Correspondence and other writings of the author of a working-class literary classic, published in part by the Hogarth Press

Correspondence and other writings of the author of a working-class literary classic, published in part by the Hogarth Press

Reynolds, Stephen [Sydney] (1881-1919)Letters to Cecil Harmsworth and related correspondence, 1913-1920. A small collection from Harmsworth's files, comprising 6 ALS to Harmsworth (18 pp. total), and three typescripts by Reynolds (16 pp. total), along with correspondence by Harmworth, Henry G. Maurice, and Harold Wright (8 pp. total). Individually filed in an archival case, 0.25 linear feet.

     Commonly compared to Orwell in his literary celebration of working class life, Reynolds is best known for A Poor Man's House (1908), which one critic has summarized as "a hotchpotch of dialogue, rumination, poetry, polemic, and sea shanties," and another as a book that "as long as it continues to be read, ... will speak for those silenced by circumstance, law and shame." It was revived as an Oxford Classic in 1982.


Reynolds in Sidmouth

     Reynolds was a protégé of Ford Madox Ford, and counted among his friends and admirers Edward Carpenter, Joseph Conrad, David Garnett, Arnold Bennett, D. H. Lawrence, Douglas Goldring, John Galsworthy, Hugh Walpole, John Masefield, W. H. Davies, and Archibald Marshall. He was the great love of Philippa Powys' life, and when he, inexplicably, did not return her affections (Reynolds was gay but not openly so), the sister of John Cowper, T. F., and Llewelyn Powys had a nervous breakdown. Ford called Reynolds's early death during the 1919 influenza pandemic "the greatest loss that has befallen English literature in many years." When Harold Wright, Reynolds's friend and literary executor, undertook to publish a selection of his letters in 1923, it was only natural that Leonard and Virginia Woolf should welcome him.


Harold Wright

     Reynolds's theme was the simplicity, self-reliance, and dignity of the working classes, which he championed both in his books on fishermen, and in his work on local and national commissions to to improve their lot. He drew his inspiration from Bob Woolley, a married fisherman in Sidmouth (Devon) in whose household Reynolds became a permanent guest. He credited Woolley and his brother Tom, both of whom were illiterate, as co-authors of Seems So!: A Working-Class View of Politics (1911). Between 1906 and 1912 Reynolds published seven books. But after 1912, he renounced literary pursuits on principle, choosing instead to devote his educational advantage to the benefit of the men and the community he loved. He took a position as Inspector of Fisheries and Adviser on Inshore Fisheries.


Cecil Harmsworth

     Reynolds's work on fisheries put him in contact with Cecil Harmsworth and Henry G. Maurice. Harmsworth (1869-1948) was the younger brother of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, proprietors of the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror. Opting for politics instead of journalism, he served as a Liberal MP from 1906 to 1922. During Reynolds' lifetime, Harmsworth's government posts included positions in the Board of Agriculture and Fish and the Board of Trade, as well as the War Cabinet Secretariat under Lloyd George. Later he would serve in the Foreign Office. He gained the title of 1st Baron Harmsworth in 1939. As biographer Christopher Scoble notes, Harmsworth recognized Reynolds "not only as the key to the Committee's thinking, but also as the most congenial and stimulating of its members. They had become firm friends." Harmsworth's diaries, published in 2016, contain numerous references to Reynolds. He wrote the obituary for the Times Literary Supplement praising both Reynolds's administrative achievements ("I know of few cases when a man of ideas has found the way so open so quickly and to directly to their acceptance") and his friendship ("I have heard Stephen Reynolds described as a 'rough diamond', but never by anyone who really knew him.")


H. G. Maurice

     Henry G. Maurice (1874-1950) headed the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture before going on to lead first the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, then the Zoological Society of London. Like Harmsworth and Reynolds, he was an avid anglers. Scoble observes that Maurice, who was "seven years older that Reynolds and considerably more sophisticated" served as a "new father figure" for the writer. After Reynolds died, Maurice would recall his friend's intensity:

Author, musician, scientist, man of affairs, Stephen Reynolds was a man of many gifts, but to those who knew him best his most remarkable characteristics were his intense personal devotion to individuals and his consuming zeal for fishermen as such: one he endeavoured vainly to conceal behind a veil of satire or of truculent cynicism, the other he made no effort to conceal, and carried to almost extravagant lengths. It is probably the fact that the latter was largely the outcome of the former.

     The letters from Reynolds letters to Harmsworth offered here date between 1913 and 1918. They are boisterous and chatty: renouncing the world of letters did not kill Reynolds's literary spirit, which found a rich outlet in his correspondence. Poems and dialogues accompany the letters, including verse dedicated to Harmsworth written after a day spent fishing together, and a fisherman's song that pokes gentle fun at the people among whom he lived:

Tho' us can't read proper

Thiccy stuff,

What you says, we've said

Times enough.

Despite his evident disdain for committee work, Reynolds clearly took his job very seriously, as evidenced in his 12-page report addressed to Maurice, on protecting the fisheries during wartime. 

     Although much of the material by Reynolds appears in the collection of letters that Wright prepared, there are also lengthy passages here omitted by the editor, who has marked the letters in pencil. The letters between Harmsworth, Maurice, and Wright concern the collection of correspondence in the course of assembling the volume that would be published by the Hogarth Press, and include a few additional biographical details. 


     Although Reynolds was an active correspondent, few of his letters have survived. In his letter to Maurice, Harmsworth regrets destroying most of the letters he received. In 1980, J. D. Osborne reported that "over the years, what had once been a sizeable collection" in the hands of Harold Wright "had deteriorated and been discarded."  Some material that Osborne had located in the 1970s has subsequently been lost. Scoble offers a survey of the scant remains of Reynolds' correspondence (see pp. 685-686). This file represents a very fortunate survival. 

Selected References

  • Dobson, A.T.A. "Henry Gascoyne Maurice. 1874–1950". Journal du Conseil / Conseil Permanent International pour l'Exploration de la Mer 17 (1950): 3–6
  • Hindle, Edward. "Mr. Henry G. Maurice, C.B." Nature. 165 (24 June 1950): 997–998
  • Osborne, J. D. “Conrad and Stephen Reynolds." Conradiana, vol. 13, no. 1, 1981, pp. 59–64.
  • Reynolds, Stephen. A Poor Man's House, ed. Roy Hattersley. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
  • Scoble, Christopher. Fisherman's Friend: A Life of Stephen Reynolds. Tiverton: Halsgrove, 2000
  • Thorpe, Andrew and Richard Toye, eds. Parliament and politics in the age of Asquith and Lloyd George: the diaries of Cecil Harmsworth, MP, 1909-1922. Cambridge: Royal Historical Society, 2016.
  • Wright, Harold, ed. Letters of Stephen Reynolds. London: Hogarth Press, 1923.


Plaque remembering Stephen Reynolds, Sidmouth Museum

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    Correspondence and other writings of the author of a working-class literary classic, published in part by the Hogarth Press