Cousins, James Henry Sproull (1873–1956), writer, teacher, and theosophist, was born 22 July 1873 in Cavour Street, Belfast, the eldest child of James Cousins, a deep-sea mariner of Glastry, Co. Down, and Susan Cousins (née Davey), of Carrickfergus, Co. Antrim. Educated at a local national school until 1886, he then began work as an errand boy to a pawnbroker. He later worked as an office boy and a correspondence clerk, and, between 1891 and 1894, was employed as private secretary to Sir Daniel Dixon, the lord mayor of Belfast. In 1892 he founded the Irish Phonographic Bulletin, a monthly shorthand journal, which he edited and (for the most part) wrote, and which remained in circulation for two years. He established in 1894 and ran, with a colleague, the Stenographic Institute in Belfast. In 1894 he also published his first collection of poetry, Ben Madighan and other poems. The following year he began learning Irish through the Belfast branch of the Gaelic League.
In 1897 Cousins moved to Dublin, where he was initially employed as a ledger clerk. It was here that he adopted a vegetarian diet, which he maintained throughout his life. He became acquainted with many leading members of the literary revival, among them AE (George Russell (qv)), W. B. Yeats (qv), H. Montgomery Hyde (qv), and Edward Martyn (qv). He met the Fay brothers (William Fay (qv) and Frank Fay (qv)) in 1901 and provided them with the script of AE's play ‘Deirdre’. It was duly staged by the Irish National Dramatic Company, and Cousins took a minor role in the production. He made a significant contribution to the formation of the Irish National Theatre Society, and on its foundation in August 1902 became a committee member. His own dramas, written under the name ‘Seamus O'Cuisin’, were performed by the society. ‘The sleep of the king’ was first staged in October 1902, with a cast that included William Fay and Máire Nic Shiubhlaigh (qv). It was followed in the same year by his most successful play, ‘The racing lug’, and in 1903 by ‘The sword of Dermot’. All three plays were published in Arthur Griffith's (qv) United Irishman.
Cousins's published poetry, which included The voice of one (1900), The quest (1906), and Etain the beloved and other poems (1912), is now rarely read. His literary efforts attracted the ridicule of James Joyce (qv) and, most particularly, Yeats, who described Cousins's comedy ‘Sold’ as ‘vulgar rubbish’. It was rejected by the Abbey in June 1903. Following Yeats's determined and successful effort to detach Cousins from the theatre movement, Cousins saw his plays produced by the Cumann na nGaedheal Irish Theatre Company.
He married in 1903 Margaret Gillespie (Margaret Cousins (qv)) and became involved with her in the suffrage campaign. An original member of the Irish Women's Franchise League, he co-edited the Irish Citizen with Francis Sheehy Skeffington (qv). He played an active role in the Theosophical Society, and regularly held seances in his home. Cousins was employed as a teacher from 1905, when he took up the post of assistant master of English at the High School, Harcourt Street. Financial difficulties forced the Cousinses to leave Ireland in 1913, when he took a job at a vegetarian foods firm at Garston, near Liverpool.
Their departure for India in 1915, instigated by an invitation from the theosophist Annie Besant (1847–1933), proved to be a significant career move for both Cousins and his wife. Cousins was engaged as literary sub-editor of Besant's paper New India in 1916, and later began a lectureship at the Theosophical School in Madanapalle, of which he subsequently became principal. With the exception of visits to Europe and America, and a visiting professorship at Keio University, Japan (1919), Cousins remained in India for the rest of his life. He was responsible for the opening of the first public art gallery in India, at Mysore in 1924; a second was opened at Travancore in 1935, and in 1938 he began a ten-year appointment as full-time art adviser to the government of Travancore. In 1937 he was admitted to Hindu worship. He continued to write prolifically: the vast majority of his books, which exceeded 100, were published in India. He was also a regular contributor to a variety of Indian journals and papers. We two together, an autobiography, written with his wife, was published in 1950. He received an honorary doctorate from Keio University in 1923. He survived his wife and died 20 February 1956 in the Mission Hospital, Madanapalle.