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  Hubert Bland (1855–1914), by Frederick Henry Evans Hubert Bland (1855–1914), by Frederick Henry Evans
Bland, Hubert (1855–1914), journalist and politician, was born on 3 January 1855 at 22 Wood Street, Woolwich, where his paternal grandfather had been a plumber and his maternal grandfather kept a public house. Hubert was the youngest of the four children of Henry Bland, a successful commercial clerk, and his wife Mary Anne. He was educated at various local schools, and from an early age showed a strong interest in the political ideas raised at social protest meetings, some of which were held locally. At the same time, growing up in Woolwich, with the strong military presence of the arsenal, barracks, and the Royal Military Academy, with its dashing gentleman cadets, he wanted to become an army officer, but after his father's death there was not enough money, and he was obliged to take a job as a bank clerk. Bland was tall, dark, and handsome—his friend George Bernard Shaw drew a vivid pen portrait of 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. (Shaw to Archibald Henderson, 3 Jan 1905, Collected Letters, ed. D. H. Laurence, 1972, 494)
Hubert wrote of himself, ‘All who knew him liked him except those who hated him’ (Briggs, 77). In later life he claimed to be descended from Yorkshire gentry, and he certainly looked the part.

At the bank Bland first met the young , then engaged to one of his colleagues. They fell in love, though he failed to tell her that he had promised to marry his widowed mother's paid companion, Margaret (Maggie) Doran, with whom he already had an illegitimate son. Bland, giving a false address, married Edith Nesbit at the City of London register office on 22 April 1880, two months before the birth of their own son Paul. Bland did not tell his mother or Maggie that he was married, and continued to live half the week at home with them (in the 1881 census he described himself as unmarried); it was only when he fell ill with smallpox in the summer of 1880 that Edith eventually found out about Maggie, though she quickly made friends with her. The small brush-making business he had begun collapsed when his partner absconded, and he took a job as secretary to a hydraulics company, but his real passion was for politics.

Bland had read widely, was an admirer of Browning and William Morris, and attended various ‘advanced’ societies devoted to arts, crafts, literature, and politics. In 1883 he became a member of Thomas Davidson's utopian Fellowship of the New Life, and on 4 January 1884 he chaired the meeting at which a number of members seceded, to regroup themselves as the (middle-class, socialist) Fabian Society. From its foundation until 1911 he was its honorary treasurer, and in May 1884 he recruited George Bernard Shaw. Bland attributed his own conversion to socialism to the influence of Henry George, William Morris, and especially to Henry Hyndman. In 1885 he belonged to the Social Democratic Federation, but later found its programme too inflammatory, though arguably he remained under the influence of Marxism. He also rejected republicanism.

Bland was an atypical Fabian, since he combined socialism with strongly conservative opinions that reflected his social background and his military sympathies. Shaw described him as a ‘regular Blackheath Tory’. Bland was inclined to dismiss democracy as ‘bumptious, unidealistic, disloyal … anti-national and vulgar’ (Essays, 213). He was strongly imperialist, and thought the empire essential to British working men and the survival of the ‘English race’. 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. He consistently supported an independent socialist party and opposed the Webbs' policy of ‘permeating’ the Liberal Party. In 1886–7 he and his wife jointly edited the socialist periodical To-Day, and from 1887 until its demise in 1889 he was sole editor. In 1888 he helped Annie Besant organize the Bryant and May match girls' strike, and that same year he stood for the London school board for Finsbury, apparently being sharply disappointed when he was defeated; this was the only occasion on which he stood for a public office. In 1889 he contributed to the Fabian Essays (1889). In the 1890s he supported the Independent Labour Party on the one hand and the South African War on the other, writing in December 1899 that defeat in Africa would mean ‘starvation in every city of Great Britain’, while war would ‘overcome national “flabbiness” and restore the “manhood” of the British people’ (Wolfe, 95). No wonder some socialists saw him as reactionary.

