Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Arthur Selwyn Garbett (1883-1955)

Author, Editor, Composer, Music Critic, Biographer
Born March 1, 1883, Walsall, Staffordshire, England
Died October 25, 1955, Santa Clara County, California

Composer Arthur Selwyn Garbett wrote just one story for Weird Tales. Not surprisingly, it had a music-related title. Garbett was born the youngest of twelve children in Walsall, England, on March 1, 1883, and emigrated to the United States perhaps in 1907. Garbett studied violin but a bout with scarlet fever left him deafened, ending his career as a musician. As a young man, he lived in Philadelphia and worked as a composer, biographer, editor for The Etude magazine, and copywriter for the Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, New Jersey. In 1920, he and his wife--who was suffering from tuberculosis--moved to a milder climate in California. 

Garbett's works included three compilations of biographies of musical figures, Gallery of Musical Celebrities (1909), Gallery of Eminent Musicians (1911), and Gallery of Distinguished Musicians (1913), all published by Theodore Presser, founder of The Etude. Garbett also composed a number of songs and musical pieces, some of which have mythological themes, such as "An Idyl in Arcady" (1909) and "Syren Voices" (1911). His lone work for Weird Tales was a story called "The Devil's Opera," printed in the August 1925 issue.

Garbett's wife, Cornelia Baxter Barns, was a woman of note. She was born in Flushing, New York, on September 25, 1888, daughter of the theatrical impresario Charles Barns. She studied at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts under William Merritt Chase and John Twachtman. As a socialist and artist, she became associated with Robert Henri and his circle. In 1914, she joined the staff of The Masses and contributed cartoons and illustrations to that magazine and The New Masses into the 1930s. She also drew pictures for Sunset, Liberator, Woman Voter, and other journals.

The Garbetts lived in San Francisco Bay area after their move. Cornelia contributed to the Oakland Post Enquirer, while her husband continued to write. Garbett worked as a radio station program director, music critic for a San Francisco newspaper, then director of education for the National Broadcasting Company in San Francisco. He retired to Los Gatos, California, where his wife, Cornelia Baxter Barns Garbett, died on November 4, 1941. Arthur Selwyn Garbett followed on October 25, 1955, at age seventy-two.

Arthur Selwyn Garbett's Story in Weird Tales
"The Devil's Opera" (Aug. 1938)

Further Reading
For more information on Cornelia Baxter Barns, wife of Arthur Selwyn Garbett, see:

Art for the Masses: A Radical Magazine and Its Graphics, 1911-1917 by Rebecca Zurier (Temple University Press, 1988).

A cover drawing by Cornelia Baxter Barns, wife of composer and author Arthur Selwyn Barnett. A gentle socialist, she "came through the open door of The Masseswrote Max Eastman, "like a child into a playroom."
A cartoon by Cornelia from the same magazine. Like so many cartoons of its day, this one relies on ethnic humor. And like so many drawings from The Masses, it's dark and heavy, perhaps in the classic style of Daumier or Goya
Arthur Selwyn Garbett (1883-1955)

Thanks to Randal Everts for the photograph and further information on Arthur Selwyn Garbett.
Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Thank you for publishing this bio of my grandfather. My father, Charles R Garbett, was delighted to see it. He will turn 100 years old this year, still walking, reading, driving!
    Rebecca Garbett

    1. Dear Ms. Garbett,

      I'm glad to hear that your father is doing so well. Blessings upon you and him and your whole family.