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

On George Sassoon’s bithday

By , October 30, 2010 9:30 am

I noticed today that 30 October was the day of the year on which George, Siegfried Sassoon’s only child, was born in 1936. So, in the spirit commemoration, I have just been down to the stacks to take a look at items in the collection which originate from the period to see what light they throw on this period of Sassoon’s life.
There is quite a variety of material but what really caught my eye was a volume of preparatory notes (MS Add.9852/7/1/3) which were eventually worked up to become ‘The Old Century’. The quarto volume is cloth covered and Sassoon has decorated the front with one his characteristic harlequin patterns of coloured blocks and shapes. He has ruled a wide margin left side of each page filling the right with dense draft notes over which there are many scorings out and annotations. Conveniently for us, Sassoon has recorded the dates on which he compiled these notes. He begun on 16 March 1936. The timing is interesting; perhaps this sudden focus on childhood recollections was spurred by the realisation that Hester’s much longed for pregnancy had become established? Sassoon continued to make these notes up until 9 July and then did not resume them until 22 December 1936. The three month break in his prose work seems to correspond to a number of things: a transfer of attention to poetry writing including ‘A Message for our Time’; the removal of the couple from Heytesbury to London to put Hester under the care of the best metropolitan doctors; and a settling down period after the arrival of George.
I ran across another delightful letter of 25 June 1938 (MS Add.9852/12/1/3) from Sassoon to Hester who was away with George at Bodenham, Wiltshire. In the centre of a paragraph about replacing George’s nanny with a more suitable candidate (defined as being one without knowledge of the works of D.H. Lawrence) there is a tiny, curious ink sketch. It depicts a woman pushing a pram from which two arms, a leg and the face of a bad tempered infant project at all angles!

‘Bombshells and Bedbugs’ hands-on event

By , October 29, 2010 11:20 am

Blog readers, especially those with older children looking for a half-term activity, may be interested to know of event taking place in the Library tomorrow:

Saturday 30 October 2010, 11.00–12.30


Bombshells and Bedbugs

What was life like for a soldier in the Great War? Find out in this interactive workshop led by Robina Hodgson of the Imperial War Museum. Using a historical collection of uniforms, weapons, personal belongings and artwork from the IWM, Robina will describe the day-to-day life of conscript soldiers and officers in the trenches during the Great War. There will be the opportunity to handle artefacts such as uniforms and gas masks, and participants will be encouraged to think about how people record their experiences in letters, diaries and poetry, linking this to the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

For children of 12 years and upwards, with accompanying adults.

Admission free, but pre-booking essential: telephone 01223 766766 from Monday 6 September.

This event is part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas:

Spelling his own name

By , October 21, 2010 9:45 am

Siegfried Sassoon matriculated at Cambridge University on 21 October 1905, the centenary of the Battle of Trafalgar and a hundred and five years ago today. The event is recorded in two documents held in the Cambridge University Archives kept here in the University Library: the matriculations register and Sassoon’s student record card. They raise a curious doubt about the spelling of his name.

The generally accepted, ‘correct’ spelling of Sassoon’s middle name is ‘Loraine’, although it’s not uncommon to see it given two ‘r’s, as though the poet had a connection with the region in North-Eastern France. In fact the origin of the name was more parochial, as his biographers explain. Max Egremont writes that it derived from his mother Theresa’s ‘respect for a High Church clergyman, Canon Loraine’, and Jean Moorcroft Wilson adds the detail that it was ‘chosen as a tribute to the clergyman who had advised Hamo [Thornycroft, Sassoon’s uncle] and Theresa when they were organizing her clandestine marriage in January 1884 and who was presumably Siegfried’s godfather.’ John Stuart Roberts says that Loraine had prepared Theresa for confirmation and remained a source of spiritual guidance.

