses of the 1790s which relate to Blake’s concerns and which perhaps help us to understand them.


Wordsworth’s Crisis

8 December 1988

No, there wasn’t ‘a very considerable Cambridge element’ leading the London Corresponding Society. This is clear from the Society’s minutes and papers. Nicholas Roe (Letters, 16 February) has found his Cambridge alumni on an ad hoc committee which was set up to raise funds for the victims of the Treason Trials. Probably William Frend, who was certainly a warm supporter of the LCS, helped to...

Wordsworth’s Crisis

E.P. Thompson, 8 December 1988

‘I am of that odious class of men called democrats,’ Wordsworth wrote to his friend William Mathews in 1794. Much the same can be said of Coleridge, on the evidence of his letters and publications of the mid-1790s. By the early decades of this century, British, French and American scholarship concurred in finding both poets to be, in the 1790s, republicans and advanced reformers, who then suffered disappointment in the course of the French Revolution and, in different ways and at different times, changed their minds. George McLean Harper’s William Wordsworth: His Life, Works and Influence (1919) set a coping-stone on the scholarship of that period.


On the rant

9 July 1987

SIR: My review of Fear, Myth and History (LRB, 9 July) was not a political polemic but a defence of history against ideology. Ninety-five per cent of the review – which neither Davis nor Scott (Letters, 17 September) address – concerned substantive questions of the Ranters and of the antinomian tradition; 5 per cent of rhetorical political ornaments provoked by J.C. Davis’s own leaden polemics...

Convenient Death of a Hero

Arnold Rattenbury, 8 May 1997

E.P. Thompson, historian and peacemaker, known as Edward to his friends, died at his home near Worcester in 1993. Four years on, Beyond the Frontier is a volume of material set aside far earlier....

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Bankura’s Englishman

Amit Chaudhuri, 23 September 1993

Two Englishmen spring to mind in connection with Tagore: C.F. Andrews and W.W. Pearson. Andrews, with his further association with Gandhi, looms now and then in Indian history books and national...

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John Homer’s Odyssey

Claude Rawson, 9 January 1992

Edward Thompson’s Customs in Common is described as a ‘companion volume’ to his The Making of the English Working Class, and rises to the occasion. It has the wide range of...

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Final Jam

Michael Irwin, 2 June 1988

It isn’t easy to describe this Protean work, but the 18th-century flavour of the title page offers a useful preliminary hint. Essentially the story is an inversion of Gulliver’s...

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Total Solutions

Alan Brinkley, 18 July 1985

About ten years ago, I heard Edward Thompson give a public lecture at Harvard University. He was not then an internationally renowned spokesman for the peace movement: there was at that point no...

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The End of the Future

Jeff McMahan, 1 July 1982

The Reagan Administration’s bellicose posturing and its apparent relish for the Cold War have finally succeeded in rousing Americans to an awareness of the danger of nuclear war. But, while...

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Counting weapons

Rudolf Peierls, 5 March 1981

Nuclear weapons, and the knowledge of the horrors they are capable of producing, have been with us for 35 years. We might be tempted to let familiarity blunt the impact of these facts on our...

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English Marxists in dispute

Roy Porter, 17 July 1980

The Englishness of English historians lies in their eclecticism. Few would admit to being unswerving Marxists, Freudians, Structuralists, Cliometricians, Namierites, or even Whigs. Most believe...

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