Housman

Although I have put this post in the Hero(in)es category, I must say that its subject seems not to have been a particularly pleasant person. I have known about A. E. Housman (1859-1936) since about 1964, when I bought a copy of his most famous work — the very copy you can see in the picture.

Housman was a brilliant Classics scholar, but he failed to take a degree at Oxford. After this setback he worked as a clerk in the Patents Office in London, while at the same time writing for scholarly journals. In 1892 he was offered the post of Professor of Latin at UCL, which he held until 1911, when he became Professor of Latin at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained until his death.

He self-published A Shropshire Lad in 1896. Rather strangely Housman had never visited Shropshire at that time. However, his book of poems was a great success and has been in print continuously since its first publication. I have to say it is not a happy book, but it does contain some very beautiful poetry.

Housman did not suffer fools gladly and both face to face and in print could be very, very forthright, shall we say? Here are a couple of published comments about Latin scholars he thought could have done better:

Mr. Owen’s innovations, so far as I can see, have only one merit, which certainly, in view of their character, is a merit of some magnitude: they are few.

Dr Postgate’s notes on …… appear to have been written before he knew what his text was going to be, or after he had forgotten what it was.

Housman’s time at UCL is commemorated in the name of the Academic Staff Common Room, a place where I have spent many a pleasant time over coffee after lunch in the company of my then colleagues, now passed away, including G. F. Arnold, J. R. Baldwin, D. B. Fry, A. C. Gimson, J. D. O’Connor, O. M. Tooley. Happy memories.

2 thoughts on “Housman

  1. Into my heart an air that kills
    From yon far country blows:
    What are those blue remembered hills,
    What spires, what farms are those?

    That is the land of lost content,
    I see it shining plain,
    The happy highways where I went
    And cannot come again.

  2. Yes, Martin.

    What are those blue remembered hills

    is a shiver up the spine line.

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