The only Anglican clergyman with the surname of either Loraine or Lorraine in the 1880s was Nevison Loraine, author of The Voice of the Prayer-Book, The Sceptic’s Creed: Can it be Reasonably Held? Is it Worth the Holding?, The Battle of Belief, and other works in a similar vein. From 1872 until his death in 1917 Loraine was Vicar of St Paul’s Church in Chiswick, where Sassoon’s maternal family had connections. He became a canon in 1907, when he was given the Chiswick prebend of St Paul’s Cathedral.

When I first looked at Sassoon’s student record card (in CUA Graduati 32), I noticed immediately that the middle name was ‘misspelt’:

Siegfried Sassoon's Cambridge University record card (CUA Graduati 32)

I assumed this was a simple scribal error until I turned to the Matriculation Register (CUA Matr. 19). Unlike on the record cards, which were compiled by clerks, the names in the register are the actual signatures of the students concerned: and Sassoon himself used the spelling ’Lorraine’.

Cambridge University Matriculation register (CUA Matr. 19)

It is unlikely that the names on the record cards were transcribed from the register, so presumably the clerk was working from another source which had the ‘double r’ spelling too. The Admissions Book at Clare College also has ‘Lorraine’, although, like the record card, this is not in Sassoon’s own handwriting. Sassoon seems not to have known how Father Loraine spelt his surname, at least at this period. A copy of Sassoon’s will in MS Add. 9852/5, dating from 1929, uses ‘Loraine’, which shows that his solicitors took care on this point even if the young undergraduate did not. 

The matriculation register is also interesting in showing that Siegfried signed ahead of his younger brother Hamo, who matriculated on the same day, also as a member of Clare College. The names in the registers were ordered strictly alphabetically within each college, so Hamo’s signature should have preceded Siegfried’s. Of course mistakes can always happen, as the mix-up between Stirling and Stringer on the same page shows.

Sassoon’s student record card testifies to his lack of progress at Cambridge. His ‘Rank in College’ is shown by the ‘P’, standing for ‘Pensioner’, defined as a student paying fees to his or her college for teaching and for board and lodging. The only information regarding examinations taken comes in the column headed ‘Previous’. The Previous examination, or ‘Little-go’, was a test of knowledge of classical languages and William Paley’s Evidences of Christianity (and for honours candidates, mathematics). Established in the 1820s, the examination was originally sat in an undergraduate’s second year at the University, but by Sassoon’s day it was more commonly tackled in the months preceding a student’s arrival: in Sassoon’s case, the Lent and Easter terms of 1905. In Seven More Years, Sassoon described his time at Henley House, the ‘first-class cramming establishment’ he attended to prepare for the exam, and how he bicycled through the Kentish landscape ‘with bits of Paley disporting themselves in my head.’ The lack of annotation in the right-hand columns of the card, reserved for Tripos (degree exam) results and dates of graduation, is silent testimony to Sassoon’s self-acknowledged inaptitude for academic study.

Sassoon’s juvenilia: a date for your diary

By , October 15, 2010 9:49 am
Sonnets and verses

The title-page of Sassoon's early publication Sonnets and Verses.

As part of the University’s Festival of Ideas, Alison Hennegan (Fellow and Director of Studies in English at Trinity Hall) will be giving a talk in the Library on Thursday 21 October titled ‘A War Poet in the Making?: Siegfried Sassoon’s Pre-War Writings’.

Sassoon had already published ten books before the Great War began. The talk will explore continuities between his youthful writings and the war poems for which he remains best known.

The event will take place in the Morison Room in the University Library’s West Road building. There will be a special display of Sassoon’s early publications on view from 17.00 onwards, and the talk will begin at  17.30, lasting around an hour. Admission is free, but pre-booking is essential: online at, or call the Festival of Ideas team on 01223 766766.

Adrian Barlow will be giving a talk on Sassoon to the Friends of the Library on 9 November — more about that later.

