Inspired, Unselfish Mr. Everyman
By Robert Lynd
Ernest Rhys, who died on Saturday at the age of 86, will be remembered as the editor of the greatest venture in popular publishing this country has known.
When he began to edit "Everyman's Library" he and his publisher, J. M. Dent, dreamed of creating a library of the world's best literature in a thousand volumes to be sold at a price within reach of everybody; and he lived almost long enough to see his dream fulfilled, for the 982nd volume appeared only a few weeks ago.
Himself a good poet and prose-writer, he was on affectionate terms with his fellow-writersboth the famous and those who were to become famous. It was of them, not of himself, that he loved most to talk out of a wealth of shrewd and humorous memories. The young Bernard Shaw and the young W. B. Yeats, the young Edward Thomas and the young D. H. Lawrence were among those with whom his wide literary responsiveness brought him in contact at one time or another.
It is doubtful, however, whether any of the writers of genius he knew made a greater contribution to human happiness in the English-speaking world than he himself didan inspired editor and one of the most selfless of men.
The fineness of his character was all the more conspicuous since he never received either in money or in honours the rewards that were his due. He was in such straits, indeed, during the First World War that he was compelled to sell many of his books to pay his bills, and in later years he had to accept a Civil List pension of £100.
Yet he uttered no complaint against life, and in his reminiscences he tells quite a rose-coloured story of his rescue from poverty on the first of these occasions. After selling his books he got an unexpected message, he relates, to go round and see Everard Meynell in his shop.