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Overview (3)

Date of Birth 26 March 1859Fockbury, Worcestershire, England, UK
Date of Death 30 April 1936Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England, UK  (natural causes)
Birth NameAlfred Edward Housman

Mini Bio (1)

English poet and scholar. He was the eldest of seven children born to Edward Housman, a solicitor, and Sarah Jane Housman (née Williams). Housman was brought up and educated in Worcestershire, winning a scholarship to Bromsgrove School in 1870. In 1877 he won another scholarship, to St. John's College, Oxford, where he studied classics. In his first Public Examination in 1879, he gained first-class honours. However, he failed his second Public Examination in 1881, partly through neglecting the study of philosophy and history, towards which the course was geared, in favour of the poetry and textual criticism in which he was interested. Consequently he left Oxford without a degree. In 1882 he began working at the Patent Office as a clerk. During this period he began publishing articles on Latin and Greek poetry, and by 1892, when he applied for the post of Professor of Latin at University College London, he had twenty-five published articles to his name. While teaching at UCL he published an edition of Ovid 's `Ibis' (in 1894). This was followed by editions of works by Manilius (1903-30, in five volumes), Juvenal (1905) and Lucan (1926). In 1911 he was made Benjamin Hall Kennedy Professor of Latin at Cambridge, where he taught until a few days before his death. He refused all the honours and awards offered him, including six honorary degrees from British universities and (in 1929) the Order of Merit. He did however accept the fellowship of St. John's College, Oxford.

Housman's first volume of poetry, 'A Shropshire Lad', was published in 1896. Although sales were initially slow, by the time his second volume, 'Last Poems', was published in 1922 it had achieved the status of a modern classic and Housman had become something of a literary celebrity, a position with which he was less than entirely comfortable. His poems are frequently concise, often suggesting the rhythms of traditional ballads. Frequently they evoke the English countryside, specifically that of Housman's native West Midlands. His subject-matter is often melancholy: recurring themes include unrequited love and the death of young men (in war, by suicide, or by hanging). A supplementary volume, 'More Poems', was published in 1936 shortly after his death, edited by his brother Laurence. The following year Laurence published a biography including eighteen further poems. Among these were poems too explicit or personal to be published during his lifetime, e.g. 'Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists' (about the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde). At Oxford Housman had fallen in love with a fellow undergraduate, Moses Jackson. Jackson did not reciprocate his affection and may not even have been aware of it. He was already working at the Patent Office when Housman applied for a job there, and from 1882 to 1887 Housman lived with Jackson and his brother in lodgings in Bayswater. However, in 1887 Moses left the country for India, returning briefly two years later to marry. Thereafter his contact with Housman was minimal. 'A Shropshire Lad' was dedicated to him, as was the first volume of Housman's edition of Manilius. Housman's avowed atheism is expressed in such poems as 'Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries' and 'Easter Hymn'. However, he also described the Church of England as 'the best religion I have ever come across', and much of his poetry echoes the language of the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible. Perhaps his most religious work (superficially at least) is 'For My Funeral'. This was sung as a hymn at his funeral, and recited on 17 September 1996, when a memorial was dedicated to Housman in Poet's Corner, Westminster Abbey.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Peter Brynmor Roberts

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