Reginald “Reggie” Turner (1869 – 1938) was a friend of H.G. Wells, also an English author, aesthete and a member of the circle of Oscar Wilde.
He worked as a journalist, wrote twelve novels, and his correspondence has been published. However Reggie is best known as one of the few friends who remained loyal to Oscar Wilde when he was imprisoned, and who supported him after his release.
Interestingly R Thurston Hopkins, another accidental witness to Little Wars wrote literary studies about both Wells and Wilde. Wells also knew Robert Ross, another of Wilde’s circle.
Essex Speech and Humour (Benson, reprinted newspaper pieces, not dated)
Dialect and Songs of Essex (Benson, not dated )
He also wrote a number of comic plays, often in the Essex dialect. Along with Herbert Goldstein (musician/ composer) and his lyricist brother Launcelot, they were part of the Edwardian Vaughan Williams / Cecil Sharp generation of the English Folk Song Society collectors; Hugh and Herbert (according to The Sketch Sept 14, 1910) collected and so “rescued from threatened oblivion a delightful collection, not yet published, of old Essex folk songs.”
The Essex tales or topographical books again put him into the same 1910s 1920s genre as R. Thurston Hopkins who was writing about Sussex and elsewhere.
If Hugh is the Mr Byng noted as a player of Little Wars, then his experience of artillery changes from Spring loaded cannons of Little Wars 1913 to the full size artillery of the Great War, including against Zeppelins or the “aerial menace” that Wells wrote about.
Hugh survived the war and went in to serve in the ARP in WW2, according to the 1939 Register.
The West family were the relatives or parents of his wife, Kathleen West. Appropriately for the daughter of a comic playwright and amateur actor, Hugh Byng’s daughter Roselean is registered in the 1939 Register as an actress.
Essex Chronicle September 23rd 1949
Hugh Byng was also Lord of the Manor of Glencarn in Cumberland (now Cumbria / The Lake District). In August 1912 Mr and Mrs Wells motored up there by car with Hugh Byng and R.D. Blumenfeld (editor of the Daily Express). Hugh Byng had a motor accident on the way home.
De Vere Stacpoole’s obituary from the Penrith Observer 17 April 1951
Launcelot Cranmer Byng (1872-1945)
See above for parent information. Like Hugh, Launcelot was interested in China – sinology – and wrote or edited a number of books of translations of Chinese writing as editor of the Wisdom from the East series.
Launcelot the lyricist was also a friend of the composer Granville Bantock and may even have been a Welsh bard? r For an artistic chap who edited Oriental verse and wrote poems in the 1890s including Poems of Paganism 1895 published under the pseudonym ‘Paganus’, Captain Launcelot A. Cranmer Byng also had quite a long military connection in the Territorial Force and Officer’s General Reserve.
His first wife died in 1913, he remarried one Daisy Elaine Beach twenty years his junior in 1916 during his service in WW1. They had one son.
He became Captain, Adjutant and Quarter Master (London Gazette, 1917). When discharged at the end of the war in 1919, he retained the rank of Captain. His officer records at the National Archives are sadly not available online (not yet digitised) but his Cambridge Alumni listing gives an idea of what he did on the General List in WW1:
By 1939 he listed his past military experience on the 1939 Register
Another Byng Barontecy That Wells knew?
Mathilde Meyer, the Wells family Swiss Governess, was helped to find a new position at Capheaton Hall by Evelyn Lady Byng, of ice hockey trophy fame (1870-1949). She was wife of Julian, Lord Byng, General Byng or Viscount Byng of Vimy Ridge (1862-1935), WW1 General and from 1921 Governor General of Canada. In 1910 they lived at Newton Hall, Dunmow, Essex. General Byng was a cousin to Hugh and Launcelot Byng.
What a distinguished group of gentry and soldiers, artists and aesthetes surrounded the Wells family and its Little Wars ‘Floor Game’, united by clever talk of literature and politics as well as indoor and outdoor games.
Not a bad social circle for the son of a gardener, which is what I will explore in my next post about Jessie Allen Brookes, the Wells’ long-serving Nurse / Cook Domestic throughout the Little Wars period, whose father was also a gardener. I think this is what they now call “social mobility”.
Easton Glebe, November 9th, 1912: Mathilde Meyer’s memoir –
“On our return home we found Mr Reginald Turner, Mr Byng and Mr Wells playing the ‘Floor Game’ in the schoolroom.”
Finally, an interesting article from the Essex Chronicle Friday 25 July 1941 looking back on the Wells family at Easton Glebe in the Little Wars period 27 years earlier, noting how many of this Wells and Warwick Circle had moved on and had begun to pass away.
