THE EARLY CHARTISTS. By Dorothy Thompson. Macmillan, 1971. Pp. 307. £ 2.00. This book of documents is one of the first contributions to the re-discovery of Chartism. Although much has been written on the movement, Mrs. Thompson has the mind and caution of a pioneer. There is no Chartist conviction here; the subject has the shape and texture of an amoeba. Chartism was frequently defined but remains indefinable; it was a rational political movement, a cry of despair, a 'dream' and much more. The movement had ambiguity at its heart: a fervent wish to protect property was accompanied by the threat to overturn society; contempt for the middle classes did not preclude constant appeals for their assistance; and denunciations of standing armies and an aggressive foreign policy stood alongside a pride in British military might. Mrs. Thompson captures the authentic voice of this protest movement. She has abstracted documents from a massive body of evidence with the precision of a surgeon. Certain passages, such as the 'Autobiography of one of the Chartist Rebels of 1848', may not seem as important to the general reader as they do to Mrs. Thompson, but the total effect is marvellous. The snarling passion and the intellectual doubts are here; so are the heroes and heroines. Few were hated more than Daniel O'Connell, though Henry VIII ran him a close second. History and the present were telescoped and generations spoke to each other for these few years. This was a period 'when time stood still', and when people calendared the future in hours and days. All were caught up in the excitement-scholars, journalists, and working men of every occupation. Mrs. Thompson includes a fascinating section on female Chartism, but even here the reader is soon aware that the radicals placed much emphasis on repetition and standardisation of argument. Their love of discussion and an Owenite belief in persuasion come through in documents 11 and 14 (Addresses to a clergyman and to the middle classes). In these, and in many of the other extracts, the language and reasoning is a mixture of old and new; Cobbett, the crusty constitutionalist, and Harney, the ebulliant republican, inhabited two different worlds. Meetings were the Chartist experience, and Mrs. Thompson gives some glorious examples of them. Bronterre O'Brien (document 4) conveys the cold intellectual intensity of a Crown and Anchor meeting in 1837, and in extract 16-the Manchester reception for McDouall and Collins- there is a superb account of the preparations, the pride and noisy, exuberant, flag-waving ritual that characterised the mass Chartist rallies. O'Brien, with his schoolmaster mind, was never too happy at such huge gatherings, but they were a perfect setting for Irishmen, ministers and