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Thomas Hodgskin papers

Call Number: MS 575

Scope and Contents

The papers consist of correspondence, writings, lectures, and other papers of Thomas Hodgskin. Of particular interest is a group of letters between Hodgskin and Francis Place which give a detailed account of Hodgskin's experiences and reflections while travelling through Europe. Also included are some papers of a personal and family nature.


  • 1802-1903


Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.The entire collection is available on microfilm. Patrons must use HM 16 instead of the originals.

Existence and Location of Copies

Entire collection is available on microfilm (954 frames on 1 reel, 35mm.) from Manuscripts and Archives, Yale University Library, at cost. Order no. HM16.

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Unpublished materials authored or otherwise produced by the creator(s) of this collection are in the public domain.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.


Arranged in three series: I. Correspondence. II. Writings. III. Special Files.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 box)

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, writings, lectures, and other papers of Thomas Hodgskin. Of particular interest is a group of letters between Hodgskin and Francis Place which give a detailed account of Hodgskin's experiences and reflections while travelling through Europe. Also included are some papers of a personal and family nature.

Biographical / Historical

Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869), teacher, journalist, and political activist, was born at Chatham, Kent, the third of six children of John and Elizabeth Hodgskin. Like many of his contemporaries Hodgskin joined the Royal Navy in 1800 at the age of twelve. He served with distinction until 1812, when he was courtmartialled and dismissed for an injudicious letter he had sent to a superior. His naval experience, however, provided the material for his first book, Essays on Naval Discipline (1813), an expose of the inhuman conditions and practices which prevailed in the Royal Navy. For the next three years Hodgskin led a frugal existence during which he studied and wrote articles on naval topics for the radical weekly, Drakard's Paper. The turning point in his career came when he met Francis Place, who in turn introduced him to James Mill and Jeremy Bentham. Apparently at the urging of Place, Hodgskin embarked in 1815 on a tour of Europe with the purpose of writing a social and economic commentary patterned after Arthur Young's famous Travels. The enthusiasm of Place, Mill, and Bentham for his accounts resulted in a project to study Hanover, then ruled by the British King. Armed with questions prepared by the Bentham circle, Hodgskin began his study in December, 1817. While in Hanover he met and married Elizabeth Hagewisch. Returning to the United Kingdom in 1818, Hodgskin made his home for the next three years in Edinburgh, where he published his journals under the title, Travels in the North of Germany (1820).

Hodgskin returned to London in 1823 and through the influence of Place and Mill became Parliamentary reporter for the London Morning Chronicle, a position he held for many years. At the same time he and another journalist named Robinson founded a weekly magazine devoted to popular science for artisans and workingmen, The Mechanic's Magazine. The venture was so successful that he and Robinson, enlisting the support of Place, Dr. Birkbeck, a well-known educator and philanthropist, and Henry Brougham (later Lord Chancellor) started the London Workingmen's Institute, which continues today as Birkbeck College, University of London.

Hodgskin's most notable achievement was his work in behalf of the British labor movement. Keenly affected by the repression and economic exploitation of the working classes, Hodgskin attempted to develop a coherent social philosophy in order to give direction to their demands. As a result of his sojourn in Europe, he had come to believe in the anarchist position that all government was an unmitigated evil, and that labor was the sole source of value. The contention that labor was being exploited and that the function of government was to maintain this system of exploitation earned the praise of Karl Marx and the wrath of his former friends, Place and Mill. Nevertheless, through his continued friendship with Dr. Birkbeck, Hodgskin was able to propagate his views at the Institute. He wrote a number of books in which he developed these ideas, such as, Labour Defended Against the Claims of Capital (1825), Popular Political Economy (1827), and The Natural and Artificial Rights of Property Contrasted (1832), which was the most comprehensive statement of his doctrines. In later years his political activism diminished, and he spent the remainder of his life as a journalist working for a number of newspapers and journals, notably as editor of Hansard, and as a member of the staff of The Economist, during which time Herbert Spencer was his assistant.

For additional biographical information see the paper by C. H. Driver in folder II:5.

The Thomas Hodgskin Papers contain letters and papers relating to Hodgskin's life, written by himself, members of his family, and fellow radicals and associates. It is arranged in three series: CORRESPONDENCE, WRITINGS, and SPECIAL FILES. CORRESPONDENCE includes letters by Hodgskin to his parents, who were storekeepers at a naval dockyard, and to his daughter, Mary. The most important part of the collection is the group of letters to Francis Place, which give a detailed account of his experiences and reflections while travelling in France, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, and Holland.

Letters to Hodgskin include those from Place, John Bright, and Richard Cobden pertaining to his political doctrines. In addition, there are a number of letters from Members of Parliament, including Lord Bentinck, Lord Brougham, Lord Campbell, Benjamin Disraeli, John Downing, Lord John Manners, and Lord Mahon, related to the accounts of speeches reported in Hansard.

"Correspondence of Others" contains letters between Hodgskin's daughter, Frances Hodgskin, to various people, notably Herbert Spencer, about her father.

The WRITINGS series is not large, but does contain two lectures by Hodgskin, "Peace, Order and Law" and "Free Trade in Connection with the Corn Laws." In addition, there are letters to the press and fragmentary manuscript notes about his travels and thoughts. There are also a number of newspaper accounts of Hodgskin's lectures on "The Causes and Prevention of Crime" as well as a manuscript article on the life of Hodgskin written by C. H. Driver.

SPECIAL FILES contain documents relating to Hodgskin's naval service, mainly appointments and commissions.

Guide to the Thomas Hodgskin Papers
Under Revision
compiled by Rosalind Haworth
February 1971
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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