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Francis Neilson Papers

Date range: 1902-1964

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Francis Neilson (1867-1961) had a varied career as a writer, playwright, social reformer, Member of Parliament and philanthropist.

Neilson's early career was spent in the theatre in the US and Great Britain, where he worked as drama critic and later wrote plays and opera libretti. He also wrote several novels in this period.

Neilson probably became best known as a political activist. He was a disciple of the American land taxer, Henry George, and worked as a lecturer and journalist promoting George's ideas. After returning to the UK, Neilson was elected as Liberal MP for Hyde in 1910, and was heavily involved in the Liberals’ Land Campaign before the First World War. Neilson was a critic of the War, and, as a result of his pacifist views, he resigned from Parliament in 1916. Shortly afterwards, he moved back to the USA, and continued to promote radical political ideas there.

His second marriage in 1917 made Neilson a wealthy man, and he and his wife generously supported charities and cultural organisations in the US and Europe, including the John Rylands Library. During the Second World War, Neilson again took a controversial position, criticising the Allied war leadership in his five volume study, The Tragedy of Europe (1940-1945) and in his highly critical study of Winston Churchill, The Churchill Legend (1954).

Neilson’s papers include his extensive correspondence covering a range of political and literary themes as well as Neilson’s various philanthropic projects. There are drafts and copies of Neilson's essays, books, operas and plays, including The Makers of War, The House in the Big Yard, Barriers and Madame Bohemia. In addition, there is a large volume of correspondence and publicity material relating to many of Neilson's other works, including The Tragedy of Europe, My Life in Two Worlds, Manabozo, and The Churchill Legend.

The Neilson Papers are an important collection for radical economic and political ideas in the UK and USA during the first half of 20th century, as well as for revisionist interpretations of the Second World War. They also contain material of value for the history of literary and theatrical scene in London in the early 20th century.

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Partly catalogued. Catalogue available via the Special Collections reading rooms.

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