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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