6.2 The dedications
Let us start with the dedications, which are both intriguing and of considerable interest.
Read Owen's dedications heading each essay. To whom are the essays dedicated and can you suggest why?
Click document below to open the First Essay
Click document below to open the Second Essay
Click document below to open the Third Essay
Click document below to open the Fourth Essay
The essays are dedicated in turn to William Wilberforce, the British public, the ‘Superintendents of Manufactories’ and the Prince Regent. Obviously Owen's appeals were directed at reformers like Wilberforce, the public generally, mill owners or other employers like himself who might be persuaded to support his principles, and lastly not just the prime minister or other senior figures in the government but the constitutional head of state, the Prince Regent himself. Owen may well have cited the last with a view to royal patronage (which he subsequently enjoyed for a time).
Does anything strike you as strange about dedicating the essays to both William Wilberforce and the Prince Regent?
Wilberforce was a well-known supporter of reform, while the Prince Regent might be regarded as conservative, if not reactionary in his views, certainly about political (if not social) reform.
Wilberforce, the Evangelical Christian MP, was reckoned to be one of the greatest humanitarians of his generation, a reputation by that time well established through his leading role in the anti-slavery movement. His reforming instincts extended to a whole range of other issues, including the condition of the poor and of factory workers, especially children. So Owen's appeal to him is interesting and highly relevant. It suggests a close association between them even at this early date, especially if Wilberforce had given permission for the dedication (but we don't know positively, since so little of Owen's correspondence before 1820 survives).
Note: For more information on Wilberforce, see OpenLearn course A207_9.
As far as that to the Prince Regent goes, this is another intriguing dedication and quite a cachet if it had been obtained with official permission, possibly via Sidmouth or even Liverpool himself. George, having previously consorted with the Whig opposition, but now retaining a Tory administration, could hardly be described as a reformer. However, two of his brothers, the Dukes of Sussex and Kent, both identified themselves with social reform, supporting some of Owen's ideas for easing distress and poverty and Owenite organisations promoting these objects.
We might just note that when the essays were assembled for publication as a book in 1816, Owen dropped Wilberforce from the dedication. Had he complained, perhaps, because he did not want to be associated with the anti-religious views that appeared in the essays and that Owen was beginning to voice on public platforms? On the other hand, perhaps Owen felt uncomfortable with the thought that his fortune and those of his partners at New Lanark had been built, even indirectly, on slavery. The Prince Regent, prior to ascending the throne in 1820, headed the dedication in subsequent editions.