Ernest Edward Wishart was was born on 11th August 1902, in Dulwich. His father was Sir Sidney Wishart (1854–1935), a successful insurance broker and the sheriff of the City of London. Wishart was educated at Rugby School, and in 1920 went up to Gonville and Caius College.
Cressida Connolly, the author of The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans (2004), claims: "No one who knew him (Wishart) has a bad word to say about him. He was a gentleman, in the true sense of the word: courteous, honourable, modest and kind. He was extremely generous, and he did not keep a tally of his good deeds. An expert botanist and ornithologist, he was an early conservationist. He was cultivated, eccentric and very widely read. When he made friends he tended to keep them for life."
At university he became friends with Douglas Garman. In the summer of 1925 Garman took Wishart to meet his family. This included his fourteen-year-old sister, Lorna Garman. According to Cressida Connolly: "Ahead of her years, and wild, she seduced the much older Wishart in a hayrick."
After leaving university Wishart established a new publishing house, Wishart & Company. Garman went to work for his friend and along with Edgell Rickword, published a quarterly literary review, Calendar of Modern Letters. It included the work of Robert Graves, E. M. Forster, Aldous Huxley, A. E. Coppard, L. P. Hartley, Cecil Gray, Hart Crane, T. F. Powys, Allen Tate, Roy Campbell, John Holms, Edmund Blunden, Percy Wyndham Lewis, Siegfried Sassoon, D. H. Lawrence, Bertrand Russell and Edwin Muir.
Lorna married Wishart at the age of sixteen and went to live in the family house at Marsh Farm, Binsted. Her first son, Michael, was born a year later. By the age of twenty-one she had given birth to a second son, Luke. She spent much of her time in London. Michael later remembered how she was often "dressed for dancing in clinging sequins" when she said goodnight to him. He described her as resembling "a sophisticated mermaid".
In 1934 the company also published Negro, an anthology of pieces by 150 writers on black politics and culture, collected and edited by Nancy Cunard. As Edgell Rickword said later: "We all three felt to some degree that literature must be understood and practised as a part of a culture wider and deeper than any single art form, because culture was the essence of the way in which people lived and thought and felt."
Wishart merged his company with the publishing house of Martin Lawrence in 1935. Moving to Red Lion Square, Lawrence and Wishart became the press of the Communist Party of Great Britain. The company concentrated on publishing books on economics, working-class history and the classics of Marxism. Wishart also published New Writing, a twice-yearly anthology, that included the work of W.H.Auden, Ralph Fox, Christopher Isherwood and Cecil Day Lewis.
In 1937 Lorna Wishart met and began an affair with Laurie Lee. His biographer, Valerie Grove, has argued: "Rich, startlingly beautiful, the mother of two sons, she tempted and taunted him, showered him with gifts, was his Muse, bore him a daughter. During the war he camped in a caravan near her husband’s Sussex estate; she arrived daily in her Bentley, bringing poetic inspiration and erotic fulfilment."
Lee was a strong supporter of the Republicans in Spain and later that year he decided to join the International Brigades. Lorna, who was a supporter of the Communist Party of Great Britain, complained: "you don't need a war because you've got one here." He arrived in Albacete in December 1937 but a report written at the time concluded: "It seems clear that being, generally speaking, physically weak, he will not be of any use at the front. He agrees that the added excitement would be too much for him. On the other hand he seems a perfectly sincere comrade, who is very sympathetic to the Spanish government." Lee later commented: "I trained as a soldier, but I was mainly used in the International Brigade headquarters in Madrid during the siege, making short-wave broadcasts to Britain and America".
On his return to London in February 1938 he went to live with Lorna Wishart in Bloomsbury. According to Lee she was "rich and demandingly beautiful, extravagantly generous with her emotions but fanatically jealous". Their daughter, Yasmin, was born in February, 1939. However, three months later she decided to return to her husband. The affair continued until 1943 when she fell in love with Lucian Freud. Over the next two years he used her as the model for Girl with Daffodil and Woman with a Tulip. According to her Yasmin: "Lorna was a dream to any creative artist because she got them going. She was a natural muse, an inspiration. She was a symbol of their imagination, of their unconscious, she was nature herself: savage, wild, romantic and without guilt.''