It is suggested that Wells in Mr. Britling Sees It Through, his satirical or mildly wartime 1916 novel written during WW1, uses several of his Easton circle as thinly disguised characters in his book.
“Where are they now, the old figures in the book, whom Mr. Wells so vehemently denied as being copies of the originals?” asks the columnist “An Essex Man”
Karl Butow was the languages tutor for the growing Wells boys; he replaced Mathilde Meyer in 1913, before the boys went to school. A year or so later he would have returned to Germany on the outbreak of the WW1.
One of the literary figures supporting H. G. Wells and his development of the Floor Game and Little Wars was the author Jerome K. Jerome (1859-1927) or J.K.J. as he is known in Little Wars. I mentioned him in a recent blog post:
As H G Wells says of the origin of Little Wars being the spring loaded cannon, “It was with one of these guns that the beginning of our war game was made.” It was at his seaside home at Sandgate in Kent, England. Wells had two young sons, Gip and Frank Wells, born 1901 and 1903, to whom the “irrepressible debris of a small boy’s pleasures” probably belonged. Wells wrote:
“The present writer had been lunching with a friend – let me veil his identity under the initials J. K. J. – in a room littered with the irrepressible debris of a small boy’s pleasures. On a table near our own stood four or five soldiers and one of these guns.”
“Mr J. K. J., his more urgent needs satisfied and the coffee imminent, drew a chair to this little table, sat down, examined the gun discreetly, loaded it warily, aimed, and hit his man. Thereupon he boasted of the deed, and issued challenges that were accepted with avidity. . . .”
“He fired that day a shot that still echoes round the world. An affair – let us parallel the Cannonade of Valmy and call it the Cannonade of Sandgate –occurred, a shooting between opposed ranks of soldiers, a shooting not very different in spirit – but how different in results! – from the prehistoric warfare of catapult and garter. “But suppose,” said his antagonists; “suppose somehow one could move the men!” and therewith opened a new world of belligerence. The matter went no further with Mr J. K. J. …” (H G Wells, Little Wars, 1913)
Here Wells’ war game with toy soldiers moved from skittles or a shooting game more to one of strategy.
Reading his biography page on the website, Jerome can be seen as a hidden casualty of the Great War that Wells warned about in his Pacific last chapter of Little Wars in 1913.
Jerome wrote in his memoirs that in August 1914: “I heard of our declaration of war against Germany with cheerful satisfaction. The animal in me rejoiced. It was going to be the biggest war in history. I thanked whatever gods there be that they had given it in my time. If I had been anywhere near the age limit I should have enlisted. I can say this with confidence because later, and long after my enthusiasm had worn off, I did manage to get work in quite a dangerous part of the front line.”
“Men all around me were throwing up their jobs, sacrificing their careers. I felt ashamed of myself, sitting in safety at my desk, writing articles encouraging them, at so much a thousand words. Of course, not a soul dreamt the war was going to last more than a few months. Had we known, it might have been another story. But the experts had assured us on that point. Mr. Wells was most emphatic. It was Mr. Wells who proclaimed it a Holy War. I have just been reading again those early letters of his. A Miss Cooper Willis has, a little unkindly, reprinted them. I am glad she did not do the same with contributions of my own.”
“The newspapers had roped in most of us literary gents to write them special articles upon the war. The appalling nonsense we poured out, during those hysterical first weeks, must have made the angels weep, and all the little devils hold their sides with laughter. In justice to myself, I like to remember that I did gently ridicule the “War to end war” stuff and nonsense. I had heard that talk in my babyhood: since when I had lived through one of the bloodiest half centuries in history. War will go down before the gradual growth of reason. The movement has not yet begun.” (P.281, Jerome’s My Life and Times)
At first Jerome was keen as any other volunteer or writer to do his bit, preferably near the front line (or “got out”). However by his age his options were limited including the ‘Home Guard’ of the Volunteer Training Corps VTC, nicknamed the “Gorgeous Wrecks” or Rejects from their red GR arm bands:
Jerome K. Jerome’s 1925/6 memoir “My Life and Times” was written a year or so before he died:
“It was in the autumn of 1916 that I “got out,” as the saying was. I had been trying to get there for some time. Of course my age, fifty-five, shut all the usual doors against me. I could have joined a company of “veterans” for home defence, and have guarded the Crystal Palace, or helped to man the Thames Embankment; but I wanted to see the real thing. I had offered myself as an entertainer to the Y.M.C.A. I was a capable raconteur and had manufactured, or appropriated, a number of good stories.”
