Reginald Reynolds and his wife Ethel Mannin, members of the Independent Labour Party, and both career authors, first visited Eric Blair (George Orwell) and his wife Eileen when Blair was recuperating from his Spanish War wound at his brother-in-law’s house in Greenwich.
After the Second World War Reynolds -doing most of the library research – and Orwell collaborated on a planned series of anthologies of political ephemera, to be published by the Allan Wingate publishing house and called British Pamphleteers.
In 1948 British Pamphleteers Volume I: From the 16th Century to the 18th Century was published with an introduction by Orwell, and a head-note to each item by Reynolds.
At least one letter from Orwell to Reynolds exists outlining plans – in very general terms – for the contents of Volume II. Orwell’s name was never to appear on its title page*, for 1948 and 1949 were the years of the collapse of his health, when he was forbidden from writing and read very little.
Reynolds, however, carried on his research, and in 1951 appeared British Pamphleteers Volume II: From the French Revolution to the present time. The publishers, in those dark days of paper shortages, managed to keep the appearance of the second volume in line with the first. The Introduction – with whose conclusions Reynolds seems to have disagreed violently – was by the historian A.J.P. Taylor. Reynolds contributed longer head-notes to this volume than before.
The back of the dustjacket of the first volume had carried a publisher’s advertisement for a forthcoming colloquium on 1848, ‘the year of revolutions’, edited by Taylor. The back of Volume II, though, advertised Volume I with quotations from reviews such as ‘ … Mr George Orwell contributes a characteristically fresh and intelligent introduction’; ‘Mr George Orwell contributes to this collection a striking and characteristically provocative introduction’; and ‘George Orwell and Reginald Reynolds have compiled an unusual and valuable anthology … a most perceptive introduction by Mr Orwell’.
By beginning with the period of the French Revolution Reynolds was able to make many comparisons and contrasts of both political promise and betrayal then and in more recent times. He was also able to refute some contrary positions which still raise their heads today: ‘In our own time a great deal is written about “Socialism” which may be sound criticism of Stalin, of the British Labour Government or even of Hitler (who, after all, called himself a “National Socialist”); but it happens to be entirely irrelevant to the real issue of socialism versus capitalism.’
British Pamphleteers Volume II shows that Reynolds upheld all the standards he had set with his friend with Volume I. This short series remains a lasting tribute to a little known friendship.
* Not quite true.
Thanks to Orwell Society member Richard Young for this proof title page showing that Reginald Reynolds and his publisher Allan Wingate expected George Orwell to recover and complete their joint work.
L J Hurst 2016
Richard Young 2017