One might have imagined … that the British Empire was in danger. … The Standard spoke of me as a menace to English letters; and The Morning Post as an example of the sad results to be expected from the over-education of the lower orders. … I think I may claim to have been, for the first twenty years of my career, the best abused author in England.—Jerome K. Jerome, My Life and Times (1926)
The reception by critics varied between lukewarm and hostile. The use of slang was condemned as "vulgar" and the book was derided as written to appeal to "'Arrys and 'Arriets" – then common sneering terms for working-class Londoners who dropped their Hs when speaking. Punch magazine dubbed Jerome "'Arry K. 'Arry". Modern commentators have praised the humour, but criticised the book's unevenness, as the humorous sections are interspersed with more serious passages written in a sentimental, sometimes purple, style.
Yet the book sold in huge numbers. "I pay Jerome so much in royalties", the publisher told a friend, "I cannot imagine what becomes of all the copies of that book I issue. I often think the public must eat them." The first edition was published in August 1889 and serialised in the popular magazine Home Chimes in the same year.[Note 3] The first edition remained in print from 1889 until March 1909, when the second edition was issued. During that time, 202,000 copies were sold. In his introduction to the 1909 second edition, Jerome states that he'd been told another million copies had been sold in America by pirate printers. The book was translated into many languages. The Russian edition was particularly successful and became a standard school textbook. Jerome later complained in a letter to The Times of Russian books not written by him, published under his name to benefit from his success. Since its publication, Three Men in a Boat has never been out of print. It continues to be popular to the present day, with The Guardian ranking it No. 33 of The 100 Greatest Novels of All Time in 2003, and Esquire ranking it No. 2 in the 50 Funniest Books Ever in 2009. In 2003, the book was listed on the BBC's survey The Big Read.