As John Cunningham pointed out: "Ernest Wishart was extremely forgiving. He seems to have accepted Lorna's bohemian streak, which ranged from her erotic encounters in an old farm-bound caravan that Lee rented in Sussex, to getting drunk with the literary set in London during the blackout. It might have been no more than damage limitation to keep the children of two fathers together, but, in agreeing to it, Wishart seems nobler than Lee, who didn't acknowledge his daughter until, as an adult, she sought him out."
In December 1937 Lawrence and Wishart joined Victor Gollancz in launching another journal, the Modern Quarterly. It later became known as the Marxist Quarterly. During the Second World War Wishart joined forces with the Institute of Marxism-Leninism and Progress Publishers in Moscow, to publish the definitive English-language edition of the complete works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
After the war Wishart published the work of Marxist historians, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill, E. P. Thompson, John Saville and J. D. Bernal. In 1955 Lawrence and Wishart published the first unabridged version of The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, the novel written by Robert Tressell and first published in 1914.
Wishart retired from the business in the 1950s and spent his time managing Marsh Farm, Binsted, and pursuing his interest in architecture and local history. He also became patron of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
Cressida Connolly, the author of The Rare and the Beautiful: The Lives of the Garmans (2004), has argued: "She (Lorna) and her husband quarrelled over Catholicism and socialism, although he relinquished his faith in Marxism after the Hungarian uprising of 1956 and she became less fervent with age."
Garman drove me to Sussex to show me the house he had bought for his mother. It was in a little English village called South Harting, just under the downs. The village was absolutely dead, like all such places in England, but it was in the midst of the most lovely country. Naturally, it had a fine pub. Garman also took me to see his sister Lorna and his brother-in-law, the publisher Ernest Wishart, whom he called Wish. They had a lovely home. Garman and Wish seemed to be the verv best of friends, having been to Cambridge together. Wish's wife Lorna was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. She had enormous blue eyes, long lashes and auburn hair. She was very young, still in her early twenties, having been married at the age of sixteen. Out of seven sisters, she was Garman's favorite. They were all extraordinary girls. One of them was married to a fisherman in Martigues, and another one had three children by a world-famous sculptor. Another lived in Herefordshire with her illegitimate child, while a fourth spent half the year as a maidservant in order to be able to live in peace the other six months in a cottage she had bought on Thomas Hardy's favorite heath. Later she adopted a little boy and was reported to have had a love affair with Lawrence of Arabia, whom she met on the heath, but when I knew her she was most virginal. Another one was married to the famous South African poet Roy Campbell. They were Catholic and later became Fascist and lived in Spain. One very normal one married a garage owner and led a happy life with two children. In his youth Garman must have been overwhelmed by so many women, and preferred not to see most of them any more. However, I was fascinated by them and eventually managed to meet them all. Garman had a younger brother whom he liked. He had returned from Brazil and was now farming in Hampshire.
She (Lorna) loved to swim, and would do so anywhere, at any time of year and long into her old age. She'd strip to her knickers and plunge into thirty-foot waves in Cornwall in the winter, or into remote lakes or fast-flowing icy rivers. She'd swim naked in the shallow, weedy water by Arundel, mocking anyone too prim to take off their things and join her. She was feckless in her generosity, giving away money or jewellery on a whim. She never felt guilty, never felt ashamed. "She was amoral, really," says her daughter, "but everyone forgave her because she was such a life-giver." Being unconventional was almost a point of honour. She drank Guinness at the hairdresser's. She hated crowds. She loved cricket. She was romantic and passionate, but she also had a flinty streak, a heartlessness. She was not without vanity, and she could be cruel, yet she was also capable of great kindness.
