Introduction: ‘All that need be known’

  • Norman Page


Most writers envisage an ideal readership of the living; or, damning the age, write for posterity. The biographer alone writes for an audience that includes a dead man, his subject, and can hardly escape the sense of a ghost, gratified or resentful, at his elbow. Housman would not have applauded very loudly the attempt to write his biography, but I think he would have viewed it more tolerantly than is often supposed. He was a man of deep reserve whose instinct for secretiveness was now and then overcome by the impulse to reveal himself: the appearance of A Shropshire Lad prompted one member of his family to exclaim that Alfred had a heart after all. He remarked in 1931 that ‘all that need be known of my life and books is contained in about a dozen lines of the publication Who’s Who,* but that meagre sop to curiosity leaves even the most casual enquirer unsatisfied: it does not, for instance, name his parents, it lists no recreations, and it contains such remarkable understatements as ‘St John’s Coll. Oxford (M.A.)’. It is about one-third the length of the entry provided by Laurence Housman, himself a not uninteresting figure but not three times as interesting as his brother.


Classical Scholar Comprehensive Truth Ideal Readership Romantic Fiction Homosexual Feeling 
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  1. G. L. Dickinson: The Autobiography of G. Lowes Dickinson & Other Unpublished Writings, ed. Dennis Proctor (1973).Google Scholar
  2. ‘to let me know the secret’: LH, ‘A. E. Housman’s “De Amicitia”’, Encounter, 29 (October 1967) 39.Google Scholar
  3. ‘That Alfred’s heart’: H. W. Garrod, ‘Housman: 1939’, Essays & Studies, 25(1939) 11–13.Google Scholar
  4. ‘one of the wittiest writers’: D. R. Shackleton Bailey, reviewing Classical Papers in Cambridge Review, 94 (1973) 190.Google Scholar
  5. ‘How mean a thing’: Coleridge, ‘A Prefatory Observation on Modern Biography’, The Friend, no. 21 (1810).Google Scholar
  6. ‘I have always thought’: W. H. Auden, ‘Straw without Bricks’, New Statesman, 53 (18 May 1957) 643–4 (review of Watson’s biography).Google Scholar
  7. ‘biographies will continue’: Richard Ellmann, Golden Codgers (1973) 15.Google Scholar

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© Norman Page 1996

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  • Norman Page

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