Sunday, 3 October 2021

John Galsworthy OM (1867 – 1933) - British novelist and playwright

John Galsworthy is probably best remembered now for his novels in the series “The Forsyte Saga”.

John Galsworthy by his
nephew Rudolf Sauter
John Galsworthy was born on 14th August 1867. His parents were John Galsworthy, a solicitor, and his wife Blanche Bailey Galsworthy, née Bartleet. His siblings were: Blanche Lilian, b. 1865, Herbert, b. 1869. Mabel E, b. 1872,  

Educated at Harrow and New College, Oxford, where he studied law, John was called to the bar in 1890. He then began to travel in order to look after the family's shipping business. During his travels, John met Joseph Conrad in 1893, who was serving as the Chief Officer aboard the sailing-ship “Captain Cope” moored in the harbour of Adelaide, Australia, and they became close friends.

When war broke out, David Lloyd George, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, was given the task of setting up a British War Propaganda Bureau (WPB). He chose writer and fellow Liberal MP Charles Masterman as head of the organization.  On 2nd September 1914, Masterman invited twenty-five of the most successful British writer to Wellington House, the headquarters of the War Propaganda Bureau, to discuss ways of best promoting Britain's interests during the war.  Among those who attended the meeting were Arthur Conan Doyle, Arnold Bennett, John Masefield, Ford Madox Ford, William Archer, G. K. Chesterton, Sir Henry Newbolt, John Galsworthy, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Gilbert Parker, G. M. Trevelyan and H. G. Wells.

During the war, John worked for the French Red Cross in a hospital in France as an orderly, after being rejected for military service. In 1917 he refused to accept a knighthood, for which he was nominated by David Lloyd George, who by that time was Britain’s Prime Minister.  John argued that a writer's reward comes simply from the writing itself.


Men of my blood, you English men!

From misty hill and misty fen,

From cot, and town, and plough, and moor,

Come in—before I shut the door!

Into my courtyard paved with stones

That keep the names, that keep the bones,

Of none but English men who came

Free of their lives, to guard my fame.

I am your native land who bred

No driven heart, no driven head;

I fly a flag in every sea

Round the old Earth, of Liberty!

I am the Land that boasts a crown;

The sun comes up, the sun goes down—

And never men may say of me,

Mine is a breed that is not free.

I have a wreath! My forehead wears

A hundred leaves—a hundred years

I never knew the words: "You must!"

And shall my wreath return to dust?

Freemen! The door is yet ajar;

From northern star to southern star,

O ye who count and ye who delve,

Come in—before my clock strikes twelve!

John Galsworthy

John Galsworthy’s WW1 poetry collections:

“The bells of peace” (Cambridge, Heffer, 1920)

“The Inn of Tranquility, and other impressions and poems” (Heinemann, 1923)

“Verses new and old” (Heinemann, 1926)

Collected poems. (Heinemann, 1934).

He also had poems printed in six WW1 poetry anthologies.  John Galsworthy died on 31st January 1933. 

Sources:  Find my Past,

Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 136 

“A Treasury of war poetry: British and American poems of the World War 1914 -1917” Edited by George Herbert Clarke1914 (Houghton Mifflin, Boston, Mass., 1917)