In terms of struggle and development, the life of Alfred Edgar Coppard (KAHP-urd) was, particularly in his early years, an epic in itself. He began in abject poverty, and his rise was circuitous. Born on January 4, 1878, at Folkestone in Kent, England, he was the son of a housemaid, Emily Alma (née Southwell) and George Coppard, a tailor. After the family moved to Brighton, Coppard was educated at the Lewes Hill Boarding School until the age of nine. His father had died of tuberculosis the year before. Coppard later remembered him as a radical young man with a bushy beard who never owned nor could afford an overcoat. This fact was apparently significant, as Coppard himself did not own an overcoat until he was thirty. After the father’s death, the family (Coppard, three sisters, and their mother) was sunk in destitution and was forced to apply for parish relief.
At nine, Coppard was taken out of school to become a wage earner. A year later, he was sent to Whitechapel in London, where he lived with an uncle and served as a shop boy to a trousers maker. From there, he was transferred to a pool of messenger boys at Reuter’s Telegraph Agency. The pay was usual for the period, but it was not enough to take care of the rest of his family; he lived on strict rations. This was a period, however, of growth and novelty amid colorful relatives, both hostile and friendly, and the tumult of the city.
Two years later, Coppard returned to Brighton and hired out as an office boy. From thirteen on, he worked at a number of jobs, meanwhile becoming an avid reader of poetry and continuing what had already become a program of self-education. He appears to have been endowed with extraordinary energy; his enthusiasms were broad as well as precocious. He loved sports, hiking, music, painting, and amateur theatricals. By the time of his early teens, he had started to write poetry, inspired chiefly by John Keats’s “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” and John Milton’s “L’Allegro.”
Coppard never returned to school but was...
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