Forrest Reid was born on (Saturday, as it happens) June 24, 1876, at 20 Mount Charles, Belfast it was (still is) a ‘private road’, a volume of Reid’s autobiography is entitled Private Road (the other being Apostate). Reid’s father died when he was a child. He had invested in foolish speculation, and his death left the family in dire straits. His mother, an Englishwoman with exotic, aristocratic ancestors, including Katherine Parr, Henry VIII’s last wife, refused to ‘down-size’ and the family survived on a very basic diet – mostly rice pudding
Reid attended Belfast’s ‘Inst’ (the Royal Belfast Academical Institute) and was a good student – particularly of English, but he went to work in Musgrave’stea firm – the Musgrave family were entrepreneurs – the greater part of their fortune being made in metal industrial and domestic heating devices.
Reid’s frugality may be a reason why he was able to attend Christ’s Church College in Cambridge in 1905. He was, at 29, a ‘mature student, of ancient (Greek) and modern languages. He regarded his sojourn in Cambridge as a “rather blank” period – he had no friends from his sojourn there.
He did meet EM Forster, who became a life-long friend, and whom Reid visited every year. He travelled to England as an (apparently ferociously competitive) croquet player and stayed with Forster in his Cambridge rooms. He must have made the acquaintance of Forster’s circle. Benjamin Britten was part of that circle until his expulsion (BB had made it clear that the composer had the last word on texts to be set. He had been given increasing complex texts by WH Auden in the 1930s and early ’40s. Post Peter Grimes, his first major opera, he felt self confident dealing with authors. Forster became the Great Old Man of English Letters and tried to brow-beat BB, who turned to more amenable librettists).
Reid had a great love of Italian opera and a huge record collection – with which he ‘entertained’ his neighbours in Ormiston Avenue off Castlereagh Road (the Castlereagh Hills were not built over until the 1960s) often late in the evening. Many of Reid’s books are set in the unnamed, but clearly obvious County Down – the county ‘proper’ begins with the Castlereagh Hills. His other favoured landscape was that of Donegal.
Reid produced a critical study of WB Yeats in 1915 (he did not note the Great War in progress at the time – WW2 was beneath his notice too), as was the decade of political violence in Ireland. He produced a book about British book illustrators of the 1870s and a not-very-critical study of Walter de la Mare (now even more thoroughly forgotten than Reid himself).
Reid’s novels have been reprinted by Valancourt Books of Richmond, Virginia over the past decade.
PO Box 17642
Richmond VA [Virginia]