Robert Lock Graham Irving

Robert Lock Graham Irving

Robert Lock Graham Irving (17 February 187710 April 1969), was an English schoolmaster, writer and mountaineer. As an author, he used the name R. L. G. Irving, while to his friends he was Graham Irving.

Life and family

Irving taught French and mathematics at Winchester College in Hampshire.Anderson, Jack, [ Robert Irving, Conductor, Dies; Music Director for Dance Was 78] dated September 17, 1991, at, accessed 14 July 2008.] At Winchester, he became 'Master in College', in charge of the ancient house for the holders of foundation scholarships, and founded a climbing group known as the Winchester Ice Club. [Firstbrook, Peter, " [ Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory & Irvine, Chapter One] " online at, accessed 14 July 2008.]

He had a son, Robert Irving (1913–1991), and a daughter, Clare. His son became a distinguished conductor and was musical director of the New York City Ballet, 1958 to 1989, as well as following in his father's footsteps as an amateur mountaineer. In 1991, his daughter's name was Clare Peters.

Irving died on 10 April 1969, a few months into his ninety-third year. [ [ New General Catalog of Old Books and Authors: Author names starting with Ir] at, accessed 14 July 2008: "Robert Lock Graham IRVING (M: 1877 Feb 17 - 1969 Apr 10)."]


Irving became a member of the Alpine Club in 1902 and was an advocate of climbing without a mountain guide, which in those days was thought by some to be reckless, but which Irving undertook "on account of boredom [of being guided] and expense".Claire Engel, "Mountaineering in the Alps", London: George Allen and Unwin, 1971, p. 184. His climbing partner – a fellow Winchester schoolmaster – having being killed in a fall early in 1904, Irving went on a solitary climbing trip to the Sierra Nevada in the Easter vacation of that year. Finding the experience unsatisfactory – "If you climb for novelty and excitement solitary climbing is the kind to satisfy you; but if you climb for recreation of mind and body it is a failure"R. L. G. Irving, 'Five Years with Recruits', "Alpine Journal", Vol. XXIV, reprinted in "Peaks, Passes and Glaciers", ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, p. 154. – he was left looking for new people with whom to climb during the summer of 1904. He took to finding companions – he called them "recruits" – for his alpine trips from within the ranks of seventeen- and eighteen-year-old boys at Winchester College, the enlistment of the first of whom (Harry Gibson)The second of these recruits was "a special friend of the first [who] was soon enlisted, and the planning of the campaign began".'Five Years with Recruits', p. 155. This was the seventeen-year-old George Mallory, a mathematics scholar at Winchester who later disappeared on the to Mount Everest. Much of Irving's fame derives from his being the person who introduced Mallory to mountaineering.Claire Engel writes: "One of [Irving's recruits] was George Mallory, who was then seventeen. Irving took them up various peaks, some easy, some hard, some very difficult. The first ascent was that of the Velan and it ended in failure, as the two boys collapsed with mountain-sickness. Yet by the end of the summer they had become hardened climbers." "Mountaineering in the Alps", p. 185. Aside from Gibson and Mallory, who both went on the first trip in 1904, other members of the Winchester Ice Club were Guy Bullock (who reached Mount Everest's North Col in 1921) [ Imaging Everest] Short biography of Bullock, accessed 15 July 2008. and Harry Tyndale. [ "Denver Post" Review] Review of "Lost on Everest: The Search for Mallory and Irvine", accessed 15 July 2008.

According to Irving's address to the Alpine Club, entitled 'Five Years with Recruits', the Ice Club's series of controversial expeditions to climb some of the highest mountains in the Alps began in 1904, and peaks such as the Grand Combin, the Dent Blanche, the Aiguille du Blaitière, the Bietschhorn, the Aiguille de Bionnassay, the Grunhorn, the Mittaghorn, the Aletschhorn, Monte Rosa and Mont Blanc were successfully ascended.'Five Years with Recruits', pp. 153–65. Rock climbing trips were also undertaken to Snowdonia, using the Pen-y-Gwyrd hotel as a base, and snow craft was practised in the Scottish Highlands in winter.'Five Years with Recruits', p. 157. There is a photograph in "Peaks, Passes, and Glaciers" (facing p. 160) showing Mallory as a schoolboy as middle man on the rope during a winter ascent of Tower Ridge on Ben Nevis.

