apology, apostles, augustine birrell, bisexuality, bloomsbury group, cambridge, cuts, diaries, donald moggridge, duncan grant, gay, gay history, Great War, homosexuality, john maynard keynes, keynes, lytton strachey, niall ferguson, roger casement
It has been well known for many years that the famous economist John Maynard Keynes enjoyed sexual relationships with both men and women. Keynes, who was born in 1883 and educated at Eton and Cambridge, rose quickly through the ranks of the British civil service during the 1900s and 1910s. By 1919, he was already the British Treasury’s official representative at the Versailles peace conference, though still just in his thirties, and he would go on to write pointed and often virtuoso analyses of world economic problems right through the interwar period. Today, Keynes is most famous for the part he played in creating the World Bank and the IMF at the end of the Second World War, through the Bretton Woods system, and, above all else, for his view (albeit much maligned and over-simplified by others) that governments facing recessions should not shrink but rather stimulate their economies.
Keynes was a remarkable man in many, many ways: cultured, a polymath, closely identified with the Bloomsbury Group. Certainly, he defies easy categorisation, even though his towering achievements in the field of economics loom so large. Keynes’s love affairs with men now form part of the unique recipe that sets him apart. These were not the furtive, embarrassed encounters we might expect from homosexuals, or bisexuals, living a century and more ago. Rather, all the indications are that they were extremely passionate exchanges, proudly owned up to and even celebrated within the relatively small circle that knew about them. Recently, Keynes’s sexuality has come to the fore once more, and in quite a surprising way. He has been accused of not really caring about the future of humanity simply because he was childless and gay. This was a view expressed earlier this year by none other than the historian Niall Ferguson (he subsequently had to apologise for his remarks). In fact, Ferguson’s ill-considered slur could not have been further from the truth. The connections Keynes made during his student days stayed with him right through his life and it is evident from his letters, diaries and published writings that he cared deeply about the wellbeing of both his friends and citizens of the world in general, especially people forced to live under tyrannous regimes.
But, to get back to the main subject of this post, just who were Keynes’s male lovers? A few names crop up quite frequently in books and potted histories: Lytton Strachey and Duncan Grant, in particular, both members, along with Keynes himself, of the Cambridge Apostles, a secret student society that was memorably fictionalised in Alan Hollinghurst’s 2011 novel, The Stranger’s Child. The identities of many others, however, are also known (just not so widely) – and this unusual degree of clarity about something typically so hidden is largely thanks to Keynes himself. Between 1901, when he turned 18, and 1915, Keynes kept a quarterly tabulation of his sexual activity. In retrospect, it seems an entirely fitting, if rather niche, hobby for a budding economist with a prodigious sexual appetite to have! Professor Donald Moggridge first published the list of conquests that accompanies Keynes’s tables, along with a key to the people in it, back in 1992, but this has subsequently somewhat faded from view. I have decided to reproduce the list below, just as Keynes wrote it (which includes what might now be considered some unacceptable phrases), and to add pictures of his lovers, where they are available, and further information about them.
Young and deeply alive at the time that Keynes was enjoying their company, many of these men sadly did not go on to have the long, successful life that he did. War, bad luck and self-destruction all took their toll. And as to the question of why Keynes himself stopped recording his sexual exploits after 1915, we can only speculate. Moggridge is doubtless correct to surmise that Keynes’s move to London and his unceasing progression through the ranks of the civil service must have had something to do with it. Each step further into the limelight was a step closer to being exposed as a man who illegally had sex with men, especially when some of those men were indigent actors and stable hands. This being so, Keynes must surely have been affected by the sad case of Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist who was executed in 1916 partly on the strength of homosexual passages in his private diaries.
——Alfred Dillwyn Knox (‘Dilly’), 1884-1943, classicist and codebreaker who helped to crack the Enigma codes. 1902 ADK DM – Daniel de Mendi Macmillan, 1886-1965, managing director of Macmillan, the publishing house, brother of Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister. 1903 – nil 1904 – nil 1905 – nil 1906 GLS – Lytton Strachey, 1880-1932, founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, and author of Eminent Victorians. JBS – James Strachey, 1887-1967, psychoanalyst, translator of Sigmund Freud, and brother of Lytton. ALH – Arthur Hobhouse, 1886-1965, Liberal politician, and pioneering creator of the first English National Park. 1907 GLS JBS 1908 GLS JBS DG – Duncan Grant, 1885-1978, celebrated painter, member of the Bloomsbury Group. 1909 JBS DG StG – Francis Arthur St George Nelson, 1892-1916, aspiring actor from Brockley, South London, killed on the Western Front. Stable boy of Park Lane 1910 DG FB – Francis Birrell, 1889-1935, journalist, literary critic, son of Augustine Birrell, the one-time Chief Secretary for Ireland. StG 1911 DG Jack Colby Rosario Sciacca 16-year-old under Etna Auburn haired of Marble Arch StG Lift boy of Vauxhall 1912 DG BKS – Benoy Kumar Sarkar, 1887-1949, Indian nationalist and social scientist. Jew boy Chester – Patrick John Chester Purves, 1890-1967, diplomat, active in the League of Nations. 1913 DG StG Chester FB Cookie – Sidney Russell Cooke, 1892-1930, stockbroker, secret agent and second husband of the wife of the captain of the Titanic. Brush Salem Cairo BKS 1914 StG BKS Cookie Felkin – Arthur Elliott Felkin, 1892-1968, diplomat, active in the League of Nations. DG 1915 DG BG – David (Bunny) Garnett, 1892-1981, novelist and publisher, son of the Russian translator, Constance Garnett. FB GLS Grip Tressider – John Tresidder Sheppard, 1881-1968, classicist, intelligence agent, later Provost of King’s College, Cambridge. Cookie