In 1893 Blatchford wrote a series of Clarion articles in the form of ‘Letters to John Smith of Oldham – A Practical Working Man’. These seemed to go down well with readers so the following year they were published in book form as Merrie England. Much later The Manchester Guardian would say that for every British convert to socialism made by Das Kapital there were a hundred made by Merrie England. Blatchford was, according to Stanley Pierson in Marxism and the Origins of British Socialism, published in 1973, ‘by far the most effective recruiter for Socialism in England.’
I have a 1908 version of the book. Originally the book’s title page gave as the author ‘Robert Blatchford (Nunquam)’ and it was dedicated to ‘A. M Thompson (Dangle)’ By 1908 the nicknames had vanished, Blatchford was described as ‘Editor of the “Clarion”’ and the dedication was to ‘A M Thompson and the Fellowship’ meaning the Clarion Fellowship which united many parts of the Clarion movement including many members of the Cycling Club.
The book begins with a chapter on ‘The Problems of Life’ and ends 26 short chapters later with ‘Is It Nothing to You?’ On the way there are chapters on a range of concerns including ‘Can England Feed Herself?’ ‘Who Makes the Wealth and Who Gets It?’ and ‘The Rights of the Individual.’
The 1908 book is full of interesting adverts, apart from the actual meat of the book of course, some of which I may quote from in future episodes. But for the moment I will confine myself to just one. It is a general ad for the paper which will give an idea of just how important it was in the two decades prior to World War I. It tells us that ‘The CLARION has a circulation of over 80,000 and is the most popular and representative organ of Socialism in the Kingdom.’
The ‘Publishers’ Preface’ tells to story of Merrie England up to that time.
The success of “Merrie England” is a phenomenon which neither the author nor his publishers feel competent to explain.
Originally issue in 1894, the little book passed through many editions , at prices ranging from five shillings down to one penny, and the total sales in this country, in Europe and in the United States is said to have exceeded two million copies.
“Merrie England” was translated into Welsh, Dutch, German, Swedish, French, Spanish, Hebrew, Danish and Norwegian.
“Merrie England” has been out of print from some years, and is now reissued to meet the urgent demands of the public. That this is no mere form of speech is proved by the fact that more than 20,000 copies have been ordered before any public announcement of this edition has been made.
Next time The Clarion and Labour Leader