The Chartist Movement/Introduction
MARK HOVELL (1888–1916)
The author of this book belonged to the great class of young scholars of promise, who, at the time of their country's need, forsook their studies, obeyed the call to arms, and gave up their lives in her defence. It is well that the older men, who cannot follow their example, should do what in them lies to save for the world the work of these young heroes, and to pay such tribute as they can to their memory.
Mark Hovell, the son of William and Hannah Hovell, was born in Manchester on March 21, 1888. In his tenth year he won an entrance scholarship at the Manchester Grammar School from the old Miles Platting Institute, now replaced by Nelson Street Municipal School. It was the earliest possible age at which a Grammar School Scholarship could be won. From September 1898 to Christmas 1900 he was a pupil at the Grammar School, mounting in that time from IIc to Vb on the modern side. Circumstances forced him to leave school when only twelve years of age, and to embark in the blind-alley occupations which were the only ones open to extreme youth. Fortunately he was enabled to resume his education in August 1901 as a pupil teacher in Moston Lane Municipal School, whose head master, Mr. Mercer, speaks of him in the warmest terms. Hovell also attended the classes of the Pupil Teachers' College. From November 1902 to February 1904 a serious illness again interrupted his work, but he then got back to his classes, and at once went ahead. Mr. W. Elliott, who first gave him his taste for history at the Pupil Teachers' College, fully discerned his rare promise. "He was," writes Mr. Elliot, "undoubtedly the brightest, keenest, and most versatile pupil I have ever taught, and his fine critical mind seemed to delight in overcoming difficulties. He was a most serious student, but he possessed a quiet vein of humour we much appreciated. We all looked with confidence to his attaining a position of eminence." This opinion was confirmed by the remarkable papers with which in June 1906 he won the Hulme Scholarship at our University, which he joined in the following October. This scholarship gives full liberty to the holder to take up any course he likes in the University, and Hovell chose to proceed to his degree in the Honours School of History. During the three years of his undergraduate course he did exceedingly good work. After winning in 1908 the Bradford Scholarship, the highest undergraduate distinction in history, he graduated in 1909 with an extremely good first class and a graduate scholarship. In 1910 he took the Teachers' Diploma as a step towards redeeming his pledge to the Government, which had contributed towards the cost of his education.
The serious work of life was now to begin. It was the time when the Workers' Education Association was first operating on a large scale in Lancashire, and he was at once swept up into the movement, being appointed in 1910 assistant lecturer in history at the University with special charge of W.E.A. classes at Colne, Ashton, and Leigh, to which others were subsequently added. He threw himself into this work with the greatest energy. He took the greatest pains in presenting his material in an acceptable form. His youthful appearance excited the suspicions of some among his elderly auditors. They used, Mr. Paton tells me, "to lay traps for him. He seemed to know so much, and they wanted to see if it was all 'got up for the occasion.' But he was a 'live wire.' He used to heckle me fine after education lectures at College." This early acquired skill in debate soon rode triumphant over the critics. He did not content himself simply with giving lectures and taking classes. In order to get to know his pupils personally, he stayed over week-ends at the towns where he taught. He had long Sunday tramps with his disciples over the moors, and though he never flattered them, and was perhaps sometimes rather austere in his dealings with them, he soon completely won their confidence and affection. I remember the embarrassment felt by the administrators of the movement, when a class, which had had experience of his gifts, almost revolted against the severely academic methods of a continuator of his course, and was only appeased when it was fortunately found possible to bring him back to his flock without compromising the situation. He continued in this work as long as he was in England, and when the winter of 1913–14 took him to London, he had the same success with the south-country workmen as with the men he had known from youth up in the north. Mr. E. H. Jones, the secretary of his Wimbledon class, thus describes the impression he made there with a course on the "Making of Modern England":
Many of the students had misgivings as to the success of what appeared to them as a dull, drab, and dreary subject. These doubts were further increased when, at the first preliminary meeting, a slim, quiet, unassuming, and nervous young man got up, and in a hesitating manner outlined the chief features of the course. The first lecture, however, was sufficient to ensure the success of the venture. His thorough knowledge of the subject, his clear and incisive style, together with a charming personality, held the attention of the class. His realistic description of the condition of the people, especially of the working classes, during the early part of the nineteenth century—the homes they lived in and the lives they lived—showed us at once a man with a large heart, one who sympathised with the sorrows and the sufferings of the people. His great desire was to serve his fellows by educating, and so exalting the manhood of the nation. We, who knew him, understand the motives which prompted him to offer his life for the sake of our common humanity. He hated tyranny; the beat of the drums of war had no charms for him, unless the call was in the cause of Justice and Liberty."
