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Hesketh Pearson:

An Inventory of His Papers at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: Pearson, Hesketh, 1887-1964
Title: Hesketh Pearson Papers
Dates: 1789-2001 (bulk 1921-1964)
Extent: 13 document boxes (5.46 linear feet)
Abstract: The Hesketh Pearson Papers document the career and personal life of the biographer and author of short stories, dramatic works, and travel books through correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, photographs, clippings, diaries, and notebooks. The papers were formerly in the possession of biographer Michael Holroyd, who served as Pearson's literary executor and, after the death of Pearson's widow Joyce in 1975, his heir; consequently the collection also includes papers and correspondence generated by Holroyd in these capacities.
Call Number: Manuscript Collection MS-4915
RLIN Record ID: TXRC03-A16
Language: English
Access:

Open for research. Part or all of this collection is housed off-site and may require up to three business days notice for access in the Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Room. Please contact the Center before requesting this material: reference@hrc.utexas.edu




Acquisition:

Purchase, 2003 (R15158)

Processed by:

Richard Workman, 2003, updated by Kelsey Handler, 2012

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Center


Hesketh Pearson

Hesketh Pearson published his first full-length biography, Doctor Darwin, when he was 43. By the time of his death thirty-four years later he had written another eighteen biographies, three travel books (all with Hugh Kingsmill), three books of reminiscences (one written with Malcolm Muggeridge), four collections of brief lives, a collection of short stories and essays, and a book on the craft of biographical writing, as well as numerous articles and talks. In England he was the most popular and successful biographer of his time.

He was born Edward Hesketh Gibbons Pearson on 20 February 1887 in Worcestershire, England, to Thomas Henry Gibbons Pearson, a farmer, and the former Amy Mary Constance Biggs. Instead of pursuing his education beyond grammar school, he worked at a series of jobs and traveled through North and South America. In 1911 his passion for Shakespeare and the theater led him to try his hand at acting, and he joined the company of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, playing minor roles. He also acted with the companies of Harley Granville-Barker and Sir George Alexander.

After three years' service during World War I with the Army Service Corps in the Middle East, during which he was mentioned in dispatches and earned the Military Cross, Pearson left with the rank of captain and returned to the stage. He began writing short stories and articles and published his first book, Modern Men and Mummers, a collection of biographical vignettes, in 1921. With the success of his first full-length biography, Doctor Darwin (1930), he left the stage and supported himself by writing for the rest of his life.

In 1912 he married the actress Gladys Rosalind Bardili, and they had a son, Henry Car Hesketh Pearson, who was killed in 1939 in the Spanish Civil War. Gladys died in 1951 and the same year he married Dorothy Joyce Ryder, who survived him.

A mutual interest in Frank Harris led to his meeting Hugh Kingsmill Lunn in 1921, and the two formed a close friendship. Lunn dropped his last name when he began publishing biographies and novels and was known both professionally and privately as Hugh Kingsmill. Together they wrote three books of a unique mix of travel writing, reminiscence, and literary gossip. Kingsmill died in 1949.

Throughout his career Pearson made the acquaintance of many celebrated writers and performers, including Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, Alfred Douglas, Max Beerbohm, Sir Francis Galton, Winston Churchill, P. G. Wodehouse, and G. K. Chesterton.

Pearson died 9 April 1964.

Michael Holroyd

Michael Holroyd, Pearson's heir and literary executor, was born in London on 27 August 1935. After work in a solicitors' firm and service in the army, he made the acquaintance of the novelist William Alexander Gerhardie, who encouraged him to produce his first biography, Hugh Kingsmill: A Critical Biography (1964), during the writing of which he and Pearson became friends.

His next book was the highly successful Lytton Strachey: A Critical Biography (1967-1968), followed by Augustus John: A Biography (1974-1975). By this time Holroyd was so esteemed as a biographer that he received a record £625,000 advance for his next book, which was the four-volume Bernard Shaw (1988-1992), a project that took almost twenty years to complete and was received with unprecedented acclaim.

Holroyd is married to the writer Margaret Drabble and lives in England.


"(Edward) Hesketh (Gibbons) Pearson."   Contemporary Authors Online, http://galenet.galegroup.com (accessed 9 October 2003).

