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:

Alison Hennegan’s talk on Sassoon’s juvenilia

By , November 1, 2010 1:38 pm

An audio file of Alison Hennegan’s talk entitled ‘A War Poet in the Making?: Siegfried Sassoon’s Pre-War Writings’, which formed part of this year’s Festival of Ideas, is available here: <>. We are grateful to Alison for her talk, and to the Sassoon estate for permission to use the quotations from the writings of Siegfried Sassoon. The file will be accessible until 1 February 2011.

Alison’s talk was complemented by a small display of Sassoon’s juvenilia. Here are the captions:


The Cambridge Review

Vol. XXVII, No. 678, 15 March 1906

Sassoon’s career as a published poet began in April 1903 with the first in a series of five poems printed in the journal Cricket. ‘To a “Blood”’ was Sassoon’s earliest appearance in a Cambridge periodical, achieved in his first year at Clare College. The last line is University jargon: the ‘Little go’ was the popular name for the ‘Previous Examination’, the first examination for the Bachelor of Arts degree, and to ‘plough’ is to fail an examination.



The Granta

Vol. XIX, Special May Week Number 1906

‘The Bomb’, a dramatic monologue mimicking the style of Robert Browning, was the last poem by Sassoon to appear in a Cambridge periodical until his war verse began to be published in the Cambridge Magazine in 1916. The poem imagines an attempted assassination similar to the plot which was to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in 1914 and lead directly to the outbreak of the First World War.





This was Sassoon’s earliest collection of poetry, privately printed for him by J. E. Francis & Co. in the autumn of 1906. In his memoir The Old Century and Seven More Years (1938), Sassoon recorded that the epigraph from Swinburne on the title-page ‘expressed an exuberant belief in my poetic vocation’. He also wrote there that the paper used for the edition ‘was poor, and has since shown a tendency to break out into small yellow spots like iron mould.’ This fate has indeed overtaken the University Library’s copy.




Sonnets and Verses


Sassoon arranged for the printing of nine pamphlets of his verse and dramatic writing between 1906 and 1912. All were printed in small quantities, typically 35 or 50 copies, and in several cases later titles contained revised versions of poems which had appeared in earlier volumes. The young Sassoon was often quickly dissatisfied with his own productions, most notably in the case of Sonnets and Verses of 1909. The autograph note in the front of this exceedingly rare example records the destruction of most of the edition. This copy passed first to Sassoon’s Cambridge librarian friend Theo Bartholomew, from him to the collection of Geoffrey Keynes, and thence to the University Library.



Hyacinth: An Idyll


Hyacinth is a short play in prose, incorporating six poems, including this ‘Afterword’. It was printed for Sassoon by Charles Whittingham & Co. at the Chiswick Press, probably in an edition of 35. This copy was given by Sassoon to his friend Edward Dent, the Cambridge musicologist. The corrections to ‘Afterword’ are in Sassoon’s own handwriting.



An Ode for Music


The Antidote

No. 2, Vol. I, 1 February 1913

Opinions differ on the merits of An Ode to Music: Sassoon himself acknowledged its grandiosity, and his biographer Max Egremont calls it ‘Sonorously pompous’. Jean Moorcroft Wilson, on the other hand, writes of the ‘skill with which the difficult but rewarding form is handled’, and concludes that it has ‘more life and energy in it than most of his previous works’. Copies of the pamphlet sent to Edmund Gosse and Edward Elgar elicited no response, but T. C. Crosland, an early supporter of Sassoon’s writing, asked to be allowed to publish it in his periodical The Antidote, where it appeared in 1913.



The Daffodil Murderer: Being the Chantrey Prize Poem. By Saul Kain


The Daffodil Murderer, written in December 1912, was a pastiche of John Masefield’s poem The Everlasting Mercy (‘Saul Kane’ was the name of the protagonist of that work). Despite, or because of, its derivative origins, it broke new ground for Sassoon as a poet: as he recounted in The Weald of Youth (1942), ‘I was really feeling what I wrote—and doing it not only with abundant delight but a sense of descriptive energy quite unlike anything I had experienced before’. ‘John Richmond Ltd’ was an imprint used by Crosland. The Chantrey Prize for Poetry was an invention.

From MS Add. 9852