A. E. Housman Additional Biography


Alfred Edward Housman (HOW-smuhn) was born on March 26, 1859, the eldest of seven children born to Sarah and Edward Housman. Although Housman was born in Fockbury, Worcestershire, England, he grew up in Bromsgrove, near Birmingham, where the Housman family moved when he was still in infancy. Bromsgrove is in close proximity to the Shropshire hills that would become the central setting in Alfred’s most famous collection of poems, A Shropshire Lad, published in 1896.

Housman’s childhood was mostly unhappy. He was frail, often sickly, very devoted to his mother, and alienated from his father. His mother’s death in 1871 on young Housman’s twelfth birthday further served to alienate his father, a masculine, sporting, practicing attorney who fancied himself as a country squire and who displayed some disappointment that his eldest son did not share these same characteristics or inclinations. The elder Housman soon remarried a cousin, however, and young Housman found in his stepmother, Lucy Housman, a devoted and supportive person who helped make the remainder of his early life bearable, if not altogether happy.

Housman’s education began at the Bromsgrove School, where he distinguished himself in his studies from the outset. In fact, at Bromsgrove, Housman was at the top of his class and upon graduation won a scholarship to Oxford in 1877. At Bromsgrove, he developed a taste for classical languages and excelled in both Latin and Greek. He continued these studies at Oxford, becoming especially interested in the Roman poet Sextus Propertius. In addition, Housman read the works of English writers Matthew Arnold and Thomas Hardy, both contemporaries, whose ideas and forms influenced much of Housman’s poetry.

While Housman was matriculating at Oxford, he met Moses Jackson, a classmate who would have a profound effect on the rest of Housman’s life. Although Jackson and Housman were from similar backgrounds, Jackson was everything that Housman was not—tall, handsome, well built, athletically inclined, and confident in his own abilities. Jackson and Housman became not only fast friends but also roommates for most of their college careers, along with A. W. Pollard, another Oxford undergraduate. Housman, however, desired more than simply Jackson’s companionship; in...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A. E. Housman’s poetry has many enduring qualities, among them the intensity of feeling, the fastidious care with which the setting is etched, the careful maintenance of tone and mood, and the poignancy of the moments of experiences captured and preserved in time. Housman has frequently been accused of being bitterly critical and even sardonic in his poetry. The careful reader, however, will recognize Housman’s sincere presentation of actual experiences, experiences that he or she perhaps would rather not confront but that are almost certain to occur. That is perhaps Housman’s chief contribution to poetry—the strong medicine that the world needs to immunize it against the ills of life.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201555-Houseman.jpg A. E. Housman Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Despite the title of his most famous volume, Alfred Edward Housman (HOW-smuhn) came not from Shropshire but from Fockbury in the neighboring county of Worcestershire. He was born the son of Edward Housman, a solicitor and the elder brother of the author and artist Laurence Housman. A. E. Housman was educated at St. John’s College, Oxford, between 1877 and 1881, but when he failed his examination in Greats he returned to his home in humiliation. He went back to Oxford in the fall of 1881, working as a tutor in Greek and Latin and studying for the Civil Service Examination. When he left Oxford the following year with a lowly “pass” degree, he obtained a position in the Patent Office in London and devoted his evenings to...

(The entire section is 617 words.)