“The Y.M.C.A. had tried me on home hospitals and camps and had approved me. But the War Office would not give its permission. The military gentleman I saw was brief. So far as his information went, half the British Army were making notes for future books. If I merely wanted to be useful, he undertook to find me a job in the Army Clothing Department, close by in Pimlico. I suppose my motives for wanting to go out were of the usual mixed order. I honestly thought I would be doing sound work, helping the Tommies to forget their troubles […]”
A few years younger, Jerome could have joined the Cavalry or Yeomanry. In an earlier chapter ‘The Author at Play’, Jerome mentions his dislike of game shooting, his dislike of fox hunting (because of the fox) and his love of riding and driving carriage horses:
“I learnt riding with the Life Guards at Knightsbridge barracks. It was a rough school, but thorough. You were not considered finished until you could ride all your paces bareback, with the reins loose; and when the Sergeant-Major got hold of a horse with new tricks, he would put it aside for his favourite pupil.”
There is a whole chapter in his memoir (published in 1925/26) about his war experience, starting with his news of how foreign wars were reported, supported or opposed in Britain throughout his childhood, almost taking the Queen’s shilling out of poverty:
“I was down on my luck when the Russo-Turkish War broke out. There were hopes at first that we might be drawn into it. I came near to taking the Queen’s shilling. I had slept at a doss-house the night before, and had had no breakfast. A sergeant of Lancers stopped me in Trafalgar Square. He put his hands on my shoulders and punched my chest.
“You’re not the first of your family that’s been a soldier,” he said. “You’ll like it.”
It was a taking uniform: blue and silver with high Hessian boots. The advantages of making soldiers look like mud had not then been discovered.” (Chapter 12, The War)
… right through to the shifting colonial and international tensions in the build up to WW1 and how he served with the French Ambulance units. You can read this for free in this Project Gutenberg ebook free download:
Over service age in 1914, he volunteered to serve in the Ambulance units in France and the experience of what he must have seen had a lasting effect on the comic novelist.
When he returned to England, his secretary observed “The old Jerome had gone… in his place was a stranger … a broken man”.
JKJ – player of Little Wars, sportsman, comic novelist – “Those who talk about war as a game … ought to be made to go out and play it.”
This quote came from his 1925/26 memoir, remembering his experiences in the Verdun French sector where a field hospital was shelled by the Germans but also thinking about his trip to America (1915) shortly before.
Now writing as Ambulance Driver Nine, he notes:
“The town was strangely peaceful, though all around the fighting still continued. Our Unit, Section 10, had been there the winter before, during the battle, and had had a strenuous time. During the actual fighting, Hague Conventions and Geneva regulations get themselves mislaid. The guns were eating up ammunition faster than the little tramways could supply them, and the ambulances did not always go up empty.
“Doubtless the German Red Cross drivers had likewise their blind eye. It is not the soldiers who shout about these things. I was on the “Lusitania,” the last voyage she made from New York to Liverpool, before she was torpedoed. We were loaded to the Plimsol line with war material. The Germans were accused of dropping shells on to the hospital. So they did. How could they help it? The ammunition park was one side of the railway head and the hospital the other. It was the most convenient place for both. Those who talk about war being a game ought to be made to go out and play it. They’d find their little book of rules of not much use.”
Presumably his quote about playing at war was not too much of a dig at his friend Wells’ Little Wars Chapter IV and its warning about the blunder of Great Wars?
“How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing,” Wells writes in Little Wars. “You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be. Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion …”
Wells’ wartime path diverged from that of Jerome. Wells was very active in Government Propaganda throughout WW1 through the Wartime Propganda Bureau run by his friend and Little Wars opponent Charles Masterman (see the related blog post on the Declaration of Authors).
Maybe Jerome’s remark is aimed at fellow jingo writers and poets like Sir Henry Newbolt with their sporting analogies to war (echoed in the sportsmen’s battalions)?
“Play Up, Play up, and Play the Game!”
(Vitai Lampada! or “They Pass On The Torch of Life”)
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat,
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
The sand of the desert is sodden red, —
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; —
The Gatling’s jammed and the Colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks:
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the School is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind —
‘Play up! play up! and play the game!’
Sir Henry Newbolt, 1892
Like Wells and Jerome, Newbolt signed the 1914 Authors’ Declaration and was part of inspiring a generation of ‘heroic’ war poetry in the style of Rupert Brooke and minor, often public school wartime poets.
It is worth noting that even some of the later antiwar poets like Wilfred Owen started out with a flowery Rupert Brooke style heroic poetic view of the war at its beginning.