This appreciation is not overdrawn. There was nothing in Hovell of the clap-trap lecturer for effect. His rather conservative point of view knew little of short cuts, either to social amelioration or to the solution of historic problems. He offered sound knowledge coupled with sympathy and intelligence, and it is as much to the credit of the auditors as of the lecturer that they gladly took what he had to give.
Hovell's lecturing, important as it was, could only be subsidiary to the attainment of his main purpose in life. As soon as he graduated, he made up his mind to equip himself by further study and by original work for the career of a university teacher of history. His degree course had given him a practical example of the character of two widely divergent periods of history, studied to some extent in the original authorities. One of these was the reign of Richard II., which he had studied under the direction of Professor Tait. He had sent up a degree thesis on Ireland under Richard II., written with a maturity and thoughtfulness which are rarely found in undergraduate essays. This essay he afterwards worked into a study which we hope to print, when conditions again make academic treatises on mediaeval problems practical politics. It was evidence that he might, if he had chosen, become a good mediaevalist. But his temper always inclined him towards something nearer our own age, and his other special subject, the Age of Napoleon I., seemed to him to lead to wide fields of half-explored ground in the first half of the nineteenth century. He attended for this course lectures of my own on the general history of the period, and made a special study of some of the Napoleonic campaigns, which he studied under the direction of Mr. Spenser Wilkinson, then lecturer in Military History at Manchester, and now Chichele Professor of that subject at Oxford. It was Mr. Wilkinson's lectures that first kindled his enthusiasm for military history.
Hovell's main bent was towards the suggestive and little-worked field of social history, and his interest in the labour and social problems in the years succeeding the fall of Napoleon was vivified by the practical calls of his W.E.A. classes upon him. I feel pretty sure that it was the stimulus of these classes that finally made him settle on the social and economic history of the early Victorian age as his main subject. It was upon this that he gave nearly all his lectures to workmen. Indeed, much of the vividness and directness of his appeal was due to the fact that he was speaking on subjects which he himself was investigating at first hand. A deep interest in the condition of the people, a strong sympathy with all who were distressfully working out their own salvation, a rare power of combining interest and sympathy with the power of seeing things as they were, made his progress rapid, and increasing mastery only confirmed him in his choice of subject. Finally he narrowed his investigations to the neglected or half-studied history of the Chartist Movement, and examined with great care the economic, social, and political conditions which made that movement intelligible.
Hovell's teachers were not unmindful of his promise, and in 1911 his election to the Langton fellowship, perhaps the highest academic distinction at the disposal of the Arts faculty of the Manchester University, provided him with a modest income for three years during which he could carry on his investigations, untroubled by bread problems. He now cut down his teaching work to a minimum, and threw himself whole-heartedly into his studies. Circumstances, however, were not very propitious to him. He was a poor man, and was the poorer since his abandonment of school teaching involved the obligation of repaying the sums advanced by the State towards the cost of his education. The work he now desired to do was perhaps as honourable and useful as that for which he had been destined. It was, however, different. He had received State subsidies on the condition that he taught in schools, and he chose instead to teach working men and University students. So far as his bond went, he had, therefore, nothing to complain of. The Board of Education, though meeting him to some extent, was not prepared, even in an exceptional case, to relax its rules altogether. While recognising the inevitableness of its action, it may perhaps be permitted to hope that the time may come, even in this country, when it will be allowed that the best career for the individual may also be the one which will prove the most profitable to the community. Otherwise, the compulsion imposed on boys and girls, hardly beyond school age, to pledge themselves to adopt a specific career may have unpleasant suggestions of something not very different from the forced labour of the indentured coolie or Chinaman.
