Laurence Binyon

Other names: 

Robert Laurence Binyon

Date of birth: 
10 Aug 1869
City of birth: 
Lancaster
Country of birth: 
England
Date of death: 
10 Mar 1943
Location of death: 
Reading, England
About: 

Laurence Binyon was a poet, critic, artist, dramatist and curator. He worked in the British Museum from 1892 till his retirement in 1933 and was instrumental in promoting Asian Art in the Museum. He was introduced to Indian literature and philosophy by the poet Manmohan Ghose. They met as schoolboys at St Paul's School, in a seventh form English class when Ghose quoted Othello in class. They became fast friends, bonding over their love for poety and Classics and admiration of Matthew Arnold. Binyon followed Ghose to Oxford in 1888 (Ghose had joined in 1887) and they were involved in producing a short selection of poems under the title of Primavera in 1890, which was among others, reviewed favourably by Oscar Wilde in the Pall Mall Gazette.

In 1910, Binyon became involved with the India Society in London, designed to promote Indian Fine Art. Binyon became friends with the art-historian Ananda Coomaraswamy, who introduced him to Rajput paintings. In June 1912, Binyon met Rabindranath Tagore at William Rothenstein's house and held an admiration for Tagore that lasted until his death. Binyon had been introduced to the work of Tagore by Manmohan Ghose who had returned to India in 1894 but maintained a correspondence for some years - providing inspiration for Binyon's poem 'Asoka' or 'The Indian Prince' in 1900. When Ghose died in 1924, his daughter, Lotika, came to England to meet Binyon and show him her father's manuscripts. This inspired Binyon to write an introductory memoir for an edition of Ghose's poems that was published in 1926 under the title Songs of Love and Death.

Shortly before the Armistice, in November 1918, Binyon met Kedar Nath Das Gupta in London. Das Gupta, a friend of Tagore's, was organizer of the Union of the East and West. He had prepared a rough translation of Sakuntala, which he wished to put on the stage; Binyon agreed to rewrite Kalidasa's play for the stage, and two performances were put on in November 1919, produced by Lewis Casson and starring Sybil Thorndike. In 1920, Binyon gave the inaugural address for the Indian Students' Union and Hostel opened in Gower Street. Another connection to India was realized through Binyon's introduction to the Indian artist, Mukul Dey's My Pilgrimages to Ajanta and Bagh (London: Thornton & Butterworth, 1925). Binyon did not manage to visit India in his lifetime, despite the desires he expressed to the Oxford Majlis society in 1929. Upon his death in 1943, the Oxford Majlis passed a resolution in honour of Binyon as a 'lifelong friend' of India.

Connections: 

Atul ChatterjeeHarindranath Chattopadhyaya, Ananda Coomaraswamy, Arthur Cripps (poet-missionary, contributor to Primavera), Kedar Nath Das Gupta, Mukul Dey, Manmohan Ghose, John Masefield, Henry Newbolt, Stephen Phillips (cousin, contributer to Primavera), Ezra PoundWilliam RothensteinRabindranath Tagore, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats.

Involved in events: 

Performances of 'Sakuntala', Winter Garden Theatre, November 1919.

Inauguration of Indian Students' Union and Hostel, Gower Street, 1920.

 

Published works: 

(with Stephen Phillips, Manmohan Ghose and Arthur Cripps) Primavera: Poems by Four Authors (Oxford: Blackwells, 1890)

(with Kedar Nath Das Gupta) Sakuntala (London: Macmillan & Co., 1920)

See Manmohan Ghose, Collected Poems. Volume I: Early Poems and Letters, edited by Lotika Ghose (University of Calcutta, 1970) for an introductory memoir by Laurence Binyon and a pencil sketch of Ghose aged 23 by Binyon

 

Contributions to periodicals: 

Indian Art and Letters

Monthly Review

Saturday Review

Secondary works: 

Hatcher, John, Laurence Binyon: Poet, Scholar of East and West (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995)

Gandhi, Leela, Affective Communities: Anticolonial Thought and the Politics of Friendship (New Delhi: Permanent Black, 2006)

Example: 

From Introductory Memoir to Manmohan Ghose, Collected Poems. Volume 1 (1970), pp. xv-xvi.

Content: 

Laurence Binyon remembering Manmohan Ghose.

Extract: 

Circumstances had prevented him from being like Rabindra Nath Tagore, an interpreter of the West to India. He admired the Bengali language, but it seemed to him lacking in a certain quality which he found in English. No Indian had ever before used our tongue with so poetic a touch, and he would coin a phrase, turn a noun into a verb with the freedom, often the felicity of our own poets. But he remains Indian. I do not think that an Indian reader would feel him as a foreign poet, for all his western tastes and allusions. Yet to use he is a voice among the great company of English singers; somewhat apart and solitary, with a difference in his note, but not an echo.

Relevance: 

The friendship between Laurence Binyon and Manmohan Ghose that began at St Paul's School, was a huge influence on both individuals. Ghose introduced Indian thought and philosophy to Binyon. Laurence Binyon was interested in the 'nationality' of Ghose's verse. Binyon believed that Ghose's English verse suffered when he returned to India as he no longer had the 'nourishment' of English surroundings, but also that Ghose was an Indian poet at heart despite his Western upbringing.

Archive source: 

Letters to Binyon (including one from Harindranath Chattopadhyaya, and letters from Manmohan Ghose), and a few letters from Laurence Binyon to various correspondents and other unpublished manuscripts, Loan Collection 103, Manuscript Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Letters from Binyon to William Rothenstein, Mss Eur B213, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras