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Alexander “Crawford” Lindsay

Of David Lindsay’s relationship with his older brother Alexander, J B Pick says:

He was never close to his brother, who died comparatively young and was a hard-living journalist, much entangled with women. Some of his adventures had repercussions on the family that deeply disturbed David.

The Strange Genius of David Lindsay, p. 7

But this is evidently not the entire story, as David is noted on Alexander’s death certificate as being present at the time of his brother’s death, and when, more than fifteen years later, David was asked to write something about himself for the publication of Devil’s Tor, he mentions his brother, and the fact he was a writer:

My older brother, the late “Alexander Crawford”, also wrote some novels (The Alias, etc.) which by now are almost forgotten.

— quoted in The Strange Genius of David Lindsay, p. 6

This might sound dismissive, but David is, nevertheless, not simply letting his brother be forgotten.

Close or not, the relationship can’t help but have been a significant one, and must have had an influence on David. There seems to have been a fundamental difference in personality between the two, but perhaps also deeper similarities. To get a glimpse of this, we have to look at what we can learn about Alexander’s life.

Named for his father, Alexander Lindsay was born in Lewisham district on 24th July 1869 [England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915, Ancestry.co.uk], first child to Alexander and Bessy Lindsay, who had been married just under ten months before [1st October 1868, St Mary’s Church parish register]. (Margaret would follow in 1873, David in 1876, meaning there was a six and a half year gap between the brothers.)

1682 frontispiece to Les Fourberies de Scapin

As David would later, Alexander went to nearby Colfe’s Grammar School, entering it in January 1880, and leaving in July 1885 [The Colfeian, December 1906, “Alumni Colfenses”, p. 199]. This means that, unlike David whose education was cut to the legal minimum by their father’s disappearance (ending at 13 years old), Alexander remained in school to the age of 16. (It’s also notable that David began at Colfe’s in May 1885 [The Colfeian, June 1907, “Alumni Colfenses”, p. 104], meaning the brothers went to the school together for a mere two months.)

At the 1885 end-of-school-year prize giving, Alexander received a prize for French, and along with three other schoolboys — Gill (major), Knowles (max.) and Robins — performed before an audience of pupils, parents, and local notables, some scenes from Molière’s comedy Les Fourberies de Scapin. The local newspaper reported that the characters were “sustained in a manner that evoked hearty applause” [The Kentish Mercury, 10th July 1885]. As the boys performed Molière in the original language, this means the comedy must have come through at least in part through their physicality and the way they delivered their lines, so even those in the audience who didn’t understand the words found it funny. In other words, Alexander could, perhaps, be a bit of a clown.

There’s more evidence of this in the next stage of his life, too.

After leaving school, Alexander became, like his father before him and his brother later, clerk to an insurance broker [1891 UK Census for 9 Blackheath Rise]. Outside work, though, he was caught up in the new craze of cycling. Thanks to the invention of the Rover Safety Bicycle in 1886, which has been called the first modern bicycle (it being the first to have a rear-wheel chain drive, front and back wheels of equivalent size, and, from 1888, pneumatic tyres), cycling gained a lot in popularity in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century. Throughout that decade, Alexander appears many times in local news reports as taking an active part in meetings of the Argus Bicycle Club (based in nearby Brockley) and, later, the Lewisham Cycle Club.

