Keynes as Biographer and Obituarist

By Kent, Richard J. | History of Economics Review, Summer 2010 | Go to article overview

Keynes as Biographer and Obituarist


Kent, Richard J., History of Economics Review


Abstract: In John Maynard Keynes's Collected Writings there are forty-five biographical essays, sixteen of which are obituaries from the Economic Journal. The obituaries in the Economic Journal were very important to Keynes. The Collected Writings attempt 'to publish a complete record of Keynes's serious writing as an economist' and in Essays in Biography 'to include not only his major but also his minor writings both about economists and his friends in King's'. In this paper, however, it is argued that not all of Keynes's biographical writings are included in his Collected Writings. There may be over ten additional obituaries authored by Keynes that are not included in the Collected Writings version of Essays in Biography. Two of these are definitely attributable to Keynes, one of which is half of Ramsey's obituary in The Times. During Keynes's editorship of the Economic Journal there were fourteen anonymous obituaries in the Economic Journal. It is argued that almost all of these were authored by Keynes. In addition to the obituaries in the Economic Journal, there were announcements of death. It is argued that most, if not all, of the announcements of death in the Economic Journal during Keynes's editorship were also written by him.

1 Introduction

John Maynard Keynes edited the Economic Journal for over thirty years. There were over one hundred and forty obituaries published in the Economic Journal while he was editor, a number of them by Keynes. The obituaries in the Economic Journal were very important to him. In an August 1940 letter to R.H. Tawney concerning the notice of Eileen Power, Keynes wrote: 'the obituary section of the Journal is rather ambitious and probably remains the most permanent record of the personalities and accomplishments of the economists of our time ...' (Keynes 1993, p. EJ/1/7/41). And three years later, in a letter to Selig Perlman, Keynes wrote: 'we make rather a feature of our obituary notices and devote more space to them than is usual in most learned journals' (1) (Keynes 1993, p. MM/5/256).

In the General Introduction to Keynes's Collected Writings it states: 'This series will attempt to publish a complete record of Keynes's serious writing as an economist' (Keynes 1972, p. x). In the Editorial Foreword to the Collected Writings version of Essays in Biography (2) it states:

We have decided to include not only his major but also his minor writings both about economists and his friends in King's. We have done this for two reasons. First, many of them admirably illustrate Keynes's remarkable gift for creating a vivid picture of a man in a few unforgettable sentences. Second, and perhaps more important, these are the outstanding economists, public servants or academics of a generation; Keynes's account of them is in some cases almost the only account that survives. (Keynes 1972, p. xvi)

There are forty-five biographical essays by Keynes in the Collected Writings. (3) This, though, may only be about three-quarters of the sketches and essays in biography actually written by Keynes. In this paper it is argued that there are over ten additional biographical essays by Keynes--in the form of obituaries--which are not included in Keynes's Collected Writings. The paper comprises six main sections. In section two l consider the obituaries of French economists that Keynes may or may not have written. In section three I focus predominantly on an obituary of Frank Ramsey that was written by Keynes and which was quite separate from his better known account of Ramsey that appeared in Essays in Biography. In section four I comment briefly upon the paragraph Keynes contributed to Jiuchi Soyeda's obituary in the Economic Journal and which was not published in Essays in Biography. In section five I analyse fourteen of the obituaries in the Economic Journal during Keynes's editorship that do not have an author listed, and, although one of these (on Wilhelm Lexis) is attributed to Keynes and appeared in Essays in Biography (Keynes 1972, pp.

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