The Letters of A E Housman by Archie Burnett (ed) - review by Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson

From Bromsgrove to Trinity

The Letters of A E Housman

By

Oxford University Press 2 vols 960pp £180 order from our bookshop
 

Housman, one of the egregious eccentrics of English poetry, was the son of a busy solicitor who practised in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. He had two sisters and four brothers, one of whom, Laurence, wrote a West End smash, Victoria Regina. He had a passion for Latin and Greek but not much interest in classical history and philosophy. Hence, at St John’s, Oxford, he took a first in Mods but flopped in Greats and had to seek employment in the Patent Office (like Einstein). However, his powerful pieces on classical philology in learned journals eventually led to recognition as a scholar and in 1892, when he was thirty-three, he was appointed professor of Latin at University College, London. Nearly twenty years later, his career was crowned by his election, against a strong field, to the chair of Latin at Cambridge. Thus he exchanged a dim house in Pinner for a splendid set of rooms in Trinity, where he lived till his death in 1936. 

In the vain attempt to solve the mystery of Housman, who, despite many efforts – including a superb play by Tom Stoppard – remains elusive, it must be grasped that virtually all his working life was spent on teaching, lecturing on and publishing the work of obscure Latin authors, devoting

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