Blatchford, Robert (Peel Glanville)
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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