Robert Blatchford

On this date in 1851, Robert Peel Glanville Blatchford was born in Maidstone, England. Blatchford was raised by his actress mother after his father's death. At age 20, he joined the army, which he served in for six years, attaining the rank of sergeant after a year and a half. He was deeply influenced by his military service, and would go on to write several books drawn from this experience, most famously My Life in the Army (1910). After leaving the service, Blatchford married Sarah Crossley. In 1883, he began writing for newspapers around Manchester, where they settled. In 1885, he moved to London to become a full-time journalist, using the pen name “Nunquam Dormio” (Latin for “I never sleep”), which he would continue to use throughout his life, sometimes shortening it to merely “Nunquam.” Blatchford became attracted to socialist ideas while reporting on conditions in Ireland and the slums of Manchester. In 1891, he became one of the founders of a socialist newspaper, The Clarion, for many years the primary popularizer of English socialism. Blatchford's first popular book, Merrie England, an influential explication of socialist principles, was published in 1893. In that same year, Blatchford was involved in the foundation of the Independent Labour Party, a forerunner of the modern Labour Party in the United Kingdom, despite his distrust of electoral and party politics. He continued, throughout his life, to write many books as well as essays for various newspapers, including an autobiography, My Eighty Years, published in 1931.

In 1903, Blatchford wrote God and My Neighbor, a critique of religion, especially Christianity. In this work (the “Apology” of an “Infidel,” according to the book's introduction), he critiques Christianity as it is practiced, questions the veracity of scripture, and highlights those portions of the bible which are in fact morally problematic. In addition, he traces the roots of Christianity into more ancient religions, and focuses on the problem of revelation quite extensively. Responding to the (at the time) new idea that the bible was an allegory, Blatchford responded, “It would be just as easy and just as reasonable to take the Morte d'Arthur and try to prove that it contained a veiled revelation of God's relations to man.” Blatchford did not see this work as separate from his larger intellectual project; he described it as “part of a defence of the unfortunate against hatred and injustice” (quoted in Robert Blatchford: Portrait of an Englishman by Laurence Thompson, 1951). God and My Neighbor sparked a major debate, with many articles and books written in response to it and condemnations from the pulpit continuing for two years after its publication. Later in life, Blatchford abandoned his earlier materialist views after the death of his wife in 1921; unable to believe that she was really gone, he turned to spiritualism, while continuing to reject Christianity and other revealed religions. His contributions to freethought in the early twentieth century, however, remained; and God and My Neighbor was still in print after Blatchford had backed away from its strongest claims. D. 1943.

"I cannot believe that any religion has been revealed to Man by God. Because a revealed religion would be perfect, but no known religion is perfect; and because history and science show us that known religions have not been revealed but have been evolved from other traditions."

—Robert Blatchford, God and My Neighbor (1903)

Compiled by Eleanor Wroblewski

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