Brooke through the Neo Pagans group on the edge of the Bloomsbury group knew Harold Hobson, who played at Little Wars with Wells. We could play this ‘six degrees of separation’ connections and influences game back to Wells and Little Wars with a number of people. You know the sort of thing – Hobson knew Brooke who died en route to Gallipoli, a Churchill inspired disaster of a campaign; Wells can be doubly connected to Churchill through toy soldiers and through Liberal politician Charles Masterman. And so on and so on …
Reading Gissing’s letters to and from Wells and his family, there is a lovely informal group snapshot in Italy c. 1890s of Gissing, Wells, Conan Doyle and his brother in law Hornung. As the ‘Declaration of Authors’ signatures also show, the literary world was well connected at a professional and social, even friendly level.
“[Israel] Zangwill used to be keen on croquet, but never had the makings of a great player. Wells wasn’t bad. Of course, he wanted to alter all the laws and make a new game of his own. I had to abandon my lawn, in the end.” From the ‘Author at Play’ chapter in Jerome’s memoir.
Reading Jerome’s 1925/6 memoir I found that he was not the only one of the Author’s Declaration to suffer during WW1. In his chapter the ‘Author at Play’ about the “internationalism” of winter sports at Davos in Switzerland and such like in the years prior to the outbreak of WW1, p.233 –
“Engelberg is too low to be a good sports centre. We had some muggy weather, and to kill time I got up some private theatricals. Kipling’s boy and girl were there. They were jolly children. Young Kipling was a suffragette and little Miss Kipling played a costermonger’s Donah. Kipling himself combined the parts of scene-shifter and call boy. It was the first time I had met Mrs. Kipling since her marriage. She was still a beautiful woman, but her hair was white. There had always been sadness in her eyes, even when a girl. The Hornungs were there also, with their only child, Oscar. Mrs. Hornung, née Connie Doyle, was as cheery and vigorous as ever, but a shade stouter. Both boys were killed in the war.” (P.233)
Oscar Hornung, Conan Doyle’s nephew, was killed in 1915 – CWGC entry. Like the Hornung family, the Kiplings suffered the added grief of a son missing and an unknown grave until a recent (and disputed) identification – CWGC entry. The tragic story of John Kipling, Kipling’s only son, is well told in the Holt book, play and BBC TV drama My Boy Jack.
As Wells writes it at the end of Little Wars “And if I might for a moment trumpet! How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing!”
Bloog posted by Mark Man of TIN, 2 / 3 February 2021
Blog Post Appendix – the ‘pacific’ challenge by Wells at the end of Little Wars, 1913: source – e: text from Project Gutenberg
I COULD go on now and tell of battles, copiously. In the memory of the one skirmish I have given I do but taste blood. I would like to go on, to a large, thick book. It would be an agreeable task. Since I am the chief inventor and practiser (so far) of Little Wars, there has fallen to me a disproportionate share of victories. But let me not boast. For the present, I have done all that I meant to do in this matter. It is for you, dear reader, now to get a floor, a friend, some soldiers and some guns, and show by a grovelling devotion your appreciation of this noble and beautiful gift of a limitless game that I have given you.
And if I might for a moment trumpet! How much better is this amiable miniature than the Real Thing!
Here is a homeopathic remedy for the imaginative strategist. Here is the premeditation, the thrill, the strain of accumulating victory or disaster—and no smashed nor sanguinary bodies, no shattered fine buildings nor devastated country sides, no petty cruelties, none of that awful universal boredom and embitterment, that tiresome delay or stoppage or embarrassment of every gracious, bold, sweet, and charming thing, that we who are old enough to remember a real modern war know to be the reality of belligerence.
This world is for ample living; we want security and freedom; all of us in every country, except a few dull-witted, energetic bores, want to see the manhood of the world at something better than apeing the little lead toys our children buy in boxes. We want fine things made for mankind—splendid cities, open ways, more knowledge and power, and more and more and more—and so I offer my game, for a particular as well as a general end; and let us put this prancing monarch and that silly scare-monger, and these excitable “patriots,” and those adventurers, and all the practitioners of Welt Politik, into one vast Temple of War, with cork carpets everywhere, and plenty of little trees and little houses to knock down, and cities and fortresses, and unlimited soldiers—tons, cellars-full—and let them lead their own lives there away from us.
My game is just as good as their game, and saner by reason of its size. Here is War, done down to rational proportions, and yet out of the way of mankind, even as our fathers turned human sacrifices into the eating of little images and symbolic mouthfuls. For my own part, I am prepared. I have nearly five hundred men, more than a score of guns, and I twirl my moustache and hurl defiance eastward from my home in Essex across the narrow seas. Not only eastward. I would conclude this little discourse with one other disconcerting and exasperating sentence for the admirers and practitioners of Big War. I have never yet met in little battle any military gentleman, any captain, major, colonel, general, or eminent commander, who did not presently get into difficulties and confusions among even the elementary rules of the Battle. You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.
