J.C.Squire

J.C. – John Collings – Squire was a pivotal figure in the literary halves of radical newspapers, with a colossal work ethic. Born in Plymouth in 1884, he was from a wealthy background, but joined the Social Democratic Foundation which had been led by figures like Eleanor Marx. He met his wife through the SDF. At the time New Statesman was launched, he was a working literary journalist, and he became not only its first literary editor, but also the de facto editor when Clifford Sharp was called up in 1917. He kept the magazine going in Sharp’s brief absence, and he was relied on by Sharp to manage the literary and artistic ‘half’ of the magazine in which Sharp had little interest. An innocent might assume that the literary editor of a radical journal would have radical aesthetic principles, but the reverse was true: Squire was artistically very conservative, and – having failed an army medical – became the powerhouse in the Georgian poetry movement, appearing in its mid-war anthologies, and aggressively fending off modernist work (he thought The Waste Land ‘a vagrant string of drab pictures’). He also loathed the Sitwells. He defended D.H. Lawrence when The Rainbow was banned, but the language of his defence was revealing:

It is a dull and monotonous book which broods gloomily over the physical reactions of sex in a way so persistent that one wonders whether the author is under the spell of German psychologists, and so tedious that a perusal of it might send Casanova himself into a monastery, if he did not go to sleep before his revulsion against sex was complete. I think it a bad novel: and it contains opinions unpalatable to me and tendencies that I personally believe to be unhealthy. But in the first place it is very much to be doubted whether, the good faith of the book being evident, censorship in this case was desirable; in the second place if The Rainbow  is to be interfered with there are scores of other books that demand prior attention; and in the third place it is doing Mr. Lawrence common justice to protest against the way in which his name has been dragged through the mud.

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 Squire became the editor of the London Mercury in 1921, and used it to promote the plain, accessible language of Georgian writing (memorably damned many years later as ‘Keats and water’ by V. de S. Pinto). When Edward Marsh’s anthologies came to a close, he put together new ones. He was in spirit very at home with the writers on The Week-end Review, writers like Martin Armstrong and Humbert Wolfe, Gerald Gould and Sylvia Lynd. He was a natural choice to judge competitions like this, because he had a considerable reputation as a parodist, and was said to be able to imitate any number of writers at a moment’s notice (he contributed a parody, the first of many, to the first issue of New Statesman). He was, to tell the truth, a better parodist really than an original poet: something that appears to have bothered him. Politically, he also drifted to the right, for a while espousing the cause of Mussolini, and Mosley, before distancing himself from them. The leading modernists mocked him as the leader of a ‘Squirearchy’, but it could easily be argued that his support of more conventional – and popular – writers was not misplaced. He was knighted during the life of The Week-end Review. He was a complex and restless man who deserves not to be overlooked.

Hyams describes him as Sharp’s ‘Admirable Crichton’: ‘He was, for one thing, constantly available; and he was almost incredibly versatile, so that in an emergency there was no part of the paper he could not write  … [he] wrote ‘Comments’, he wrote political leaders, he dealt as critically and amusingly with the great men of cricket … as with the great men of political or literary worlds.’ His gossipy literary column, under the pseudonym ‘Solomon Eagle’, was one of New Statesman‘s more bankable attractions.

 In mid-1933 – the King’s Birthday Honours List? – Squire was knighted. The WR recorded it as follows|:

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