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acts Will be reduced to lists of dates and facts1 First printed in 1912, Masefield s poem Biography demonstrates unease with the genre . His own fragmentary autobiographical works have an intriguing reticence and wh en Sanford Sternlicht admitted difficulty in writing the biographical introducti on to his critical study (John Masefield, Twayne Publishers, 1977) he was highli ghting the lack of factual information available. This situation changed in the centenary year of Masefield s birth when a biography was published with the suppor t of the Masefield family and estate. Constance Babington Smith s work (John Masef ield: A Life, Oxford University Press, 1978) must be regarded as definitive beca use of her access to family and friends. Preston plaque John Masefield was born on 1 June 1878 in Ledbury, Herefordshire. His childhood was idyllic and the beauty of the local countryside and a dreamy imagination led him to a Wordsworthian communion with Nature. Masefield s paradise was not to last; at an early age he was orphaned and entrusted to the guardians hip of an aunt and uncle. The aunt viewed his love of reading with suspicion and , after a brief period at the King s School Warwick, it was thought that the schoo l-ship H.M.S. Conway would both prepare the youth for a career at sea and dispel his addiction to books. The Conway Masefield s autobiographical account of his first term on board the Con way in 1891 entitled New Chum tells of confusion, awe and wonder at this new wor ld. His marine schooling trained him for the sea and also, crucially, introduced him to marine history, mythology and yarns. Gaining the position of a senior pe tty officer, Masefield left the ship in 1894 and was apprenticed to a four-maste d barque (the Gilcruix) sailing from Cardiff to Iquique in Chile via Cape Horn. The new apprentice was violently ill and upon arrival sunstroke combined with a nervous breakdown to invalid Masefield. He was classified as a Distressed Britis h Seaman and, after time in hospital, returned to England. The aunt taunted her nephew and arrangements were made for the young man to join another ship in New York. Masefield had other plans and upon arrival in America he deserted ship vow ing to be a writer, come what might. 3 At seventeen Masefield embarked on a life of vagrancy in America during a time o f widespread depression. One job was as a bar-hand in New York, but he eventuall y secured better employment at a carpet factory in Yonkers. It provided a modest wage and time to relax after the working day. Masefield spent his time reading and at eighteen years of age bought a volume of Chaucer. His admission to a new world of poetry was sudden and complete on 6 September 1896 when he first read T he Parliament of Fowls. Keats and Shelley followed as did Masefield s renewed atte mpts at writing himself. Thinking that journalism might allow him to write for a living, Masefield returned to England in July 1897. Salt-Water Ballads title-page The nineteen-year old commenced work in London as a bank clerk. Plagued by ill-health (and malaria, in particular) the would-be po et acheived success in 1899 when his first poem was published in The Outlook.4 F or Masefield the time had come to approach his most recent influence and in 1900 he was invited to dine with W.B. Yeats. Masefield thus found himself drawn into Yeats s circle of friends which included Lady Gregory, Arthur Symons, Ernest Rhys , J.M. Synge and Laurence Binyon. This last had a profound influence on the cour se of Masefield s life for Binyon introduced him to Constance de la Cherois Cromme lin, a woman eleven and a half years Masefield s senior. When, in 1902 Grant Richa rds published Masefield s first book, Salt-Water Ballads, the volume carried a ded ication to three women one of whom was Constance, his future wife. Masefield married in 1903. Now with the financial commitments of a family (a dau