Great War is at present, I am convinced, not only the most expensive game in the universe, but it is a game out of all proportion. Not only are the masses of men and material and suffering and inconvenience too monstrously big for reason, but—the available heads we have for it, are too small. That, I think, is the most pacific realisation conceivable, and Little War brings you to it as nothing else but Great War can do.”
Reading Mathilde Meyer’s memoir H.G. Wells and his Family (1955), about her time as Governess to Well’s two sons Frank and Gip, she makes occasional references to the ‘Floor Game’, which I take to mean Little Wars (1913).
Mathilde Meyer mentions the names of three visitors to Wells country home at Easton Glebe, Dunmow, Essex who took part in the “Floor Game”:
“On wet days, however, The Floor Game, was till the most popular amusement of all. Not only Gip and Frank, but also such friends of their father as the Politician the Rt Hon C.F.G. Masterman, Mr Harold Hobson and Mr. E.S.P. Haynes could be seen stretched out upon the schoolroom floor at weekends.”
Who are these people?
1. Politician, the Rt Hon C.F.G. Masterman
1. Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman MP, Privy Council, (1873 – 1927) was a British radical Liberal Party politician, intellectual and man of letters. He worked closely with such Liberal leaders as Lloyd George and Churchill in designing social welfare projects, including the National Insurance Act 1911. Masterman wrote ‘State of The Nation’ books such as “The Condition of England” 1909
From The Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Margaret Drabble (2000)
His postwar political career as a Liberal was a difficult and disappointing one and he died relatively young at 54 years old. In a similar way, the former Liberal Churchill had a long period in the political wilderness in the 1920s and 30s.
Wells, Masterman and Wartime Propaganda BureauWW1
In Masterman we have another link between early Wargamers H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill.
“During the First World War Masterman played a central role in the main British government propaganda agency, designed to counter the German Propaganda Agency and promote British interests in neutral countries like America. Masterman served as head of the British War Propaganda Bureau (WPB), known as “Wellington House.” (Wikipedia entry WPB)
Masterman’s War Propaganda Bureau enlisted eminent writers such as John Buchan, H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle as well as painters such as Francis Dodd and Paul Nash.
Until its abolition in 1917 to become the Ministry of Information headed by John Buchan, the WPB department published 300 books and pamphlets in 21 languages. It distributed over 4,000 propaganda photographs every week and circulated maps, cartoons and lantern slides to the media.
Masterman also commissioned films about the war such as The Battle of the Somme, which appeared in August 1916. (Adapted from Wikipedia source: Charles Masterman)
Wellington House was home of the War Propaganda Bureau on Buckingham Gate (the building has now been demolished).
The War Propaganda Bureau began its secret propaganda campaign on 2 September 1914 when Masterman invited 25 leading British authors to Wellington House to discuss ways of best promoting Britain’s interests during the war.
Those who attended included (then) well known authors such as William Archer, Hall Caine, Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, G.K. Chesterton, Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy … G.M. Trevelyan, H.G. Wells [and in the subsequent ‘Author’s Declaration’ several popular women authors].
Rudyard Kipling had been invited to the meeting but was unable to attend.
In view of its propaganda role, all the writers who attended on 2 September 1914 agreed to maintain the utmost secrecy. It was not until 1935 that the activities of the War Propaganda Bureau became public knowledge.
Some of these writers and their author friends agreed to write pamphlets and books that would promote the government’s point of view.
The War Propaganda Bureau went on to publish over 1,160 such pamphlets during the war. (Wikipedia entry WPB)
In 1917 the Department of Information partly took over this role under John Buchan before Lord Beaverbrook took charge of propaganda in 1918.
For a good book on British Naval intelligence and propaganda at home, America and in the more forgotten theatres of WW1 – see Codebreakers by James Willie and Michael McKinley (Ebury, 2015). Author A.E.W. Mason from the Authors Declaration (below) crops up in the book as an ‘interesting’ figure:
Two of those involved in the development of Little Wars signed the ‘Author’s Declaration of Support’ for Britain’s entry into the Great War – G.K. Chesterton and Jerome K. Jerome. It makes the final ‘pacific’ chapter ‘warning’ by Wells in Little Wars about the danger or blunder of Great Wars all the more poignant.
The Slate.com blog post authors state that “H.G. Wells satirized his own wartime career in Mr. Britling Sees It Through (1916), and by 1918 had withdrawn from propaganda work altogether.”
