The Last Post

By , August 29, 2012 5:15 pm

Since April 2012, cataloguing work on the Sassoon papers has been resumed. Emma, the new cataloguer, has already uploaded descriptions of the sporting and poetry notebooks to the records on Janus.

Emma has also resumed our blogging on Sassoon-related issues, but it’s been decided that these posts will be now contributed to the Library’s Special Collections blog. Her first post, Siegfried Sassoon’s Poems for ‘Mamsy’, is already up.

Unfortunately this does mean that the Sassoon Project blog (which has, after all, been dormant for quite a while) will now be discontinued. It will remain accessible, but no new posts will be added to it. We enjoyed blogging here, we hope you enjoyed reading, and we very much hope you continue to follow us over on the Special Collections blog. Thank you for visiting.

Dear Mr Sassoon… letters catalogue published

By , May 24, 2011 2:10 pm

Blog readers may recall that in August of last year I posted about the publication of a catalogue to a collection we call MS Add.8889. I am now pleased to publicise the publication of another online list to a similar, but rather larger, collection of Sassoon’s correspondence on the same catalogue website:
Link to the catalogue of MS Add.9375 on the Janus website

Again the content and authors of the letters are wide ranging, however this set does includes quite a number of items that might be termed ‘fan mail’. It is of various kinds: MS Add.9375/812-3 are from from a teenage school girl; MS Add.9375/772 is an example of  contact from an old soldier spurred by a description of shared experience; and MS Add.9375/328 is one of many instances of old friends noting their appreciation of his latest work.

A nice feature of loading catalogues onto the Janus site is that readers can then use its powerful search facility to find related items across different collections. This image is a screen shot of a search for ‘Bonham-Carter’ showing that various members of family were corresponding with him and, as references occur in both MS Add.8889 and Ms Add.9375, that he can not have been keeping the correspondence in anything like a consistent way:

Click image to open Bonham-Carter search

The facility can also be used in quite a sophisticated way to look for particular subjects such as this search looking for information about the translation of Sassoon’s work:

Click image to open translation search

Anyone with a Cambridge University Library reader’s card validated for the Manuscripts Reading Room may consult the letters. Information on how to apply for reader status is online on the Library’s Admissions pages.

Sassoon on Valentine’s Day

By , February 14, 2011 2:15 pm

I am currently in the process of foliating Siegfried Sassoon’s journals. By ‘foliating’ I mean I am writing a running number on the top right corner of every two facing pages in each volume. This, as you might well imagine, is a time consuming process but we consider it worthwhile for a number of reasons: the improvement of document security; the ease of providing precise references for quotations; and allowing accurate recoding of the original location of loose enclosures. I am removing the enclosures to be stored unfolded in separate files.

It occurred to me, after reading my colleague Megan’s interesting posting on Valentine’s cards on the Tower Project Blog, to wonder what Sassoon thought of such items. I present below outlines of Sassoon’s journal entries for 14 February during his love affair with the aesthete Stephen Tennant. Whilst I did not find a clear answer to my question what I did find is never-the-less I think of interest:

MS Add.9852/1/27
Entry for 15 February 1928
Sassoon was in the process of writing A Fox Hunting Man. Tennant, with whom he had begun a clandestine love affair in the previous summer, had gone to the Continent. Sassoon received a cable from his more openly acknowledged lover Glen Byam Shaw (who was away working in New York). William Walton visit him and Sassoon paid him £20 to help Walton travel to be with Tennant. He also entreated him to explain to Tennant that he would not be joining them unless began to suffer writer’s block with work on his book. Sassoon was pleased with his writing progress and had been noting how many words a day he was writing. He went to a classical concert on the night of 14 and makes no mention of Valentine’s sent or received.

MS Add.9852/1/28
Entries on and around 14 February 1929
Sassoon was in London and was socialising with Glen Byam Shaw who had returned from America with a new lover of his own, Angela Baddeley. Sassoon was basking in the news of winning a literary prize. On the 14 itself he dined with Glen Byam Shaw at the Ken[sington] Hotel and they talked until late. No mention is made of Tennant or St Valentine, although elsewhere Sassoon admits his infatuation for Tennant.

MS Add.9852/1/30
11 & 17 February 1930
Sassoon was away in Sicily with Tennant but Sassoon had been unwell and was in bed for over a week. He was however still working (writing). Tennant, who by now, was under a course of treatment for consumption (tuberculosis) had been collecting shells and Sassoon talks romantically of him but does not mention St Valentine’s day.