Of particular impo rtance at this time is Masefield s work for the Manchester Guardian (Masefield was on the staff in Manchester for a short period and devised the Miscellany column w hich then comprised a compendium of news stories). A sensation had occurred: Lord Alfred Dougl as branded the work nine tenths sheer filth . Here Masefield s neighbours included R obert Bridges. The negative American impressi on of the Dardanelles campaign was one contributory factor to Masefield s history of Gallipoli . Back in England. however.8 Such was Masefield s triumph that an invitation was received from Sir Douglas Haig to write the chronicle of the Somme.ghter. and he turned his attention to drama (in addition to shor t stories and two naval histories).a new voice in poe try .revivalists of the handicra fts movement. A re lationship with the actress and feminist thinker Elizabeth Robins occurred at th is time and Masefield spoke for the suffrage of women in 1910. The poetic vein in which Masefield had enjoyed modest success was now changing.G. The final few years of the decade saw a further novel (Multitude and Solitude) in addition to his starting another play (The Tragedy of Pompey the G reat) which owed much to his friendship with the classicist Gilbert Murray.arrived on the literary scene. After some notoriety following a shocking production of The Campden Wonder in 19 07. he intended to create a travelling field hospital but. Harley Granville-Barker directed Masefield s The Tragedy of Nan in May 1908 st arring Lillah McCarthy in the title role.7 Masefield continued his success in 1912 with The Widow In The Bye Street and Dauber in 1914 . in the event. and J. Captain Maragret upper cover illustration With the outbreak of war. popular a nd artistic successes. Judith. Masefield s reputation continued to grow and his first novel Captain Margaret (set on the Spanish Main) was published in June 1908.an instant success and described by one critic as a book to strike the critical faculty numb and too sacred for applause . Music Room . Yeats.A. Other work comprised editing and writing pre fatory introductions. In this environment Masefield wrote three further long na rrative poems: Reynard The Fox (1919). despite Masefield s fervent creative efforts he later described the period as a very real blackness of despair and noted my work was not what I had hoped . and also badly needed financial support.interior At Boars Hill Masefield continued to develop his dramatic . the Masefield family (which since 1910 had included a son.5 However. Yeats. Barrie described the work as incomparably the finest literature . read in public houses.M. Here he experienced t he horror of modern warfare and planned how to improve conditions for the wounde d. friendship with Jack B. The writer was now finding bo th a forum for publication. the poem was denounced from the pulpi t. The first was later described by L. flourished a s did his friendship with Charles and Janet Ashbee . Masefield be come an orderly at a British Red Cross hospital in France. Whitehall bureaucracy eventually forced Masefield to abandon the ori ginal plan and the Somme chronicle eventually appeared as two truncated volumes: The Old Front Line and The Battle of the Somme.6 It was only in 19 11 with publication of The Everlasting Mercy that Masefield .both long narrative poems and. Thus Masefield took charge of a motor boat ambulance service at Gallipoli i n 1915. At this tim e. Gilbert Murray and Lillah McCarthy while Robert Graves rented a c ottage from Masefield. the artist brother of W. After the Allied failure there Masefield turned his attention to America and undertook a series of lectures which would enable him to assess American fe eling towards the war and plead the Allied cause. was born in 1904) Masefield continued work as little more than a literary hack. Strong as a masterpiece 9 and by Muriel Spa rk as a great poem . Right Royal (1920) and King Cole (1921). His poems and short stories (in addition to a prodigious quantity of book reviews) were published in newspapers and magazines. Lewi s) were resident on Boars Hill near Oxford. this was abandoned after a request for assistance in the Dardanel les.10 In 1922 Oxford University awarded Masefield an Honorary Doct orate.B. Raising money himself. again.
