Lives of the Wits

Hesketh Pearson
Date Published
All orders are sent via Royal Mail and are tracked: choose from standard or premium delivery.

‘No pecuniary embarrassments equal to the embarrassments of a professed wit; an eternal demand upon him for pleasantry, and a consciousness on his part of a limited income of the facetious; the disappointment of his creditors – the importunity of duns – the tricks, forgeries and false coin he is forced to pay instead of gold. Pity a wit . . .’

That was Sydney Smith feeling the strain. But he needn’t have worried, he was possessed of an amplitude of this quality as, indeed, were the other thirteen subjects featured in Hesketh Pearson’s survey. Come to think of it, Hesketh Pearson himself had no deficiency either. This was a singularly congenial subject for him as he conveys with verve in chapters on: Jonathan Swift, Samuel Johnson, R. B. Sheridan, Sydney Smith, Benjamin Disraeli, Henry Labouchere, James McNeill Whistler, W. S. Gilbert, Beerbohm Tree, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc, Max Beerbohm and G. K. Chesterton.

Can we think of a group term for a gathering of wits? A ‘laughter’ perhaps? Here we have it.


Hesketh Pearson (1887-1964) is best remembered as a biographer and not as a dutiful one. He once said, ‘I love people who blow respectability and the Establishment to bits. Hence my portrait gallery.’ He wrote over twenty biographies which, in addition to Sydney Smith, included ones on Hazlitt (The Fool of Love), Tom Paine, Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Dickens and…

Read More