Other difficulties stood in Hovell's way. He had to continue his W.E.A. classes until he had completed his obligations to them, and it required moral courage to avoid accepting new ones. The University also had its claims on him, and untoward circumstances made his lectureship much more onerous than it had been intended to be. In the spring of 1911 a serious illness kept me away from work, and between January and June 1912 the University was good enough to allow me two terms' leave of absence. On both occasions Hovell was asked to deliver certain courses of my lectures, and I shall ever be grateful for the readiness with which he undertook this new and onerous obligation. But he gained thereby experience in teaching large classes of students, and it all came as part of the day's work. Despite this his study of the Chartists made steady progress.
A further diversion soon followed. Up to now Hovell's work had lain altogether in the Manchester district, and Wanderjahre are as necessary as Lehrjahre to equip the scholar for his task. The opportunity for foreign experience came with the offer of an assistantship in Professor Karl Lamprecht's Institut für Kultur- und Universalgeschichte at Leipzig for the academic session of 1912–1913. This offer, which came to him through the kind offices of Sir A. W. Ward, Master of Peterhouse, was the more flattering since the Leipzig Institute was a place specially devised to enable Dr. Lamprecht to disseminate his teaching as to the nature and importance of Kulturgeschichte. Reduced to its simplest terms Lamprecht's doctrine is that the social and economic development of society is infinitely more important than the merely political history to which most historians have limited themselves. Not the State alone but society as a whole is the real object of the study of the historian. Various doubtful amplifications and presuppositions involved in Lamprecht's teaching in no wise impair the essential truth of the broad propositions on which it is based.
Hovell's own studies of social history showed him to be predisposed to sympathy with the master. But he had never been in Germany, and his German was almost rudimentary. However, he worked up his knowledge of the tongue by acquiring from Lamprecht's own works the point of view of the great apostle of Kulturgeschichte. Accordingly by the time Hovell reached Leipzig, he had acquired the keys both of the German language and of Lamprecht's general position. He found that Lamprecht's Institute, though loosely connected with the University, was a self-contained and self-sufficing seminary for the propagation of the new historic gospel, and looked upon with some coldness and suspicion by the more conservative historical teachers. It was a wise part of the system of the Institute that certain foreign "assistants" should present the social history of their own country from the national point of view. Towards this task Hovell's contribution was to be an exposition of the social development of England in the nineteenth century, so that his Chartist studies now stood him in good stead. He was, however, profoundly convinced of the high standard required from a German University teacher, and made elaborate preparations to give a course of adequate novelty and thoroughness. Unfortunately he found that the students who gradually presented themselves were far from being specialists. They were not even anxious to become specialists, and were nearly all somewhat indifferent to his matter, looking upon the lectures and discussions as an easy means of increasing their familiarity with spoken English.
