Last Poems by A E Housman

It sounds as though, although he reversed Housman’s initials, Hugh was very familiar with the poet. In fact this actual book is in the possession of his relatives in Scotland. Hugh may have been planning to make a gift of it to someone in this family. He must have been a great lover of poetry, having referred to Shelley earlier. Housman, chiefly known for A Shropshire Lad, started out in academia as a Classics scholar. After studying Latin poetry, he wrote his own.  A Shropshire Lad was written in the nineteenth century, dealing with war in the distant Empire. However, the public perception of this poetry links it with the First World War.  The simple metres of Housman’s work lend it to be set to music and this was another source of his popularity.

The Last Poems were not published as a collection until 1922 and drew on work as early as the turn of the century. Housman’s brother was killed during the Boer Wars and the subsequent 1914-18 conflict brought the emotional impact much closer.  He had a lot to say about the nature of poetry and this set emphasises his mastery of language and his depth of feeling in exploring the meaning of life. When Hugh read Last Poems he was preparing to join the army. He would not have heeded the prophetic lines from the first poem in the collection which urges the addressee not to look west.

Oh lad, I fear that yon’s the sea

Where they fished for you and me,

And there, from whence we both were ta’en,

You and I shall drown again.

Decline of the West by Oswald Spengler 

In comparing this 1918 publication with Nietzsche, Hugh may have been thinking of the author’s thoughts on society, religion and culture.  The essence of the book is his observation that, with increasing globalization, the West had no right to assume superiority. Spengler’s thinking resounded with ordinary Germans and some say may have contributed to Germany losing the Great War. He declared that a decline in the cultural practices of individual countries would bow to the rise in economic power of eastern civilisations. Ideally, this would lead to countries cooperating on an equal basis. He looks at ancient cultures and considers how they formulated calendars, measured time and constructed buildings. Spengler also asks whether a sense of history is universal.

Jim’s reading

Hugh obviously enjoyed a good discussion, especially when it came to social change. His mention of Nietzsche may have reminded Jim of Vera Brittain.  The Manchester Guardian of November 1929 published a piece by Brittain. She reflects on the years following the Great War, particularly thinking about the new War Memorials and the Armistice Day events. In discussing literature inspired by the war, mentioning All Else is Folly by Major Peregrine Acland, Brittain says that the title is taken from Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. By so doing, she describes Nietzsche as a misogynist. The quotation is: Man shall be trained for war and women for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly.

Jim’s diary reveals that she had read Holtby’s letters by October 1941 and Brittain’s Honourable Estate at the beginning of 1942. She comments, The social history part about the suffragettes was quite interesting. Jim was one of the first to benefit from universal female suffrage. She also read Testament of Youth and, soon after she returned from America, Testament of Friendship. She says that she found it very revealing. Her interest may have been sustained by the memory that she met someone on her outward journey to America who had been at Somerville with the two authors.

1940 Sept 12th One of the ladies on board had been at Somerville with W Holtby and V Brittain. They both worked extremely hard in College and no-one thought that they were particularly brilliant.

Sept 19th Looking at the portrait of Winifred Holtby, died at 37 years. The lady on the boat told me she was not sure of herself.  She said VB was rather brittle and certainly did not mind putting herself under the microscope (though personally I don’t think that a bad quality).

My Life and Work by Henry Ford

Henry Ford looks back on his achievements. Following the invention of the internal combustion engine, he took up building motor cars and revolutionised construction by introducing the production line. He could make a car in an hour and a half by breaking the process into eighty bits.

In the introduction to this autobiography, Ford argues that machinery in the modern world is a means to an end. It is good only if it leads to freedom. He is against change for change’s sake but standing still is no good either. Laying great store by the freedom to work, he suggests that a successful society needs people to grow, to make and to carry.  If these can be facilitated with machines in agriculture, manufacture and transportation, then they are good for building the foundations of society.

Ford describes how he rejected working on the family farm. Inspired by the steam engine and his experience of watch-repairing, he set out to design a tractor that would make life easier for agricultural labourers. Whilst Rolls-Royce were producing cars for the very rich (like Jim’s Great-aunt Mary), Ford wanted the car to be accessed by the masses.

Motors for all

When the ‘Model T’ was produced in 1908 (Jim’s year of birth), Ford insisted upon after-sales service and took responsibility for breakdowns. He describes how he developed the product by selecting different steels for the parts according to strength, toughness or elasticity. He refused to compromise safety whilst aiming for a car that was light to handle.

The price was within the average family’s pocket whereas others saw the motor car as something just for the rich. Ford saw it as an opportunity for everyone to enjoy their leisure time in the countryside. He also predicted the scarcity of earth’s resources but had faith in the ability of science to develop alternatives. As Hugh says, he justified his achievements, not least by stating that his aim was service to the community.

America had been racing ahead industrially since before the Great War. Industries were adopting Ford’s factory methods and the country had suffered less war damage than any other nation. Hugh and his family had benefitted from this and he was expressing faith in his adopted country to make a difference.

The Trespasser by D H Lawrence

This is an early novel of Lawrence’s, published in 1912 (the year Hugh was born), and said to be a forerunner of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. It describes a short holiday taken by a couple who are lovers. The man is married and torn in two as to where his allegiances should lie.  On his return home, he decides that life cannot go on. Unable to make a decision to leave one or other of his women, he leaves them both by taking his life.

The final chapters describe how the two women recover from their loss and move on. If Jim read this, she may have identified with the girl. In a lifetime of disappointments, Jim found the strength to find new purposes, interests and aims and never failed to put the past behind her. She liked the unconventional, the unpredictable and the adventurous. For both Hugh and Jim, love did seem to be out of reach at the time.