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Nesta H. Webster 1

Mrs. Nesta Webster
S. L. writes: —
The passing of Nesta Webster deserves a note before eventual justice can be done to her literary work. Born at Trent Park, Cockfosters, 84 years ago, the youngest daughter of Robert Bevan, who saved Barclays Bank during the panic of 1866, her mother was the daughter of Bishop Shuttleworth of Chichester. Robert was Cardinal Manning’s best friend at Harrow and Oxford. At Trent Manning found his spiritual mother in "Aunt Favell" the authoress of Peep of Day. The family tradition remained that her Diary showed a tenderness towards her brother’s friend which inspired secret meetings. To her disappointment Manning married Miss Caroline Sargent. The Evangelical Bevans grimly retained a letter of Manning’s connecting the Papacy with Antichrist, which Nesta’s father said he would publish if ever Manning became Pope !
In her autobiography Nesta described "Spacious Days" at Trent. One illustration showing the staff of 14 men and 11 females gives an amusing glimpse into a stately home. Two famous preparatory schools found patronage on the estate. Arthur Dunn’s Ludgrove and from a cottage next door Mr. Tabor, vicar of Trent, was sent with Bevan capital and a brace of Bevan boys to revive the older school at Cheam. Robert Bevan died murmuring last regrets that he could not attend the Parents cricket match at Cheam.
His children were scattered, Frank inheriting Trent while Nesta was sent to Westfield College Hampstead, under the austere Miss Maynard. Coming of age, she travelled round the world, India, Burma, Singapore, and Japan, in leisurely, inexpensive days. In India she married Arthur Webster, a sporting superintendent of Police, exactly as had been foretold by King Edward’s famous Palmist, "Mrs. Robinson". She bore two daughters, Rosalind and Marjorie, who survive her.
Settling down in England she felt she could write, and John Murray accepted a novel The Sheep Track in 1914. A strong literary obsession overcame her that she had lived in eighteenth century France. Like the "Ladies of Versailles", the more she read about the French Revolution the more she remembered. In 1916 she published The Chevalier de Boufflers : a romance of the French Revolution, which fascinated Lord Cromer to judge by his review in the Spectator. Sir Edward Marshall Hall was another fan. There were 15 editions, but the authoress was disappointed to receive no response from scholars. Deeper and deeper she sank into the literature of the Revolution, collecting several such rare books as La Bastille Devoilée.
After three years at the British Museum and the French Archives she published The French Revolution : a Study in Democracy. At last Carlyle’s semi-hysterical rhapsody had been met factually. Except for Lord Acton’s lectures and Croker’s articles in the Quarterly the English public had not been allowed to criticize the popular view, of the Revolution which was conveyed by Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. Like Lord Acton she perceived evidence of design in the tumult and a calculating organization behind masks, but she disapproved his concern to absolve the leaders from complicity. As she worked from original papers as well as printed sources she claimed to have faulted the great Acton nine times.
The First World War together with her Revolutionary studies drew out her fearless Bevan fervour. She turned with confident fury on the possible enemies of England. Three books followed in 10 years: World Revolution; The Plot against Civilisation, Secret Societies and Subversive Movements and finally The Surrender of an Empire. They will be worthy of the attention of unbiased historians.
Her political book on the Socialist Network made her enemies as well as critics, but Bevans in their Faiths or Politics are not to be frightened or discouraged. Though her last years were cramped by illness, her mind still flashed information to her friends and defiance to her critics. Her charm enabled her at different times in her long life to captivate Mr. Cross the widower of George Eliot, Lord Kitchener in India and Gaston Maugras the French historian who assisted her with precious documents in her book on the Chevalier de Boufflers.

May 18, 1960: The Times, London, p. 17.


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