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William Harrison Riley papers

Call Number: MS 417

Scope and Contents

These papers of the socialist William Harrison Riley consist largely of correspondence. Many of the letters reveal dissention and disagreement within and among a variety of leftist organizations in England and the United States from the 1850s through the early 1900s. Letters to and from John Hales of the International Workingmen's Association (1871 – 1873 describe Riley's estrangement from the organization, culminating in a letter from Karl Marx (1872 Dec 23) refusing Riley further permission to publish in their journal, and Riley's protestations of loyalty to the International (1873 Mar 5, 6, Apr 13). Riley's association and eventual disillusionment with John Ruskin and his St. George's Guild is documented in several letters from Ruskin (1877 Oct 20, 1878 Feb 14, n.d.), one from Riley (1891 Feb 6), and in the letters of other Guild members (Thomas Allsop, 1877; William B. Graham, 1888-1891; Susanna Miller, 1891 Feb 8), who desribe the mismanagement and personality clashes which drove them away from Ruskin. Riley was also interested in other cooperative societies and received letters from F.W. Evans of the Shakers (1880 Oct 26) and E.W. Hamilton of the Oneida Community (1880 Nov 11), as well as from members of other societies, in particular the Kaweah Cooperative in California (J.J. Martin, 1889-1893)

Throughout the correspondence Riley's efforts to edit socialist journals and to publish articles, pamphlets, and books form a major topic. Riley corresponded with editors of many socialist publications on both sides of the Atlantic, and was constantly seeking financial aid from them, as well as receiving appeals for money from others (Ernest Jones of the Chartists, 1838-1859). Riley was also looking for jobs with publishers and literary figures. Included is a letter from Rudyard Kipling declining Riley's services as secretary (1895 Nov 4) and from J.J. Callahan concerning a job as editor of a labor paper in Colorado (1899).

Two side issues of some interest appear in Riley's correspondence. Robert Newsham writes of the conditions among the troops before the battle of Sebastopol in 1854-1855, and Edward Drury describes his incarceration in an asylum and asks Riley's help in attaining his release (1880).

In addition to William Riley's correspondence, there are several letters addressed to George H. Riley, all of a routine nature, from Norman Thomas, Max Eastman, and others (folder 20). There is also a small collection of signatures cut from letters, mostly of correspondents represented in the correspondence, but including an envelop addressed by Walt Whitman (folder 28). Among the remaining items in the papers are manuscript drafts of two works by Riley which are mentioned in the correspondence but apparently were never published, and a variety of newspaper articles by Riley. There are also photographs of Riley, Karl Marx, Brigham Young, and others, membership cards for several socialist organizations, memorial cards, a sample of "equitable money," and the marriage certificate of George H. Riley.

These papers were the gift to Yale University of Walter Beinecke, Jr. in 1961.


  • 1844-1899


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research. The entire collection is available on microfilm. Patrons must use HM 112 instead of the originals

Existence and Location of Copies

Entire collection also available on microfilm (786 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM112.

Conditions Governing Use

Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain. There are no restrictions on use. Copyright status for other collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.


0.75 Linear Feet (2 boxes)

Language of Materials


Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL


The papers consist of correspondence and other papers relating to nineteenth century socialism in England and the United States. Included are two literary manuscripts by William Riley entitled Literary Cranks by One of Them and Radical Jack; copies of periodicals edited by Riley; and letters from Walter Besant, Edward Everett Hale, Rudyard Kipling, Justin McCarthy, Karl Marx, William Rossetti and John Ruskin.

Biographical / Historical

The Library has recently received from Mr. Walter Beinecke, Jr., a collection of manuscripts and printed material relating to a minor figure of considerable tangential importance for the study of socialism in England and the United States in the latter half of the last century. William Harrison Riley seems to have received little attention but with this collection there is enough material to compile a considerable footnote to intellectual history.

A man who received and kept letters from people like Karl Marx, John Ruskin, Walt Whitman, William Rossetti, Walter Besant, Rudyard Kipling, Justin McCarthy, and Edward Everett Hale must have interest to more than the Yale Library – although this list may sound like a list of our special collections. Mr. Riley was editor of a large number of periodicals, many of which are present in the gift. In 1871 he was editing the Leeds Critic. He proceeded to London where he concerned himself with the Herald and Helpmate, the Republican, the International Herald under the auspices of the British Federal Council, becoming in 1873 the Republican Herald. This London period was followed by a half year spent editing the Sheffield Socialist. Two pamphlets were issued in London, An Appeal to Reason to Reform Itself (1872) and Yankee Letters to British Workmen(1871 [?]) in eleven parts. These are the comments of a Boston machinist traveling in England, written in the homespun tradition of Jack Downing continued by Will Rogers.

In 1880 Mr. Riley returned to American and from 1889 to 1896 was a resident of Lunenberg, Massachusetts. Two more substantial works are present in manuscript and I find no record of their publication: "Literary Cranks By One of Them," on 112 pages, and "Radical Jack" on 212 pages. During his later years in America Riley seems to have written under the name William Freeland. He retained his interest in cooperative colonies and workingmen's associations as is documented by nearly a hundred newspaper clippings –most of which need to be identified. Such a man was naturally the recipient of numerous "crack-pot" letters. George Francis Train writes from the Tombs in 1873 and signs himself "The Coming Dictator." One Peter Swenson writes from Caddo, Texas suggesting setting up an agricultural commune. F.G. Evans answers a request for information on the Shaker Community in Mount Lebanon. Ernest Jones, ringleader of the Chartists, sends a frantic appeal for funds (1854). One folder is inscribed "Feuds within Feuds" and contains letters to Riley from such radicals as John DeMorgan, Charles Bradlaugh, and John Hales.

From Yale University Library Gazette, Vol. 36, October 1961.

Guide to the William Harrison Riley Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Janet Elaine Gertz
November 1982
Description rules
Finding Aid Created In Accordance With Manuscripts And Archives Processing Manual
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English.

Part of the Manuscripts and Archives Repository

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