In The Nightmare Reader (1973) Peter Haining compares the English poet and editor John Gawsworth (1912-1970) to August Derleth, in his influence upon the English horror-tale. Mike Ashley echoes this opinion in Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction (1977). Certainly the industrious Gawsworth resembles Derleth, in not only his knowledge of the field, but in his energy at getting authors like Arthur Machen, M. P. Shiel and Thomas Burke back into print. He also anticipated Derleth in his compulsion to "collaborate" - that is, to connect his name with those of more famous authors in order to market "new" works of fiction of slender quality.
But whereas Derleth (and his sorry disciple, Lin Carter) wrote essentially new stories using themes by the more famous author (Lovecraft, or in Carter's case, Clark Ashton Smith), Gawsworth did the opposite. He dusted off old manuscripts and provided very few editorial additions, yet attached his own name. Such as some popular recording artist, who agrees to record a song if his name will be listed as co-writer. (Mel Tillis says Country singer Webb Pierce exacted this kind of credit, for royalties and money, in order to inspire himself to record Mel's songs, in Mel's Stutterin' Boy autobiography, 1984.) Similarly, Gawsworth's name, as well as his earlier by-line "Fytton Armstrong," appears as co-author on story after story, in several of the many anthologies he edited.
Gawsworth, like any self-respecting Romantic, revised his persona repeatedly. Born with almost as many names as Lord Dunsany, Terence Ian Fytton Armstrong became "Fytton Armstrong" for literary purposes as he tried to gate-crash London publishing circles around 1931. Since a distant ancestor, Mary Fytton, was identified with Gawsworth Hall in Cheshire (Gawsworth hoped she was the "Dark Lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets, but she wasn't), Armstrong became "John Gawsworth" inviting (perhaps deliberately) permanent confusion with novelist John Gallsworthy. Gawsworth started working for London bookdealers, and personally trafficked in first editions and manuscripts, whether from auctions or from the authors themselves. Writers from the 1890s like Arthur Machen and M. P. Shiel were his specialty.
Gawsworth's first three anthologies in the 'Thirties are collaboration-free, while his fourth, Thrills, Crimes and Mysteries (1935) contains but two collaborations, both probably genuine. One is by two living writers, and the other is by Richard Middleton (of "Ghost Ship" fame) and his friend Edgar Jepson. The biographical note says Jepson collaborated repeatedly with Middleton, who died in 1911 -- though since Gawsworth hoarded Middleton manuscripts, it's possible he had Jepson merely touch up one of these.
The anthology was published by Associated Newspapers, Ltd. Gawsworth's wife (Barbara Kentish) was society editor for The Daily Mail, and got him the job of editing this and subsequent horror-mystery compilations at Christmas time. Such books were given away in newspaper circulation wars (according to E. F. Bleiler). Since Gawsworth knew everyone, as well as the location of virtually every available manuscript since the 'Nineties, he was a natural. There were 40,000 copies of the book issued.
The Daily Mail supplied him a kitty of £800 to work from. As his cousin R. F. A. Jackson wrote in The Romantist No. 6-7-8 (1982-83-84): "He would recruit unpublished tales from his literary friends, paying £15 or £20 each, making up the rest with his own effusions under various pseudonyms, pocketing the difference."
Gawsworth's anthologies were probably not as good as Lady Cynthia Asquith's Not at Night series, but better than Charles Birkin's Creeps series (whose Gawsworth's resemble in title).
Then in 1935 appeared The Invisible Voices, a short story collection by M. P. Shiel. It was dedicated to Gawsworth "in fond remembrance of days of suggestion, debate and collaboration." After Arthur Machen, Shiel was Gawsworth's biggest hero. He was Shiel's first bibliographer, editor, and after Shiel's death, even "king" of his alleged "kingdom" of Redonda. Since The Invisible Voices consists of old tales stitched together with intervening matter, probably Gawsworth assembled the book and wrote, or partly wrote, its connecting paragraphs.2 The stories constitute a "frame tale" like The Canterbury Tales. Elsewhere Gawsworth claimed credit as a collaborator on this volume. And it served as a warm-up for his next anthologies.
His anonymously-edited Masterpiece of Thrills appeared in 1936, published by Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express (the "Daily Excess," to its detractors). One collaboration in this volume, "Kametis and Evelpis," was by someone called J. Leslie Mitchell, writing with Fytton Armstong, Gawsworth's real name. And Gawsworth as Gawsworth added his name to three tales by M. P. Shiel: "Dr. Todoro Karadja", "The Mystery of the Red Road", and "The Hanging of Ernest Clark." The first of these borrows from "He Wakes an Echo" in Shiel's short story collection, The Pale Ape (1911). Also in Masterpiece of Thrills appears "Red Foam," by-lined by one Hedda Vesely, collaborating with R. L. Megroz, another friend of Gawsworth. There were 100,000 copies of this edition.
How much did Gawsworth add to the Shiel tales? A frequent contributor to the anthologies was Oswell Blakeston,3 who wrote to John D. Squires on March 22, 1978:
Gawsworth dug out some unfinished stories by Shiel which Shiel said he hadn't the energy to put into shape. Personally I believe he was bored, as these things were in fact his rejects. Gawsworth however had hopes of getting them into print and asked me to finish them off, giving them some sort of ending. ... He asked me if I'd mind if he put his name as collaborator as he was building up some personal connection with [Victor] Gollancz [the publisher] on the strength of Shiel. I had no objection, as I felt these stories would do Shiel's reputation no good. I couldn't stop publication, I had no power to do that, but I was glad not to be mentioned. Shiel himself I think needed the money, so he let it all go through. Maybe, you might say, I never should have undertaken my part, but Gawsworth had great powers of persuasion and I thought he was only going to slip the stories into the large horror anthologies he was editing which got no reviews or literary attention.
