Tom Stoppard

1937 (Zlín, Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic) –

Stoppard’s writing for stage, screen and radio is known for its intellectual and verbal game-playing; not always acknowledged is its humanitarian heart. Among friends, Pinter wrote to arrange cricket-matches, Spielberg called to ask his opinion on scripts while he was showering, Havel (already admired) was immediately loved, while Sondheim noted his lack of malice and habit of spreading cheer. Stoppard wrote together with Gilliam, fixed a script for Losey, and told Fassbinder a sprightlier pace was needed. Projects with Jagger and Bowie seemingly never took off, while his meeting in Prague with Reed (something of a hero) left him tongue-tied.

Tom Stoppard knew…

William Butler Yeats

W. B. Yeats

1865 (Sandymount, Ireland) – 1939 (Menton, France)

Yeats was hugely influential on the Irish literary revival (along with O’Casey and Synge) and on a number of 20th-century poets, including Pound, who acted as his secretary and taught him fencing. He helped found and run the Abbey Theatre, his close friend Synge also involved. He had known Morris, was astonished at Wilde’s perfectly-formed spoken sentences, was a friend to Masefield and Chesterton, and corresponded with notables from Shaw to Betjeman and Eliot to Lutyens. He told Woolf that he and de la Mare composed thumbnail poems; and successfully kicked the marauding Crowley out of the Isis Urania temple.

William Butler Yeats knew…

Alexandre Dumas, père

Alexandre Dumas

1802 (Villers-Cotterêts, France) – 1870 (Puys)

Châteaubriand was a witness at Dumas’ wedding. He frequented Nodier’s salon de l’Arsenal, along with Hugo, Vigny, Stendhal, Gautier, Lamartine, and Berlioz. Heine, Nadar, Chopin, Nerval, Delacroix and Sand were also among his Paris friends. Andersen, when he visited Paris, diligently sought him out. Hugo, who had a mixture of affection and irritation for Dumas, contributed to the journal he founded, and Dumas dedicated a play to him. Hugo, in political exile in Brussels, visited Dumas, in exile from his debts.

Richard Brinsley Sheridan

1751 (Dublin) – 1816 (London)

Reynolds and Sheridan were close friends, and fellow-members of Johnson’s literary club (Johnson’s pension was partly due to Sheridan’s father’s intervention); as a frequent absentee, Sheridan often had fines to pay. Sheridan bought out the aging Garrick’s stake in the Theatre Royal, and took over its management from him (Garrick had earlier turned down his first play). He rewrote a part for Kelly, supported his friend Godwin by staging his radical work, encouraged Burney, paying her elaborate compliments, and befriended the young Byron, who was devoted to him, even when Sheridan was drunk and insensible.

Théodore de Banville

1823 (Moulins, France) – 1891 (Paris)

Edmond de Goncourt was met at school, aged 11, and Baudelaire at 18 (their long close friendship surviving a 3-year break as they quarreled over an actress). Younger poets revered Banville and were keenly supported, including Mallarmé, Verlaine (who called him his dear master), and Rimbaud (who as an unknown 16-year-old sent him some poems, and became both friend and lodger). Hugo showered praise on Banville, Vigny was both friend and admirer, Gautier encouraged him (and died the day after Banville’s last visit). Nadar and Murger (who collaborated with Banville on a novel) were among a gang of fast friends.

Théodore de Banville knew…

Louis MacNeice

1907 (Belfast) – 1963 (London)

Auden (particularly close, an inspiration and later collaborator), Spender and Day Lewis were friends from university, though the four were never the tight-knit group of popular imagination. Betjeman and MacNeice (and Anthony Blunt) had co-edited a school magazine. Eliot published him, Priestley sold a house to him, and Britten composed music for him. Thomas was a BBC colleague and drinking-partner. He befriended Berryman (who wrote an elegy after his death) on a transatlantic liner, and Leigh Fermor in Athens, and bravely asked Yeats if he’d ever seen the mysterious spirits his wife claimed to get messages from.

William Congreve

1670 (Bardsey, England) – 1729 (London)

Congreve (the dramatist, not the similarly-named inventor) met Swift when both were students in Dublin, and stayed friends for life. He was Dryden’s protégé as well as friend, and also enjoyed friendships with Voltaire (a great admirer, though surprised at Congreve’s misplaced vanity), Gay (to whom Congreve was unfailingly kind), and the young Pope. Vanbrugh (who like Congreve withdrew relatively young from the theatre) was a fellow-member of Tonson’s Kit-Cat Club, as were Addison and Steele. Montagu as a child was also brought along to the club by her father, and became particularly fond of the notably witty Congreve.

W. H. Auden

Wystan Hugh Auden

1907 (York, England) – 1973 (Vienna)

Isherwood (first met at at school, when Auden was eleven) was a long-time friend and collaborator, and his lover when they emigrated to the U.S. MacNeice and Eliot helped him get work published; Spender, Day-Lewis, Ashbery and Schuyler were among other poet friends. Britten, Bowles, McCullers, Mann (and Gipsy Rose Lee) were all co-tenants with Auden of a house in Brooklyn, and Arendt (who took his photo) part of a wider circle of friends. He wrote or co-wrote libretti for Stravinsky, Britten and Henze, and corresponded at length with Tolkien.

Victor Hugo

1802 (Besançon, France) – 1885 (Paris)

Heine, Delacroix and Hugo frequented the same literary/artistic salons. Berlioz became a friend after reading ‘Notre-Dame de Paris’ and writing to him. Hugo contributed to Dumas’ journal; Dumas dedicated a play to him. He encouraged Gautier (introduced by Nerval) to write. Sainte-Beuve, a friend, cuckolded him. Andersen, never close, visited him across thirty years; with Balzac too the relationship was of mutual respect, Hugo visiting Balzac on his deathbed. His badly cooked macaroni led Mérimée to invite him home and show him how it should really be done. Nadar, a friend for many years, visited him as he lay dying.

T. S. Eliot

Thomas Stearns Eliot

1888 (St. Louis, Mo.) – 1965 (London)

Russell taught Eliot, became a close friend, and seemingly slept with his wife. Pound helped get his early work published, named him “Old Possum”, and was ‘The Waste Land’s dedicatee. Woolf published his second book and recognised that his poetry came out of his torments. The young Betjeman was one of his pupils. Alain-Fournier taught him French, Stravinsky was a friend and collaborator, and Lewis, his stern critic, ended up a friend. Marx visited Eliot in London, and Lowell described him “dashingly dancing.” Eliot published Auden, Spender, MacNeice and Muir, but turned down a long poem by MacDiarmid as uncommercial.