15 February 1901|
Ealing, Middlesex, England
|Died||13 April 1983
St John's Wood, London
|Occupation||Barrister; judge; author|
Travers Christmas Humphreys, QC (15 February 1901 – 13 April 1983) was an English barrister who prosecuted several controversial cases in the 1940s and 1950s, and later became a judge at the Old Bailey. He also wrote a number of works on Mahayana Buddhism. In his day he was the best-known British convert to Buddhism. In 1924 he founded what became the London Buddhist Society, which was to have a seminal influence on the growth of the Buddhist tradition in Britain. His former home in St John's Wood, London, is now a Buddhist temple. He was also an enthusiastic proponent of the Oxfordian theory of Shakespeare authorship.
Family and early career
Humphreys was born in Ealing, Middlesex, the son of Travers Humphreys, himself a noted barrister and judge. His given name "Christmas" is unusual, but, along with "Travers", had a long history in the Humphreys family. Among friends and family he was generally known as 'Toby'. He attended Malvern College, where he first became a theosophist and later a convert to Buddhism, and Trinity Hall, Cambridge; he was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1924.
The same year, Humphreys founded the London Buddhist Lodge, which later changed its name to the Buddhist Society. The impetus for founding the Lodge came from theosophists with whom Humphreys socialised. Both at his home and at the lodge, he played host for eminent spiritual authors such as Nicholas Roerich and Dr Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, and for prominent Theosophists like Alice Bailey and far Eastern Buddhist authorities like D.T. Suzuki. Other regular visitors in the 1930s were the Russian singer Vladimir Rosing and the young philosopher Alan Watts, and in 1931 Humphreys met the spiritual teacher Meher Baba. The Buddhist Society of London is one of the oldest Buddhist organisations outside Asia.
In 1945 he drafted the Twelve Principles of Buddhism for which he obtained the approval of all the Buddhist sects in Japan (including the Shin Sect which was not associated with Olcott's common platform) of the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand and leading Buddhists of Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and Tibet.
When he had first qualified, Humphreys tended to take criminal defence work which allowed his skills in cross-examination to be used. In 1934, he was appointed as Junior Treasury Counsel at the Central Criminal Court (more commonly known as "the Old Bailey"). This job, known unofficially as the 'Treasury devil', involved leading many prosecutions.
Humphreys became Recorder of Deal in 1942, a part-time judicial post. In the aftermath of World War II, Humphreys was an assistant prosecutor in the War Crimes trials held in Tokyo. In 1950 he became Senior Treasury Counsel. It was at this time that he led for the Crown in some of the causes célèbres of the era, including the cases of Craig & Bentley and Ruth Ellis. It was Humphreys who secured the conviction of Timothy Evans for a murder later found to have been carried out by John Christie. All three cases played a part in the later abolition of capital punishment in the United Kingdom.
Also in 1950 at the trial of the nuclear spy Klaus Fuchs, Christmas Humphreys was the prosecuting counsel for the Attorney General. In 1955 he was made a Bencher of his Inn and the next year became Recorder of Guildford.
In 1962 Humphreys became a Commissioner at the Old Bailey. He became an Additional Judge there in 1968 and served on the bench until his retirement in 1976. Increasingly he became willing to court controversy by his judicial pronouncements. In 1975 he passed a six-month suspended jail sentence on a man convicted of two counts of rape. The 18-year-old had raped the two women at knife-point. The leniency of the sentence created a public outcry. His sentence of a man to eighteen months in jail for a fraud shortly afterwards added to the controversy.
The Lord Chancellor defended Humphreys in the face of a House of Commons motion to dismiss him, and he also received support from the National Association of Probation Officers. However, he had pressure put on him to resign, which he did some six months after the controversy.
Humphreys was a prolific author of books on the Buddhist tradition. He was also president of the Shakespeare Fellowship, a position to which he was elected in 1955. The Fellowship advanced the theory that the plays generally attributed to Shakespeare were in fact the work of Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford. Under Humphreys the fellowship changed its name to the Shakespeare Authorship Society.
In 1962 Humphreys was appointed Vice-President of the Tibet Society, and made Joint Vice-Chairman of the Royal India, Pakistan and Ceylon Society.
He published his autobiography Both Sides of the Circle in 1978. He also wrote poetry, especially verses inspired by his Buddhist beliefs, one of which posed the question: When I die, who dies?
