Readers’ stories: T. Edmund Harvey – Liberal Quaker, Quaker Liberal

The sixth in our series of readers’ stories is by Mark Frankel, who’s two years into a PhD on T. Edmund Harvey at Birmingham University. Mark visits the Library regularly to read Harvey’s unpublished papers and his copious publications.

I’ve come to Quakerism late in life, having been a member of the Religious Society of Friends since 2009. I’m now 67, a retired civil servant, my last job having been in an agency of HM Treasury. A few years ago I did a Masters in Philosophy and it was the obvious philosophical training and intellectual rigour in Harvey’s passage 23.88 in Quaker Faith & Practice that first sparked my interest in him. I explain this further in a video I did for the Centre for Research into Quaker Studies (Why I am researching T. Edmund Harvey).

T. Edmund Harvey (1875-1955) was a prominent British Quaker of the first half of the twentieth century.  Born into a wealthy Quaker family in Leeds, he was educated at Oxford, Berlin and Paris.  He was warden of Toynbee Hall, the university settlement in the East End of London, from 1906 to 1911.  From 1904 to 1907 he was a member of the London County Council, and from 1909 to 1911 a Stepney borough councillor.  In 1910 he entered Parliament as the Liberal MP for West Leeds but stood down at the post-war election in 1918 because of criticism by his constituency party of his pacifist stance during the First World War.  He returned to Parliament briefly in 1923-1924, again as a Liberal, and for a longer stretch from 1937 as an Independent Progressive sitting for the now abolished constituency of the Combined English Universities.  He retired from Parliament aged 70 at the General Election in July 1945 and died in Leeds aged 80 in May 1955.

Harvey was a staunch Liberal.  He believed in ethical capitalism; in the British Empire as, on balance, a force for good; in duty to God and country; in gradual and orderly social reform; and in prudent public finance.  He could also be called an Establishment figure, as he moved smoothly in the corridors of power.  Yet he was a man of great integrity whose public life is marked by a well-worked-out commitment to the Quaker Testimonies.  It was his influence and eloquence that in 1916 brought about the statutory exemption from military conscription for conscientious objectors, and it was his dedication to the Peace Testimony allied with an equal dedication to public service which led to exempted conscientious objectors being placed in alternative civilian work through the agency of the Pelham Committee.  Harvey’s papers from the Pelham Committee (part of Library of the Society of Friends, Temp MSS 835) show how hard he worked on the practical aspects of the Peace Testimony.  The record is silent on how Harvey felt when the exemption hard won by his skill and dedication was spurned by the absolutists.

A former Librarian at Friends House, Ted Milligan, knew Harvey personally and has given me chapters from an unpublished biography.   The Library  has been important to my research for the papers of Pelham Committee, but also for reference material, particularly the unpublished Dictionary of Quaker Biography; for copies of Quaker periodicals from the era; for specialist secondary works on Quaker-related topics in the first half of the twentieth century; and for published works by Harvey himself and his contemporaries.  Harvey was the author of some fifty books and articles including The Rise of the Quakers (1905), A Wayfarer’s Faith (1913) The Long Pilgrimage, (the Swarthmore Lecture of 1921), St Aelred (1932) and Workaday Saints (1949),  all of which are held by the Library.

Harvey’s writings show his love not only of the Society of Friends, but also of neglected by-ways of the historic Christian Church with its lost sacraments and forgotten saints and sages.  There is also evidence of a teasing sense of humour.  Stolen Aureoles (1922) is a set of spoof hagiographies.  In it, Harvey mocks his own privileged background and reputation for equivocation with a bogus account of the trial of the early Christian saint, Eutychus:

When brought before the magistrate, Eutychus was at once surrounded by a cloud of false witnesses, one of whom accused him of having secreted vast wealth by his superstitious rites: to this the Saint simply replied that his treasure was in heaven.  Others swore that by the use of magic arts, he had frequently been known to face both ways at once, and that he had even made black appear white by uttering certain words which he was wont to use for such purposes.  At this the judge became filled with anger, and commanded the Saint to be thrown into a cauldron of seething hot water, which had been prepared hard by.  And lo! by a miracle marvellous to relate, as the water touched the Saint it became lukewarm, and the bubbling waves sank down, as though one had poured oil upon them.  (Stolen Aureoles p.19).

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3 Responses to Readers’ stories: T. Edmund Harvey – Liberal Quaker, Quaker Liberal

  1. Mary Rowlands says:

    I was interested in your research on TEHarvey as I (now aged 95) am a niece and possibly the last surviving person to remember him. He reminded us a bit of Mr Punch, heavy eyebrows and slightly hooked nose. He was affectionate to us as children, he and Irene(known to us as Auntie V V) had no family. She was daughter of Sylvanus Thomson. He was my. Mother’s older brother,son of William and Anna Maria Harvey of Leeds. My memory Is poor ,but tell me if I can add anything. My maiden name was Crosfield. Yours. Mary R

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Thank you for your marvellous recollections Friend! We’ll make sure Mark Frankel gets your message.
      Regards from Library of the Society of Friends

  2. Mark FrankelM says:

    Dear Mary
    Thank you for your lovely recollection, and particularly for your memory of Auntie V V. This has cleared up a point for me, which is whether Irene Harvey’s first name was pronounced as two or three syllables. Clearly, ‘V V’ is a childish attempt to pronounce the name with a long ‘e’ at the end. There is a magnificent portrait of her by Mark Gertler done in the 1920’s and showing her in Quaker dress, no less!
    Mark Frankel

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