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  • Print publication year: 1983
  • Online publication date: November 2011

2 - Keir Hardie and the Labour Leader, 1893–1903


There is no church, sayest thou? The voice of Prophecy has gone dumb? This is even what I dispute: but in any case, hast thou not still Preaching enough? A Preaching Friar settles himself in every village; and builds a pulpit, which he calls Newspaper. Therefrom he preaches what most momentous doctrine is in him, for man's salvation; and dost not thou listen, and believe? Look well, thou seest everywhere a new Clergy of the Mendicant Orders, some bare-footed, some almost bare-backed, fashion itself into shape, and teach and preach, zealously enough, for copper alms and the love of God. These break in pieces the ancient idols; and, though themselves too often reprobate, as idol-breakers are wont to be, mark-out the sites of new Churches, where the true God-ordained, that are to follow, may find audience, and minister. Said I not, Before the old skin was shed, the new had formed itself beneath it?

Thomas Carlyle, Sartor Resartus (1831), p. 201.

Henry Pelling accorded the labour press an important place in the origins of the Labour party. The pioneers of socialism and independent labourism were fully alive to the significance of the printed word, both as a means of disseminating their message and as a means of winning converts. Yet the labour press in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries has received little attention from historians. Compared to the ‘pauper press’ of the earlier nineteenth century, the liberal press of the mid-Victorian period or the ‘new journalism’ of the turn of the century, the socialist and labour press stands virtually neglected.