Bland ‘hated the Pharisees, the Prigs, the Puritans’ (Essays, 284). He smoked, and claimed to be ‘adventurous’ with drugs, having taken ‘opium in all its forms’ (ibid., 206) as well as other drugs. Although in some respects conventional, he could not resist making love to women who attracted him, and was, in Shaw's phrase, ‘an exceedingly unfaithful husband’ (Briggs, xiv). Sexually vain, or perhaps just susceptible, he conducted a number of extramarital affairs, the most lasting of these being with Edith's friend Alice (‘Mouse’) Hoatson. When Alice became pregnant by him, she joined the Bland ménage as housekeeper, and Edith passed off Alice's daughter Rosamund, born in November 1886, as her own. Bland had three children with Edith: Paul, Iris (b. 1881), and Fabian (1885); and Alice had a son, John, born in 1899. Rosamund was said to be his favourite. His marriage to Edith was inevitably stormy at times—‘scenes as usual’, Shaw wrote after a visit (MacKenzie and MacKenzie, 100). But it was also a learning process for them both. At first Edith kept the household going by publishing poems and stories. During the 1880s she and Bland wrote two novels together, both on political themes, The Prophet's Mantle (1885) and Something Wrong (1886), which was serialized in the radical London newspaper the Weekly Dispatch. It was through her example and with her support that Bland became a journalist. As ‘Hubert’ he contributed a weekly column to the Manchester Sunday Chronicle from 1892 to his death, writing in a dry, man-of-the-world tone, and discussing a wide range of topics, from Hegel's theories of the state to the use of the powder-puff, from Kipling's fiction to the art of flirtation. He was an amusing, sharp-eyed, and pithy commentator on his times.

By 1899 Edith was on the brink of establishing her career as a famous writer for children, and Bland had become a well-known journalist. The family moved to Well Hall, Eltham, where their usual round of parties was tragically interrupted by the unexpected death of Fabian, following a minor operation at home, in October 1900. About the same time Bland became a Roman Catholic convert. He published selections of his essays and articles in With the Eyes of a Man (1905), The Happy Moralist (1907), and Letters to a Daughter (1907). By now he was a member of the ‘old gang’, the inner circle who controlled the Fabian Society. He sometimes disagreed with others in the group, and over the years he had been repeatedly outmanoeuvred and overruled by Shaw, Sidney Webb, and their supporters. In December 1906, doubtful about H. G. Wells's character and good intentions, he acted with other members of the ‘old gang’ to defeat Wells's attempt to take over and change the Fabian Society. In 1908 and 1910 he acted as a Fabian delegate at Labour Party conferences.

Wells remained Bland's personal friend despite the Fabian conflict until 1908, when he made a bid for Bland's daughter, the plump, attractive Rosamund, one of the ‘Fabian nursery’. Apparently she and Wells tried to run away together, but Bland caught up with them at Paddington Station, punched Wells, and took Rosamund home. Both men were enraged. Bland referred to Wells as ‘the little cad’ (Briggs, 311) while Wells caricatured the Blands in The New Machiavelli (1911), where they appear as the Booles, parasitic imitators of the Baileys (the Webbs) and vindictive scandal-mongers. In his Experiment in Autobiography, Wells created another hostile, though recognizable, portrait of the Blands, and in the postscript to his autobiography, unpublished in his lifetime, he gave his own version of the Rosamund episode, claiming that Bland's attitude to Rosamund was ‘unfatherly’, even incestuous, while he himself had been motivated by ‘a great disapproval of incest’.

For some years Bland had suffered from heart trouble, and in November 1910 he had a massive heart attack. In 1911 his sight, always poor, finally failed him. He gave up public lecturing and his post as treasurer of the Fabian Society, but continued reviewing and writing his weekly column, with Alice Hoatson as his amanuensis. As he was dictating to her at Well Hall, on the afternoon of 14 April 1914, he suddenly said that he felt giddy, lowered himself to the floor, and died of a heart attack in her arms a few minutes later. He was buried with Catholic rites on 18 April in the family plot at Woolwich cemetery. His wife survived him, remarried in 1917, and died in 1924.

The achievements of great journalists can be difficult to appreciate in retrospect: some of his contemporaries considered Bland the most powerful and influential columnist of his day. According to his friend Cecil Chesterton his articles represented ‘almost the high-water mark of English journalism’ (Essays, vii). Yet his writings are now forgotten, except by a few historians, whereas his wife's stories for children continue to be read and loved.

Julia Briggs

Sources  

DLB, vol. 5 · J. Briggs, A woman of passion: the life of E. Nesbit, 1858–1924 (1987) · W. Wolfe, ‘Bland, Edith … and Bland, Hubert’, BDMBR, vol. 3, pt 1 · N. MacKenzie and J. MacKenzie, The first Fabians (1977) · H. G. Wells, Experiment in autobiography, 2 (1969) · H. G. Wells, H. G. Wells in love: postscript to an ‘Experiment in autobiography’, ed. G. P. Wells (1984) · Essays by Hubert Bland: ‘Hubert’ of the ‘Sunday Chronicle’, ed. E. N. Bland (1914) · H. G. Wells, The new Machiavelli (1911) · A. H. Nethercot, The first five lives of Annie Besant (1961) · b. cert. · m. cert.

Archives  

BLPES, corresp. with Fabian society


Likenesses  

F. H. Evans, photograph, priv. coll. [see illus.] · photograph, repro. in Briggs, Woman of passion