Waugh, Arthur (1866–1943), publisher and writer
by Alexander Waugh

Waugh, Arthur (1866–1943), publisher and writer, was born on 24 August 1866 at Midsomer Norton, Somerset, the eldest of the five children of Alexander Waugh (1838–1906), a general practitioner, and his wife, Anne Gosse (1837–1908), daughter of John Morgan, senior surgeon at Guy's Hospital, London, and Anne Gosse. Waugh's great-grandfather on his mother's side was the actuary and his paternal great-grandfather was the Scottish divine . From 1875 Arthur Waugh attended a Victorian dame-school at Lansdown Crescent, Bath, but, suffering from asthma and bronchitis (complaints which were to dog him for the rest of his life), was removed for a year in order to build up his health in the countryside. His father, who lived for shooting and fishing, was a cruel man. Waugh and his young siblings were locked into dark cupboards or propped onto mantlepieces, where they were left for hours, and woken at dead of night to kiss their father's guncase (A. R. Waugh, The Early Years, 8). In 1879 Waugh was sent to Sherborne School in Dorset where, under the influence of an inspiring schoolmaster, James Rhoades, he resolved to pursue a career in literature. At Sherborne he co-founded the Fifth Form Magazine and later edited the official school publication, The Shirburnian. In 1885 he went to New College, Oxford, where he cultivated passions for poetry, drama, and cricket (in preference to academic work), graduating with a third class in classics in 1889. In 1888 he was awarded, in succession to John Ruskin, Oscar Wilde, Matthew Arnold, and others, the coveted Newdigate prize for poetry for a flowery submission on the subject of General Gordon of Khartoum. The prize poem, Gordon in Africa, was published in 1888. A year later he acted, directed, and wrote the libretto for a burlesque, Julius Seesawcer (with music by Claud Nugent), which was presented at the Holywell Music Room.

After Oxford, Waugh lived in London, where initially he struggled to set himself up as a literary journalist. His first published article, entitled ‘The decline of comedy’, was printed in Lippincott's Magazine in 1890. In the same year he had published Schoolroom and Home Theatricals, which consisted of six short plays with notes on how to perform them. With the help of his senior cousin and mentor, Edmund Gosse, Waugh found his first job, as a reader at the English office of an American publishing firm, John W. Lovell & Co. It was at regular Sunday reunions in Gosse's London home that Waugh became acquainted with Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Hardy, Bram Stoker, J. M. Barrie, Arnold Bennett, and others. While working for Lovells, Waugh supplied articles and reviews to the Illustrated London News and the National Observer and when, in 1892, Gosse declined an offer from William Heinemann to write the first full-length life of Tennyson, the commission passed to Waugh. Tennyson was known to oppose any intrusion into his privacy and, consequently, Waugh conducted much of his research in secret. The book, Alfred Lord Tennyson, which went to print two days after the poet's death on 6 October 1892, was a commercial success which helped to launch Waugh on a journalistic career as a columnist for The Sun and regular correspondent to the New York Critic.

On 6 February 1893 Waugh married Catherine Charlotte Raban (1870–1954), daughter of Henry Biddulph Colton Raban of the Bengal civil service and his wife, Elizabeth Cockburn, granddaughter of the Scottish judge Henry, Lord Cockburn. They had two sons, and . Arthur Waugh continued to write and edit books; a six-volume edition of Johnson's Lives of Poets which appeared in 1896 was followed by quaint anthologies of poems, Legends of the Wheel (1898), and Rhymes to Nicholson's Square Book of Animals (1899), with a popular biography of the poet Robert Browning appearing in 1900.

In 1894 Waugh contributed an article to the first issue of the infamous Yellow Book, the success of which ultimately led to his reviewing over 6000 books in a long career as literary critic for the Daily Telegraph which began in December 1906 and lasted nearly twenty-five years. He was offered the job of drama critic on the Telegraph and the editorship of the Morning Post but turned them down. After a period as adviser to the publishing house Kegan, Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., he was appointed in 1902 to be managing director of Chapman and Hall, the famous publishers of Dickens. From 1926 to 1936 he was chairman of the same company, and in 1930 was elected first chairman of the Publishers' Circle. In the same year he published a detailed history of Chapman and Hall, A Hundred Years in Publishing, since regarded as an important source of information, and in 1931 he wrote a seductively sentimental autobiography, One Man's Road, being a Picture of Life in a Passing Generation. The best of his literary criticism was collected into two volumes: Reticence in Literature (1915) and Tradition and Change (1919). In 1907 he built Underhill, a plain, commodious villa in Hampstead where he lived until 1933 when he moved to Highgate.

Waugh was short in stature and handsome, but as a young man was thin, whey-faced, and timid of appearance. Later he was corpulent. The actress Ellen Terry called him ‘dear little Mr. Pickwick’, a sobriquet which stuck. He was inclined to smother Alec, his elder son, with excessive affection while making little secret of his inability to understand Evelyn. None the less, his astute appreciation of literary form and style, his passion for books, his love of acting and poetry, and the generosity he showed as a critic towards other writers were among the finer qualities which Waugh succeeded in passing on to both his sons. He died after a short illness on 26 June 1943 at his home, 14A Hampstead Lane, Highgate, London, and was buried in Hampstead. The Times recorded that he managed to ‘combine a real feeling for art with an aptitude for business and a shrewd judgement of his colleagues and assistants’.



A. Waugh, One man's road, being a picture of life in a passing generation (1931) · A. Waugh, A hundred years of publishing (1930) · A. Waugh, diaries (14 vols.), Boston University Library · A. R. Waugh, ‘My father: Arthur Waugh’, The early years of Alec Waugh (1962), 3–11 · A. R. Waugh, ‘Arthur Waugh's last years’, My brother Evelyn and other profiles (1967), 201–20 · E. Waugh, ‘My father’, A little learning (1964), 63–79 · The Times (28 June 1943) · b. cert. · d. cert. · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1943)


LUL, letters to Austin Dobson


photographs, repro. in Waugh, One man's road

Wealth at death  

£5474 8s. 8d.: probate, 30 Sept 1943, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

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Arthur Waugh (1866–1943): doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/63092