This passage appears in Housman's autobiography, The Unexpected Years. — George P. Landow.


uring the 1890's many books of verse were published; and out of them many mushroom reputations were made. John Lane had what he called his 'nest of singing-birds', of whom, I imagine, only Francis Thompson would now count as important. In 1895 I became one of the ruck, and he published my first book of poems Green Arras with illustrations. Before submitting them, I sent them to my brother Alfred for criticism; and his long critical notes which I still cherish were both kind and caustic. Thanks to him I left out several poems which I am now glad to have left out; had I accepted his advice without question, I should have left out a few more. I was just then designing book-covers for John Lane; so naturally I did what I thought an extra good one for myself: it was, at all events, very rich and elaborate, Alfred had not at that time published his own poems, but, without having told us, was then writing them. Some years later I received from him a letter telling me how at a dinner his next-door neighbour thought to interest me by talking about you and your poems. He said that he liked Green Arras he added that A Shropshire Lad had a pretty cover. I am your affectionate brother A. E. Housman. PS. He did not say that the Green Arras had a pretty cover nor has it. pss. I was just licking the envelope when the following envenomed remark occurred to me: I had far far rather have my poems mistaken as yours, than your poems mistaken as mine.

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Binding for Laurence Hausman's “Green Arras”. [Click on image to enlarge it.]

As by that time we were constantly being taken for each other, I had other letters from him of a like kind. Without malice he much enjoyed putting me in my place, though I was already sufficiently aware of it.

It was in the year following the publication of Green Arras that the bright blow descended upon me. I had begun in a small way to make a reputation for myself; there were just about a thousand people who liked my books sufficiently to buy them my prose books that is to say; my poems were only wanted by about half that num ber. But this meant that publishers were willing to take what I brought them, though royalties usually did not begin with first sales. But I was happy, and hopeful, and prolific; and having the Manchester Guardian as a stand by was able to indulge in the luxury of writing poems and stories which did not bring me much profit.

And then like a bolt from the blue out came A Shropshire Lad, and straightway, as an author with any individuality worth mentioning, I was wiped out: I became the brother of the Shropshire Lad and for the next five years I laboured under the shadow of that bright cloud; then once more I got my own streak of the sunshine of popular favour this time on a larger scale. [162-63]

Bibliography

Housman, Laurence. The Unexpected Years. London: Jonathan Cape, 1936.


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Last modified 19 November 2012