life Frank Harris attracted admirers by his talent, his original and forthright
way of speaking and the rare strength of his personality.
Unhappily, it was usually not long before the darker side of his character would
make itself known, and his onetime devotees would draw away, repulsed by
his brutality or perceived venality. Those that did not leave of their own accord
were generally pushed away anyway by him, once he had decided that
their enthusiasm did not come up to the high standard set by his
Hugh Kingsmill was one of these disillusioned disciples, but had a clear enough
perception of both sides of Harris to write the most entertaining and
illuminating of biographies. Despite Harris' frequently appalling
behaviour Kingsmill succeeds in making him if not worthy of
our respect at least due a degree of our sympathy. And he provides
enough clues for us to get some inkling of why such luminaries
as Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw should have happily kept company
This is not an authoritative picture of a whole life so much as a
personal recollection: in particular Kingsmill did not research Harris'
early years enough to tell us very much apart from that the Life and Loves is not to be relied on.
It really comes to life about half way through when Kingsmill and Harris
first meet, because it is with seeing him through Kingsmill's eyes that the
old monster really comes back to life.
virtue of this book is its consistent humanity, both towards Harris itself
and those whose lives he touched. It is this quality, as well as its
readability, that have made this one of my long-term favourite works; indeed
it was this book more than any other that set me on the path which has led
to the creation of these pages.