James Leatham started The Gateway Journal in 1912 while he was living in Yorkshire. At the time he was running The Cottingham Press, but following his move to Turriff in 1916, he set up The Deveron Press (Turriff is set on the River Deveron) and published under this name for the rest of its, and his, life.
Volume 1 number 1 came out in mid July 1912 and was the start of a propagandist publishing project that ended only with his death some thirty three years later. During all this time it came out more or less monthly (at some points it was quarterly) and offers an insight not just into the opinion of James Leatham over three decades but into an important time of change for the world.
The cover price was 3d for the whole of the life of The Gateway. It was possible to buy a yearly subscription for 4s and if you felt really flush you could buy a bound yearly volume for some 6s.
The standard length of the magazine was 32 pages. The content remained fairly standard as well. The first volume comprised:
The Blight of Ibsenism By the Editor
A Chiel’s Amang Ye. By Francis Grose.
In Reply to Kind Inquiries – Hanley and After – Barren Labourism – The Minimum Wage – The Right to Work – War and Famine
The Girl Critic, A Play. By Jacobus
Things that are not what they sound
Tact and Talent. A Story by James Leatham
Over time the Editorial covered issues of culture, society and politics. Leatham wrote most of the copy for the magazine, Francis Grose wrote political pieces and Jacobus wrote on culture. Both were his nom de plumes. This was neither unusual for Leatham, nor indeed for the magazine press of the day. Leatham had written for the Peterhead Sentinel as ‘Archie Tait,’ for some years earlier in his career. The Gateway was Leatham’s personal mouthpiece, but he also accepted stories, poems and commentary from other writers/readers.
The Gateway was an unashamed Socialist propaganda paper. Before we go further I should offer an explanation of the term ‘propaganda press.’ These days we impute a totally negative meaning to the word propaganda, but in Leatham’s day it was used in a simpler way, meaning: information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause.
The more negative connotations have grown up as a result of Two World Wars and the use of ‘propaganda’ in times of war, so that today the suggestion is that propaganda is biased and misleading if not deliberately false. However, we need to return to Leatham’s understanding and use of the word when we read his work. For him propaganda is simply: the particular doctrines of principles propagated by an organization or movement. You’ll note it stems from the root ‘propagate’ which is much more nurturing and evocative of organic distribution rather than the immediate click-heeled Nazi saluting picture we get when the word is used today.
Leatham was happy to declare that his writing was propaganda. His justification for it was thus: All the organs of public opinion – press, Parliament, radio, pulpit, are in the hands of careerists who support the established order.
He sought to offer an alternative, and later in life he explained why:
It is because the newspapers do not give the material facts of social progress, and still less emphasise their significance, that I have for years maintained a propagandist press, with no advertisers, directors or shareholders to please. It is correct to say that I maintain the press; it does not maintain me. Unless a propagandist enterprise had a party organisation behind it, it never pays. Sometimes not even then.
This was then, if not a labour of love, then at least a labour of conviction. And that, I might hesitate to suggest, makes it something of a rarity in the history of magazine publishing. In picking up where Leatham left off, we want to offer something similar. But in today’s world of 24 hour news and social media overload, we do not see the need for another online magazine focussing on the events of the day. What we do see the need for is a place to visit ‘forgotten’ and ‘lost’ work. We’re committed to the writing that slipped down the back of the sofa, or was air-brushed away because it didn’t suit the concerns of advertisers, shareholders or directors. There is no party organisation behind this. Our aim is simply to be a place you can come and find out about the hidden past of our shared culture, politics and society. Our conviction is that public domain work should be much more readily accessible and available and while we are just one small voice (as Leatham was) we are shouting about some big issues.
In this commemorative issue we set the scene, offering a sort of transition between Leatham’s unfinished project and our own taking up of the reins. This month then, you can read Tact and Talent (as it was in the very first issue of The Gateway some 103 years ago) as well as dipping into some other issues, still current or blowing echoes from the past. We begin to scratch the surface of the issue of copyright. A writer retains copyright in his/her work for 70 years after their death. Offering this level of protection can, however, be a double edged sword. As in the case of James Leatham it can mean an effective gag being put on a writer for that length of time. Leatham’s copyright is lifted on 31st December 2015, and that is one reason we’re bringing The Gateway back to life, to start spreading his writing as widely as possible as soon as it becomes public domain.
Unlike writers such as George Bernard Shaw and H.G.Wells, with whom he clashed over the issue, Leatham himself was keen on his work being disseminated as widely as possible. He said: An author who believes his views are for the good of the world will want them as widely diffused as possible. For other authors, the wide distribution has more to do with money than conviction.
Leatham was a socialist. Reading his work offers an illustration and explanation of socialism in a way rarely found. I have been surprised to learn things about the emergence of the Labour party and its relationship with socialism through reading Leatham and I hope to be able to share much of this with you in the months to come.
Leatham’s commitment was co-operative collectivism(now there’s an expression you don’t hear every day any more). His brand of socialism, some might say socialism itself, has passed into history, but if you read his writing you’ll see how different things might have been if only we had listened. Today we’re obsessed with Corbynism and the fragmentation of the Labour Party, and its distance from the Labour Movement and the roots of Socialism. Leatham has plenty to say on this subject: reading his work can offer information (and advice) from the birth of a movement to what might indeed be the death of the same movement. I recently heard members of the Shadow Cabinet being described as ‘right wing Labour.’ This is a phrase that should be unintelligible and yet…
The past century has seen many changes. Who could have believed that The Berlin Wall would come down, that Russia, and China, would effectively become part of the capitalist ‘project.’ If I was to talk to Leatham today, I might feel compelled to tell him that ‘we are all capitalists now. Even the socialists.’ And see what he thought of that.
