Hugh Kingsmill

Hugh Kingsmill (1889-1949) was the pseudonym generally used by Hugh Kingsmill Lunn, partly to distinguish himself from his brothers, both of whom were writers among other things: Sir Arnold Lunn and Brian Lunn. He was a writer of fiction, of essays, of biography, and much else; John Clute notes, in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, that he “remains best known for An Anthology of Invective and Abuse (1929)”. But he did write some science fiction and fantasy. An early collection, The Dawn’s Delay (1924) contains “The End of the World”, with its vision of a solar system inhabited by various species, and “W.J.”, about a Future War. Of another book Kingsmill’s biographer Michael Holroyd wrote (in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography): “One maverick publication, The Return of William Shakespeare (1929), featured an inspired chapter of Shakespearian criticism framed by an unconvincing science-fictional device which consigned it to shelves not visited by scholars.”

His father, Sir Henry Simpson Lunn, was the founder of a travel agency (which much later became Lunn Poly), which specialised in Alpine holidays; his mother was the daughter of the rector of Midleton, Co. Cork. Hugh followed his brother Arnold into Harrow, and then to Oxford, in 1908, and then indeed he followed his brother as editor of Isis, the Oxford student newspaper. Hugh did not get a degree at Oxford, however, and studied at Trinity College Dublin from 1911-1912, and eventually got his degree from there after the war. He married Eileen Fitzgerald, from Port Laoise in Ireland, in 1915; they had one daughter.

After his war service, Hugh divided his time between working in his father’s firm and writing fiction. His first novel, The Will to Love, was published in 1919 under the name Hugh Lunn; thereafter he wrote as Hugh Kingsmill. He had a parting with his father in 1927, partly because of the breakdown of Hugh’s own marriage. Up to that point Kingsmill had written two novels and a volume of short stories, and his net profit (he notes in his 1949 book The Progress of a Biographer) was “slightly under three pounds” (7). Thereafter Kingsmill made his living by writing, deciding to concentrate initially on biographies, for which he could get a more substantial advance than for novels. He started with Matthew Arnold, and his other biographies included Frank Harris, Samuel Johnson, Charles Dickens and D.H. Lawrence. He was literary editor of Punch from 1942 to 1944 and the New English Review from 1945 to 1949. He was a much-loved friend to many, and Richard Ingrams wrote about his friendships with Malcolm Muggeridge and Hesketh Pearson in a book called God’s Apology: A Chronicle of Three Friends (London, 1977). The title was taken from a dictum by Kingsmill himself: “Friends are God’s apology for relations.”

Holroyd’s epitaph was that Kingsmill’s “fate was that he was to be valued as a conversationalist rather than as a writer, and to have a profound effect on those who were to become better known than himself.”

He married for a second time in 1930, and he and his wife had  two daughters and a son. He died of cancer in Brighton in 1949.

My information comes from Michael Holroyd’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and Holroyd’s book Kingsmill: A Critical Biography (1964), reissued London: Heinemann, 1971.

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