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Born in Manchester in 1882, he was educated at Harrow School and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied biology. However, his publications were distinctly in the field of arts. He was interested in bibliography, and wrote biographies of John Baskerville (1907), Robert Dodsley (1910), and The Unspeakable Curll (1927); he was a member of a society of bibliophiles, the Sette of Odd Volumes (among whom he was known as ‘Brother Scribbler’) and had a private press, on which he printed, among other works, an edition of the works of Petronius (d. ad 66). As a novelist his main line was social comedy, often featuring clever, bookish heroes who are forced to cope with the real world. The Man Apart (1906) is the bleak tale of a young man who distinguishes himself at Cambridge, but whose unconventional opinions bring him, in a not wholly specified way, to a miserable end. Marching to The Little God's Drum (1908) are a celebrated novelist and an improbable peer who goes in for aeroplanes and East End clubs, and remains a bachelor at the end. The Scandalous Mr Waldo (1909) is the diary of Henry Waldo, son of a great criminal lawyer, who lives with his father on amicable terms tempered by sarcasm: the diarist's relationship with his father (Henry is a bibliophile, and his Eminent Libraries of Medieval Europe is reviewed unfavourably by his father in the Athenaeum) is much more interesting than those he subsequently forms with three very different women. The Prison Without a Wall (1912) is St Mary's College, Cambridge, one of whose inmates, a Professor of History, author of a famous social history of Rome, is released in order to manage his family estate. The Orley Tradition (1914) represents a change of emphasis, in that the tradition in question is not associated with mental agility: the dim hero, an athlete nearly killed in an accident, has nothing to amuse him except an adventuress, from whom he is eventually rescued by a sensible girl; Mrs Damson, owner of the local village shop, acts as chorus. The Dust Which Is God (1907) is a futuristic dream-vision, in which a zoologist is afforded a glimpse of the race evolving towards perfection. He also wrote as ‘Robert Erstone Forbes’.
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