Because Wishart had married her when she was only sixteen, he seemed to accept that she would have love affairs. But their marriage was no sham. They were devoted to one another. Every day they took long walks together in their ancient Sussex woodland, talking for hours. In later years, when Lorna had converted to Roman Catholicism (a decision influenced by her sister Mary's ardent faith), they would argue terribly, Wishart for socialism, Lorna for religion.
Two generations ago, Lorna Wishart discovered that being the lover of a poet was even more draining than mothering a family and running the house for her well-connected husband. On a family holiday in Cornwall in 1937, she saw a young lad with a violin strolling by. "Boy, come and play for me," she called out. The fiddler was Laurie Lee and, once they became entangled, he apparently called the tune at least as often as she, in spite of the difference in their social status. The lad from Slad Valley in Gloucestershire had a penny-pinched childhood and an absent father; she was one of seven daughters of a well-off doctor, Walter Garman, who married Ernest Wishart when she was only 16.
Alongside tales of his bucolic boyhood in Gloucestershire and his exploits in the Spanish civil war, Lee's relationships with women fuelled his volumes of autobiography and poetry until his death in 1998. But, beautiful and vivacious though she was, Lorna had far more than sex to offer Lee.
As well as being the inspiration for many of his compositions, she ensured that his early poems saw the light of day by commending them to Stephen Spender and Cyril Connolly at Horizon, which was the literary magazine to appear in. When he decided to join the struggle in Spain, she is said to have sent him pound notes dabbed with Chanel No 5; it's also said that she got friends to bring him out of the country when he was in danger.
All of this demanded flexibility and deceit, since she remained married to Wishart, and brought up their children. Also, her affair with Lee was conducted during the 1939-45 war.
When Lorna became pregnant by Lee, she handled it with stunning competence. Their daughter, Yasmin, was born in February, 1939. Lorna was on one of her temporary absences from her family, and the couple were living in a flat in Bloomsbury. A good mistress can do even more for a literary man than a top agent: the baby was brought up along with the Wishart children.
Ernest Wishart was extremely forgiving. He seems to have accepted Lorna's bohemian streak, which ranged from her erotic encounters in an old farm-bound caravan that Lee rented in Sussex, to getting drunk with the literary set in London during the blackout. It might have been no more than damage limitation to keep the children of two fathers together, but, in agreeing to it, Wishart seems nobler than Lee, who didn't acknowledge his daughter until, as an adult, she sought him out.
The literary recognition Lorna received from the poet was limited to having The Sun My Monument - a book she inspired - dedicated to her. In the official biography, Laurie Lee: The Well-Loved Stranger, author Valerie Grove remarks that while the poet often said he loved women, "he never paid tribute to them as mentors; only as cosseting, embracing, accommodating creatures. He liked women, but in their place.''
Lorna's genius as a mistress was that she recognised this, and knew when to move on - as she did, to Lee's torment, when she encountered Lucian Freud as a 21-year-old painter. And on from him - after she had become Girl with Daffodil in one of his portraits.
The effect she had on her two lovers seems to have been that of a catalyst. Yasmin is quoted in Grove's book as saying of her mother: "Lorna was a dream to any creative artist because she got them going. She was a natural muse, an inspiration. She was a symbol of their imagination, of their unconscious, she was nature herself: savage, wild, romantic and without guilt.''
Others in Lorna's family were less than conventional. Two of the seven Garman sisters ran away to London in 1920: Mary fell for and married the South African poet Roy Campbell, while Kathleen shacked up with the sculptor Jacob Epstein, having three children before he was free to wed.
When Lorna came to marry at 16 it was fortuitous that her husband was wealthy - and unconventional. He was a communist, who set up the publishing firm Lawrence and Wishart. And, after her career as a literary mistress, it was to life with Wishart that Lorna returned. She became a Roman Catholic, lived in the South Downs - and contrived to keep her secrets. She burned letters from her two famous lovers, saying it was nobody's business but hers. Every inch a mistress to the last.