Biography 1910 Onwards

To the delight of all his friends, Q was soon to receive two major honours. In recognition of his contribution in so many fields of life – literature, education and politics especially – this great Cornishman was created a knight bachelor in 1910 and ‘Q’ suddenly became ‘Sir Arthur’ – “the good, kindly, courtly knight of Fowey” as he was once described.

As a schoolboy in Fowey in the 1930s, whenever I met him in the Fore Street doing his shopping or walking along the Esplanade to the Yacht Club, it was natural to address him as “Sir Arthur” as I touched my cap. To me, he was both special and friendly, an integral part of the Fowey scene and an essential element of the social fabric of the town that he had adopted as his home early in his married life.

Meanwhile, far removed from the everyday life of a small Cornish borough, a vacancy had arisen for the King Edward VII Professor of English Literature at the University of Cambridge and a somewhat surprised Q was invited in 1912 to take the chair and soon afterwards to be a Fellow of Jesus College.

Although this also surprised a lot of other people at the time, it turned out to be an inspired appointment. Thirty three years later in 1946, his successor called his own inaugural lecture  “The ‘Q’ Tradition” and said that he was now ‘encouched in Arthur’s Seat’!  He continued.. “It is with ‘Q’ that the Chair will long be associated in the minds of all who knew and loved him….’Q’s’ rich personality, his wisdom and wit, and his inimitable gusto, lent an almost legendary glamour to the Chair..We shall not look upon his like again” (Basil Willey, 1946. CUP)

Q’s influence on English Literature from the late 19th century through to the 1940s was immense. As well as continuing to be a very popular writer of fiction,his academic input was considerable for he could “delight and instruct large audiences by his fortnightly lectures” [The Cambridge Review – quoted Brittain, p.73]. His reputation also grew in the outside world as two collections of his lectures – On the Art of Writing [1916]  and On the Art of Reading [1920] – were published alongside his series of Studies in Literature and such anthologies as The Oxford Book of English Prose  in1925.

At the same time, this widely respected author was still carrying on his dedicated service to Fowey and Cornwall.

Q  was always at the centre of things – actively recruiting for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry in 1915; in politics, being given the Freedom of Fowey and becoming Mayor of the ancient Borough in 1937; Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club from 1911 to 1944; Chairman of the Commissioners who were responsible for the well being of the Harbour which was so dear to his heart; organising local celebrations and supporting such fundraising functions as those in aid of the Cottage Hospital. His lifetime commitment to education also led to his being  a very active member of the Cornwall Education Committee for over 30 years , helping to develop the innovative rate-supported elementary school.

Such a short list of his activities cannot really do justice to his commitment and energetic leadership in so many aspects of local life over a long period.  It was Q who wrote This Royal Throne of Kings, a children’s masque which was performed to celebrate King George V’s coronation in 1911. Twenty six years later he provided another such masque for the coronation of King George VI and This Sceptred Isle was performed in the grounds of Place House.