A man of numbers

8:30am Monday 12th November 2012

By Adam Trimingham

John Maynard Keynes, perhaps the foremost economist of the last century, fell in love with Sussex like many other visitors to the county.

He wrote many of his best works at Tilton House near Lewes and died there in 1946.

Born in 1883 in Cambridge, Keynes attended the university after going to Eton. It was there he met leading members of the left-wing Fabian Society, including Bertrand Russell and George Bernard Shaw.

Although he had been a pacifist, Keynes joined the civil service to research ways of what the journalist Kingsley Martin called “killing the maximum number of Germans at the minimum expense”.

He rose quickly in the Treasury and attended the Versailles peace conference in 1919. Appalled at the harsh terms inflicted on Germany, he resigned and wrote his first major book, The Economic Consequences Of The Peace.

This book, which correctly predicted that there would be further conflict in Europe after monetary collapse in Germany, made his name and was followed by several more seminal works, notably The General Theory Of Employment, Interest And Money.

He argued that intervention was needed by governments during times of monetary crisis rather than leaving free trade to sort the problem out. Although his theories were widely thought to be outdated in the 1980s, interest in them has since revived.

Keynes enjoyed an active love life from his days at Eton and continued to have homosexual flings at Cambridge, keeping careful notes on them.

Among his most ardent lovers was Duncan Grant, a painter and leading member of The Bloomsbury Group.

Other members included Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf, her husband, Leonard, and EM Forster.

Besides having their base in Bloomsbury, this disparate and talented group of artists and writers also used Charleston House near Lewes as their country base. Tilton was next door and was bought by Keynes, by then a rich man, in 1925.

The Bloomsbury Group members were relaxed about homosexuality but even they were surprised when Keynes proved to be bisexual. After several affairs with women, he married the strange but glamorous Russian ballerina Lydia Lopokova in 1925.

Some of them sneered at Lydia’s manners and upbringing but learned by experience that she was not to be underestimated, and eventually she was accepted. The marriage of two opposites seems to have been happy.

Keynes was a lifelong Liberal despite having Labour friends but three times declined offers of safe seats from Lloyd George believing, correctly, he would have more influence outside Parliament.

During the Second World War, he worked hard on trying to get financial help from the United States, making several visits there.

He was also a founder of the Arts Council and his own private collection included works by Picasso and many other celebrated artists of the day.

Already frail, he became progressively more ill with heart trouble and died aged 62. His parents both attended the memorial service.

Four years earlier he had accepted a peerage and became Baron Keynes of Tilton, showing his love for his home.

Always one for a caustic wisecrack, Keynes stood before a fig tree that had failed to flower at Tilton and said, “Barren tree. Baron Keynes.”

Lydia did once get pregnant but miscarried, so there was no heir.

Keynes was asked once what happened financially in the long run. His famous reply was, “In the long run, we are all dead.” It happened to him far too early.

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