Jones, A. R. "Michael Holroyd."   Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 155. Detroit: Gale, 1995.

Pearson, Hesketh. Hesketh Pearson by Himself. London: Heinemann, 1965.


The Hesketh Pearson Papers document the career and personal life of the biographer and author of short stories, dramatic works, and travel books through correspondence, manuscripts, proofs, photographs, clippings, diaries, and notebooks. The papers were formerly in the possession of biographer Michael Holroyd, who served as Pearson's literary executor and, after the death of Pearson's widow Joyce in 1975, his heir; consequently the collection also includes papers and correspondence generated by Holroyd in these capacities. The papers are arranged in five series: Series I. Works, 1894-1982 (8 boxes); Series II. Correspondence, 1910-1963 (2 boxes); Series III. Personal, 1789-1959 (7 folders); Series IV. Joyce Pearson, 1964-1975 (2 folders); and Series V. Michael Holroyd, 1926-2001 (21 folders).

The Pearson papers throw light on the working processes of a biographer: how subjects are chosen or abandoned, where and how biographical information is sought, negotiations with publishers, and the difficulties that can arise in dealing with subjects or their heirs. In addition, Pearson's correspondence and diaries are replete with opinions on literary, political, and religious topics as well as information on the subjects of his books, details of his working methods, information about his and his correspondents' personal lives, and discussions of well-known figures living and dead, particularly in the fields of literature and theater.

The collection contains significant amounts of correspondence and research material concerning several of the subjects of Pearson's biographies: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, W. S. Gilbert, Frank Harris, Sir Walter Scott, Beerbohm Tree, and Oscar Wilde. Among the correspondents are A. P. Buckland-Plummer, Adrian Conan Doyle, Norman Charles Hunter, Hugh Kingsmill, Arthur Leonard Ross, Robert Sherard, and P. G. Wodehouse.


Elsewhere in the Ransom Center (in the George Bernard Shaw Collection) is the typescript of Pearson's biography of Shaw, G.B.S.: A Full Length Portrait (1942), with extensive corrections and additions in Shaw's handwriting. A large number of letters from Shaw to Pearson and a few from Pearson to Shaw are in the same collection. The Frank Harris Collection also contains Pearson correspondence.

Letters from Pearson to his publishers and to other correspondents such as Shaw are housed at the University of Bristol Library and at Cornell University. Handwritten manuscripts of many of his books are at Northwestern University Library.


The purchase also included almost one hundred books, about two-thirds of which are by Pearson and the rest primarily by Hugh Kingsmill. Many of Pearson's copies of his own books bear his handwritten emendations to the text, which may or may not have been incorporated into subsequent editions. All books were transferred to the Ransom Center Library.

In addition, about forty theater programs from 1880 to 1932, mostly documenting Pearson's career as an actor, were transferred to the Performing Arts Collection at the Ransom Center; a detailed listing is available on request.


People

Buckland-Plummer, A. P.

Butler, Ralph, 1883- .

Cockburn, F. B.

Doyle, Adrian Conan

Frazer, Allan.

Galton, Francis,|cSir, 1822-1911.

Gerhardie, William Alexander, 1895- .

Holroyd, Michael.

Hopkinson, Dorothy, b. 1903.

Hunter, Norman Charles, 1908-1971.

Hurry, Colin.

Kingsmill, Hugh, 1889-1949.

Muggeridge, Malcolm, 1903-1990

O'Connell, Eleanor.

Pearson, Joyce Ryder.

Ross, Arthur Leonard.

Sherard, Robert Harborough, 1861-1943.

Stevenson, Percy R.

Wodehouse, P. G. (Pelham Grenville), 1881-1975.

Organizations

A. P. Watt Ltd.

Subjects

Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930.

Gilbert, W. S. (William Schwenck), 1836-1911.

Harris, Frank, 1855-1931.

Scott, Walter, Sir, 1771-1832.

Shaw, Bernard, 1856-1950.

Tree, Herbert Beerbohm, Sir, 1853-1917.

Wilde, Oscar, 1854-1900.

Biography.

Travel writing.

Places

Great Britain--Biography.

Document Types

Christmas cards.

Diaries.

Galley proofs.

Juvenilia.

Photographs.

Postcards.

Scripts.