Harkive: The ‘Captain Lobe’ controversy


This month we continue our series of Harkive entries chronicling Margaret Harkness’s relationship with the Pall Mall Gazette (PMG). Under the editorship of W. T. Stead, from 1883 until 1889, the evening newspaper increased its coverage of political and social questions. After the publication of the scandalous ‘Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon’ (1885), Stead’s investigative crusade into the subject of child prostitution, the newspaper became one of London’s most influential.

This month’s entry deals with material published after Stead had left the PMG and the tone of the periodical became increasingly conservative. Harkness’s association with the paper continued into the early 1890s, and this month’s material dates from the beginning of 1891. Her letter to the editor in response to a notice in the news rubric ‘Pall Mall Gazette Office’ suggests, however, that she did not share the PMG’s conservative interests and priorities.

Both articles are concerned with the rejection of a copy of Harkness’s novel In Darkest London by Queen Victoria’s third daughter Princess Helena, referred to here by her married name, Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. The novel first appeared as a serial entitled Captain Lobe in the British Weekly in 1888, and was published in book form under that title by Hodder and Stoughton, the publishers of the British Weekly, in 1889. The edition offered to Victoria and her daughter was published by William Reeves in 1891, and included an introduction by ‘General’ William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army. It is unclear at whose initiative the novel was offered to members of the royal family.

Harkness’s response to the PMG‘s report makes her attitude towards royal patronage of charitable ventures very clear. In her short letter, she also explains her rejection of organised religion, and gives an insight into the process of writing the novel for the British Weekly in 1888.

Source: Pall Mall Gazette, 25 February 1891, p. 6. Available from Gale Newspapers.

Pall Mall Gazette Office

The Royal family is not united, it seems, on the subject of the Salvation Army. Her Majesty the Queen has graciously accepted a copy of John Law’s “In Darkest London,” with introduction by General Booth. But the Princess Christian has refused and returned the copy sent to her. Perhaps, however, it is not the salvationism but the democratic spirit of the book against which her Royal Highness revolts.

Source: Pall Mall Gazette, 2 March 1891, p. 3. Available from Gale Newspapers.



SIR,—I hear that it is stated in the papers that Her Majesty the Queen was graciously pleased to accept a copy of “In Darkest London,” but that her Royal Highness the Princess Christian took the trouble to send the book back. Both statements are correct. After the copy was returned by Princess Christian I found time to read the book, and I discovered that I had said—“Thank God, slumming can never become fashionable … no Princess will ever patronize slum saviours.” By these words I meant no slight on Royalties. I pity them. It is not their fault that people are snobs; and they see so much snobbishness. But I own that I should regret to see the Salvation Army drifting into the besetting sin of religious people—I mean the mixing up “the Lord and my lord” which so often accompanies “dear Jesus.” I take this opportunity to state how “Captain Lobe” was written. It was done week by week for the British Weekly; and I was so much occupied with other work at the time that when I began the book I had no idea how I should finish it. Whatever its faults may be, it is a true picture of the work now done by the Salvation Army. I did not christen it “In Darkest London,” but its godparents could not have found a better title for a book describing what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears in the East end of this metropolis. No one could have been more prejudiced against the Salvation Army than myself when I first began what the Socialists are pleased to call my “Oriental studies.” “Do you ever read the Bible?” Mr Bramwell Booth once asked me. “No,” I answered; “I have seen so much humbug amongst religious people that it makes me physically ill even to look at a Bible.” I own that I admire the Salvation Army now, and that I watch with intense interest the object-lesson General Booth is about to give to the public. If he fails, others will build on his foundation, for it is a step in the right direction. The Salvation Army is honest and it is not snobbish: that is why I like it. No name, alas! has sheltered so much hypocrisy and snobbishness as the name of the carpenter’s son, Jesus.—Yours, &c.,



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