Another one for the Wells book list for this year … available in Project Gutenberg or Librivox.
Another unusual and even more direct or active link to the development of Little Wars occurred to me this week – read about this in my next blog post.
2. Mr Harold Hobson
At first a mystery – this is not the theatre critic Sir Harold Hobson (1904 – 1992).
Harold Hobson (1891–1974), David ‘Bunny’ Garnett’s friend, and a temporary lover of D.H. Lawrence ‘s wife Frieda, lived at 3 Gayton Crescent, at the end of Gayton Road [in what literary tour guide Catherine Brown calls Hampstead the “Montmartre” of London, where many famous artists and writers including H.G. Wells lived in Edwardian times https://catherinebrown.org/lawrences-hampstead-a-walking-tour/
Before WW1, “Bunny roamed the countryside with his ‘Neo-Pagan’ friends: Rupert Brooke, the Olivier sisters, Harold Hobson, Godwin Baynes and Dudley Ward, all of them swimming naked in lakes and rivers, worshipping nature and sleeping out under the stars.” (Source: Amazon review of Garnett biography).
Harold Hobson later married Coralie Jeyes von Werner or “Coralie von Werner Hobson” (1891 – 1946). Largely forgotten today, Coralie wrote novels, short stories and plays; from 1928 she published under the pseudonym “Sarah Salt”. She wrote her first novel ‘The Revolt of Youth’ in 1909.
They had two children: Sarah Elizabeth Hobson and Timothy John Hobson (Source: “Who’s who in Commerce and Industry”, Volume 6, 1948, p.705).
Harold Hobson was the son of New York-born writer Florence Edgar Hobson and noted journalist and social economist John Atkinson Hobson; Harold, an engineering graduate from King’s College, was tall, male, articulate, extroverted.
As a youth he belonged to a group that advocated freedom and spontaneity, was anti-intellectual and was called the Neo-Pagans by Virginia Woolf; the often changing members included Godwin Baynes, Rupert Brooke, Ka Cox, Gwen Darwin (later Raverat), Frances Darwin (later Cornford), David ‘Bunny’ Garnett, the Olivier sisters Margery, Bryn, Daphne and Noel, Jacques Raverat and Gerald Shove.
Hobson and David Garnett, his best friend went on a hike in the Alps in August 1912 with D. H. Lawrence and his companion Frieda Richthofen.
According to Helga Kaschl “Lawrence valued him – at least initially – for his uncompromising honesty; however, they soon parted ways after Harold and Frieda indulged in their passion in a haystack.”
D. H. Lawrence processed this “episode” in “Mr. Noon” and described Stanley (= Harold) as handsome, with big, dark eyes, an attractive, gaunt face, of casual elegance, who looked at Johanna (= Frieda) languidly. (Mr. Noon, p. 376)
Harold Hobson became a Consulting engineer at Merz & McLellan from 1919 to 1925, was involved in setting up the electricity grid in Great Britain and was then successfully employed in leading positions within the electricity industry.
Harold Hobson, Supply Engineer; Commercial Manager 1932–35; General Manager from 1935; Central Electricity Board Chairman 1944–46..
Harold Hobson’s fatherJohn Atkinson Hobson was close to the Fabians and influenced Margaret Cole with his ideas. Hobson senior was one of the liberal intellectuals who switched to the Labour Party after the First World War. Hobson senior worked for The Nation newspaper and became a friend of Leonard Woolf, who also started working for the newspaper in 1922. Hobson’ father published the essay “Notes on Law and Order” in 1926 and “From Capitalism to Socialism” in 1932 in the Hogarth Press. Leonard Woolf valued him as Britain’s leading theoretician of anti-colonialism.
Edward Taylor Scott, married to Harold Hobson’s sister Mabel, was the editor of the Manchester Guardian.
Here we have clear links to The Fabian Society, Liberal thinkers – all overlap with H.G. Wells, who knew D.H. Lawrence, putting Wells on the edge of the Bloomsbury Group of writers and artists, who later settled at Charleston House. Frank Palmer the publisher of Wells Little Wars and Floor Games also had his office in ‘Bloomsbury’.
“And one of the greatest helps to a small, inexperienced traveller in this sometimes dusty way is the likeness of things to each other. Your piece of thick bread and butter is a little stale, perhaps, and bores you; but, when you see that your first three bites have shaped it to the likeness of a bear or a beaver, dull teatime becomes interesting at once. A cloud that is like a face, a tree that is like an old man, a hill that is like an elephant’s back, if you have things like these to look at, and look out for, how short the long walk becomes.” E. Nesbit, Wings and The Child, 1913.
