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  • Thomas Sturge Moore and His Indian Friendships in London
  • Sumita Mukherjee

Thomas Sturge Moore is perhaps best known for his friendship with William Butler Yeats. Born 4 March 1870, a playwright, critic, editor, art designer and illustrator, Sturge Moore was foremost a prolific writer of poetry, once on the shortlist to be Poet Laureate. For Tagore scholars, he holds huge importance for his role in nominating Rabindranath Tagore to the Nobel Committee and in assisting the publication of various translations of his works. It is his friendships with Yeats and Tagore that opened up almost inevitable connections with other Indians in the early twentieth century, hitherto unexplored relationships between a lapsed Baptist from Hastings and artistic counterparts from the Indian subcontinent. In particular, towards the end of his life, before his death on 18 July 1944, Moore was an influential figure in the life of a young Indian writer, Ranjee G. Shahani, both bonding over literature, philosophy, and France. Shahani, a largely unexamined but prolific writer, lived in Britain and France in the 1930s and 1940s, and during this time he sought the advice and friendship of a number of British writers, including Havelock Ellis, E. M. Forster and Edward Garnett but found perhaps his most fruitful and equal exchange in his collaboration with Thomas Sturge Moore.

Leela Gandhi has effectively written about friendships between certain South Asians and Europeans, connecting through such commonalities as aesthetics, spiritualism and politics across imperial networks, often furthering the cause of anti-imperialism at the end of the nineteenth century.1 Sturge Moore is an example of such a European who found common ground with more than one South Asian. His friendships took place in the early twentieth century yet did not give the impression of political or anti-imperial motive. His exchange with Indians did not come out of a particular professional interest in India either but was indicative of a general openness of mind that allowed for [End Page 64] such dealings to occur without enormous reflection or "Orientalist" projection. His friendships are important as they emphasise that not all Anglo-Indian relations in the interwar period were related to political or anticolonial networks. What is remarkable is that these friendships were unremarkable; that collaboration between an establishment Briton and young South Asian artists was possible through communication on aesthetic, literary and artistic merits rather than through the prism of colonial subjection at the height of the British Raj.

Sturge Moore's large and varied correspondence with Indian artists and writers can mainly be found in collections at the Senate House Archives in London, as well as in the British Library and various archives in India. In these letters one can see the honest relationship Moore had with his colonial brothers and the precedence he gave to artistic merit, particularly classical notions of "beauty" over national fault lines. Using these hitherto unexamined letters to uncover these relationships reveals evidence of the continued influence of Asian art as well as new inflections of this Asian art on British modernism in the early twentieth century. They demonstrate that Indians were able to access elite British networks if they too could exhibit their cosmopolitan nature and that interlocutors from both sides were conversing on broader lines about the nature of art rather than merely referring back to parochial traditions or relying upon imperial hierarchies. Following a brief discussion of Moore's friendship and collaboration with -Rabindranath Tagore, this article highlights his lesser-known relationships with Indians, namely the young Bengali artist Mukul Dey, the Hindu monk Shri Purohit Swami, and the writer Ranjee G. Shahani. This discussion is as much about Moore's broad outlook as it is the broadness of Indian artists, particularly looking from the Transition era forward into the 1930s and 1940s when, although the political Anglo-Indian relationship was increasingly fraught, the networks of cosmopolitan friendship were growing in strength and number.

Thomas Sturge Moore & the Tagore Connection

Thomas Sturge Moore, the younger brother of the philosopher G. E. Moore, studied at Croydon and Lambeth Art Schools, was close friends with the artists Charles Shannon and Charles Ricketts, and had a keen interest in the Greek classics and theatre. As a...


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