Magazine article The Spectator

Bruiser, Cruiser but No Boozer

Magazine article The Spectator

Bruiser, Cruiser but No Boozer

Article excerpt

THE SHORT SHARP LIFE OF T. E. HULME by Robert Ferguson Penguin/Allen Lane, 120, pp. 314, ISBN 0713994908

The subject of this intelligent biography was among the founders of the Modern movement in British art before the first world war, and a leading formulator of what he considered to be its principles.

A philosopher/aesthetician, he was a friend of Epstein, Wyndham Lewis, Pound, Gaudier-Brzeska, and was thought a great poet by the young T. S. Eliot. Ezra Pound published Hulme's five short poems at the end of one of his own books, entitling them The Collected Poetical Works of T E. Hulme. A joke, of course, but they consist of the pictorial, of images; publicist Pound borrowed a word from the French and founded the Imagist school.

Hulme published no book in his lifetime and his scattered papers were put together in the 1920s by Herbert Read under the title Speculations.

What Hulme was against he makes clear: Romanticism (`split religion'), the Englightenment (Goethe, `lasting and devastating stupidity'), Rousseau ('decay'), Humanism and the idea of inevitable 'progress'. He believed that all had gone wrong since the Renaissance because man had put himself at the centre of the universe and thus begun the journey towards false sentiment and 'slush'. Art was to go back and rediscover abstraction, the linear and geometrical - Byzantine, Egyptian, African - purged of 'personality'. He insisted on replacing the idea of progress with that of original sin, purging this, at least in his writings, of its religious context. Whether he could have succeeded in filleting Christianity from original sin would have been interesting to watch. However and it is tempting to say `of course' - he was blown to bits in France in 1917 at the age of 34.

Bertrand Russell hated him; 40 years after Hulme's literal disappearance (he was directly hit by a shell) Russell could not bring himself to regret his fate. Epstein loved him, and Hulme was putting together a book about Epstein's sculpture when he was killed.

For a man so contemptuous of the byproducts of 'personality' he seemed to have had a meaty one of his own. He was an eager joiner and founder of groups and in these he was usually the dominant figure. In argument he was a forthright bruiser. He was a bruiser physically also, sent down from Cambridge for felling two policemen in Piccadilly on Boat Race night. …

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