James Agate: Wikis


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James Evershed Agate (September 9, 1877 – June 6, 1947) was a British diarist and critic, and a notable collector of aphorisms. In the period between the wars, he was one of Britain's most popular theatre critics. He was on the staff of Manchester Guardian (1907-14); drama critic for Saturday Review (1921-23), and the Sunday Times (1923-47).[1]


Life and writings

He was born on 9 September 1877, to Charles James Agate, a wholesale linen draper, and Eulalie Julia Young in Pendleton, near Manchester, England. His father had a keen interest in, and connections to, music and the theatre. Gustave Garcia, nephew to the prima donna Maria Malibran, was Charles' lifelong friend since they were apprenticed together in the cotton warehouse. Agate's mother was educated in Paris and Heidelberg, and was an accomplished pianist. [2] Through James's family connections to the active German artistic community in Manchester, he had much exposure to performance in his youth. In October 1912, Sarah Bernhardt visited the Agate home, an indication of the Agate family's position in the local arts scene.[3]

He volunteered in May 1915 at the age of thirty-seven for the Army Service Corps, after hearing the band of the Irish Guards playing in Trafalgar Square. He was sent to Provence. Agate had an arrangement to supply a series of open letters about his wartime experiences to Allan Monkhouse at the Manchester Guardian. These were published in his first book, L. of C. His fluency in French and knowledge of horses landed him a job as a fantastically successful hay procurer (described in the first volume of his Ego) and his system of accounting for hay purchases in a foreign land in wartime was eventually recognized by the War Office and made into an official handbook. Captain Agate's name was engraved on the Chapel-en-le-Frith War Memorial in Derbyshire.

A cricket fan, owner of Hackney show horses, and an avid golfer, Agate reached prominence as a critic for The Sunday Times from 1923 until his death. He published his diaries between 1935 and his death in a series of volumes entitled Ego, Ego 2, Ego 3, etc which are an incomparable record of theatrical gossip of the period. Historian Jacques Barzun, a fan of Agate and editor of a reissue of the last two volumes of Agate's Ego series,[4] highlighted Agate in 2001[5], which rekindled the interest of a new generation:

"When in 1932 he [Agate] decided to start a diary, he resolved to depict his life entire, which meant giving a place not solely to his daily thoughts and occupations but also to his talk and correspondence with others, including his brothers and sister, no less singular than himself. The resulting narrative, with fragments of hilarious mock-fiction, ranks with Pepys's diary for vividness of characterization and fullness of historical detail".

Alistair Cooke was another admirer of Agate, and devoted one of his "Letters from America" to the "Supreme Diarist."[6]

Agate had a series of secretaries, of whom Alan Dent (Jock), who served for fourteen years, was later the most prominent. Dent arrived on Agate's doorstep in September, 1926:

"He announced that his name was Alan Dent, that he resided at some absurd place near Ayr, that he had received university education, hated medicine and refused to be a doctor, that he admired my work, intended to be my secretary willy-nilly, and had walked from Scotland for that purpose. I looked at his boots and knew the last statement to be merely ad captandum and with intent to mollify."

(From Ego [1], Page 91.)

Agate's style in the diary entries that constitute the nine volumes of "Ego" is delightfully discursive. Anecdotes of the day's news, excerpts from his voluminous correspondence with readers of his reviews and books, frank and often amusing ruminations on his health (he was a hypochondriac and obsessive-compulsive) and poor financial state abound. Many of his diary entries mention his good friend Herbert Van Thal. He's excellent on recurring themes around Malibran, Sarah Bernhardt, Réjane, Rachel, the Dreyfus Affair, Shakespeare, and Dickens. He adapted a short-lived and unsuccessful German play entitled I Accuse! from the German of Dr. Hans Rehfisch and Wilhelm Herzog; it opened and closed, in London, in 1937.[7]

His theatrical notices were published in a series of collections including Buzz, Buzz!, Playgoing, First Nights, More First Nights, etc., and are invaluable for their history of London theatre between the world wars. His anthology The English Dramatic Critics, 1660-1932 is important. He wrote an excellent biography of the French actress Rachel, a heroine of his. Arnold Bennett called it an "excited and exciting biography" and "beyond question the best life in English" of the subject.[8]