In popular culture
Tony Hancock mentions Humphreys in one of the links between sketches on his 1960 LP Pieces of Hancock. Hancock is recounting his supposed court appearance following arrest after participating in a demonstration against legislation on tenancies, saying "Christmas Humphreys was on the bench. Nice fellow, you must know him – a little bloke, wears a wig, you can see the join if you look closely."
- An Invitation to the Buddhist Way of Life for Western Readers
- Both Sides of the Circle (1978) London: Allen & Unwin (autobiography) ISBN 0-049-2102-38
- Buddhism: An Introduction and Guide
- Buddhism: The History, Development and Present Day Teaching of the Various Schools
- Buddhist Poems: a Selection, 1920–1970 (1971) London: Allen & Unwin, ISBN 0-048-2102-69
- A Buddhist Students' Manual
- The Buddhist Way of Action
- The Buddhist Way of Life
- Concentration and Meditation: A Manual of Mind Development
- The Development of Buddhism in England: Being a History of the Buddhist Movement in London and the Provinces (1937)
- Exploring Buddhism
- The Field of Theosophy
- The Great Pearl Robbery of 1913: A Record of Fact (1929)
- An Invitation to the Buddhist Way of Life for Western Readers (1971)
- Karma and Rebirth (1948)
- The Menace in our Midst: With Some Criticisms and Comments, Relevant and Irrelevant
- One Hundred treasures of the Buddhist Society, London (1964)
- Poems I Remember
- Poems of Peace and War (1941) London: The Favil Press
- A Popular Dictionary of Buddhism
- A Religion for Modern Youth (1930)
- The Search Within
- Seven Murderers (1931) London: Heinemann
- Sixty Years of Buddhism in England (1907–1967): A History and a Survey
- Studies in the Middle Way: Being Thoughts on Buddhism Applied
- The Sutra of Wei Lang (or Hui Neng) (1953)
- Via Tokyo
- Walk On
- The Way of Action: The Buddha's Way to Enlightenment
- The Way of Action: A Working Philosophy for Western Life
- A Western Approach to Zen: An Enquiry
- The Wisdom of Buddhism
- Zen A Way of Life
- Zen Buddhism
- Zen Comes West: The Present and Future of Zen Buddhism in Britain
- Zen Comes West: Zen Buddhism in Western Society
(editor of several works by Daisetz Taitaro Suzuki):
- Awakening of Zen
- Essays in Zen Buddhism (The Complete Works of D. T. Suzuki)
- An Introduction to Zen Buddhism
- Living by Zen
- Studies in Zen
- The Zen Doctrine of No Mind: The Significance of the Sutra of Hui-Neng (Wei-Lang)
- Secret Doctrine by H.P. Blavatsky
- Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett
Of forewords and prefaces
- Buddhism in Britain by Ian P. Oliver, (1979) London: Rider & Company, ISBN 0-091-3816-06
- Diamond Sutra and the Sutra of Hui-neng (Shambhala Classics) by W Y Evans-Wentz (foreword), Christmas Humphreys (foreword), Wong Mou-Lam (translator), A F Price (translator)
- Essays In Zen Buddhism (Third Series) by D. T. Suzuki
- Living Zen by Robert Linssen
- Mahayana Buddhism: A Brief Outline by Beatrice Lane Suzuki
- Some Sayings of the Buddha
- "Humphreys, (Travers) Christmas". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/31265. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Watts, Alan, In My Own Way: an autobiography, pg. 79–80., Novato: New World Library (2007)
- Kalchuri, Bhau (1986). Meher Prabhu: Lord Meher. 4. Myrtle Beach: Manifestation, Inc. p. 1432.
- Jeanie M. Welch (2002). The Tokyo trial: a bibliographic guide to English-language sources. ABC-CLIO. p. 88. ISBN 0-313-31598-1.
- Francis Selwyn (1988). Gangland: the case of Bentley and Craig. Crimes of the century. Taylor & Francis. p. 101. ISBN 0-415-00907-3.
- : The World's Greatest Spies and Spymasters by Roger Boar and Nigel Blundell, 1984
- Christmas Humphreys Biography Accessed 29 February 2012
- Damien P. Horigan, "Christmas Humphreys: A Buddhist Judge in Twentieth Century London", Korean Journal of Comparative Law, vol. 24., p. 1-16.
- Humphreys, Christmas (1972). Buddhism. Penguin. ISBN 0140202285.
- "Cleaning Windows Lyrics" at songmeanings.net
- Biography of Christmas Humphreys
- "Christmas Humphreys: A Buddhist Judge in Twentieth Century London" Damien P. Horigan Korean Journal of Comparative Law 24, 1–16