Was Tolkein influenced by the work of E. Nesbit and her “Accidental Magic” stories?
The Napoleon of Notting Hill is a novel written by Gilbert or G. K. Chesterton in 1904, set in a nearly unchanged London in 1984.
Wikipedia plot summary: Although the novel is set in the future, it is, in effect, set in an alternative reality of Chesterton’s own period, with no advances in technology nor changes in the class system nor attitudes. It postulates an impersonal government, not described in any detail, but apparently content to operate through a figurehead king, randomly chosen.
The dreary succession of randomly selected Kings of England is broken up when Auberon Quin, who cares for nothing but a good joke, is chosen. To amuse himself, he institutes elaborate costumes for the provosts of the districts of London. All are bored by the King’s antics except for one earnest young man who takes the cry for regional pride seriously – Adam Wayne, the eponymous Napoleon of Notting Hill. (Wikipedia plot summary)
From Chapter 2: The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)
“Sir,” said Wayne, “I am going from house to house in this street of ours, seeking to stir up some sense of the danger which now threatens our city. Nowhere have I felt my duty so difficult as here.
For the toy-shop keeper has to do with all that remains to us of Eden before the first wars began.
You sit here meditating continually upon the wants of that wonderful time when every staircase leads to the stars, and every garden-path to the other end of nowhere.
Is it thoughtlessly, do you think, that I strike the dark old drum of peril in the paradise of children? But consider a moment; do not condemn me hastily. Even that paradise itself contains the rumour or beginning of that danger, just as the Eden that was made for perfection contained the terrible tree.
For judge childhood, even by your own arsenal of its pleasures.
You keep bricks; you make yourself thus, doubtless, the witness of the constructive instinct older than the destructive.
You keep dolls; you make yourself the priest of that divine idolatry.
You keep Noah’s Arks; you perpetuate the memory of the salvation of all life as a precious, an irreplaceable thing. But do you keep only, sir, the symbols of this prehistoric sanity, this childish rationality of the earth?
Do you not keep more terrible things? What are those boxes, seemingly of lead soldiers, that I see in that glass case? Are they not witnesses to that terror and beauty, that desire for a lovely death, which could not be excluded even from the immortality of Eden? Do not despise the lead soldiers, Mr. Turnbull.”
“I don’t,” said Mr. Turnbull, of the toy-shop, shortly, but with great emphasis.
“I am glad to hear it,” replied Wayne. “I confess that I feared for my military schemes the awful innocence of your profession. How, I thought to myself, will this man, used only to the wooden swords that give pleasure, think of the steel swords that give pain? But I am at least partly reassured. Your tone suggests to me that I have at least the entry of a gate of your fairyland—the gate through which the
soldiers enter, for it cannot be denied—I ought, sir, no longer to deny, that it is of soldiers that I come to speak. Let your gentle employment make you merciful towards the troubles of the world. Let your own silvery experience tone down our sanguine sorrows. For there is war in Notting Hill.”
The little toy-shop keeper sprang up suddenly, slapping his fat hands like two fans on the counter.
“War?” he cried. “Not really, sir? Is it true? Oh, what a joke! Oh, what a sight for sore eyes!”
Wayne was almost taken aback by this outburst.
“I am delighted,” he stammered. “I had no notion—”
He sprang out of the way just in time to avoid Mr. Turnbull, who took a flying leap over the counter and dashed to the front of the shop.
“You look here, sir,” he said; “you just look here.”
He came back with two of the torn posters in his hand which were flapping outside his shop.
“Look at those, sir,” he said, and flung them down on the counter.
Wayne bent over them, and read on one—
REDUCTION OF THE CENTRAL DERVISH CITY.
On the other he read—
“LAST SMALL REPUBLIC ANNEXED.
NICARAGUAN CAPITAL SURRENDERS AFTER A MONTH’S FIGHTING.
Wayne bent over them again, evidently puzzled; then he looked at the dates. They were both dated in August fifteen years before.
“Why do you keep these old things?” he said, startled entirely out of his absurd tact of mysticism. “Why do you hang them outside your shop?”
“Because,” said the other, simply, “they are the records of the last war. You mentioned war just now. It happens to be my hobby.”
Wayne lifted his large blue eyes with an infantile wonder.
“Come with me,” said Turnbull, shortly, and led him into a parlour at the back of the shop.
In the centre of the parlour stood a large deal table. On it were set rows and rows of the tin and lead soldiers which were part of the shopkeeper’s stock. The visitor would have thought nothing of it if it had not been for a certain odd grouping of them, which did not seem either entirely commercial or entirely haphazard.