L. of C.: [Lines of Communication]. Constable, 1917
Buzz, Buzz! Essays of the Theatre. Collins, 1918
Responsibility. Grant Richards, 1919/Hutchinson, 1943
Alarums and Excursions. Grant Richards, 1922
At Half Past Eight. Jonathan Cape, 1923
Fantasies and Impromptus. Collins, 1923
On An English Screen. John Lane The Bodley Head, 1924
White Horse and Red Lion. Collins, 1924
The Contemporary Theatre, 1923. Chapman and Hall, 1924
Blessed Are The Rich. Leonard Parsons, 1924/Hutchinson, 1944
Agate's Folly. Chapman and Hall, 1925
The Contemporary Theatre, 1924. Chapman and Hall, 1925
The Contemporary Theatre, 1925. Chapman and Hall, 1926
The Common Touch. Chapman and Hall, 1926
Essays of Today and Yesterday. James Agate. Harrap, 1926
A Short View of The English Stage, 1900-1926. Herbert Jenkins, 1926
Playgoing. Jarrolds, 1927
The Contemporary Theatre, 1926. Chapman and Hall, 1927
Rachel. Gerald Howe,London; Viking Press, NY 1928
Gemel In London. Chapman and Hall, 1928/Hutchinson, 1945
Their Hour Upon The Stage. Mandarin Press, Cambridge, 1930
The English Dramatic Critics, 1660-1932. Arthur Barker, 1932
My Theatre Talks. Arthur Barker, 1933
First Nights. Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934
Ego. Hamish Hamilton, 1935

Kingdoms For Horses. Gollancz, 1936
Ego 2. Being More of the Autobiography of James Agate. London, Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1936
More First Nights. Gollancz, 1937
Bad Manners. John Mills, 1938
Ego 3. Harrap, 1938
The Amazing Theatre. Harrap, 1939
Speak For England. Hutchinson, 1939
Ego 4. Yet More of the Autobiography of James Agate. London, George C. Harrap & Co. Ltd, 1940
Express and Admirable. Hutchinson, 1941
Thursdays and Fridays. Hutchinson, 1941
Ego 5. Again More of the Autobiography of James Agate. Harrap, 1942
Here's Richness! An Anthology of and By James Agate. Foreword by Sir Osbert Sitwell. Harrap, 1942
Brief Chronicles. Jonathan Cape, 1943
These Were Actors. Extracts from a Newspaper Cutting Book, 1811-1833. Hutchinson, 1943
Ego 6. Harrap, 1944
Red Letter Nights. Jonathan Cape, 1944
Noblesse Oblige. Home and Van Thal, 1944
Ego 7. Harrap, 1945
Immoment Toys: A Survey of Light Entertainment on the London Stage, 1920-1943. Jonathan Cape, 1945
The Contemporary Theatre, 1944 and 1945. Harrap, 1946
Around Cinemas. Home and Van Thal, 1946
A Shorter Ego. Volume One. Harrap, 1946
A Shorter Ego. Volume Two. Harrap, 1946
Thus To Revisit. Home and Van Thal, 1947
Ego 8. Harrap, 1947
Oscar Wilde and The Theatre. Curtain Press, 1947
Those Were The Nights. Hutchinson, 1947
Around Cinemas, Second Series. Home and Van Thal, 1948
Ego 9. Harrap, 1948
Words I Have Lived With. A Personal Choice. Hutchinson, 1949
A Shorter Ego. Volume Three. Harrap, 1949


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster's Biographical Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 1995
  2. ^ Van Thal, Herbert (ed.) (1961) James Agate, an Anthology; introduction by Alan Dent, New York, Hill and Wang
  3. ^ Harding, James (1986) Agate: a Biography London: Methuen
  4. ^ The Later Ego, Consisting of Ego 8 and Ego 9, Jacques Barzun, ed., New York, Crown Publishers, 1951
  5. ^ From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present, Jacques Barzun, Harper Perennial, 2001.
  6. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/letter_from_america/986430.stm. See also http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/letter_from_america/1638710.stm
  7. ^ Anonymous, "London Sees 'I ACCUSE'; Play Concerning Dreyfus Case Presented at Q Theatre", New York Times, October 26, 1937
  8. ^ Harding

Further reading

  • Agate, James (1976). Beaumont, Tim. ed. The Selective Ego.   (a condensed version of Agate's nine-volume diaries)
  • Stern, Keith (2009), "James Agate", Queers in History, BenBella Books, Inc.; Dallas, Texas, ISBN 978-1933771-87-8  


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

James Evershed Agate (1877-09-091947-06-06) was an English drama critic and diarist. He is now best remembered for his diaries, published in many volumes under the overall title Ego.


  • Your Englishman, confronted by something abnormal will always pretend that it isn't there. If he can't pretend that, he will look through the object, or round it, or above it or below it, or in any direction except into it. If, however, you force him to look into it, he will at once pretend that he sees the object not for what it is but for something that he would like it to be.
  • Shaw's plays are the price we pay for Shaw’s prefaces.
  • A professional is a man who can do his job when he doesn't feel like it; an amateur is one who can't when he does feel like it.
  • Perhaps, after all, there is something in the theory that only the ultra-busy can find time for everything.
  • The maddest phenomenon in this wholly mad world – that the filming or wirelessing of an event, whether it is the Grand National or an attack in force on the Maginot Line, is held to be of more importance than the event itself.
  • I don't know very much but what I do know I know better than anybody, and I don't want to argue about it…My mind is not a bed to be made and re-made.
  • The producer. This is a person engaged by the management to conceal the fact that the players cannot act.

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