MS Add.9852/1/31
14 February 1931
By this date Tennant had become very ill and reclusive and although Sassoon felt badly treated by Tennant’s rejection he was not yet willing to ‘condemn’ their relationship. On the night of the 13 Sassoon was staying overnight at a hotel near Tennant’s home, Wilsford. On the morning of the 14 Sassoon went to Wilsford without phoning ahead and disturbed Tennant by standing at his window and looking in on him in his sick bed. Tennant’s light mood angered Sassoon and he parted from him sullenly and felt guilty for the rest of the day. He described his subsequent early spring drive from Wiltshire to Kent delightfully but ended it with a whistful remark about St Valentine’s day. He was so out of sorts by the time he reached his mother’s home that he could not even bring himself to tell her about his newly purchased horse.

MS Add.9852/1/35
13 & 14 February 1932
Sassoon took a house (Fitz House) close to Tennant’s home at Wilsford. The journal for this period contains reams of introspective diary entries as Tennant who was often still unwell was refusing to see visitors because of his consumptive appearance. On the night of the 13 Sassoon agonised about whether to send him a Valentine’s greeting as he craved Tennant’s attention but did not wish to condone his behaviour. The following day he was curiously reassured when the Hunter sisters (gardeners at Wilsford) came to tell Sassoon that a chimney fire in Tennant’s room had allowed his nurse to insist they remove him to his library and spring clean his room.

MS Add.9852/1/36
Retrospective entries from 19 February 1933
Although relations between Sassoon and Tennant had improved by 1933 Sassoon spent the 14 riding out alone and working on the writing of Sherstone. On the 15 he called on Tennant but makes little of it being rather preoccupied by motoring accident with a bus.

It seems, admittedly on rather sparse evidence, that Valentine’s day seemed to mean the most to Sassoon in the years when his relationship was at its lowest ebb. It would be a most interesting exercise to extend this Valentine’s search across the full journal series.

Just what is it about trench mud?

By , January 6, 2011 5:55 pm

Late yesterday afternoon I finally found the much vaunted mud on the journal which Siegfried Sassoon was keeping at the time of the battle of the Somme. The ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition was dismounted on Tuesday and in the process of returning the items to their rightful places I spotted a volume that showed some signs of damp damage to the fore edge of the text block. Closer inspection also revealed dried mud:

Images of MS Add.9852/1/7
Click twice on an image for a zoomable version

I admit I had been sceptical about the reputed presence of trench mud. From what I can tell from the condition and content of Sassoon’s papers he was a neat and tidy sort of person. I had presumed that he would have cleaned up anything that had become soiled. The outside of the cover is made of cloth with a shiny  finish and it would have been easy wipe. On the inside however attention to removing the mud appears far from meticulous. The mud is in the grooves around the inside cover of the notebook where the end papers overlap the covering on the boards and there are some ink bleeds at the edges of the pages.

Since the discovery, three questions have been bothering me:

Firstly, why is there so much interest, even excitement, about mud with regard to First World War archives and objects? Does the popular portrayal of the First World War somehow require the presence of mud on objects as a kind of validation?

Secondly, why have I found the presence of this mud particularly disturbing? This is interesting given the other macabre things that I have seen included in archives from time to time (e.g. teeth, hair, and bones both animal and human).

Thirdly, why did Sassoon not remove the mud?

Answers on a virtual postcard please…

When Siegfried met Hester

By , December 18, 2010 1:30 pm

From his diaries and letters it is clear when Siegfried Sassoon met Miss Hester Gatty on 5 September 1933 that he fell deeply in love with her. By 18 December they were married; hence today’s post.

The Sassoon collection contains a significant bundle of love letters sent by Sassoon to his intended.  His declarations of love to her are bold and revealing:

– MS Add.9852/12/1/3/13, 9 October 1933:

“…no one in the world matters to me now, no one except Hester.”
“I have first calculated that to go through all the poetry I want to share with you it will take exactly 999 years and there will be more time needed for music.”

– MS Add.9852/12/1/3/17, undated, perhaps 16 October:

“I believe that my whole life has been a preparation for the moment when I met you & know, in my soul, that we were made for one another. You, the first woman I have ever loved. There will be no memories, Hester, when you are mine, only the memories of years of frustration which you will make me forget.”

– MS Add.9852/12/1/3/21, 25 October 1933:

“You are my life, my love, & my soul’s redemption, & the end of all my vigils.”

