Lot 50
Sold for £ 9,000 (US$ 11,923) inc. premium

Lot Details
Heavily revised autograph drafts of two poems, 'Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries' and 'Oh Were He and I Together', the first with the original title "Epitaph on a mercenary army" partly deleted and revised, comprising eight lines in two quatrains, beginning: "These, in the day when heaven was falling...", and ending "...and saved the sum of things for pay", the second comprising twelve lines in three quatrains, beginning "Oh were he and I together...", and ending "...content for either slain", both written in pencil, with numerous deletions and revisions, the second subsequently rubbed-out and not in all places readily decipherable, 2 pages, on either side of a single octavo leaf, numbered "93" at the top, torn from a notebook, tear and glue stains where formerly mounted by Laurence Housman, in modern cloth folder, [c. September 1917]


  • 'EPITAPH ON AN ARMY OF MERCENARIES' AND 'OH WERE HE AND I TOGETHER': TWO RARE SURVIVING DRAFTS BY HOUSMAN, both of poems inspired by the carnage of the First World War, and by the poet who was taken to the heart of the generation that fought and waited at home during that war; his 'Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries' having fair claim to be considered among the war's great poems, and 'Oh Were He and I together' among his most controversial.

    These are the only known surviving drafts for these two poems. They are written on either side of a leaf which was once pages 92-93 in one of Housman's working notebooks, designated by his brother Laurence and by Tom Burns Haber as 'Notebook C' (The Manuscript Poems of A.E. Housman, 1955, pp.24-26). Laurence Housman records the draft in his analysis of the contents of his brother's notebooks (A.E.H.: Some Poems, Some Letters and a Personal Memoir Memoir, 1937, p.269). Until the re-emergence of this manuscript it had been assumed lost.

    It is generally agreed that the 'Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries' has its origin in a German taunt aimed at the 'Old Contemptibles' of 1914, the poem being first published in The Times on October 31 1917, in conjunction with an article in remembrance of the British Expeditionary Force soldiers killed at Ypres in October 1914. But the origins of its sister poem, 'Oh Were He and I Together', remain surrounded by controversy. Jennifer Breen and others have argued that it is, in part, about Housman's dead brother, Sergeant Herbert Housman; and given the physical proximity of the draft to the 'Epitaph', this seems highly probable: an interpretation that Breen has reinforced by a study of the phrasing of the draft, something hitherto that was not possible ('And Asunder to Remain', Times Literary Supplement, 4 February 2005, p.13). Others however, including Norman Page, A. E. Housman: A Critical Biography (1983) and R. P. Graves, A. E. Housman (1979) interpret the poem as being an expression of Housman's homosexuality, the latter believing it reflects the unrequited love he felt for Moses Jackson. While it is no doubt true to say that 'Oh Were He and I Together' is not 'about' Moses Jackson, many see it as inextricably tangled up in such feelings: thus Tom Stoppard - without making any claims either way - quotes the first two stanzas of the poem in his discussion of Housman's love for Jackson, in the context of five recently-discovered letters to A.W. Pollard, the last being one of desperate poignancy written after Jackson's death ('The Lad that Loves You True', Guardian, 3 June 2006: see A.E.H. - A.W.P.: A Classical Friendship, with an introduction by Henry Woudhuysen, the Foundling Press & Bernard Quaritch, 2006).

    Manuscripts of Housman poems are rare, and it is no doubt because of this that he is absent from such recent celebrations of literary manuscripts as the British Library's 100 Years of English Literature (2003), or the New York Public Library's Hand of the Poet (1997). And even P.J. Croft - who considered himself to be Housman's editorial heir - had to content himself with a fair copy in his Autograph Poetry in the English Language (1973), ii, 148. Croft summarised the history of Housman's manuscripts making for such a dearth thus: "While the poet himself ensured the preservation of the final manuscripts of his two published volumes of poetry... he adopted a very different attitude to his working drafts: in his will he directed his brother Laurence, after selecting should he wish such poems and fragments of verse as might seem worthy of preservation, 'to destroy all other poems and fragments of verse'. As a result of his brother's interpretation of this delicate responsibility, somewhat less than half survives today of the contents of the four notebooks which Housman used for the composition of his poetry: those leaves and portions of leaves, their variant and cancelled readings more or less obscured by erasure etc., are preserved in the Library of Congress".

    Since its re-emergence, the present manuscript has been subject to some scrutiny. Burnett writes of it: "The draft shows Housman's characteristic fastidiousness and judiciousness... As so often, the poet's revisions emerge as one of the best means of approaching the meanings of the poem" (Times Literary Supplement, 25 June 2004). The most thorough analysis being by Jennifer Breen: "much of this draft of 'Oh were he and I together' can be read with the assistance of a back-lit magnifying glass; and A. E. Housman's cancellations and substitutions of phrasing are as intriguing as the many correspondences, and the significant difference between the text in this draft and Laurence's published edition in his Memoir (1937). It is not certain that Laurence Housman published 'Oh were he and I together' from a 1922 fair copy or galley proof, since... both have disappeared. In fact, there is no autograph fair copy, or typescript, or galley proof extant that authorizes Laurence's published version in Memoir (1937), a fact that suggests he might have drawn on the revised draft on leaf 93" (op.cit.). It is perhaps apposite that the present manuscript should have been the subject of such painstaking research and discussion, since, in the words of Norman Page, "Housman would probably have wished to be remembered primarily as a textual editor" ODNB).
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