Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Rambling On : By Bike To Gutenberg

So where did I get to? Yesterday's ramble - you will recall - finished up with "The Mousmé" which was both a painting by Van Gogh and a light operetta first performed in 1909. As I was closing the various digital windows last night I noticed that the operetta was based on a book by Alex M Thompson and Robert Courtneidge. Two Courtneiges in the space of one ramble was too much of a coincidence and therefore the starting point for today's excursion was easy to determine.
Robert Courtneidge (1859 – 1939), was a famous actor, theatrical manager-producer and playwright and he was the father of Cicely (whom we met yesterday). His greatest success was achieved not as a playwright - if you spend a few minutes reading the script of "The Mousmé" you will understand why - but as a producer specialising in importing American musicals and re-packaging them for the British stage. One of the most interesting things about Courtneige was that he was a passionate socialist, as was the person who was the co-author of "The Mousmé", Alexander Mattock Thompson (1861 – 1948).
Thompson was a fascinating character, born in Germany, raised in France and starting his career as a journalist in Manchester. It was in Manchester that he met the socialist writer Robert Blatchford and together they launched a newspaper that would have a profound impact on the early labour movement in Britain - The Clarion. Not only did the Clarion play an important role in winning converts to the labour movement - it was said that for every one person converted to socialism by reading Das Kapital, 100 were converted by reading The Clarion - it also gave rise to a series of cycling clubs for working people - the Clarion Cycle Clubs.
The Clarion is long-gone (I'm almost tempted to say "socialism is long-gone" but I can't bring myself to say it) but the Clarion Cycle Club lives on both in the form of a national club and also a series of local branches. I was delighted to discover that there is a local branch - the Calder Clarion Cycling Club - which seems to be as active as ever. However I fear that the main diversions of club members these days are cycling and socialising rather than cycling and socialism.
As you can see from the original Club letterhead - designed by the great socialist artist and illustrator Walter Crane - the pursuit of socialism was once as important, if not more important, than the pursuit of time trials or race records.
As well as designing letterheads for socialist clubs, Walter Crane (1845 – 1915) was an accomplished and famous book illustrator, who specialised in illustrating children's books and nursery rhymes. His wonderful children's book "A Song Of Sixpence" which contains so many of his rich, colourful and fabulous illustrations is available to download, free of charge, as part of the Project Gutenberg initiative. Once you get a little weary from rambling, there is no finer way to relax than to settle down with a good book in the comfort of the Project Gutenberg website.

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