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BARBICAN LIFE


Austen, Rupert Brooke, and Robert Hooke. A full-length biography of William Harvey, who first described the circulation of the blood, appeared in 1966, and a description of his personality was attempted in one of many named lectures..


Such literary scholarship seems formidably time-confusing, difficult to reconcile with the life of a busy London surgeon, for Keynes also published around 250 medical/surgical papers, articles, and lectures. Surgical achievement had always been his first aim, he asserted - he didn’t waste time on television, playing bridge, or reading papers (except “The Times” in moderation!). However, any explanation should take account of his (volunteered) service in the two wars. Occupying nearly ten years, its idle moments were no doubt filled with literary thoughts and projects. Even in France, sometimes near the Front and in danger, he was sent catalogues of antiquarian books and even his purchases. And in the Second War someone remarked on “this Air Vice-Marshal who reads poetry in the train”


It was as a scholar of William Blake, poet, mystic, and philosopher - in a book of essays, an edited biography, and about a dozen other collections, including illustrations of the expert copper- plate etchings – that Geoffrey Keynes became an international figure in the literary world. His delight in Blake was “to keep alive the value of imagination in a material world.”


He commissioned the ballet Job, music by Vaughan Williams. But, perhaps responding to the strangeness in Blake’s work, he wrote: “His art was, in fact, far too adventurous and unconventional to be easily accepted in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries…his mind was


developing an unconventional and


rebellious quality.” A necessary psychological contrast, perhaps, to the conventions of Geoffrey’s professional status.


Name-dropping was decried, rather absurdly, for the autobiography is full of it. The many distinguished include William Osler, Harvey Cushing, the American physiologist John Fulton, and Henry James (whose acceptance of an invitation-by- letter to visit Cambridge from Geoffrey and two friends was a coup of mixed success and humour). There was a published account, and a later BBC broadcast.


Geoffrey Keynes had no wish to be identified with the Bloomsbury Group of liberal free-thinkers, to whom his brother was close but probably not a full member. He assisted, however, in washing-out Virginia Wolff’s stomach after an aborted suicide attempt. Because of Maynard’s homosexuality, proof of which he left, carelessly or deliberately, in


correspondence and notes, Geoffrey Keynes’ executorship of his brother’s estate led to unpleasantness and controversy in his


retirement. His attempts to block access to his brother’s papers led to reviewers’ criticism of Harrod’s early biography as one of Lord Keynes - Maynard’s had still to be written.


In 1967, he protested to Michael Holroyd about his biography of Lytton Strachey, with whom Maynard Keynes had had a prolonged and uninhibited correspondence (also of literary merit): “I have just seen (Malcolm) Muggeridge’s sniggering review of your book on Lytton Strachey. I do not know your motives but I


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cannot regard them, whatever they may be, as creditable.” In 1970 he tried, unsuccessfully, to get (legal) control of incriminating copies held by Holroyd (although their content was now widely known). Maynard Keynes’ dedicated biographer, Lord Robert Skidelsky, discovered that an interest in Geoffrey’s library could overcome his “renowned fierceness” in later years.


Geoffrey Keynes received a knighthood and a superfluity of honours. Yet even in old age he felt the pain of inferiority towards his unique brother and of his parents’ underestimation. Compensation for this can be too glibly summoned to account for such exceptional productivity. At least he sustained a consistent stamina of mind and body in a life much longer than his famous brother. What’s in a name? In the name Keynes (pronounced Kanes), and its history, I suggest a great deal.


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