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Housman, A. E. (1859-1936)  
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A. E. Housman's poetry is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history.

To mainstream readers of his time, however, A. E. Housman was the admired author of two best-selling collections, A Shropshire Lad (1896) and Last Poems (1922), whose texts were taken as universal statements. Some became staples of English verse (for example, "When I was one-and-twenty"), and others contributed catch phrases to the language ("a world I never made").

Esteemed professionally as well, Housman was ultimately regarded as the leading Latinist in the English-speaking world. He held the Chair of Latin at Cambridge from 1911, and for nineteen years before that had been Professor of Latin at University College, London.

Housman's eventual scholarly eminence was a particular personal triumph since he surprisingly had failed his examination in Greats at Oxford in 1881, qualifying only for a minimal Pass degree and pursuing his classical scholarship independently while working for ten years as a clerk in the London Patent Office before winning the University College post.

But for all its universality, however, Housman's poetry is inextricably rooted in homosexual experience and consciousness and is also a significant reflector of gay history. These facts were sensed by knowing readers from the two books Housman published in his lifetime, and they are obvious from his More Poems (1936) and Additional Poems (1937), the two more candid posthumous volumes that Housman's brother Laurence, his literary executor and also homosexual, assembled from Housman's unpublished manuscripts.

Indeed, in the history of post-classical homosexual literature, Housman is the first homosexual poet to have left an indisputable body of private homosexual work paralleling his more coded public writings, though other homosexual writers from the late eighteenth century on had also left frank homosexual documents to be published posthumously.

His work is also the first in the aftermath of the Wilde scandal to show how fully the prosecution of Wilde failed at its intended purpose of silencing homosexuality: As Housman's verse testifies, the prosecution actually spurred homosexual writers to even greater expressiveness though their work necessarily had to be coded or kept hidden.

Among similar private work by contemporaries are Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson's 1896 love poems to Ferdinand Schiller, A. C. Benson's diary, begun in 1897, and, most famously, E. M. Forster's 1914 Maurice.

Housman and Moses Jackson

The initial impetus for Housman's poetic career was an unreciprocated homosexual attachment--his profound attraction to Moses Jackson, the heterosexual Oxford classmate who remained the love of his life and whom Housman is said to have told, "You are largely responsible for my writing poetry."

The chief subject of Housman's most autobiographical poems, Jackson was also, for example, the primary reason Housman composed his long-awaited Last Poems when he did. Jackson was dying in Canada at the time, and Housman wanted to finish the volume in time for him to have it.

Housman met Jackson when he went up to St. John's College, Oxford, in 1877 and shared rooms with him and another classmate in their last year. Housman's failure at Greats has been attributed in part to shock at his growing realization of his homosexuality through his love for Jackson, as well as to his inadequate preparation because of intellectual stubbornness and to his distress at the illness and bankruptcy of his father, a genial but spendthrift country solicitor.

The attraction of the Patent Office job for Housman was that Jackson was already working there in a higher post. For three years, Housman shared London lodgings with Jackson and his younger brother Adalbert. Adalbert, unlike Moses, may have shared Housman's sexuality; he and Housman seem to have had an affair, and Housman wrote two moving tributes--More Poems 41 and 42--to him after his sudden death from typhoid in 1892.

In late 1885, a breach occurred between Housman and Jackson, apparently over Jackson's conclusive rejection of Housman's overtures. Housman disappeared for a week and when he returned he moved out of the Jacksons' flat, taking up the solitary mode of living he would maintain until his death.

Housman and Jackson remained friends, however, though Jackson apparently blocked any further opportunities for intense displays between them. For example, until Jackson moved to India to teach in 1887, Housman still saw him at the Patent Office every day, but when Jackson returned briefly to England in 1889 to marry, Housman not only was not invited to the wedding but knew nothing about it until the couple had left the country.

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A. E. Housman.
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