Lynd, Robert Wilson (1879–1949), journalist and essayist, was born 20 April 1879 in Belfast, second of seven children of the Rev. R. J. Lynd, presbyterian minister, and Sarah Lynd (née Rentoul). He was educated at the RBAI and at QUB, where he studied classics, receiving his BA in 1899. As an undergraduate he had been influenced by republican socialism, and he became a contributor to The Republic, founded in 1906 and edited by Bulmer Hobson (qv); he was also influenced by the writing of Arthur Griffith (qv), was an acquaintance of Roger Casement (qv), and was later to campaign for his reprieve. The Gaelic League was instrumental in the fermentation of his nationalist views, associating him with such figures as Francis J. Bigger (qv) and other Ulster protestant nationalists. After serving briefly on the staff of the Northern Whig, Lynd moved in 1901 to Manchester, where he worked for three months for the Daily Dispatch, and left (he said) because his style was ‘too flowery’ for a daily paper. He then moved to London, where he shared a studio with the artist Paul Henry (qv).
His first London job was on the staff of the weekly Today, for which he wrote essays, book and drama reviews, gossip, and short stories, supplementing his income by penning book reviews for Black and White. In 1908 he joined the staff of the Daily News, first as assistant editor to R. A. Scott James; he was to remain there until near the end of his life, serving as literary editor from 1912. He also contributed to John O'London's Weekly. Lynd's work was centred on essays and descriptive articles on sporting and other events. He retained a close interest in Ireland and Irish nationalism, advocating unstinting support of Irish culture, and he conducted a Gaelic League class in London where Aodh de Blácam (qv) was one of his pupils. He responded to the executions after the Easter rising of 1916 with If the Germans conquered England (1917), an ironic pamphlet containing a cloaked endorsement of Irish resistance to imperialism. As well as writing for the Irish Self-Determination League of Great Britain, and denouncing Black and Tan atrocities during the war of independence, he published Home life in Ireland (1919) and Ireland a nation (1920), wrote the introduction for Labour in Irish history (1917) by James Connolly (qv), and was author of the literary section of the Saorstat Éireann: Irish Free State official handbook (1932), edited by Hobson. In the 1920s he was the original choice of editor to take over the Irish Statesman, but was unwilling to leave London, and George Russell (qv) was chosen instead.
Lynd admitted that he was ‘something of a savage in having a fondness for propaganda in verse’, though he did not want to see literary nationalism as the ‘special property and affliction’ of the weaker nations, and criticised artistic egotism and aloofness from the passions of ordinary people. Much of his best work appeared (1913–45) in the New Statesman, where he contributed whimsical and engaging essays signed ‘Y. Y.’, many of which were published in book form. He was an exceptionally prolific writer; his other publications included The passion of labour (1920), The pleasure of ignorance (1921), The sporting life (1922), The money box (1925), The orange tree (1926), and Searchlights and nightingales (1939). He admired Johnson and Boswell, and his Dr Johnson and company (1927) was a hugely successful study of eighteenth-century literary society. Daniel Corkery (qv) (1878–1964) dismissed him as ‘a Belfast sentimentalist’; while Lynd may have lacked Chesterton's wit and individuality, he wrote with great charm, sincerity, common sense, and graciousness about an extraordinary variety of topics. He was at his best as a light essayist concerning everyday affairs, maintaining an incessant interest in the lives of people of all kinds. An unashamed romanticist, he took greatest interest in creating characters that could convince the reader of their reality, and writing in which the characters could be brought to life with a single described movement or utterance. He was awarded an honorary doctorate from QUB in 1946. He married (1909) Sylvia Dryhurst, poet, novelist, and leading member of the Book Society Committee; they had two daughters. They were a convivial couple with a wide range of friends and their home in Hampstead became a resort of poets, novelists, and publishers. Lynd died there 6 October 1949.