The World of the Twentieth
A PESSIMISM darker than Omar-FitzGerald's and even more intense than Hardy's was voiced by a cloistered scholar, a professor of Latin, who wrote blithely about murder and suicide, personal betrayal and cosmic injustice.
Alfred Edward Housman was born in a village in Worcestershire, near Shropshire, the county which became the scene of his poetry. Educated at St. John's College, Oxford, he failed in an important examination. The setback destroyed his hope of an immediate scholastic appointment at a large university and forced him to accept the work of a civil servant (actually a kind of clerkship) in the Patent Office. He worked ten years in this uncongenial position.
Early in youth Housman was drawn toward paganism. He was, he said, a deist at thirteen and an atheist before he was twenty-one. During his ten years' clerkship, he devoted every spare hour to a study of the classics, and in 1892 he was made professor of Latin at University College, London. He remained there twenty years. In 1911 he went to Cambridge University and taught and lectured there almost until the day of his death, April 30, 1936.
Housman's withdrawal from the world had become proverbial. His brother, Laurence Housman, explains what seemed to be an