During the cycling season, the Argus organised twice-weekly (Saturday and Wednesday) rides and competitions, including a 50-mile road race and a 12 hours’ ride (whose winner in 1891 travelled 155 miles) [Most of these details from The Kentish Mercury, 4th Mar 1892]. In 1898, Alexander is mentioned as having the highest attendance for the year’s runs [The Kentish Mercury, 28 Jan 1898, p. 2]. But the Argus wasn’t just about cycling, it was also a social club, putting on a series of gatherings throughout the year, including annual dinners, “At Homes” (which weren’t held at anyone’s home, but at a pub or inn), “Bohemian Concerts”, and “Smoking Concerts” (which were men-only, with a lot of smoking, drinking, and the singing of comic songs). Attendance at these events was often around 150 members, and Alexander is frequently mentioned as taking some active part. He’s a steward at several of the “At Homes” [The Kentish Mercury, 20 Mar 1891, and 31 Mar 1893], he’s put on the committee at one annual dinner [1892], and intriguingly, in 1891, he’s listed as the club’s “editor” [The Kentish Mercury, 23rd Jan 1891]. (The Argus Bicycle Club had its own Gazette, at least between 1890 and 1892 [Held at the British Library, http://explore.bl.uk/BLVU1:LSCOP-ALL:BLL01002219547], so it’s likely he edited that.) At the Bohemian Concerts, meanwhile, he’s to be found taking part in a series of “amusing farces”: “In Possession” in January 1897 [The Kentish Mercury, 20 Jan 1897], “No. 6 Duke-street” in November the same year [The Kentish Mercury, 19 November 1897, p. 2], and “Tweedleton’s Tail Coat” in February the following year [The Kentish Mercury, 25 February 1898, p. 2]. It’s evident Alexander hadn’t lost his desire to act the clown.

(Alexander didn’t write these. They’re by Martin Becher, 1870, Becher again, 1871, and Thomas John Williams, 1866, respectively.)

What’s notable about that last performance is its actors include a married couple, Mr & Mrs A Lindsay, for by this time Alexander was married. His wife was Florence Lucy Peacock, born on the 25th January 1872 in the spa town of Bath, Somerset. Her mother died the same year Florence was born, and at some point her father, a draper, moved to Greenwich, where he opened a successful business, becoming Hosier for the Navy [1881 UK Census, for 3 Ashburnham Grove, Greenwich]. Florence and Alexander married at St John’s Baptist Church, Leytonstone, nine miles (and across the Thames) from Lewisham, on the 16th December 1895.

Both were, it seems, enthusiastic cyclists, as, when Alexander swapped the Argus Bicycle Club for the (presumably more local) Lewisham Cycle Club, both he and his wife were elected captains. [The Kentish Mercury, 18 January 1901, p. 2, and 8 February 1901, p. 2]

By this time (1901), he and his wife were living at 6 Radford Road, Hither Green (less than a mile and a half from his family at Blackheath Rise). Alexander was now a “marine insurance industrial agent”, which meant he’d left being a desk-bound clerk and was taking a more active role, talking to potential clients and customers, trying to get them to take up his company’s insurance. His salary at the time was £160 a year [The Birmingham Mail, 21 Dec 1904] (the equivalent of £19,300 in 2018), but he wanted to better himself.

His plan was to move to Birmingham and set himself up as an independent insurance agent, thinking this way he’d earn more [The Birmingham Mail, 21 Dec 1904]. In May 1901, he placed an advert in The Kentish Mercury, selling the freehold of 6 Radford Road. [The Kentish Mercury, 17 May 1901, p. 8] But by November he’s evidently still in Lewisham, as he’s in court for fare-dodging, trying to pass off an old train ticket as one he’d bought that day. [The Kentish Mercury, 15 Nov 1901]

It’s with his move to Birmingham, though, that his troubles really start. He fails to make even half his previous salary [The Birmingham Mail, 21 Dec 1904]. Then, he’s approached by a small group of men looking for someone to front an operation for them. They need someone to form a company and act as its secretary and promotor (selling shares), and Alexander leaps at the opportunity, as it not only comes with a salary (which, he later says, he was never paid), but with shares, meaning there’s a chance of earning more. [The Birmingham Mail, 21 Dec 1904]