Sweden and Monte Carlo. W. Advocating the spoken word as the best vehicl e for poetry. Masefield established the Oxford Recitations . He was a popular choice for th e sixteenth Laureate (since Dryden) and had been chosen in preference to Kipling . Not content with this enterprise. poetry was a spoken art form and his own private theatre ( The Music Room ) provided a forum for poets to develop work. here Masefield writes specifically of his literary awakening and his life as a writer. Success led Mase field to record a further three commercial discs in addition to occasional messa ges and private greetings. received the William Foyle Poetry Prize for the Bluebe lls and Other Verse and received an award from the National Book League for Old Raiger and Other Verse. Hardy and Barrie). After Pinbury. Finland. plays and ballet. Housman. Norway. May 1912 .P. As Laureat e he found himself in constant demand and earnestly worked for his fellow writer s. 1949 was. delivering th eir second annual lecture. During this decade and the early 1940s Masefield continued to produce poetic work alth ough he also concentrated on his narrative art in a succession of successful nov els . newspaper cartoon of Masefield During the Second World War. the release of The Story of Ossian as an L. the Masefields moved to Burcot e Brook.a contest for verse speaking held in Oxfor d and was also to collaborate with Nevill Coghill in establishing the Oxford Sum mer Diversions . Masefield published poetry (Some Verses to Some Germans and A Generation Risen) and prose (The Nine Days Wonder). Greece. Gordon Bottomley. The English Review.The Bird of Dawning and the Ned trilogy11 for example. In 1942 however. Constance Masefield died in 1960 and the final years of Masefield s life saw a res urgence of activity and success . In the late 1 940s he was closely associated with the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and became the first president of the recently created National Book League. Although previous autobiographi cal works had been published. For Masefield. Westminster Abbey.12 Notes 1. In October 1930 he received the freedom of the City of Hereford.a festival of recitals. near Abingdon. Yeats atte nded a short festival in his honour. La urence Binyon and Thomas Hardy had plays produced at Boars Hill. An honorary doctora te from Cambridge was awarded in 1931. With the death of Robert Bridges.voice and started to organise amateur theatrical productions in addition to reci tations. Yeats. to bring serious illness and the 1 950s saw little work from Masefield: one notable exception was So Long To Learn: Chapters of an Autobiography published in 1952. T he austerity and destruction of war affected Masefield but with characteristic d etermination he carried on writing and performing official duties. the war directl y struck the family when Masefield s son was killed in the North African desert. In 1935 the much-loved Poet Laureate was awarded the Order of Merit. Australia. Judith Masefield's illustration of 'Rat' from The Box of Delights Pinbury Park i n the Cotswolds became home for a number of years from 1933 and it was there tha t Masefield returned after visits during this period to America. Drinkwater. Masefield died on 12 May 1967 and his ashes were interre d in Poets Corner. In his memorial address Robert Graves state d that in Masefield the fierce flame of poetry had truly burned and described Mase field as his hero .B. the West Indies. de la Mare and Newbolt to name six eminent contemp oraries. Biography . Turkey. which may be considered war work. in 1937 he became President of the Society of Authors (a position formerly he ld by Tennyson. record was the first time a major poet had first published his work in this medium. John Masefield. In 1959 the elderly Laureate made an interesting reappearance that suggested he was not entirely a Georgian relic. however.he was awarded the Royal Society of Literature s Companion of Literature. the position of Poet Laureate fell vacant and in 1930 Masefield was appointed by King George V.
32 (qu oting Masefield s autobiographical sketch for Elizabeth Robins) 4. John Masefield. 1953. p. 3 June 1899.580 5.G. W. 1966. 6. Hamilton. p. Strong.17 11.7 10.. John Masefield. p. 1952. New York: Continuum Publishing Company.H. Dead Ned.2. 1939 12. revi sed edition. Peter Nevill. 8. John Masefield: A Critical Study. Masefield's lecture. p.A. My Faith in Woman Suffrage was delivered at the Queen's Hall in February 1910. Nicias Moriturus . So Long to Learn. 1991 RETURN TO HOMEPAGE . 1952. Heinemann. George Allen and Unwin. John Masefield. Heinemann. 1938 and Live and Kicking Ned. Oxford. Grace Before Ploughing. Longmans Green and Co. Muriel Spark. see Constance Babington Smith. The address is reprinted in Corliss Lamont. Heinemann. The Outlook.1 3. L. 1978. John Masefield. 1922 .138 9. Remembering John Masefield. p. p. p. John Masefield: A Life.186 7. Barrie's words were delivered while awarding a Royal Society of Literature pr ize in 1912. Heinemann.
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