The E-BNR aims to build a comprehensive & unique cross-artform guide to
the British neo-Romantic tradition,
from 1880 to the present day.
While the British Romantics of 1789-1824 have spawned a vast industry of
publishers, conferences & tourism, the later neo-Romantic traditions
remain largely neglected. The E-BNR is aimed at bringing this hidden
tradition to light.
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WHAT IS NEO-ROMANTICISM ?
Neo-Romantic artists have drawn their inspiration
from artists of the age of Romanticism or earlier.
Characteristic themes in their work include a
mystical approach to the British landscape...
ENTRY: Housman, A.E.
Alfred Edward Housman (b. March 26, 1859 – d. April 30, 1936),
usually known as A.E. Housman, was an English poet and classical scholar, now best known for his
cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad.
Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, the eldest of seven children of a country solicitor.
His brother Laurence Housman also became a writer.
Housman schooled first in King Edward's School, then in Bromsgrove School where he
acquired a strong academic grounding and won prizes for his poetry. In 1877
he won an open scholarship to St John's College, Oxford, where he studied
classics. He was a brilliant student, gaining first class honours in classical
moderations, but a withdrawn person whose only friends were his roommates
Moses Jackson and A. W. Pollard. Housman fell in love with the handsome,
athletic Jackson who, being heterosexual, rejected him, though the
two remained friends. This experience, reflected in some of his poems, may be
an explanation of Housman's unexpected failure in his final exams
(the "Greats") in 1881. Housman took this failure very seriously but managed to
take a pass degree the next year, after a brief period of teaching in Bromsgrove School.
After graduating, Jackson got a job as a clerk in the Patent Office in London and
arranged a job there for Housman as well. They shared an apartment with Jackson's
brother Adalbert until 1885 when Housman moved in to lodgings of his own. Moses
Jackson married and moved to Ceylon in 1887 and Adalbert Jackson died in 1892.
Housman continued pursuing classical studies independently and published scholarly
articles on such ancient Greek authors as Horace, Propertius, Ovid, Aeschylus, Euripides and
Sophocles. He gradually acquired such a high reputation that in 1892 he was offered
the professorship of Latin at University College London, which he accepted.
During his years in London, A.E. Housman completed his cycle of 63 pastoral poems, A Shropshire Lad. After
several publishers had turned it down, he published it at his own expense in 1896,
much to the surprise of his colleagues and students. At first the book sold slowly,
but Housman's nostalgic depiction of brave English soldiers struck a chord with
English readers and his poems became a lasting success. Later, the First World War had a
further increasing effect on their popularity, and a copy was almost universally
to be found in a soldier's knapsack. Several composers, Arthur Somervell
first, found inspiration in the seeming folksong-like simplicity of the poems. The
most famous musical settings are by George Butterworth and Ralph Vaughan Williams,
with others by Ivor Gurney, John Ireland and Ernest John Moeran.
Although Housman's sphere of responsibilities as professor included both Latin and
Greek, he put most of his energy in the study of Latin classics. His reputation
in this field grew steadily, and in 1911 he took the Kennedy Professorship of
Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained for the rest of his life.
It was unusual at the time for an Oxford man such as Housman to be hired at
Housman always found his true vocation in classical studies and treated poetry
as a secondary activity. He never spoke about his poetry in public until 1933
when he gave a lecture, "The Name and Nature of Poetry", in which he argued that
poetry should appeal to emotions rather than intellect. He died two years
later in Cambridge. His ashes are buried near St Laurence's Church, Ludlow, Shropshire.
A Shropshire Lad is set in a half-imaginative pastoral Shropshire, "the land of lost content"
and the poems explore themes of fleetingness of love, youthful beauty, and decay of youth in a spare,
uncomplicated style which many critics of the time found out of date. Housman himself
acknowledged the influence of the songs of William Shakespeare, the Scottish Border
Ballads and Heinrich Heine, but specifically denied any influence of Greek and Latin
classics in his poetry.