Cleugh, James (writer)
James Cleugh was born in Hampstead in 1891, the son of a Surveyor of Customs. He and his younger brother Eric, later a career diplomat and ambassador to Panama, attended Dulwich College and James then joined the Royal Marines. He was commissioned towards the end of the First World War but afterwards left the service and studied at St Andrew’s University, graduating with classical honours. Returning to London Cleugh entered the Civil Service, worked for some time for the Ecclesiastical Commission and had a volume of poetry published in 1924. But he was restless and left his job in order to travel the world, living in Greece, Italy, Egypt and North and Central America.
When he came back to England Cleugh began to pursue a literary career with considerable energy. He became a reader for the Sunday Times and collaborated with Norman Douglas on literary programmes for the BBC and for a while he was a director of the Aquila Press. In the early 1930s Cleugh published more poems and several well-received novels including Ballet for Three Masks, Inflections 1931 and Rush Hour. He also embarked on a study of Thomas Mann and biographies of Prince Rupert and of Pushkin. Throughout this period Cleugh continued to travel in Europe and spent long periods in Spain.
On the outbreak of the Second World War Cleugh was recalled to the Admiralty in a civil capacity and was later seconded to the BBC European Service where his extensive knowledge of languages was invaluable. However in 1944 the stress of life in London resulted in his first heart attack and Cleugh and his Yugoslavian wife Marika moved to Steyning in Sussex where he gradually recovered. In 1946 he spent some time in Nuremburg as an interpreter and translator in the office of the chief counsel for war crimes.
Much of Cleugh’s post-war work was in the field of translation. His knowledge of languages covered a very wide range, primarily French, German, Italian and Spanish but also Russian, Dutch and Portugese. The scope of his non-fiction writing was also broad. He continued to write biographies including The Marquess and the Chevalier, a study of De Sade and Sacher-Masoch, a history of syphilis and several books on the recent history of Spain.
Cleugh did not give up writing novels in the 1950s and 1960s but none of them were published. He was not inclined to adapt his style to changing times and his friend John Symonds said that one of his attempts read ‘as if it was written 25 years ago, buried and dug up.’ Symonds encouraged Cleugh to concentrate on non-fiction and in the 1960s introduced him to the publisher Anthony Blond for whom he worked right up to the end of his life, producing books such as Oriental Orgies and perhaps his best known work, Love Locked Out: a Survey of Love, Licence and Restriction in the Middle Ages.
Although he never retired, Cleugh’s heart problems continued and his health gradually declined. He and his wife moved to Worthing in 1963 and it was there that he died, aged 77, in 1969.
The collection consists of manuscripts and typescripts of published and unpublished works by Cleugh including poems; plays; short stories; novels including Receding Backcloth, Venus in Transit, The Edge of Bronze, Playtime Parade, Aquatint, Death Takes the Chair and Frowning Motley; biographies of Philip II of Spain and Louis XI of France; translations and a large amount of correspondence mainly relating to business including letters from Anthony Blond, Paul Scott, C.H. Rolph, John Symonds and Cleugh’s brother Eric.
- A full description is available on our online database
- A handlist of the whole collection is available here