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A.E. Housman

A Single Life

Martin Blocksidge is a freelance author and biographer. His most recent work, ‘The Banker Poet’: The Rise and Fall of Samuel Rogers, 1763–1855, followed ‘A Life Lived Quickly’: Arthur Hallam and his Legend, described in the Times Literary Supplement as ‘scrupulously fair-minded . . . balanced and believable’. Martin Blocksidge was Head of English at the Royal Grammar School, Guildford, and Director of Studies at St. Dunstan’s College, London, and former President of The English Association.

A.E. Housman’s poetry (especially A Shropshire Lad) remains well-known, widely read and often quoted. However, Housman did not view himself as a professional poet, always making quite clear that his ‘proper job’ was as a Professor of Latin. Housman’s fame as a poet has often obscured the fact that he was the leading British classical scholar of his generation, and a Cambridge Professor. It has also sometimes been suggested that Housman’s two areas of activity are the sign of a flawed or ‘divided’ personality. A.E. Housman: A Single Life argues that there is no fundamental tension between Housman the poet and Housman the scholar, and his career is presented very much as that of a working academic who also wrote poetry. The book gives a full account of what Housman described as ‘the great and real troubles of my early manhood’, and in particular his unrequited and life-long love for his undergraduate friend Moses Jackson. It resists the temptation to classify Housman too exclusively as a melancholic, and is sceptical about Housman’s reputed rudeness and misanthropy, pointing out that, though Housman was famously aloof in manner, he was notably loyal and generous, courteous in his daily dealings and generally liked by those who knew him. He also possessed a highly developed sense of the absurd and a ready and often disconcerting wit, features which characterised not only his letters and miscellaneous writings, but also, famously, much of his scholarly work.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-761-2
Hardback Price: £35.00 / $55.00
Release Date: July 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-844-2
Paperback Price: £27.50 / $39.95
Release Date: July 2016
Page Extent / Format: 360 pp. / 234 x 156 mm mm
Illustrated: Yes



Chapter One: ‘My dear Mo’

Chapter Two: ‘Was there ever such an interesting family as we were’

Chapter Three: ‘Oxford had not much effect on me’

Chapter Four: ‘The really emotional part of my life’

Chapter Five: ‘Out of the gutter’

Chapter Six: ‘A better scholar than Wordsworth and a better poet than Porson’

Chapter Seven: ‘An asylum in every sense of the term’

Chapter Eight: ‘In the hopes of dropping dead’


Known mainly as a poet (A Shropshire Lad), Housman was also a classical scholar and university professor. Blocksidge contends that the dysjunction between Housman the poet and Housman the scholar is on the surface obvious, but to see Housman’s life as divided in any fundamentally psychological sense is misleading. Housman did not see himself primarily as a poet, rather as a scholar who occasionally writes poetry, and this biography seeks to reflect that fact. While Blocksidge failed to find any kind of tension between the two areas of Housman’s life after examination, Housman’s life, nevertheless, did contain contradictions of other kinds. In his own lifetime he was described as being both dowdy and dapper, tall and slight, tongue-tied and amusing. With a reputation as a withdrawn and even misanthropic figure, he was also known for his satirical sense of humor. While cutting an austere figure in the ivy-covered halls, he was explicit that his chief aim was the pursuit of pleasure — good food and wine and foreign travel. Although looking old-fashioned, he was the first Cambridge professor to regularly travel to Europe by plane. His love for a classmate went unrequited, although Housman considered him the most influential person in his life, and their relationship was the impetus for some of his poems. Eight chapters are: ‘my dear Mo’; ‘was there ever such an interesting family as we were?’; ‘Oxford had not much effect on me’; ‘the really emotional part of my life’; ‘out of the gutter’; ‘a greater scholar than Wordsworth and a greater poet than Porson’; ‘an asylum in every sense of the term’; ‘in the hopes of dropping dead’. There is a list of illustrations, abbreviations, and notes, and a bibliography.

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