George Jacob Holyoake (13 April 1817 – 22 January 1906) was an English secularist, co-operator, and newspaper editor. He coined the terms "secularism" in 1851 and "jingoism" in 1878. He edited a secularist paper, the Reasoner, from 1846 to June 1861, and a co-operative one, The English Leader, in 1864–1867.
George Jacob Holyoake
13 April 1817
|Died||22 January 1906 (aged 88)|
|Burial place||Highgate Cemetery, London|
|Known for||Inventing the word secularism.|
George Jacob Holyoake was born in Birmingham, where his father worked as a whitesmith and his mother as a button maker. He attended a dame school and a Wesleyan Sunday School, began working half-days at the same foundry as his father at the age of eight and learnt his trade. At 18 he began attending lectures at the Birmingham Mechanics' Institute, where he lit upon the socialist writings of Robert Owen and later became an assistant lecturer. He married Eleanor Williams in 1839 and decided to become a full-time teacher, but was rejected for his socialist views. Unable to teach full-time, Holyoake took a job as an Owenite social missionary. His first posting was in Worcester; the following year he was transferred to a more important one in Sheffield.
Holyoake joined Charles Southwell in dissenting from the official Owenist policy that lecturers should take a religious oath to enable them to take collections on Sundays. Southwell had founded an atheist organization, Oracle of Reason, and was soon imprisoned on those grounds. Holyoake took over as editor, having moved to an atheist position as a result of his experiences.
Holyoake was influenced by the French philosopher of science, Auguste Comte, notable in sociology and famous for the doctrine of positivism. Comte had himself attempted to establish a secular "religion of humanity" to fulfil the cohesive function of traditional religion. Holyoake was an acquaintance of Harriet Martineau, who translated various works by Comte and was perhaps the first female sociologist. She wrote to him excitedly on reviewing Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859.
In 1842, Holyoake became one of the last persons convicted for blasphemy in a public lecture, held in April 1842 at the Cheltenham Mechanics' Institute, though this had no theological character and the incriminating words were merely a reply to a question addressed to him from the body of the meeting.
It took an intervention by supporters to stop him being walked in chains from Cheltenham to Gloucester Gaol, and there was a formal complaint to the Home Secretary, which was upheld. He was well supported by the Cheltenham Free Press at the time in his actions, but attacked in the Cheltenham Chronicle and Examiner. Those at the lecture, the second in a series, moved and carried a motion "that free discussion was equally beneficial in the departments of politics, morals and religion." In 1842 Holyoake and the socialist Emma Martin formed the Anti-Persecution Union to support free thinkers in danger of arrest.
Holyoake nonetheless underwent six months' imprisonment and editorship of the Oracle changed hands. After the paper closed at the end of 1843, Holyoake founded a more moderate one, The Movement, which survived into 1845. Holyoake also founded the Reasoner, where he developed the concept of secularism, followed by the Secular Review in August 1876. He was the last person indicted for publishing an unstamped newspaper, but the prosecution was dropped when the tax was withdrawn.
In the 1850s Holyoake and Charles Southwell were lecturing in East London. Harriet Law, then a Baptist, began debating with them, and in the process changed her beliefs. She "saw the light of reason" in 1855 and became a supporter of Holyoake and a prominent secular speaker.
After an 1877 split with Charles Bradlaugh and Annie Besant, leaders of the National Secular Society (NSS), Holyoake, Charles Watts and Harriet Law founded the British Secular Union, which remained active until 1884.
Holyoake chaired the Rationalist Press Association in 1899–1906. He retained his disbelief in God, but after the Oracle soon came to see "atheism" as a negative term, preferring "secularism". He then adopted the term "agnostic", when it appeared.
Holyoake's later years were mainly devoted to the working-class co-operative movement. He served as President of the first day of the 1887 Co-operative Congress. He wrote a history of the Rochdale Pioneers (1857), The History of Co-operation in England (1875; revised ed. 1906) and The Co-operative Movement of To-day (1891). He also published (1892) an autobiography entitled Sixty Years of an Agitator's Life, and in 1905 two volumes of reminiscences, Bygones Worth Remembering.
Holyoake died in Brighton, Sussex, on 22 January 1906, and was buried in the eastern section of Highgate Cemetery in London. The grave lies in a north-east section, off the main paths, and is not readily accessible, but visible between graves on the east side of the main central-north path, behind George Eliot's grave.
The Co-operative Movement decided to build a lasting monument to him: a permanent home for the Co-operative Union in Manchester. Holyoake House was opened in 1911 and also houses the National Co-operative Archive. A second collection is held at Bishopsgate Library.
Holyoake coined the term "jingoism" in a letter to The Daily News on 13 March 1878, referring to the patriotic song "By Jingo" by G. W. Hunt, popularised by the music hall singer G. H. MacDermott.
He was the uncle of an independent MP and convicted fraudster, Horatio Bottomley, and contributed to the cost of Bottomley's upkeep after he was orphaned in 1865. The New Zealand Prime Minister Keith Holyoake was related to him.
Holyoake is listed on the south face of the Reformers' Memorial in London's Kensal Green Cemetery.
The National Secular Society unveiled a blue plaque commemorating Holyoake on Friday 17 August 2018. It is mounted on the front of a newsagents' at 4 Woburn Walk in Bloomsbury, London, WC1H 0JL and is part of the Marchmont Association's scheme of local history commemorative plaques.
- Rationalism: A Treatise for the Times (London: J. Watson, 1845)
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- Rudiments of Public Speaking and Debate or, Hints on the Application of Logic (New York: McElrath & Barker, 1853); 9th edition, revised & enlarged. 1904.
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- Martin Ceadel, Semi-detached Idealists: The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854–1945 (Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 105.
- Holyoake, George Jacob (1892). Sixty Years of An Agitator's Life. II. London: T. Fisher Unwin. pp. 217. Retrieved 23 June 2021 – via Internet Archive.
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- Joseph McCabe (1908), Life and Letters of George Jacob Holyoake, 2 vols. London: Watts & Co. It includes A contribution towards a bibliography of the writings of George Jacob Holyoake, by C. W. F. Goss, pp. 329–344.)
- public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Holyoake, George Jacob". Encyclopædia Britannica. 13 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 622. This article incorporates text from a publication now in the
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