Things do not work out. I’ve covered this in more detail in a separate article (Alexander Lindsay in the Midlands), but the upshot is, in October 1904, Alexander is declared bankrupt [The London Gazette, 4 Oct 1904]. Having taken financial responsibility for a furniture-maker’s, Fane and Miller, in the interval before it’s made a limited liability company, Alexander is caught out when it fails and he’s responsible for over £500 of debts [The Birmingham Mail, 24 Nov 1904] (close to three times his annual salary when he was in Lewisham). At the time, his assets came to a mere £1 18s, so he’s declared bankrupt. To make things worse, at the bankruptcy hearings that follow, it starts to sound as though he was set up as a front (and fall-guy) for a group of businessmen (which seems to have included the later-to-be science fiction writer Sydney Fowler Wright, then an accountant) who intentionally bought up failing companies, set them up as limited liability companies, and made what they could out of the assets when the companies failed. Alexander was just a pawn in their game, and an unlucky one. [The Birmingham Daily Gazette, 23 Feb 1905]

What happened following his bankruptcy isn’t clear. Sellin [Bernard Sellin, The Life & Works of David Lindsay, p. 14] says Alexander went overseas for a while, and though I can’t find him on any outgoing or incoming passenger lists at this time (and though this is also an excuse a character in his 1913 novel The Alias gives for spending time in jail for bankruptcy [The Alias, p. 5]), it’s likely he did spend time abroad. In his novels, going abroad is often a way for his hard-done-by heroes to earn their fortune, but this doesn’t seem to have been the case for Alexander.

Alexander's signature from the 1911 Census

Two things certainly do occur between his 1904 bankruptcy and the 1911 UK Census, where Alexander can be found back in Lewisham, living in a 2-room apartment on Cressingham Road [1911 UK Census for 28 Cressingham Road, Lewisham]. One is that his marriage seems to be over. His wife isn’t living with him, but at the Northern Fever Hospital in Winchmore Hill, Southgate, where she’s a servant engaged in needlework [1911 UK Census]. She would stay there at least until 1925 [1925 Electoral Roll, Parish of Southgate, p. 83], and eventually move to Southend-on-Sea, living with two other women of her age [1939 Register, 51 Boston Avenue, Southend-on-Sea]. She died there in 1961, aged 89.

The other thing that has changed is that Alexander Lindsay is now earning a living as a writer. Between 1911 and 1915 he published four novels, two additional serialised novels, and just under a dozen short stories, as “Alexander Crawford”. The name “Crawford” has a long association with that of Lindsay, since a Sir David Lindsay (c.1360–1407) was made 1st Earl of Crawford in 1398. Since then the title has remained in the Lindsay line (in Alexander’s day, it was mostly held by James Ludovic Lindsay, and before him by Alexander William Crawford Lindsay). This, then, makes it sound as though Alexander wasn’t trying too hard to hide his identity, an idea confirmed by the fact that, when each of his new novels came out, they were touted in his old school magazine, The Colfeian, which always gave his name as “Alexander Crawford (Lindsay) (1880-5)” (those being the years he attended the school). [For instance, The Colfeian, June 1911, p. 73]

Unlike his brother, Alexander seems to have taken a very businesslike approach to his writing. He got himself an agent [A.P. Watt Records, 1887-1982, http://www2.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/a/A.P.Watt.html]A P Watt, “the oldest literary agency in the world” — wrote the sort of thing the market wanted, and kept producing it at a good rate. (It’s likely he knew a bit more about the world of magazine and newspaper publication, as he seems to have worked for a time as a journalist, too [Pick, The Strange Genius of David Lindsay, p. 7]. But it’s also likely that the sort of thing the market wanted was the sort of thing Alexander liked to write, anyway.) All four of his novels were published by the Edinburgh and London-based publisher William Blackwood & Sons.

