Biography: Alfred Edward Housman

Alfred_Edward_Housman-225x300Alfred Edward Housman was born in 1859 at Fockbury, Worcestershire, near the Shropshire border in England. He was a brilliant student of classics at Oxford, but after falling in love with a heterosexual fellow student named Moses Jackson, his unrequited passion may have played a part in his failing the final examinations in 1881. According to Housman’s biographer,  Jackson’s rejection condemned Housman to “a lifetime of unfulfilled loneliness”[1]

Because I liked you better
Than suits a man to say,
It irked you and I promised
To throw the thought away. [More Poems XXXI]

After Jackson’s marriage in 1888, they rarely met again, and never after Jackson retired to British Columbia, Canada, in 1911 to establish a dairy farm in Aldergrove, near Vancouver, where he died of cancer in January 1923.

Having failed his final exams, Housman spent the next 11 years as a civil servant in the Patent Office. Nevertheless, he eventually established a reputation as a great classical scholar and went on to publish acclaimed editions of Latin authors such as Ovid, Juvenal, Manilius and Lucan. He published only two slim volumes of poetry during his lifetime, A Shropshire Lad (originally titled Poems by Terence Hearsay) in 1896 and Last Poems in 1922. Another slim volume, More Poems, was published posthumously by his brother and literary executor Laurence Housman, in 1936, while in A.E.H., a memoir published in 1937, his brother included several “Additional Poems.” Housman’s poetry, like much of Hardy’s poetry, is pervaded by a deep pessimism, unrelieved by religious consolation. Housman strove to emphasize emotion, not intellect, in his verse, and several composers were inspired to give them musical settings.

  1. Norman Page, "Housman, Alfred Edward (1859–1936)," Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online ed., Jan. 2011., accessed 22 May 2014