The beginning was rather an anxious time, especially when presiding over and criticising the reading of the referate, or students' exercises, which alternated with his set lectures. He was impressed with the power of his pupils to write and discuss their themes in English, though glad when increasing familiarity with German enabled him also to deal with their difficulties in their own tongue. The only other academic work that he essayed was taking part in Professor Max Förster's English seminar. The lightness of the daily task gave him leisure for looking round, and seeing all that he could see of Germany and German social and academic life. He attended many lectures, delighting especially in Förster's clear and stimulating course on Shakespeare, broken on one occasion by a passionate exhortation to the students to forsake their beer-drinkings and duels, and to cultivate manly sports after the English fashion, so as to be able the better to defend their beloved Fatherland. He was much impressed by Wundt, the psychologist, "a little plain and unassuming-looking man dressed in undistinguished black, lecturing with astounding clearness and strength, at the age of 81, to a closely packed and attentive audience of fully 350 students, who look on him as the wonder of his age, and are eager to catch the last words that might come from the lips of the master." He heard all that he could from Lamprecht himself, with whom his relations soon became exceedingly cordial. He found him genial, friendly, and good-natured, and he was impressed by his dominating personality and missionary fervour, his broad sweep over all times and periods, the width of his interests, and the extent of his influence. He sincerely strove to understand the mysteries of the new science. The very abstractness and theoretical character of the Lamprechtian method was a stimulus and a revelation to a man of clear-cut positive temperament, schooled in historical teaching of a much more concrete character. It was easy to hold his own in the English seminar where the discussions were in his own tongue. But he gradually found himself able to take his share in Lamprecht's seminar, where all the talk was in German. "My reputation among the students," he writes, "was founded on my knowledge that the predecessor of the Reichsgericht sat at Wetzlar." It was a proud moment when he had to explain that the master's confusion of the modern English chief justice and the justiciar of the twelfth century was the natural error of the foreigner. He was still more gratified when called upon by Lamprecht to read an elaborate treatise in German on the der englische Untertanenbegriff, the English conception of political subjection. His only embarrassment now was that he could never quite convince himself that there was any specifically English conception of the subject at all, and that he rather wondered whether Lamprecht knew whether there was one either. But however much he criticised, he never lost his loyalty to the man. His doubts of the Lamprechtian system became intensified when he found underlying it errors of fact, uniform vagueness of detail, and cut-and-dried theoretical presuppositions against which the broad facts of history were powerless to prevail. One of his last judgments, made in a letter to me in June 1913, is perhaps worth quoting:
Professor Lamprecht is lecturing this term on the history of the United States. His course is exceedingly interesting, but I am bound to say that his history strikes me as highly imaginative. He never speaks of the English colonies. They are always "teutonisch," except when (as to-day) he says in mistake "deutsch." Thus Virginia in 1650 was "teutonisch." He persistently depreciates the English element on the strength of the existence of a few Swedish, Dutch, and German settlements. By some magic English colonists cease to be English as soon as they cross the ocean, so that their desire for freedom and political equality owes little or nothing to the fact of their being English. He carefully distinguishes even Scots from English. He views the history of America down to 1763 as an episode in the eternal struggle of the "romanisch" and "teutonisch" peoples, and the beginning of the decided triumph of the latter, whose greatest victory of course was in 1870–71. I am firmly convinced that he neither understands England, nor the English, nor English history. Still, although I don't agree with half he is saying, I find his method of handling things interesting; he stimulates thought, if only in the effort to follow his.
The whole period at Leipzig was one of intense activity. Hovell enjoyed himself thoroughly. He was always eager to widen his experiences, and found much kindness from seniors and juniors, Germans and compatriots. He made a special ally of his French colleague, who did not take Kulturgeschichte quite so seriously as he did. The two exiles spent the short Christmas recess in a tour that extended as far as Strassburg, where they moralised on the contrasts between the new Strassburg, that had arisen after 1871, and the old city, that still sighed for the days when it was a part of France. At Leipzig Hovell revelled in the theatres, in the Gewandhaus concerts, the singing of the choir of the Thomas Kirche, and the old Saxon and Thuringian cities, churches, and castles. He was specially impressed with the orderly development from a small ancient nucleus of the modern industrial Leipzig, with its well-planned streets and spacious gardens, with which the Lancashire towns which he knew contrasted sadly. He attended all manner of students' festivities, drank beer at their Kneipen, and witnessed, not without severe qualms, the bloodthirsty frivolities of a students' duel. He was present when the King of Saxony, whose personality did not impress him, came to Leipzig to spend a morning in attending University lectures and an afternoon in reviewing his troops. He saw Gerhard Hauptmann receive an honorary degree, and delighted in the poet's recitation of a piece from one of his unpublished plays. He was so quick to praise the better sides of German life that he was condemned by his French colleague for his excessive accessibility to the Teutonic point of view. His appreciation of German method extended even to the police, whom he eulogised as efficient, and not too obtrusive in their activities. He recognised the thoroughness, economy, and thriftiness with which the Germans organised their natural resources. He spoke with enthusiasm of the ways in which the Germans studied and practised the art of living, their adaptation of means to ends, their avoidance of social waste. He was struck with the absence of visible slums and apparent squalor. The spectacle of the material prosperity obtained under Protection led him to wonder whether the gospel of Cobden in which, like all good Manchester men, he had been brought up, was necessarily true in all places and under all conditions. But he had enough clarity of vision to see that there was another side to the apparent comfort and opulence of Leipzig. He was appalled at the lack of method and organisation when individual enterprise was left to work out details for itself, as was notably instanced by the slipshod, happy-go-lucky ways in which the affairs of the Institute and University were conducted. He watched with keen interest elections for the Saxon Diet or Landtag, when Leipzig's discontent with the constitution of society rose triumphant over an electoral system as destructive to the expression of democratic control as that of the Prussian Diet itself. Things could hardly be well when Leipzig returned, by overwhelming majorities, both to the local and to the imperial Parliaments, Social Democrats pledged to the extirpation of the existing order. A constitution, cunningly devised to suppress popular suffrage, and manhood voting yielded the same result.
