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.