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MS 673

Reference code

MS 673


Brian Howard archive



Administrative / Biographical history

Howard, Brian (1905-1958)

Brian Howard was born in Surrey to Francis Gassaway Howard and Lura Howard, who were both American and of Jewish descent.

He was educated at Eton College where he was one of the founding member of the Eton Arts Society, which also included Harold Acton, Oliver Messel, Anthony Powell and Henry Yorke. In 1923 he went to Christ Church, Oxford, where he was prominent in the group later known as the Oxford Wits, as well one of the Hypocrites group that included Harold Acton, Lord David Cecil, L. P. Hartley and Evelyn Waugh.

Howard had begun writing poetry while at Eton and by the time he went to Oxford he had already been published as a poet, in A.R. Orage's ‘The New Age’, and in Edith Sitwell’s final ‘Wheels’ anthology. Sitwell was a constant admirer of Howard’s poetry and regularly promoted it throughout the 1920s.

When writing Howard would often use the pseudonyms ‘Jasper Proude’ and ‘Charles Orange’ for his poetry and ‘Ian Ward’ for his prose work.

In the late 1920s, he was a key figure among London's ‘Bright Young Things’ - a privileged, fashionable and bohemian set of party-goers, which included Evelyn Waugh, Nancy Mitford, Henry Yorke, Harold Acton, and Nancy Cunard. The group was made famous in such novels as Waugh's ‘Vile Bodies’ (1930), with Howard said to have inspired one of the characters.

In 1929, Howard provided the paintings for the ‘Bruno Hat’ hoax, where the Hon. Mr and Mrs Bryan Guinness promoted a spoof London art exhibition by an apparently unknown German painter Bruno Hat.

Through the 1930s, Howard led an active social life drinking heavily and regularly using drugs.
He continued to write poetry throughout this period and was particularly interested in the Spanish Civil War. However, he did not dedicate himself to his work and only published one substantial poetry collection called ‘God Save the King’ (published in 1930 by Hours Press).
During the Second World War, Howard took part in the Dunkirk evacuation and later worked for MI5, but was dismissed from the War Office in June 1942. He was conscripted to the Royal Air Force and given a low-level clerk's job at Bomber Command, in High Wycombe, but without much success. He was transferred to another posting, before being dismissed in December 1944. By this time he had formed a longstanding relationship with Sam, an Irishman serving in the Air Sea Rescue.

After the war, Howard travelled around Europe with Sam, writing occasional articles and reviews for a number of publications, including the New Statesman. Their indiscreet behaviour caused them to be expelled from Monaco, France, Italy and Spain.

His lifestyle meant that by the 1950s his health was beginning to suffer, and after the accidental death of Sam in January 1958, he committed suicide a few days later by taking an overdose of sedatives.

They were buried alongside each other at Russian Orthodox Cemetery, Nice.



Extent & medium

9 boxes

Content description

The papers span the whole of Howard’s life from his early school days, through to his early death and contain both personal and literary papers.

The letters to his mother and his notebooks and journals are the most complete collections within the papers and offer the best insight into his life. The remaining personal papers consist of letters to his friends and acquaintances and other documents relating to his family. However, the remaining correspondence, in particular, is a fragmented collection, only representing a fraction of what must have been created.

The literary papers cover his varied creative output, from his poetry to his prose. As most of this work remained unpublished it is difficult to establish the completeness of this collection.


The papers were created by Howard during his lifetime. At some point after his death the papers came into the possession of Mrs M.J. Lancaster, presumably by having been given to her by Lura Howard. However the exact circumstances of this acquisition are not known. The nature of the papers and the addition of wider family material suggest that they were collected by Lura Howard after the death of her son Brian.

Associated material

Eton College Library also holds a number of Howard’s published works.

Publication note

‘Brian Howard, Portrait of a Failure’, ed. Marie-Jaqueline Lancaster (Anthony Blond Ltd, London, 1968) is a biography based on Howard’s own unpublished autobiography. It includes lengthy extracts from his journal and letters to his mother, as well as related correspondence not held as part of this collection.
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