1930-2 had been painful years for Sassoon but the summer of 1933 brought the wind of change; the final end of his distressing relationship with the aesthete Stephen Tennant; a delightful new friendship in the person of bibliophile and surgeon Geoffrey Keynes; and elation in the easy, yet animated, company of Hester.

Sassoon’s social life and literary commitments regularly took him away from home, both from Fitz House before his marriage and from Heytesbury after, but this did not prevent frequent communication with his beloved. A bundle of love letters catalogued as MS Add.9852/12/1/3 contains three letters all written to Hester on 21 May 1936. Sassoon wrote to her so many times on that day he did not date his letters; rather he puts the day and time: “Wednesday 5.30”, “Wedy – 7-15”, “Wednesday night (terribly late)”. In fact it is only because Hester did not discard the envelopes (and hence the post marks) that we are able to date the letters precisely at all.

The letters are not short and, although much of the hand writing is not his usual compact script, he has squeezed many lines onto each sheet. It is impossible to be certain if the looser writing indicates excitement or a need to write at speed. In the three letters of 21 May he entirely filled five and a half sides of paper 5¼” x 7″ to her. One wonders how long this lover’s feat may have taken him. Perhaps in our own era he might have been a regular emailer and texter? The Daily Mail reported this October that the average couple sends 3 texts and 1 email to each other per day while 1 in 10 couples spend more time communicating in text than talking: Daily Mail Article.

Time Out in the Archives

By , December 10, 2010 12:12 pm

On 28 January 1920 Siegfried Sassoon arrived by the Dutch liner Rotterdam into New York having been persuaded by lecture agent James B. Pond to deliver a lecture tour. On the 2 February Sassoon discovered that Pond had telegrammed to cancel the tour but had been thwarted by Sassoon taking an earlier ship than anticipated. The lecture tour circuit was suffering from ”English poet” saturation and only two lectures had been secured in February. Sassoon decided to remain in the U.S. and took on the onerous task of making speaking engagements himself. This was a troubled time for him for he did not feel he was a natural public speaker and he took his audience’s lack of basic factual knowledge about the war badly. His journal covering the tour period indicates he was deeply uncomfortable with the ”obscene publicity” and felt after reading his poetry to audiences ”as if my soul had been undressed in public”.
Pope's Essay on Man, manuscript
Pope’s manuscript draft of his Essay on Man

Amid a chaos of travelling, speaking and dining with the great and the good he discovered a pleasing oasis of calm in the Pierpont Morgan Library, and found too a good friend in Librarian Miss Belle Greene. Here was an ”escape from the flurry and precipitancy of over engaged days”. In ”the little manuscript room … a sound-poof sanctuary” he saw Hardy and Keats manuscripts; and handled Alexander Pope’s draft of his poem An Essay on Man. The experience brought tears to his eyes.

The image of MS 348 in this blog post is used courtesy of the the Pierpont Morgan Library. Click on the image for a zoomable version of the document. Quotations are from MS.Add.9852/1/14 and Siegfried’s Journey (page 184-5).

The Bishop’s Stortford High School visits ‘Dream Voices’

By , November 26, 2010 8:37 am

A ‘guest post’ by Emily Dourish, the Library’s Joint Exhibitions Officer

Visitors from The Bishop's Stortford High School with the exhibition curator

Visitors from The Bishop's Stortford High School with the exhibition curator

Wednesday saw a successful event in the Library’s inaugural exhibition schools liaison programme. The Library is keen to engage with local schools and the Sassoon exhibition seemed a perfect place to begin this new initiative, as his life and work are studied as part of English Literature, History and Citizenship curricula.

As part of their A2 module on World War I literature, a group of Year 13 pupils from The Bishop’s Stortford High School made the journey to Cambridge to see the exhibition and prepare some work on selected poems displayed within it. They arrived with a good background knowledge, having spent the term reading Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration and Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, and a selection of his poems, but were fascinated to see the ‘genuine article’ in the exhibition cases.

Comparing notes

Comparing notes

After a guided tour of the exhibition by the curator, they split into pairs, studying the exhibition materials to gain contextual information about the poems they had been assigned, before giving a new reading to the rest of the group along with an explanation of what they had discovered in the display. Several said they gained a whole new understanding of their poems by seeing, for example, Sassoon’s diary entries written around the time of the composition of Died of Wounds.

