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Harold Begbie

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Harold Begbie

Edward Harold Begbie (1871–1929), also known as Harold Begbie, was an English author and journalist who published nearly 50 books and poems and contributed to periodicals. Besides studies of the Christian religion, he wrote numerous other books, including political satire, comedy, fiction, science fiction, plays and poetry. Begbie was born in 1871, the fifth son of Mars Hamilton Begbie, rector of Fornham, St. Martin, Suffolk; he died in London on 8 October 1929.

Early career

At first Begbie took up farming, but later moved to London and joined the Daily Chronicle and later the Globe. He wrote books of popular verse, and much literature for children. He was a close friend of journalist Arthur Mee.[1] When Mee embarked on his Children's Encyclopædia in its initial fortnightly serial form, he gave to Begbie the task of writing a series on "Bible Stories".[2]

At the outbreak of World War I Begbie wrote a number of recruiting poems and visited America on behalf of his paper. Some of the articles he wrote there were used as propaganda.

Religious views

Begbie had a strong religious bent: he was involved in the Oxford Group (which later became Moral Re-Armament) and with the Salvation Army. His concern with social reform appeared strongly in his book The Little that is Good (1917), where he wrote about charitable work among the poor of London. He raised large sums of money for East End charities.

Begbie might be described as a Broad Church Anglican, who was interested in the ways in which modern science seemed to cast doubt on materialism by showing matter was more complicated than previously believed. He was hostile to Anglo-Catholic Ritualism and to Roman Catholicism; several pre-First World War novels portray Ritualists as sinister and dishonest crypto-Catholic conspirators. His 1914 book The Lady Next Door, however, supports Irish home rule and gives an idealised portrayal of Catholicism in Ireland as a genuinely popular religion. His hostile view of urban industrial society in Belfast was criticised by many Ulster Unionists including the writer St. John Ervine.[3]

Political views

He acted as ghostwriter for the memoir of the polar explorer Ernest Shackleton.

In 1902 and 1903, Begbie, together with J.Stafford Ransome and M.H.Temple wrote, under the pseudonym Caroline Lewis, two parodies based on Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, entitled Clara in Blunderland and Lost in Blunderland. These novels deal with British frustration and anger about the Boer War and with Britain's political leadership at the time.

By 1916, dismayed by the attacks being made on Lord Haldane by Leopold Maxse in the National Review, he began to question the government's domestic policy. In 1917, he publicly defended the rights of pacifists and conscientious objectors to oppose the war. He later wrote his best known work under the pseudonym of "A Gentleman with a Duster", in which various anomalies and injustices were exposed.

Begbie strongly defended the reality of the alleged apparition of the Angels of Mons and attacked Arthur Machen for claiming they derived from his story "The Bowmen". Begbie printed numerous accounts of the "Angels" in his book On the Side of the Angels (1915) but these are generally anonymous, second-hand or otherwise unverifiable.

Before the First World War Begbie was an outspoken Liberal social reformist, but he moved rapidly to the right in the post-war period. The "Gentleman with a Duster" books denounce sexually suggestive literature (such as the early plays of Noël Coward), lament the precarious economic state of the middle classes and the prospective disintegration of the British Empire, and call for a strong hand against left-wing subversives even if this means restricting some traditional British liberties.


Among his other works, the best known were Broken Earthware, Other Sheep, In the Hands of the Potter, and his Life of General Booth. He also wrote a novel, The Great World, which was published in September 1925 by Mills & Boon.

  • The Political Struwwelpeter, 1898
  • The Story of Baden-Powell: 'The Wolf That Never Sleeps', 1900
  • Bundy in the Greenwood, 1902
  • Clara in Blunderland, 1902 (New edition 2010, ISBN 978-1-904808-49-7)
  • Lost in Blunderland, 1903 (New edition 2010, ISBN 978-1-904808-50-3)
  • The life of William Booth, the Founder of the Salvation Army, 1920
  • The Bed-Book of Happiness, 1914
  • Twice Born Men, 1921
  • The Mirrors of Downing Street: Some Political Reflections by a Gentleman with a Duster, 1921
  • Painted Windows: Studies in Religious Personality, 1922
  • Everychild: A Christmas Morality published by James Clarke & Co; 13 & 14 Fleet Street, London, E.C. (no date given)


  • This article incorporates text from The Modern World Encyclopædia: Illustrated (1935); out of UK copyright as of 2005.
  • There is no biography of Harold Begbie. Lists of his writings can be found in the catalogues of major British libraries.
  • There is a short article about him on Internet [2].

External links

  • WorldCat catalog)
  • Project Gutenberg
  • with verse by Harold Begbie available as full text and zoomable page images in the Baldwin Library of Historical Children's Literature

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