21 AUGUST 1936, Page 20


[To the Editor of THE SPECTATOR.] Sra,—In his interesting article, in your last issue, on William Sharp (" Fiona Macleod "), Mr. Waugh has missed the prosaic reason which was at the bottom of William Sharp's invention of his alter ego. William Sharp (who was my cousin and brother-in-law) had, from the beginning of his literary career, a great affection for the Celtic legends and fantasies and an inclination to use them in his work. Apart from this, his work (for financial reasons) was for a long time many-sided. He worked as poet, as literary critic, as art critic, as biographer, and as romancer ; and in the course of such work, while he made many Mends, he also made enemies. When the urge came upon him to produce what

became the " Fiona Macleod " work, he felt that this work (which he believed to be the best that was in him) would never get a fair showing at the hands of a certain class of critics if it appeared under his own name. Hence his invention of the pseudonym and his subsequent (perhaps superfluous) insistence on the reality of " Fiona,"—an insistence which led him into some tight corners, the ludicrousness of which he thoroughly enjoyed—just as he enjoyed the fact of praise being bestowed upon the " Fiona Macleod " work by sage critics who averred that it would not be William Sharp's work (as rumour hinted), for he was " incapable of producing it."

Anyway, so strongly and honestly did he feel that he could not continue the work dearest to his heart if the author- ship were known, that when friends were advocating, to a sympathetic Prime Minister, his claims to a Civil List pension (which would materially have been a great help to him), be, immediately asked that the claim should be withdrawn when he found that it would necessitate the truth of the authorship being stated in papers which would have to be ` laid before the House." He preferred to struggle on so as to be able, to do the work, in spite of the fact that his life Was a constant fight against ill health—a fight which, owing to his gallant spirit, was but little apparent to those who did not know him well.

There is a welcome vitality still about the " Fiona Macleod " work. As the present holder of the rights in it, I am still fairly constantly receiving requests for permission to quote from it in anthologies or to set some of the poems to music.—