John Galsworthy

On this date in 1867, John Galsworthy was born into an upper-class family in Surrey, England. Escaping the legal profession by travel, Galsworthy as a young man encountered Joseph Conrad on a trip to the South Seas. Conrad encouraged him to write, and Galsworthy in turn later provided financial help for Conrad. After self-publishing his first four books, Galsworthy wrote The Man of Property (1906), which established his reputation. It was the first of what would become "The Forsyte Saga," made up of six novels plus a collection of stories written through 1931. The candid and empathetically-handled theme of marital rape, shocking to many would-be church censors, was reportedly inspired by the experiences of his wife, Ada Person Cooper, in her previous marriage. The socially-conscious writer eventually wrote 20 novels, 27 plays, poetry, more than 150 short stories and several books of essays. Galsworthy refused knighthood on grounds of principle in 1917, gave away half of his fortune, and won the Nobel for Literature in 1932. His plays in particular dealt with social issues such as economic inequities, prison reform, anti-Semitism and mining strikes. Escape, his 1926 drama, was made into a 1948 movie by 20th Century Fox, starring Rex Harrison. According to Warren Allen Smith's Who's Who in Hell, Galsworthy's agnosticism surfaces in Moods, Songs, and Doggerels, and he once said: "Humanism is the creed of those who believe that, in the circle of enwrapping mystery, men's fates are in their own hands--a faith that for modern man is becoming the only possible faith." D. 1933.

“He was in essence pagan: All was right with his world! His love was absorbed by Nature, and his wonder by the Great Starry Scheme he felt all around. This was God to him; for it was ever in the presence of the stars that he was most moved to a sense of divine order. Looking up at those tremulous cold companions he seemed more reverent, and awed, than ever he was in the face of creeds or his fellow man. Whether stirred by the sheer beauty of Night, or by its dark immensity swarming with those glittering worlds, he would stand silent, and then, perhaps, say wistfully: 'What little bits of things we are! Poor little wretches!' Yes, it was then that he really worshipped, adoring the great wonders of Eternity. No one ever heard him talk with conviction of a future life. He was far too self-reliant to accept what he was told, save by his own inner voice; and that did not speak to him with certainty. In fact, as he grew old, to be uncertain of all such high things was part of his real religion; it seemed to him, I think, impertinent to pretend to intimate knowledge of what was so much bigger than himself.”

—— John Galsworthy, "A Portrait," an essay about an unnamed 80-year-old man

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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