Francis Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell
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About Sir Osbert Sitwell, 5th Baronet
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.
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 "Educ: 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.
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.
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. His "The Four Continents" (1951)is a book of travel, reminiscence and memorable observation.
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. Pound Wise, a collection of essays is copyright 1949.
He received many awards in the 1950s and in 1962 completed a postscript to his autobiographies Tales my Father Taught Me.
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.