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Sir Osbert Sitwell
Born Sir Francis Osbert Sachverell Sitwell
6 December 1892(1892-12-06)
London,  United Kingdom
Died 4 May 1969 (aged 76)
near Florence, Italy
Occupation Writer
Writing period 1919-1962
Domestic partner(s) David Horner
Relative(s) George Sitwell (father)
Edith Sitwell (sister)
Sacheverell Sitwell (brother)

Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, 5th Baronet, (6 December 1892–4 May 1969) was an English writer. His elder sister was Dame Edith Louisa Sitwell and his younger brother was Sir Sacheverell Sitwell; like them he devoted his life to art and literature.


Early life

He was born on 6 December 1892 at 3 Arlington Street, London. His parents were Sir George Reresby Sitwell, fourth baronet, genealogist and antiquarian, and Lady Ida Emily Augusta (née Denison). He grew up in the family seat at Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, and at Scarborough, and went to Ludgrove School, then Eton College from 1906 to 1909. For many years his entry in Who's Who contained the phrase "Educated during the holidays from Eton." In 1911 he joined the Sherwood Rangers but, not cut out to be a cavalry officer, transferred to the Grenadier Guards at the Tower of London from where, in his off-duty time, he could frequent theatres, art galleries and the like.



Late in 1914 this civilised life was exchanged for the trenches of France near Ypres. It was here that he wrote his first poetry, describing it as "Some instinct, and a combination of feelings not hitherto experienced united to drive me to paper". "Babel" was published in The Times on 11 May 1916. In the same year, he began literary collaborations and anthologies with his brother and sister as a literary clique generally called the Sitwells.

Writing career

In 1918 he left the Army with the rank of Captain and devoted himself to poetry, art criticism and controversial journalism. Together with his brother, he sponsored a controversial exhibition of works by Matisse, Utrillo, Picasso and Modigliani. The composer William Walton also greatly benefited from Osbert's largesse (though the two men afterwards fell out) and Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's Feast was written to Osbert's libretto. He published two books of poems: Argonaut and Juggernaut (1919) and At the House of Mrs Kinfoot (1921). In the mid-1920s he met David Horner who was his lover and companion for most of his life.[1]


Osbert Sitwell's first work of fiction, Triple Fugue, was published in 1924, and visits to Italy and Germany produced Discursions on Travel, Art and Life (1925). His first novel, Before the Bombardment (1926) was well reviewed, but the following ones, The Man Who Lost Himself (1929), Miracle on Sinai (1934) and Those Were the Days (1937) were not. A collection of short stories Open the Door (1940), his fifth novel A Place of One's Own (1940), his Selected Poems (1943) and a book of essays Sing High, Sing Low (1944) were reasonably well received.

The sometimes acidic diarist James Agate commented on Sitwell after a drinking session on June 3, 1932, in Ego, volume 1:

"There is something self-satisfied and having-to-do-with-the-Bourbons about him which is annoying, though there is also something of the crowned-head consciousness which is disarming".

Life after the baronetcy

When his father died in 1943, and he succeeded to the baronetcy, he started an autobiography that would run to five volumes. The first volume, Left Hand, Right Hand proved to be his best work to date. The subsequent volumes were The Scarlet Tree (1946), Great Morning (1948), Laughter in the Next Room (1949) and Noble Essences: a Book of Characters (1950).

Sitwell, as his autobiography bears out, was familiar with almost everyone 'in society', and was a friend of Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI. At the time of the abdication of King Edward VIII he wrote a poem, 'Rat Week', attacking those 'friends' of the King who deserted him when his alliance with Mrs Simpson became common knowledge in England. This was published anonymously, and caused some scandal. (The manuscript is in the library of Eton College). Sitwell campaigned for the preservation of Georgian buildings and was responsible for saving Sutton Scarsdale Hall, now owned by English Heritage. He was an early and active member of the Georgian Group. He also had an interest in the paranormal, for which reason he joined the Ghost Club, at the time being revamped as a dinner society dedicated to discussing paranormal occurrences and topics. His London home was in Carlyle Square, Chelsea.

He received many awards in the 1950s and in 1962 completed a postscript to his autobiographies Tales my Father Taught Me. His last book, Pound Wise, was published the following year.


Sitwell suffered from Parkinson's disease for several years. He died on 4 May 1969 in Italy, at Montegufoni, a castle near Florence which his father had bought derelict in 1909 and restored as his personal residence.


  1. ^ Pearson, John (1978), Façades: Edith, Osbert, and Sacheverell Sitwell, Macmillan  

External links

Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Sitwell
(of Renishaw, Derbyshire)
Succeeded by
Sacheverell Sitwell


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Sir Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell, Bt. (1892-12-061969-05-04) was an English poet, novelist, memoirist and controversialist on behalf of the arts. Osbert Sitwell, his brother Sacheverell and his sister Edith were among the most conspicuous figures in the British artistic world of the 1920s and 1930s.


  • The British bourgeoisie
    Is not born
    And does not die,
    But, if it is ill,
    It has a frightened look in its eyes.
    • "At the House of Mrs. Kinfoot", line 49 (1919)
  • Heroic figures are now obsolete,
    So Demigod and Devil find retreat
    In minds of children — as rare beasts and men,
    Elsewhere extinct, persist in hill or fen
    From man protected — where each form assumes
    Gigantic stature and intention, looms
    From wind-moved, twilight-woven histories:
    For them each flower teems with mysteries.
    • "When First the Poets Sung", line 34 (1927)
  • For Poetry is the wisdom of the blood,
    That scarlet tree within, which has the power
    To make dull words bud forth and burst in flower.
    • "When First the Poets Sung", line 47
    • These lines were repeatedly drawn on by Sitwell in his later works.
  • Educ[ated]: during the holidays from Eton.
  • How simple-minded of the Germans to imagine that we British could be cowed by the destruction of our ancient monuments! As though any havoc of the German bombs could possibly equal the things we have done ourselves!
    • Quoted by George Orwell in Tribune, December 31, 1943.
    • Referring to the Baedeker Blitz: a series of German air raids on English cities of historic and architectural interest.
  • Everywhere men have unlocked the prisoners within, and from under the disguising skins the apes have leapt joyfully out.
    • Left Hand, Right Hand!, Introduction (1945)
  • They loved him, I think, because, with all his merits, he showed them to be rich: looking at his portraits, they understood at last how rich they really were.
    • Left Hand, Right Hand!, Bk. II, ch. 6
    • Of the portrait-painter John Singer Sargent's relationship with his clients.
  • The Rich Man's Banquet, which was to last for a decade, had now begun: the feast, it was recognised, went to the greediest.
  • Hell has a climate, but no situation. It lies in the spirit, and not in space.
    • The Scarlet Tree, Bk. IV, ch. 1 (1946)
  • The artist, like the idiot or clown, sits on the edge of the world, and a push may send him over it.
    • The Scarlet Tree, Bk. IV, ch. 2
  • The only difference between an artist and a lunatic is, perhaps, that the artist has the restraint or courtesy…to conceal the intensity of his obsession from all except those similarly afflicted.
    • Noble Essences, Bk. IX, ch. 7 (1950)

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