“You are acquainted, no doubt,” said Turnbull, turning his big eyes upon Wayne—”you are acquainted, no doubt, with the arrangement of the American and Nicaraguan troops in the last battle;” and he waved his hand towards the table.
“I am afraid not,” said Wayne. “I—”
“Ah! you were at that time occupied too much, perhaps, with the Dervish affair. You will find it in this corner.” And he pointed to a part of the floor where there was another arrangement of children’s soldiers grouped here and there.
“You seem,” said Wayne, “to be interested in military matters.”
“I am interested in nothing else,” answered the toy-shop keeper, simply.
Wayne appeared convulsed with a singular, suppressed excitement.
“In that case,” he said, “I may approach you
with an unusual degree of confidence. Touching the matter of the defence of Notting Hill, I—”
“Defence of Notting Hill? Yes, sir. This way, sir,” said Turnbull, with great perturbation. “Just step into this side room;” and he led Wayne into another apartment, in which the table was entirely covered with an arrangement of children’s bricks.
A second glance at it told Wayne that the bricks were arranged in the form of a precise and perfect plan of Notting Hill.
“Sir,” said Turnbull, impressively, “you have, by a kind of accident, hit upon the whole secret of my life. As a boy, I grew up among the last wars of the world, when Nicaragua was taken and the dervishes wiped out. And I adopted it as a hobby, sir, as you might adopt astronomy or bird-stuffing. I had no ill-will to any one, but I was interested in war as a science, as a game.
And suddenly I was bowled out. The big Powers of the world, having swallowed up all the small ones, came to that confounded agreement, and there was no more war. There was nothing more for me to do but to do what I do now—to read the old campaigns in dirty old newspapers, and to work them out with tin soldiers. One other thing had occurred to me. I thought it an amusing
fancy to make a plan of how this district or ours ought to be defended if it were ever attacked. It seems to interest you too.”
“If it were ever attacked,” repeated Wayne, awed into an almost mechanical enunciation. “Mr. Turnbull, it is attacked. Thank Heaven, I am bringing to at least one human being the news that is at bottom the only good news to any son of Adam. Your life has not been useless. Your work has not been play. Now, when the hair is already grey on your head, Turnbull, you shall have your youth. God has not destroyed, He has only deferred it. Let us sit down here, and you shall explain to me this military map of Notting Hill. For you and I have to defend Notting Hill together.”
Mr. Turnbull looked at the other for a moment, then hesitated, and then sat down beside the bricks and the stranger. He did not rise again for seven hours, when the dawn broke.
The headquarters of Provost Adam Wayne and his Commander-in-Chief consisted of a small and somewhat unsuccessful milk-shop at the corner of Pump Street …”
“With H. G. Wells as with Shaw, Gilbert’s relations were exceedingly cordial, but with a cordiality occasionally threatened by explosions from Wells. Gilbert’s soft answer however invariably turned away wrath and all was well again. “No one,” Wells said to me, “ever had enmity for him except some literary men who did not know him.” They met first, Wells thinks, at the Hubert Blands, and then Gilbert stayed with Wells at Easton. There they played at the non-existent game of Gype and invented elaborate rules for it. Cecil came too and they played the War game Wells had invented.
“Cecil,” says Wells, comparing him with Gilbert, “seemed condensed: not quite big enough for a real Chesterton.”
“They built too a toy theatre at Easton and among other things dramatized the minority report of the Poor Law Commission. The play began by the Commissioners taking to pieces Bumble the Beadle, putting him into a huge cauldron and stewing him. Then out from the cauldron leaped a renewed rejuvenated Bumble several sizes larger than when he went in.”
Cecil was Cecil Chesterton (1879-1918), younger brother of G.K. Chesterton and friend of Hilaire Belloc, was an English journalist and political commentator, known particularly for his role as editor of The New Witness from 1912 to 1916. He was injured fighting in WW1 and died on 6 December 1918.
Gilbert and Cecil appear to have played Wells’ Little Wars with Wells at Easton.
Easton Glebe is Wells’ one time house in Dunmow in Essex, alongside his Hampstead house nearer London. It was here in Essex that Wells’ second wife Jane died in 1927.
Besides his home in London, Wells rented Easton Glebe, on the Easton Lodge estate, between 1910 and 1928.
It was during this time that Wells had a 10 year affair with Rebecca West. They met in 1912 when Wells was 46 and West only 19. West was also a prolific writer, later being appointed a Dame for her service to English literature. Their son, Anthony West, born in 1914, grew up to became a well-known novelist.