Kapak, published in 1911, is named after one of its characters, Prince Kapak, the modern-day ruler of an Incan people seeking to return them to their former glory and revenge himself on the Spanish. To start things off, he needs money and involves our hero, Arthur Greville, in some sort of financial shenanigans to get it. The Globe, in their review, call the novel “an extravagant jumble of finance, of adventure on the Pacific coast, of intrigue, and villainy.” [The Globe, 9 Jun 1911, p. 7]

Monsieur Carnifex, from 1912, is set in the Balkans, and involves the machinations of two pretenders to the throne of Phracia, one backed by Russia, the other by Austria. Most of the plot involves the search for a princess vital to gaining the throne, Elizabeth Petrovic, who is, of course, in love with neither of the pretenders, but an Englishman, Geoffrey Wynn. “There is,” The Globe say in their review, “an agreeable wreck and lifeboat adventure, some amusing dialogue but not enough of it, a neat duello... Indeed, what little comedy there is prompts a suspicion that Mr Crawford has not yet found his true métier.” [The Globe, 25 Oct 1912, p. 7]

The Alias by Alexander Crawford, 1914 Shilling Edition

The Alias, published in 1913, is mostly set in London. Its hero, Neil Wishart, is an unfairly disgraced gentleman trying (and failing) to make a living as an insurance agent. He and the heroine, Ann Bevington, fall in love whilst staying at the same boarding house, Ann being there because her father, Edward, is in prison for bankruptcy. Edward is released from prison and sees Neil as the perfect front for his latest business scheme (as a bankrupt, he can’t run the business himself), but his methods are questionable — Edward, and his wily accountant Maplin, endeavour to make money from bankrupting other companies. It all reads very much like Alexander’s own experiences in Birmingham. (I’ve reviewed the novel in full elsewhere on this site.)

Outside the Law, from 1914, features a Socialist MP, Lisle Torrance, who starts to wish he could swap his somewhat timid wife, Jessie, for the more socially-adept and beautiful young widow Biddy Brangwyn. Meanwhile Jessie’s erstwhile beau, the formerly penniless Matthew Drescott, returns from South Africa having made his fortune. There’s a murder plot, a car crash, “deception, divorce, and a grand political betrayal”, all adding up to “a sound story, well told, about people who seem more real than a good many living folk appear to be,” as The Times review has it. [The Times, 16 Mar 1916, p. 6]

Also out in 1914, serialised in The Daily Mirror, was The Husband She Bought, “The story of a woman’s sincerity,” in which Geoffrey Haselour tries to rescue his father, Lord Sangestre, from financial difficulties, by marrying Muriel Wane, daughter of a wealthy contractor. The trouble is, Geoffrey and Muriel are each in love with someone else. [The Daily Mirror, 24 April 1914, p. 11]

In 1915, a final serial, Just Like Other Men, was published, again in The Daily Mirror. In this story, Lionel Craven tries to both win the hand of Jean Delaval, and to make his fortune in the cotton industry, to start which he must first beg a loan from his half-brother, Ashley Creswick — unaware that this same half-brother cheated him out of his inheritance years before. Only one person knows about this cheating, a bedridden Scottish laird called... Delaval. [The Daily Mirror, 19 Jan 1915, p. 11]

Header from Just Like Other Men, in The Daily Mail, 10th Jan 1915, p. 11

“Alexander Crawford” got generally positive, and often enthusiastic, reviews. What he was writing was basically melodrama, a sort of fairy tale in which virtue is rewarded by riches and love, but in which the central couple have to go through sensational adventures and moral temptations on the way. It was, evidently, the sort of thing the reading public wanted — certainly a wider reading public than would respond to David Lindsay’s The Haunted Woman, in which a couple are brought together by a shared and never fully-understood supernatural experience, and end up being separated forever by tragedy.

Times review (scan)
Review from The Times for Outside The Law by Alexander Crawford, 16th March 1914 (click image for the full review)

Alexander’s writing career kicked off, then, in 1911. By 1912, though, he was beginning to suffer from the condition that would end it, and his life, three years later. On his death certificate the cause is noted as three years of chronic splenic anaemia, along with asthenia (chronic tiredness, likely a result of the former condition). Splenic anaemia seems to be associated with an enlargement of the spleen, and with a greenish discolouration of the skin, as well as internal bleeding and a compromised immune system response. One possible cause, apparently, is a parasitic infection such as malaria, which means Alexander may have caught the condition overseas, though it’s impossible to be sure.