The feelings of the Alpine Club towards the leading of boys up potentially dangerous mountains were expressed in a 'Condemnation', in which Tom George Longstaff stated that he "did not think that members would agree with him about the advisability of such expeditions".'Condemnation', reprinted in "Peaks, Passes and Glaciers", ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, pp. 166–7. This was followed by 'A Disclaimer', published in the "Alpine Journal" for 1909 and signed by such luminaries as Longstaff, Geoffrey Winthrop Young, Claud Schuster, W. P. Haskett Smith and D. W. Freshfield, in which these members of the club, and nine others, ' [desire] to place on record that we disclaim responsibility for any encouragement which Mr. Irving's paper may give to expeditions undertaken after the manner therein described'.'A Disclaimer', "Alpine Journal", Vol. XXIV, reprinted in "Peaks, Passes and Glaciers", ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, pp. 168–9. However, as Claire Engel wrote in 1971, "it seems that Irving's methods have been adopted by various organisations.""Mountaineering in the Alps", p. 185. Irving continued to climb with Mallory after the latter had left Winchester; in 1911 Irving led Mallory and another of his ex-pupils, Harry Tyndale, on the third ascent of the Kuffner (or Frontier) ridge on Mont Maudit. According to Helmut Dumler, Mallory was "apparently prompted by the death of friends on the Western Front in 1916 [to write] a highly emotional article of his ascent of this great climb";Helmut Dumler and Willi P. Burkhardt, "The High Mountains of the Alps", London: Diadem, 1994, p. 216. this article was published as 'Mont Blanc from the Col du Géant by the Eastern Butress of Mont Blanc' in the "Alpine Journal".Reprinted as 'Pages from a Journal', in "Peaks, Passes and Glaciers", ed. Walt Unsworth, London: Allen Lane, 1981, pp. 170–81.

Irving's book "Ten Great Mountains" (1940) sets out the climbing history up to then of Snowdon, Ben Nevis, Ushba, Mount Logan, Everest, Nanga Parbat, Kanchenjunga, the Matterhorn, Mount Cook and Mont Blanc.

Irving kept up to date with mountaineering developments in the Greater Ranges, writing of the Muztagh Tower (7,273 m) in the Karakorum that it was "Nature’s last stronghold – probably the most inaccessible of all the great peaks, its immense precipices show no weakness in its defence". [ Kanchejunga, Mustagh Towers, 1955–1959] Account of expeditions to Kanchejunga, Mustagh Towers, 1955–1959, accessed 14 July 2008.]

In a pamphlet called "The Mountains Shall Bring Peace" (1947), Irving describes the benefits he has had from his own climbing and proposes greater participation in mountaineering as a way to achieve international brotherhood and peace.

Books and articles by Irving

*'The Ligurian Alps in Spring', "Alpine Journal", August, 1911
*'Une nuit d'avril ... à la Brèche de Roland et au Taillon', "La Montagne" (journal of the Club alpin français), Sept–Oct 1929 ["Une nuit d'avril ... à la Brèche de Roland et au Taillon, par R. L. Graham Irving" – 7 pages, in "La Montagne, Revue Mensuelle du CLUB ALPIN FRANÇAIS", 55th year, September–October 1929.]
*"La conquête de la montagne", Paris, Payot (Bibliothèque géographique), 1936
*"The Mountain Way, an anthology in prose and verse, collected by R. L. G. Irving", xxii + 656 pp., London, J. M. Dent, 1938; New York, Dutton, 1938Neate, Jill, "Mountaineering Literature: A Bibliography of Material Published in English", [ page 88] online at, accessed 14 July 2008.]
*"The Alps", London, B. T. Batsford, 1938; New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1940; revised editions, B. T. Batsford, 1942 and 1947
*"Ten Great Mountains", J. M. Dent & Sons, 1940
*"The Romance of Mountaineering ", J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1946
*(As translator), "My Caves", from the French of Norbert Casteret, London, J.M. Dent & Sons, 1947
*"The Mountains Shall Bring Peace", iv + 47 pp., Oxford, Blackwell, 1947 [ [ whoswhodetails] : "Robert Lock Graham Irving (1877 – 1969)" at, accessed 14 July 2008.]
*(With Guido Rey), "The Matterhorn": Guido Rey's "Il Monte Cervino" was first published in English in 1907, in a translation from the Italian by J. E. C. Eaton; a revised edition, with two further chapters by R. L. G. Irving, was published in Oxford by Basil Blackwell, 1946, and reprinted in 1949 [Neate, "op. cit.", p. 133.]
*(As translator), "Cave Men New and Old", from the French of Norbert Casteret, London, J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1951 [ [ Reviewed] in "The Geographical Journal", Vol. 117, No. 3 (September, 1951), pp. 352–3.]
*"A History of British Mountaineering", B. T. Batsford, 1955

elected quotations

*"There are routes up many peaks in the Alps, Mont Blanc and the Matterhorn being conspicuous examples, on which a solitary climber risks little more than a man who wanders alone on a wild Yorkshire moor." – R. L. G. Irving, from "Alpine Journal" (1909)'Five Years with Recruits', p. 153.
*"A mountain becomes great as a human personality does, by extending its influence over the thoughts, words and actions of mankind." – R. L. G. Irving, from "Ten Great Mountains", 1940 [ [ Poetry and Belles Lettres] at, accessed 14 July 2008.] [ [ About the Mountain Forum] at, accessed 14 July 2008.]
*"Mountains... by the interchange of what we have given them and they have given us, there is a part of our personality in them and of theirs in us that is indestructible." – R. L. G. Irving, from "Alpine Journal" (1937) [R. L. G. Irving, "Alpine Journal", Vol. XLIX (1937), p. 164.]


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