Other issues also still dominate, though in changed ways. Reading Leatham I often think that if we’d only listened to his advice we’d not be in the mess we are now, but it’s important also to remember that he lived in a time which was vastly different. The article in this edition ‘Do Banks Make Money’ is a good example of this. The questions may be the same, but the landscape has significantly changed. And keeps changing. Reading Leatham with the benefit of hindsight, offers us the opportunity to challenge him, and our own pre-conceptions, and to think hard about the paths we are taking – both those we can see and those hidden from us. It helps engage us with a world – not just one that is lost, but one that we may have given away in favour of what I call ‘gilded cage syndrome.’ Leatham can help you open the doors to that cage and flap your wings.
For me personally, reading Leatham is a stark reminder at how much society has changed, and how little human nature has changed. It makes me think that we are all pawns in the game of society. But lest we get too downhearted in the political maelstrom which seems ever more Orwellian the older I get, Leatham also had plenty to say on the issue of culture. And let’s remember, he died before Orwell’s classic novel was written. I consider 1984 a real watershed in political fiction. I wonder what Leatham would have made of it?
Leatham is not shy in talking about literature or culture. And his ideas are sometimes unusual, and initially can seem almost bizarre. He offers a seventeen part view of Shakespeare’s plays from a socialist perspective. We’ll dip into these over the months to come. He didn’t like Ibsen but he did like Barrie’s ‘The Little Minister.’ Yet he railed against mass market publishing and championed high literature. I find his attitudes complex, challenging and supremely interesting. I believe they force us onto a kind of meta level of retrospective criticism where we have to understand the time in which they were written as well as the psychology and politics of the man who was writing. For those who like to challenge literary norms and conventions, I warn you, this can become an obsessive game. It’s certainly the diametric opposition of the spoon-fed commentary posing as critical authority we find most commonly today. I know that in taking over the editorship of The Gateway I am standing on the shoulder of a giant. I hope he would approve. They are big boots to fill, and by some accounts (there are still a few who remember Provost Leatham from their childhood’s in Turra) he wore spats. I cannot compete with his sartorial elegance and I will not try to compete with him. I am, I suppose, a Leatham Lamb. He will always be the master.
In this edition we offer a gentle introduction to all things Leatham. His article on ‘The Best of Friends’ shows a man who may genuinely be described as a ‘Bookman.’ He’s not the greatest fan of novels, finding history much better. He writes: ‘Novels are good enough for people who can’t assimilate an idea unless it is presented in a pictoral or dramatic setting, or for those who don’t want ideas at all, but read merely to kill the time in life which they don’t know how to use. To those who read to learn, Green’s History is vastly more entertaining than the best society novel; and as regards the great majority of novels of all sorts, it is only the sober fact to say of them that truth is especially stranger to that sort of fiction.’
I disagree with him fundamentally on this point, but he does put up an argument which I feel compelled to engage with. Leatham is often provocative and it’s the kind of provocation which I find positive, challenging one out of the ‘comfortable’ position and making one think about the very nature and justification of all we think we know.
Leatham wasn’t precious about his work. Many of his pamphlets ran to numerous editions over the years, and while he may not have fundamentally changed his views, he was not averse to adding knowledge gained through experience into the mix. This was possible with penny pamphlet production – more ephemeral than ‘real’ book publishing. What we now have as ‘legacy’ of Leatham, through old pamphlets and the bound volumes of The Gateway which still survive in a very few academic libraries, may seem to over-position him into one time or one view. I believe his writing was more evolutionary than this might suggest. One day someone (and I fear it won’t be me) may make a serious in depth study of the progression of Leatham’s views and ideas through his own writing – there is an absolute gold-mine to be explored – but the explorer will have to dig deep – Leatham was a prolific writer and re-writer.
It is almost fitting that his autobiography remained unfinished at his death, ironic that it stopped just at the point when he moved to Turriff and set up the Deveron Press, and it ends like an unfinished project. It would be ridiculous to suggest that Leatham, who died just shy of his 80th birthday, suffered a life cut short, but it is not ridiculous to note that only his death could stop his life’s work, which was the expression of his convictions. Many of us settle down, or sell out, long before this time. Leatham kept going because while he might change his views, he never changed his commitment. One cannot help but see a note of irony on his unobtrusive gravestone at St Machar’s Cathedral (Leatham was not a religious man) which reads ‘His works liveth for evermore.’ To me this suggests a wry smile at the world. And that’s one reason I was happy to get involved with this project which seeks to bring some truth back into that perfect Leatham ‘one liner.’ I like to think that Leatham would enjoy the idea of us bringing him Lazarus like, back into the world. Especially in a world where his writing can be disseminated for free to a huge potential readership.
The new Deveron Press will be publishing Leatham’s unfinished ‘60 Years of World-Mending’ in May 2016 to mark the 100th anniversary of The Deveron Press itself. We will also be bringing out other of his seminal works in paperback format. But I am tasked with making sure that there’s something new for you to read every month, mostly Leatham but also other important lost public domain works. Leatham wrote ‘Publishing is an adventure.’ I hope you’ll join me on this adventure on a month by month basis.
The small team behind the New Gateway cannot promise you a run of 30 years to rival Leatham, but we’re determined to give it a good 5 years – and if all goes well a decade – by which time we hope not only that we will have shared a lot of important public domain work, but that such sharing might have become so ubiquitous that we no longer need to do so, because all of you out there have learned how to seek it out for yourselves and that open access becomes a reality not just a pleasant theory. And you can quote me on that – without fear of copyright!
Rab Christie , December 2015.
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