Alexander was at his old family home in Blackheath Rise when he died, aged 46, on a Saturday, 4th September 1915, in the presence of his brother. His death was certified by Dr Alfred Featherstone Kellett (1866–1925), who lived in Granville Park, Blackheath [UK Medical Directory 1915, p. 227], just round the corner from Alexander’s apartment on Cressingham Road, so it’s possible he’d been treating Alexander for his condition beforehand.

The Daily Mirror, which ran Alexander Crawford’s last two serials, printed an obituary (with no hint the name was a pseudonym), which included something about his character:

Crawford was a man of level temperament and charming personality, and he had a turn of wit which he showed sometimes in the humorous short stories he contributed to the magazines. He was fond of travel, and especially the sea. Though he had always cherished literary aspirations, he did not turn seriously to literary work till five years ago. All his work was marked by the sincerity, strength and sympathy of the man himself.

— “Novelist’s Untimely Death”, The Daily Mirror, 9th September 1915, p. 10
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It’s obvious from this there was more to Alexander Lindsay than the “hard-living journalist” mentioned by J B Pick. Certainly, in his life, there were misfortunes and mis-steps, including a broken marriage and a failed attempt to better himself financially, but Alexander seems to have been a more exuberant, outgoing personality than his brother, and this difference may have coloured the picture painted of him in the biographies.

At his school prize-giving, we see Alexander winning a prize in French and exuberantly acting out scenes from a Molière comedy; later, there’s sporty cycling, “Smoking Concerts” and amateur farces. Alexander didn’t settle in one job, but restlessly sought to better himself, moving to other parts of the country and even abroad, changing career from clerk to insurance agent to journalist to writer. When he wrote, he favoured comic tales and worldly but fairy-tale-like melodramas.

David, on his school prize-giving, gets prizes or commendations in general work, mathematics, French, maps, writing, and English literature [The Kentish Mercury, 21 June 1896, p. 5] — he’s far more the serious student. For him, later, there’s not cycling and amateur theatricals but chess. (The Argus Bicycle Club did put together a chess team, of which Alexander was a member, but it didn’t get far in local competitions.) And unlike Alexander, he pretty much stuck to the career he started in till war, marriage, and the death of his brother added up to enough impetus to change. After which, even when authorship didn’t work out financially, he still stuck to it. In contrast to his brother’s comic stories and popular novels, he wrote weightier, more tragically-minded works.

It seems clear that, in basic terms, Alexander was an extravert, David an introvert; Alexander wasn’t averse to risk and the bending of rules, while David stuck to one safe path, even when he might have longed to be elsewhere (not a clerk but a writer, for instance), and because of this fundamental difference in character they may simply have not found much in common.

But there were, still, similarities. Both took their enthusiasms seriously — Alexander being a steward at the Argus Bicycle Club’s “At Homes”, meaning he wasn’t just having fun, while David became secretary of the Lewisham Chess Club — and both became writers. I’d love to know what David made of his brother’s novels, and whether there’s any influence there (the beautiful young widow Biddy Brangwyn of Outside the Law, for instance, might recall the beautiful young widow Celia Hantish of Sphinx).

Alexander “Crawford” Lindsay (as his gravestone has it) was buried in the same plot as his uncle Theodore Couchman, and where he’d later share a monument with his mother Bessy and aunt Mildred Couchman. His inscription includes a quote from Shelley on the death of Keats [from “Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep” by Percy Bysshe Shelley]:

“He is not dead, he doth not sleep, he hath awakened from the dream of life.”

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More information about Alexander Crawford can be found in Douglas A Anderson’s article, “Resurrecting Alexander Crawford” in Wormwood #11 (Autumn 2008), which also reprints a story by Crawford, “The Experiment”. Wormwood is available from Tartarus Press.

I review Alexander Crawford’s The Alias on this site.

If you’re interested in sampling Crawford’s work, I’ve uploaded a PDF of The Alias to Archive.org.

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© Murray Ewing 2020