Another aspect of German opinion was strange and painful to him. He had been taught that in Germany the enthusiasts for war were as negligible an element as the "militarists" of his own land. But he soon found that the truth was almost the reverse of what he had expected. From the beginning he was appalled, too, by the widespread evidence of deep-rooted hostility to England, even in the academic circles which received him with the utmost cordiality. The violence of the local press, the denunciations of England by stray acquaintances in trains and cafés, seemed to him symptomatic of a deep-set feeling of hatred and rivalry. He saw that Lamprecht studied English history in the hope of appropriating for his own land the secret of British prosperity, and that Förster exhorted the students to play football that they might be better able to fight England when the time arrived, and that both were confident that the time would soon come. He was disgusted at the crass materialism he saw practised everywhere. He was particularly moved by a quaint exhortation to the local public to contribute handsomely to celebrate the Emperor's jubilee by subscribing to a national fund for missions to the heathen. No one saw anything scandalous or humorous in a spiritual appeal based on the most earthly of motives, and centring round the arguments that a large collection would please the Kaiser, and that, as England and America had used missionaries as pioneers of trade and might, Germany must also "prepare the way for world-power by the faithful and unselfish labours of her missionaries in opening up the economic and political resources of her protectorates." He saw that Deutschland über alles meant to many Germans a curious dislocation of values. An agreeable young privat-docent, who visited him later in England, showed something of the same spirit when, coming with a Manchester party on an historical excursion to Lincoln, he saw nothing to admire in the majestic city on a hill nor in the wonderful cathedral. Far finer sites and much better Gothic art were, he solemnly assured us, to be seen in Saxony and the Mark of Brandenburg. Very few of his few German friends had Hovell's keen sense of humour.
Hovell's stay in Germany was broken by a visit to England at Easter 1913, when he attended the International Historical Congress in London, where he introduced me to Lamprecht. I was much impressed with the fluency and accuracy which Hovell's German speech had now attained, as well as with the cordiality of his relations to his large German acquaintance. He returned to Leipzig for the summer semester, and was back in England for good by August.
The novel Leipzig experiences had thrown the Chartists into the shade, the more so as Hovell found the University Library capriciously supplied with English books, and catalogued in somewhat haphazard fashion. But he profited by the opportunity of a careful study of the important works which notable German scholars had recently devoted to the neglected history of modern British social development. He found some of these monographs were "too much after the German style, rather compendia than analytical treatises, but useful for facts, references, and bibliographies." Others of the "more philosophic sort" gave him "good ideas," and he regarded Adolf Held's Zwei Bücher über die sociale Geschichte Englands "specially good." Steffen's Geschichte der englischen Lohnarbeiter, the translation of a Swedish book by a professor at Göteborg, and M. Beer's Geschichte des Socialismus in England were also extremely useful. But he was soon on his guard against the widespread tendency to wrest the facts to suit various theoretical presuppositions, and to realise the fundamental blindness to English conditions and habits of thought that went along with laborious study of the external facts of our history. Though he by no means worked up all his impressions of German authors into his history, the draft, which he left behind him, bears constant evidence alike of their influence and of his reaction from it. It was at this time he first saw his work in print in the shape of a review of Professor Liebermann's National Assembly in the Anglo-Saxon Period, contributed to a French review.
