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Bland was born in Woolwich, south-east London, the youngest of the four children of Henry Bland, a successful commercial clerk, and his wife Mary Ann. He was baptised on 14 March 1855 at St Mary Magdalene, Woolwich. As a young man, Bland showed a keen interest in politics. He wanted to join the army but his father's death forced him into running the family business. In 1877, he met 19-year-old Edith Nesbit. They married on 22 April 1880 with Edith already seven months pregnant. They did not immediately live together as Bland initially continued to live with his mother. According to Nesbit's biographer, Julia Briggs:
- "Bland continued to spend half of each week with his widowed mother and her paid companion, Maggie Doran, who also had a son by him, though Edith did not realize this until later that summer when Bland fell ill with smallpox."
Bland also continued an affair with Alice Hoatson which produced two children (Rosamund in 1886 and John in 1899), both of whom Nesbit raised as her own. With Nesbit, he produced three children: Paul (1880–1940), Iris (1881-?) and Fabian (1885–1900, who died aged 15 after a tonsil operation).
In 1883, the Blands joined a socialist debating group which evolved to become the Fabian Society in January 1884. Bland chaired the first meeting and was subsequently elected to be the Society's treasurer. Fellow members included Edward Pease, Havelock Ellis, and Frank Podmore.
Bland was unpopular with most of the Fabians. George Bernard Shaw described him as:
- "a man of fierce Norman exterior and huge physical strength... never seen without an irreproachable frock coat, tall hat, and a single eyeglass which infuriated everybody. He was pugnacious, powerful, a skilled pugilist, and had a shrill, thin voice reportedly like the scream of an eagle. Nobody dared be uncivil to him."
His biographer, Julia Briggs, believed that he was an unusual socialist:
- "Bland was an atypical Fabian, since he combined socialism with strongly conservative opinions that reflected his social background and his military sympathies.... He was also strongly opposed to women's suffrage. At the same time he advocated collectivist socialism, wrote Fabian tracts, and lectured extensively on socialism." Bland was unconvinced by democracy and described it as "bumptious, unidealistic, disloyal… anti-national and vulgar".
Around 1885, Bland was briefly a member of the Social Democratic Federation, and in about 1893 he joined the Independent Labour Party. His support of Britain's imperial interests (notably the Second Boer War) began to make him unpopular with his fellow socialists. He taught for a while at the London School of Economics.
Bland was an opponent of women's rights. He wrote:
- "Woman's metier in the world - I mean, of course, civilized woman, the woman in the world as it is - is to inspire romantic passion... Romantic passion is inspired by women who wear corsets. In other words, by the women who pretend to be what they not quite are."
Bland was a freelance journalist until 1889 when he obtained the position as a columnist for the radical newspaper, Manchester Sunday Chronicle.
Claire Tomalin has written that:
- "Bland is one of the minor enigmas of literary history in that everything reported of him makes him sound repellent, yet he was admired, even adored, by many intelligent men and women... He did not aspire to be consistent. He allowed his wife to support him with her pen for some years, but was always opposed to feminism... In mid-life he joined the Catholic Church, a further cosmetic touch to his old-world image, but without modifying his behaviour or even bothering to attend more than the statutory minimum of masses."
The couple lived in Well Hall House, Eltham from 1899. In 1911 Bland began to go blind and had to be supported by Edith, by this time a successful poet and novelist, The Railway Children (1906) being perhaps her most famous work. Bland died in Eltham of a heart attack on 14 April 1914 and was buried in Woolwich cemetery.