Edward Thomas was already thirty-six years old when he started writing poetry at the end of 1914. Prior to this he had scraped a living from ill-paid commissions as a reviewer and as a writer of a wide assortment of prose works. In the decade and a half after he graduated from Oxford in 1900, Thomas produced twenty prose books, editing or writing introductions to twelve more, together with roughly 1,500 signed book reviews and over seventy articles. In The Happy-Go-Lucky Morgans, one of the autobiographical works included in Oxford’s new edition of his prose writings, Thomas portrays himself as Mr Torrance, ‘a doomed hack’ who is forced to survive by writing ‘hasty compilations, ill-arranged, inaccurate, and incomplete, and swollen to a ridiculous size for the sake of gain’.
Thomas won a reputation as an important critic – Walter de la Mare said that he must have been ‘a critic of rhymes in his nursery’ – but it came at a massive cost to his mental well-being and self-respect. While still at university Thomas had married Helen