Some [of the Shiel stories] had actually been "fixed" by Gawsworth:
. . .There were also some stories in the newspaper anthologies which Gawsworth gave as collaborations with himself or simply used as [by] Shiel, and some of these too I finished.
On April 4, Blakeston added:
John was good at editing. . .if he wanted to take the trouble. . .but found it hard to invent. My contribution was not to rewrite whole stories but to add ends to unfinished stories, perhaps no more than two or three whole pages of typescript.And on May 12:
I remember stories in the book[s] with credit lines above each story: Shiel or Shiel & Gawsworth. The paper was the thick type publishers then used to bulk out a short book, and rough surfaced. John put it in my hands and said, "You don't mind, do you? After all you've got a dukedom" [in the Shiel-Gawsworth "Redonda" kingdom].4
(When confronted with one of his own stories from the same era, Blakeston couldn't remember having written it, noting "Not only was it very sub-standard but it carried no clue to being my work in turn of phrase or thought.")
Blakeston wrote to A. Reynolds Morse the following day (May 13, 1978):
I'm sure any Gawsworth MSS. would have beer stains. He was always taking proofs and letters into pubs to work on them there. It was part of the act. Any literary friends who drifted in were too co-opted into helping. It's possible that G. from the outset had decided to claim credit on all the fixed-up late Shiel stories-perhaps "late" is wrong and I should say MSS. which Shiel in his old age found he still had and which proved unsaleable. In which case G. may have re-typed sheets I gave him into his own MSS. I don't blame him in the least, as I was setting no store on my contributions but simply trying to help. If G. did juggle a bit, I see it just as a measure of his keeness to get closer to Shiel, as an expression of his admiration.
Editing again for Associated Newspapers, Gawsworth produced (anonymously) Thrills (1936), which includes "A Case for Deduction" by Shiel and Fytton Armstrong. Helpfully Gawsworth supplied a separate biographical note on Armstrong as if he were a distinct individual; August Derleth would do the same thing and write about his "Stephen Grendon" alter-ego. Thrills sold 50,000 copies, to Daily Mail subscribers who sent in coupons.
Gawsworth also found time to anonymously edit a third anthology in 1936 (was he working in competition with himself?) titled Crimes, Creeps and Thrills, published by E. H. Samuel. It contains a Richard Middleton story finished by one "G. Dundas" (Gawsworth? Jepson?). The fantasy author E. H. Visiak (The Haunted Island, etc.) contributed "The Uncharted Islands," co-authored by Gawsworth. And Shiel's "The Falls Scandal" was a collaboration with Fytton Armstrong, as was "The Master" (another one lifted in part from "He Wakes an Echo").5 In this anthology, too, was "The Shifting Growth," by Edgar Jepson and Gawsworth. When Peter Haining reprinted it in his Nightmare Reader (1973), he left off Jepson's name even though Jepson had top billing in the original!
In a manuscript volume titled "The Return of Prince Zaleski", A. Reynolds Morse discovered yet another collaboration, "The Missing Merchants," as by Shiel and Gawsworth. Morse published it in his Works of M. P. Shiel Updated, Vol. II (1980).6
In 1950, in his foreword to Shiel's essay collection, Science, Life and Literature, Gawsworth said that his first letter to Shiel, back in 1931, had provided "the cornerstone of a collaboration which was to last for sixteen years, a collaboration the survivor, without morbidity, feels continues still." And in the same foreword Gawsworth mentioned his hope to publish the Shiel-Gawsworth/Armstrong collaborations in book form as Seven Limbs of Satan.
All of Gawsworth's anthologies, counting all of the earlier ones, attained a circulation of about a quarter of a million. No doubt August Derleth was aware of them, since he had long been corresponding with Shiel. Derleth sent Shiel copies of his own books, and signed him for two collections through his firm, Arkham House. Certainly the Shiel-Gawsworth collaborations gave Derleth a precedent, when he placed H. P. Lovecraft's name in front of his own on The Lurker at the Threshold, a novel he wholly wrote himself but for a few hundred words. Gawsworth also corresponded with Derleth after Shiel's death, so the connection is clear.
Gawsworth even made Derleth a duke of Redonda. So the Lovecraft-Derleth "collaborations" are a dubious tribute to his friends Shiel and Gawsworth, and their dubious collaborations that preceded his!
...It is 96% the old master. You saw a copy of "Lend-Lease," I think. It was not worthy of publication and completely out of tone with the first three, being 1) placed in 1942 instead of 1875, and 2) conceived with most unsuitable anti-US phobia (although by the villainess.) Carefully studying the Spanish affairs, the books of Russia, etc, of 1875, I have transferred the Zaleski back to its rightful chronological place. The references to Carlists in Paris, Alfonso XII, Prince Gorchakof, Alfred Wallace's On Miracles therefore are accurate. As you will note, I have kept all the Shiel possible, and left it as Dedaction - not a study in suspense. Zaleski's first two stories were dedaction (only in the third did he leave his room.)...