Hubert Bland

Hubert Bland

Hubert Bland, youngest of the four children of Henry Bland, a successful commercial clerk, was born in Woolwich, London, on 3rd January, 1855. He was educated at various local schools, and from an early age showed a strong interest in politics. As a youth Bland wanted to join the army but the death of his father forced him to run the family business.

In 1877 Bland met Edith Nesbit a young woman who shared his interest in politics. Bland was a disciple of William Morris and Henry George, and helped to convert Edith to socialism. In 1879 discovered she was pregnant and the baby was born two months after they were married on 22nd April, 1880. According to her biographer, Julia Briggs: "Bland continued to spend half of each week with his widowed mother and her paid companion, Maggie Doran, who also had a son by him, though Edith did not realize this until later that summer when Bland fell ill with smallpox. With characteristic optimism, she forgave him, befriended Maggie, and set about supporting the household by writing sentimental poems and short stories, and by hand-painting greetings cards."

In 1883 Edith and Hubert joined the Fellowship of the New Life, an organisation founded by Thomas Davidson. According to another member, Ramsay MacDonald, the group were influenced by the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Edith and Hubert were both socialists and on 24th October 1883 they decided with their Quaker friend Edward Pease, to form debating group. They were also joined by Havelock Ellis and Frank Podmore and in January 1884 they decided to call themselves the Fabian Society. Bland chaired the first meeting and was elected treasurer. Nesbit and her husband became joint editors of the society's journal, Today . Soon afterwards other socialists in London began attending meetings. This included Eleanor Marx, Annie Besant, Olive Schreiner, Clementina Black, Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb.

In April 1884 Edith wrote to her friend, Ada Breakell: "I should like to try and tell you a little about the Fabian Society - it's aim is to improve the social system - or rather to spread its news as to the possible improvements of the social system. There are about thirty members - some of whom are working men. We meet once a fortnight - and then someone reads a paper and we all talk about it. We are now going to issue a pamphlet. I am on the Pamphlet Committee. Now can you fancy me on a committee? I really surprise myself sometimes."

Bland was unpopular with most of the Fabians. George Bernard Shaw described him as "a man of fierce Norman exterior and huge physical strength... never seen without an irreproachable frock coat, tall hat, and a single eyeglass which infuriated everybody. He was pugnacious, powerful, a skilled pugilist, and had a shrill, thin voice reportedly like the scream of an eagle. Nobody dared be uncivil to him."

His biographer, Julia Briggs, argued that he was an unsual socialist: "Bland was an atypical Fabian, since he combined socialism with strongly conservative opinions that reflected his social background and his military sympathies.... He was also strongly opposed to women's suffrage. At the same time he advocated collectivist socialism, wrote Fabian tracts, and lectured extensively on socialism." Bland was unconvinced by democracy and described it as "bumptious, unidealistic, disloyal… anti-national and vulgar".

In 1885 Bland also joined the Social Democratic Federation (SDF). Other members included Tom Mann, John Burns, Eleanor Marx, William Morris, George Lansbury, Edward Aveling, H. H. Champion, John Scurr, Guy Aldred, Dora Montefiore, Frank Harris, Clara Codd, John Spargo and Ben Tillet. However, he did not stay long as he found the views of its leader, H. H. Hyndman, too revolutionary. After his experience of the SDF, Hubert Bland, rejected extremism and advocated what became known as gradualism.

Bland was a freelance journalist until 1889 when he obtained the position as a columnist for the radical newspaper, Manchester Sunday Chronicle . In the newspaper and in several pamphlets that he wrote for the Fabian Society, Bland advocated a mixture of state socialism and imperialism. In The Outlook (1889) Bland argued in favour of the nationalization of the means of production.

In 1893 Hubert Bland joined the Independent Labour Party. However, his support of the Boer War made him unpopular with members of both the ILP and the Fabian Society. Bland argued that the livelihood of British working people depended on the maintenance of the Empire. He wrote that if the British army was defeated in South Africa it would mean "starvation in every city of Great Britain." Unlike most socialists, Bland was an opponent of women's rights. He wrote: "Woman's metier in the world - I mean, of course, civilized woman, the woman in the world as it is - is to inspire romantic passion ... Romantic passion is inspired by women who wear corsets. In other words, by the women who pretend to be what they not quite are."

Edith Nesbit was a regular lecturer and writer on socialism throughout the 1880s. However she gave less time to these activities after she published The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899). Julia Briggs has pointed out: "With the creation of Oswald Bastable, she knew that she had discovered a highly original way of writing about and for children, and from this point in her career she never looked back. She now invented the children's adventure story, more or less single-handed, adding to it fantasy, magic, time-travel, and a delightful vein of subversive comedy. The next ten years or so saw the publication of all her major work, and in the mean time she was also composing poems, plays, romantic novels, ghost stories, and tales of country life."

Claire Tomalin has argued: "Bland is one of the minor enigmas of literary history in that everything reported of him makes him sound repellent, yet he was admired, even adored, by many intelligent men and women... He did not aspire to be consistent. He allowed his wife to support him with her pen for some years, but was always opposed to feminism... In mid-life he joined the Catholic Church, a further cosmetic touch to his old-world image, but without modifying his behaviour or even bothering to attend more than the statutory minimum of masses."

In 1911 Bland began to go blind. Unable to work, Bland was supported by his wife, Edith Nesbit, who was now a very successful novelist.

Hubert Bland died of a heart attack on 14th April, 1914.

Primary Sources

(1) Claire Tomalin , The Times Literary Supplement(1987)

Bland is one of the minor enigmas of literary history in that everything reported of him makes him sound repellent, yet he was admired, even adored, by many intelligent men and women. A quick, clever Woolwich lad whose family was unable to buy him the commission he craved, he became, briefly, a bank clerk. While still living with his mother (he was also a spoilt youngest child) he invented aristocratic Yorkshire forebears, at the same time becoming a keen socialist for a while, and then a founding Fabian. He did not aspire to be consistent. He allowed his wife to support him with her pen for some years, but was always opposed to feminism...

He had a voracious sexual appetite. When Edith met him he had a mistress already with child, and she herself was seven months pregnant before he married her. No sooner did she introduce a housekeeper, Alice Hoatson, into their establishment, than he proceeded to father children on both her and Edith regularly. In mid-life he joined the Catholic Church, a further cosmetic touch to his old-world image, but without modifying his behaviour or even bothering to attend more than the statutory minimum of masses. By then he had become a hugely successful journalist with a particular following in the north of England, his column in the Manchester Sunday Chronicle proving so popular that it gave him a secure income for life.