Robert Blatchford

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Blatchford, Robert (Peel Glanville) (1851-1943)

Rationalist author, journalist, and socialist who was converted to the cause of Spiritualism in later life. Born March 17, 1851, in Maidstone, Kent, England, he was the son of two touring actors and grew up in a working-class background. He was apprenticed to a brushmaker at the age of 14, but six years later ran away, tramped from armouth to London, starved for some weeks, then enlisted in the army, becoming a sergeant.

After leaving the army in 1878, he worked for six years as a clerk and then turned to journalism. From 1885 to 1891 he wrote for the Sunday Chronicle. He contributed soldier stories and wrote on the land war in Ireland and the slums of Manchester. His experiences turned him to Socialism, and in 1891 he lost his job over it. With friends he started the Clarion as a socialist newspaper. His series of articles, Merrie England, was reissued in book form in 1893 and had a tremendous popular sale in a penny edition. The articles lifted the Clarion circulation to 60,000 and the book became famous as the first really popular work on socialism, selling over two million copies. It was followed by Britain for the British (1902), and God and my Neighbor (1903), a criticism of Christianity expressing his agnostic or atheistic convictions. He believed that the quality of individual life was positively determined by environment and training. In 1909 he warned Britain of Germany's determination to provoke war, but this lost him many readers. His book The Sorcery Shop (1907) expressed utopian views and has been compared to New from Nowhere by William Morris.

In 1920 Blatchford began to consider the claims of Spiritualism. He read widely on the subject, and after the death of his wife in 1921, he had sittings with Gladys Osborne Leonard and other mediums, through which he obtained definite and convincing evidence of the continued existence and affection of his wife. After several years of careful research, he published More Things in Heaven and Earth (1925), in which he argued that the evidence for Spiritualism was incontrovertible and that he was assured of his wife's continued presence and interest.

Because of the enormous popularity of his Socialist and agnostic writings, Blatchford is often quoted as a freethinker without reference to his later views. In 1931 he published his autobiography, My Eighty Years. He died at Norsham, Sussex, December 17, 1943.

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Blatchford, Robert Peel Granville (1851–1943). English socialist and nationalist. Author and journalist, Blatchford wrote for the British newspaper the Sunday Chronicle 1885–91, before co-founding the Clarion in 1891, a popular socialist weekly, which he edited for 20 years. He had become a socialist as a result of his revulsion at the conditions of the slums of Manchester, but his socialism was uneasily combined with a fierce nationalism arising out of his seven years' service in the army. He became involved in the labour movement, and used the Clarion as a vehicle for his socialist views conveyed in a low-brow style of writing, pitched to working-class and lower middle-class readers. Blatchford's socialism was the homely message of William Morris, not the revolutionary doctrine of Karl Marx, and it was so successfully transmitted that it spawned a host of organizations—such as the Clarion Scouts, the Clarion Field Clubs, and the National Clarion Cycling Club—established to promote socialist fellowship. Blatchford became leader of an influential group within the labour movement—the Clarionettes, siding with the Social Democratic Federation against the Independent Labour Party. His most important book Merrie England (1894), which sold over 2 million copies, has been described as the best recruiting document ever produced by socialists in Britain. However, Blatchford's nationalistic beliefs gradually pulled him away from the labour movement. His support for the Boer war alienated fellow-socialists, and his advocacy of conscription, when war broke out in 1914, finally severed his connections with the labour movement.

Tim S. Gray

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