John Maynard Keynes


John Maynard Keynes : biography

5 June 1883 – 21 April 1946
A few weeks after returning from the United States, Keynes died of a heart attack at Tilton, his farmhouse home near Firle, East Sussex, England, on 21 April 1946 at the age of 62. A member of a very long-lived family (his parents, two grandparents and his brother all lived into their nineties), he died surprisingly young, apparently the result of overwork and childhood illness. Both of Keynes's parents outlived him: father John Neville Keynes (1852–1949) by three years, and mother Florence Ada Keynes (1861–1958) by twelve. Keynes's brother Sir Geoffrey Keynes (1887–1982) was a distinguished surgeon, scholar and bibliophile. His nephews include Richard Keynes (1919–2010) a physiologist; and Quentin Keynes (1921–2003), an adventurer and bibliophile. His widow, Lydia Lopokova, died in 1981. 

Notes and citations

Early life and education

[[King’s College, Cambridge. Keynes’s grandmother wrote to him saying that since he was born in Cambridge, people will expect him to be clever.]]

John Maynard Keynes was born in Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, to an upper-middle-class family. His father, John Neville Keynes, was an economist and a lecturer in moral sciences at the University of Cambridge and his mother Florence Ada Keynes a local social reformer. Keynes was the first born, and was followed by two more children – Margaret Neville Keynes in 1885 and Geoffrey Keynes in 1887.

According to the economist and biographer Robert Skidelsky, Keynes’s parents were loving and attentive. They remained in the same house throughout their lives, where the children were always welcome to return. Keynes would receive considerable support from his father, including expert coaching to help him pass his scholarship exams and financial help both as a young man and when his assets were nearly wiped out at the onset of Great Depression in 1929. Keynes’s mother made her children’s interests her own, and according to Skidelsky, "because she could grow up with her children, they never outgrew home".

Keynes had his early education at home and at nursery. He attended The Perse School nursery in 1890 before becoming a day pupil at St Faith’s preparatory school in 1892. Teachers described Keynes as brilliant, but on occasion, careless and lacking in determination. His health was often poor during this period, leading to several long absences.

Keynes won a scholarship to Eton College in 1897, where he displayed talent in a wide range of subjects, particularly mathematics, classics and history. At Eton, Keynes experienced the first "love of his life" in Dan Macmillan, older brother of the future Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Despite his middle-class background, Keynes mixed easily with upper-class pupils. In 1902 Keynes left Eton for King's College, Cambridge after receiving a scholarship for this also to study mathematics. Alfred Marshall begged Keynes to become an economist, 

although Keynes’s own inclinations drew him towards philosophy – especially the ethical system of G. E. Moore. Keynes was an active member of the semi-secretive Cambridge Apostles society, a debating club largely reserved for the brightest students. Like many members, Keynes retained a bond to the club after graduating and continued to attend occasional meetings throughout his life. Before leaving Cambridge, Keynes became the President of the Cambridge Union Society and Cambridge University Liberal Club. In May 1904 he received a first class B.A. in mathematics. Aside from a few months spent on holidays with family and friends, Keynes continued to involve himself with the university over the next two years. He took part in debates, further studied philosophy and attended economics lectures informally as a graduate student. He also studied for his 1905 Tripos and 1906 civil service exams.

The economist Harry Johnson wrote that the optimism imparted by Keynes’s early life is key to understanding his later thinking.

Keynes was always confident he could find a solution to whatever problem he turned his attention to, and retained a lasting faith in the ability of government officials to do good.