On returning to England Hovell established himself in London, where he worked hard at the Place manuscripts (unhappily divided between Bloomsbury and Hendon), the Home Office Records, and other unpublished Chartist material. During the winter he took a W.E.A. class at Wimbledon. By the summer of 1914 he was ready to settle at home again and to put together his work on the Chartists. His fellowship now coming to an end, he undertook more W.E.A. courses in the Manchester district for the winter of 1914–1915, and a small post was found for him at the University, where he received charge of the subject of military history. This study the University prepared to develop in connection with a scheme for preparation of its students for commissions in the army and territorial forces.
No sooner were these plans settled than the great war broke out. The classes in military history were reduced to microscopic dimensions, since all students keen on such study promptly deserted the theory for the practice of warfare. Though anxious to follow their example, Hovell remained at his work until the late spring of 1915, finding some outlet for his ambition to equip himself for military service in the University Officers' Training Corps, in which he was a corporal. In May, as soon as his lectures to workmen were over, he applied for a commission. He had nothing of the bellicose or martial spirit; but he had a stern sense of obligation and a keen eye to realities. Like other contemporaries who had sought experience in Germany, he fully realised the inevitableness of the struggle, and he knew that every man was bound to take his place in the grave and prolonged effort by which alone England could escape overwhelming disaster. "I don't think," he wrote to me, "I shall dislocate the economy of the University by joining. What troubles me is of course my book. I have written nearly a chapter a week since Easter. At this rate I shall have the first draft nearly completed by the end of another three months, and I am therefore very keen to finish it. If there were no newspapers I could keep on with it; but the Chartists are dead and gone, while the Germans are very much alive."
In June Hovell was sent to a school of instruction for officers at Hornsea, where they gave him, he said, the hardest "gruelling" in his life, and from which he emerged, at the end of July, at the head of the list with the mark "distinguished" on his certificate. He was gazetted in August to a "Kitchener" battalion of the Sherwood Foresters, the Nottingham and Derby Regiment. But officers' training had not yet become the deftly organised system into which it has now developed. When Hovell joined his battalion at Whittington Barracks, near Lichfield, he found himself one of a swarm of supernumerary subalterns, who had no place in the scheme of a battalion fully equipped with officers. As there were no platoons available for the newcomers to command, they were put into instruction classes, hastily and not always effectively devised for their benefit. He rather chafed at the delay but enjoyed the hard life and the new experience. It was soon diversified by a course of barrack-square drill with the Guards at Chelsea, by an informal assistantship to a colonel who ran an instructional school for officers, by a very profitable month at the Staff College at Camberley, where he soon "felt quite at home, seeing that the place is so like a University with its lecture-rooms and libraries and quiet places," and by a period of musketry instruction in Yorkshire, where an evening visit to York gave him his first practical experience of a Zeppelin raid. Altogether a year was consumed in these preliminaries.
In June 1916 Hovell was back with his battalion, now camped in Cannock Chase. On June 3 he married Miss Fanny Gatley of Sale, the Cheshire suburb in which his own family had lived in recent years. A little later he wrote: "We managed a whole week in the Lake District, where it rained all the time. Then I went back to my regiment and my wife came to stay two miles away." Then the attack on the Somme began, and "we heard rumours that officers were being exported by the hundred." On July 4 he received orders to embark, and crossed to France a week later. There were some vexatious delays on the other side, but at last he joined one of the regular battalions of his regiment in a small mining village. The battalion had been cruelly cut up in the recent fighting on the Somme, and the officers, old and new, were strangers to him. But by a curious accident he found an old friend in the chaplain, the Rev. T. Eaton McCormick, the vicar of his parish at home. He was now plunged into the real business of war, and did his modest bit in the reconstitution of the shattered battalion. "I blossomed out," he wrote, "as an expert in physical training, bayonet fighting, and map-reading to our company. All the available N.C.O.'s were handed over to my care, and they became enthusiastic topographers."
