Robert Lynd

With the sixth setter/judge, we are in the company of one of the most entertaining and prolific journalists in New Statesman history, Robert Wilson Lynd. Lynd wrote for the first edition of New Statesman in 1913. He wrote sometimes under his own name; sometimes anonymously; eventually as ‘Y.Y.’ (i.e.wise). Hyams gives a little picture of him: ‘He was always late with his copy, and it was always illegible; but this weekly essay signed ‘Y.Y.’ was of the utmost importance … a very large body of readers took the New Statesman for no other reason than to read Y.Y.  … he wrote a top line the width of the paper and each subsequent line a little shorter so that the last line on the sheet consisted of one word.’ Only one compositor could read his writing. Martin began alternating his column with that of an another Irish writer, James Bridie,  during the war, but Lynd eventually returned, only to be dropped by Martin in 1945. Rolph thinks it was a cause of regret to Martin – that it lived with him as his worst blunder.

Finding Lynd among the Week-end Review judges (as we will later find his wife, Sylvia) begins to show how the judges are part of a network or community of writers, generally radical in outlook, and passionate about writing. Long before New Statesman absorbed the magazine, there was a common bond between them – caused, one suspects, not least by the respect the writers had for Barry’s action in walking out of The Saturday Review. Lynd was more than a star columnist, incidentally: he was also the literary editor of The Daily News from 1912 to 1947.

Some of Lynd’s writing has been recently re-published, although it is not hard to find his work second-hand as well. A good place to start is The Pleasures of Ignorance (1921), republished by Dodo Press, and containing twenty-five New Statesman articles and one from The Daily News. Reading the pieces, it is not surprising to know that he was an acolyte of Jerome K. Jerome, for whose Today periodical he wrote in the first decade of the twentieth century. They have the same droll, deft touch with words. Here is a very brief sample, from a piece about trains. Some of it may strike a modern chord:

   It is said that travelling by train is to be made still more uncomfortable. I doubt if there is a man of sufficient genius in the Government to accomplish this. Are not the trains already merely elongated buses without the racing instincts of the bus? Have they not already learned to crawl past mile after mile of backyard and back garden at such a snail’s space that we have come to know like an old friend every disreputable garment hung out on the clothes-line of a score of suburbs? Do they not stand still at the most unreasonable places with the obstinacy of an ass?

Lynd, who was from Belfast, and a committed Irish nationalist – he spoke at James Connolly’s funeral – was born in 1879 and died in 1949. You can see a photo of him on the National Portrait Gallery site (together with his wife Sylvia and their two children) here.

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