The Royal Literary Fund has been helping writers since 1790. Its founder, the Rev David Williams, was moved by the plight of an elderly translator of Plato, Floyer Sydenham, who had died in a debtors’ prison. Among the first to respond to the call for subscriptions to a relief fund was the Prince Regent, the future George IV. In 1842, the enthusiastic interest of Prince Albert led to the addition of ‘Royal’ to its name. The Fund still retains its royal patronage, although it receives no subsidy from government.
All of its money has come from donations, legacies and, until 1939, an annual dinner at which Dickens, Thackeray and Kipling, among others, exhorted the guests to be generous. The Fund has also benefitted considerably from the estates of authors including G.K. Chesterton and Arthur Ransome, and in particular those of Somerset Maugham and A.A. Milne. Among those it has assisted in moments of need have been such distinguished names as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce and Dylan Thomas. It supported, too, Robert Burns’s widow and James Boswell’s daughter, the forerunners of the many writers’ families that the Fund has aided.
The Fund is proud to have been able to relieve the hardship of these famous authors, but no less proud to have helped – and to continue to help – thousands of lesser known names: men and women whose earnings have been reduced and liabilities increased by illness, accident, age or changes in literary fashion and technology.