Before the end of the month the battalion was reorganised and moved back into the trenches. On August 1 he wrote to me in good spirits:
Behold me at last an officer of a line regiment, and in command of a small fortress, somewhere in France, with a platoon, a gun, stores, and two brother officers temporarily in my charge. I thus become owner of the best dug-out in the line, with a bed (four poles and a piece of stretched canvas), a table, and a ceiling ten feet thick. We are in the third line at present, so life is very quiet. Our worst enemies are rats, mice, beetles, and mosquitoes.
This first experience of trench life was uneventful, and the battalion went back for a short rest. The remainder of the story may best be told in the words of Mr. McCormick, writing to Hovell's mother to tell her the news of her son's death.
Mark and two other officers of the Sherwood Foresters dined with me on Wednesday last, August 9. We were a jolly party and talked a lot about home. After dinner he asked me if it would be possible for him to receive the Holy Communion before going into the trenches, and next morning I took him in my cart two miles away, where we were having a special celebration for chaplains. That was the last I saw of him alive. He went into the trenches for the second time in his experience (he had been in a different part of the line the week before) on last Friday. On Saturday night at 9.10 p.m., August 12, it was decided that the Sherwood Foresters should explode a mine under the German trenches. Mark was told off to stand by with his platoon. When the mine blew up, one of Mark's men was caught by the fumes driving up the shaft, and Mark rushed to his rescue, like the brave lad that he was, and in the words of the Adjutant of his battalion, "we think he in turn must have been overcome by the fumes. He fell down the shaft and was killed. The Captain of the company went down after him at once and brought up his body." … They knew that he was a friend of mine, as I had been telling the Colonel what a brilliantly clever man he was, and what distinctions he had won, so they sent for me, and the men of his battalion carried his body reverently down the trenches. We laid him to rest in a separate grave, and I took the service myself. It was truly a soldier's funeral, for, just as I said "earth to earth," all the surrounding batteries of our artillery burst forth into a tremendous roar in a fresh attack upon the German line. … He has, as the soldiers say, "gone West" in a blaze of glory. He has fought and died in the noblest of all causes, and though now perhaps we feel that such a brilliant career has been brought to an untimely end, by and by we shall realise that his sacrifice has not been in vain.
Over a year has passed away since Hovell made the supreme sacrificed and the cannon still roar round the British burial-ground amidst the ruins of the big mining village of Vermelles where he lies at rest. While north and south his victorious comrades have pushed the tide of battle farther east, the enemy's guns still rain shell round his unquiet tomb from the hitherto impregnable lines that defend the approach to Lille.
Nothing more remains save to record the birth on March 26, 1917, of a daughter, named Marjorie, to Hovell and his wife, and to give to the world the unfinished book to which he had devoted himself with such extreme energy. This work, though very different from what it would have been had he lived to complete it, may do something to keep his memory green, and to suggest, better than any words of mine can, the promise of his career. But no printed pages are needed to preserve among his comrades in the University and army, his teachers, his friends, and his pupils, the vivid memory of his strenuous, short life of triumphant struggle against difficulties, of clear thinking, high living, noble effort, and of the beginnings of real achievement. For myself I can truly say that I never had a pupil for whom I had a more lively friendship, or one for whom I had a more certain assurance of a distinguished and honourable career. He was an excellent scholar in many fields; he could teach, he could study, and he could inspire; he had in no small measure sympathy, aspiration, and humour. He possessed the rare combination of practical wisdom in affairs with a strong zeal for the pursuit of truth; he was a magnificent worker; he kept his mind open to many interests; he had a wonderfully clear brain; a strong judgment and sound common-sense. I had confidently looked forward to his doing great things in his special field of investigation. How far he has already accomplished anything noteworthy in this book, I must leave it for less biassed minds to determine. But though I am perhaps over-conscious of how different this book is from what it might have been, I would never have agreed to set it before the public as a mere memorial of a promising career cut short, if I did not think that, even as it is, it will fill a little place in the literature of his subject. When he finally set out for the front he entrusted to me the completion of what he had written. I have done my best to fulfil the pledge which I then gave him, that should anything untoward befall him, I would see his book through the press.
- The Highway, December 1916, pp. 56-57.