Under discussion

Under discussion

Overall the visit was considered a great success, both by the teachers with the group but more importantly by the students themselves who felt they had seen more of the man himself than their previous reading had been able to offer. They rounded off their trip by braving the elements on a walk to Grantchester, fuelled by the prospect not just of a visit to the Rupert Brooke Museum, but of course also of scones and tea.

‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’: a despatch from the Morison Room

By , November 15, 2010 11:41 am

A ‘guest post’ by Hannah Haines of the Library’s Entrance Hall staff.

Robina Hodgson demonstrates a respirator

Robina Hodgson demonstrates a respirator

On Saturday 30th October, as part of the University’s Festival of Ideas, the UL hosted Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum, who led a hands-on workshop, ‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’. Using a collection of objects from the museum to illustrate her lively discussion about life in the trenches during the Great War, Robina demonstrated how to cut barbed wire, how to improvise trench weapons, and how to keep warm on a bitter night in northern France (with the assistance of a goat-skin jerkin and a tot of rum). Although she spoke about some of the worst aspects of trench life – the smell created by decomposing bodies, trench toilets and petroleum tea – she wryly promised to ‘watch what she said about Officer poets’, and was keen to show that life for the British Tommy in the Great War wasn’t always the badly-managed, unrelenting hell described in the most famous of the war poems. She emphasised that humour was ever present in the direst of conditions, showing a rum jar stamped with S.R.D. — an abbreviated form of ‘Service Reserve Depot’ according to the army, but popularly interpreted as ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’ — and considering the horrors of having a teetotal Commanding Officer who would withhold rum rations from his men.

Robina Hodgson with a selection of First World War artefacts

Robina Hodgson with a selection of First World War artefacts

After the talk, encouraged by the selection of recruitment posters from the Library’s collection calling for them to ‘join in and do their bit’, visitors enthusiastically took the opportunity to examine the artefacts first hand. The Pickelhaube was particularly sought after, although those trying to squeeze into the jacket of the British uniform were disappointed to discover that shoulder width has increased substantially over the past century…. A very successful morning, and great to see library staff bringing their children along to join the activities and get involved in an event inspired by the Sassoon archive.

Armistice Day

By , November 11, 2010 10:25 am

Nine soldiers and airmen known to Sassoon, who fell in the First World War, are represented in documents in the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition. (The links are to pages from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.)

Ivan Beauclerk Hart-Davies played cricket with Sassoon, and is named in a cricket scorebook in the first case.

Gordon Harbord, Sassoon’s ‘greatest friend’ before the war, is listed among the riders in the race for the 1911 Southdown Heavy-Weight Cup in a notebook in the second case.

David Thomas trained with Sassoon in Cambridge in 1915 and became a close friend; a letter from him to Sassoon and a photograph are in the third case.

‘Mick’ O’Brien, whose body Sassoon brought back to the line after the failed raid of 25/26 May 1916, is mentioned in his diary, also in the third case.

Marcus Goodall‘s death is lamented by Sassoon in a letter to Edward Dent in the fourth case.

Sassoon’s brother Hamo, killed at Gallipoli, was the subject of the poem ‘Brothers’ displayed in the fifth case.

John Charles Mann‘s handwritten order to Sassoon at the Battle of Arras is in the sixth case.

James Parry may have been the brother ‘Jim’ of William Emrys Parry, whose letter to Sassoon is in the eighth case.

Wilfred Owen, some of whose poems are listed by Sassoon in a notebook, also in the eighth case.

Who chooses the War poets?

By , November 3, 2010 2:46 pm

On Tuesday 9 November, 17.30–18.30, Adrian Barlow will be giving a talk in the Library titled ‘Who Chooses the War Poets?’

The War Poets of the Great War are today a group more readily identified than the Imagists or even the Georgians, to whose ranks several of them were conscripted (‘I am held peer by the Georgians!’ announced Wilfred Owen).  How did Owen, Sassoon, Blunden, Rosenberg and Graves come to be so quickly accepted as the representative voices of their generation? What part have anthologies and their editors played in this process? And now, after two decades in which concerted efforts have been made to broaden the range of war poets and the definition of war poetry, what impact might the newly acquired Sassoon archive have on public understanding of war poetry, almost a century after the Great War?

The talk will take place in the Morison Room in the Library, and forms part of the events programme of the Friends of Cambridge University Library ( Entrance fee for Friends is £2.50, others £3.50, and junior members of Cambridge University can enter free. There is no pre-booking for this event, but parties of six or more are requested to notify the Secretary of the Friends in advance: