New Fabian Essays

New Fabian Essays

New Fabian Essays

New Fabian Essays


Early in 1889 the Executive Committee of the Fabian Society issued its printed report for the Annual Business Meeting. In this modest, four-page document occurred an announcement that the course of lectures on The Basis and Prospects of Socialism, delivered in the previous autumn session, was to be published in book form. Edited by Bernard Shaw, these lectures formed Fabian Essays. Three hundred copies were subscribed for in advance; and when the prospective publisher refused to produce the book under fair trade conditions, the Fabian Society (which then had a little over a hundred members) published it at its own expense.

The result astonished all concerned. The first edition was sold out within a month; the second scarcely less rapidly; and through sixty years the demand continued (the final edition, issued in 1948, had no fewer than four Prefaces, as well as a postscript by Shaw). The exact number of copies sold is unknown, but it must run into hundreds of thousands; translations are too numerous to list.

This success certainly astonished the seven lecturers responsible for the Essays. When they composed them, they had no idea that they were contributing to a work of major political importance; nor did they conceive of themselves as the evangelists of a new brand of Fabian orthodoxy. Indeed, the small esteem in which they held themselves, and the meaning they gave to Fabianism, can be gauged from Shaw's original Preface:

Country readers may accept the book as a sample of the propaganda carried on by volunteer lecturers in the workmen's clubs and political associations of London.

And again:

Everything that is usually implied by the authorship and editing of a book has in this case been done by the seven essayists, associated . . .

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