June 2017 - Song of the Slum
A recent Library acquisition is a book containing a long poem from the mid-1890s, The song of the slum or the dream of Augustus Bland by JM Thompson, beautifully illustrated by JS Knight.
Thompson’s heartbreaking story of a mother’s death from hunger and her daughter’s suicide by drowning may sound like Victorian melodrama but the political message is very relevant. The last lines of the ‘song’ are:
Arise! Ye men and women - hand in hand -
Arise! And Justice yet shall rule the land.
The Labour Press Society published the poem in Manchester, along with much else - such as, in 1894, Robert Blatchford’s Merrie England, a book which, it has been said, "helped to make socialism really well known in England for the first time”.
The entry in the Labour Annual for 1895 for the Labour Press Society gives a hint of this growth of the socialist movement in the 1890s.
It reads: ‘Its first plant was a small platen machine, and a few ounces of type, located in a small back bedroom over a provision shop in Harpurhey, for which 1 shilling and sixpence a week rent was paid. Now it occupies extensive premises in Tib Street, possessing facilities for turning out newspapers, pamphlets and books at very short notice’.