Set to music

By , October 11, 2010 12:15 pm

It isn’t just the University Library which holds Sassoon material in Cambridge: two of the constituent colleges of the University, King’s and St John’s, do too, as the second link in Zoe’s ‘Outline online’ post below demonstrates. The ‘Autograph letters and poems of Siegfried Sassoon’ held in St John’s with the reference ‘Miscellaneous Papers SA4’ are of particular interest to us here in the UL, since they directly complement documents in our MS Add. 9192, a set of autograph scores by the composer Cyril Bradley Rootham (1875–1938), transferred from the Pendlebury Library of Music in 1993. Rootham was appointed Organist at St John’s College in 1901 and made a Fellow in 1914, retaining these posts until his death.

Most of the letters and poems in SA4 were sent by Sassoon to Rootham shortly after the end of the First World War. The two men met in Cambridge in January 1919 while Sassoon was on a visit to William Rivers, his mentor at the Craiglockhart War Hospital hospital in 1917, who was a Fellow of St John’s. Although neglected nowadays, in his time Rootham was a leading figure in the musical life of the University, and a respected composer, principally of choral works and songs. The relationship between poet and musician has been largely passed over by Sassoon’s biographers, but entries in Sassoon’s published diaries show that he attended a performance of Rootham’s opera The Two Sisters in Cambridge in February 1922, and in June that year Rootham arranged the music for Rivers’s funeral in the chapel of St John’s, at which Sassoon was present.

Short lyrics of the kind written by Sassoon lent themselves to the English song tradition and, after their introduction by Rivers, he and Rootham proceeded to co-operate on settings of a number of poems. The finding aid to the St John’s collection ( indicates that Sassoon sent Rootham autograph and typescript versions of several of the poems from Picture Show, his privately printed volume which appeared in the summer of 1919, and of these, three are represented by scores in MS Add. 9192: ‘Butterflies’, ‘Idyll’ and ‘Everyone Sang’.

Cover sheet of Rootham's setting of 'Everyone Sang'

Cover sheet of Rootham's setting of 'Everyone Sang'. MS Add. 9192.95(7)

A score of the last of these, MS Add. 9192.95(7), was dated ‘May 24, 1919 at Cambridge’, so Rootham had set the poem before its first publication.

The last staves of Rootham's setting of 'Everyone Sang'

The last staves of Rootham's setting of 'Everyone Sang'. MS Add. 9192.95(7)

The Picture Show settings were published as Three Song-Pictures by Siegfried Sassoon, set to music by Cyril Bradley Rootham by West’s of London in 1920. Four further Sassoon poems set by Rootham were published by Curwen in the following year: ‘A Child’s Prayer’, ‘Morning Glory’, ‘A Poplar and the Moon’ and ‘South Wind’. Of these, there are scores for ‘Morning Glory’ and ‘South Wind’ in MS Add. 9192. In a diary entry for 11 March 1921 Sassoon recorded receiving copies of the settings of ‘A Child’s Prayer’ and ‘South Wind’, which, he wrote, ‘pleased me; so the day ended fairly well’. All seven songs were republished by Stainer & Bell in 1990, edited by Kenneth Shenton, who in his Introduction said of them that ‘though contrasted in mood, [they] offer many characteristics of Rootham’s mature style. Within his music there is a deep lyrical trait which is allied to a dynamic energy, so typical of the man. Typical also is the imagery in which natural life and physical elements are transmuted into a directness which evokes the essence of the human mood. Such imagery is much in evidence in these lovely settings.’

Rootham seems not to have published any settings of Sassoon after 1921, but he worked on four further poems in 1926: ‘Before Day’, ‘Morning-Land’, ‘Noah’ and ‘Tree and Sky’. Manuscripts of these scores are also found in MS Add. 9192. In another manuscript transferred to the UL from the Pendlebury Library, MS Add. 9105, there are holograph sketches by Rootham of settings of two poems from the sequence The Heart’s Journey (‘While I seek you, far away…’ and ‘I cannot pray with my head…’), although as Rootham acknowledged in a list of contents, these amount to a ‘few notes only’. The sketches are undated, but the inclusion of ‘I cannot pray with my head…’ suggests the texts may have been taken from the first ‘ordinary’ edition of The Heart’s Journey, which appeared in 1928, and not the limited edition of the previous year, which omitted the poem.

‘Music is a thing I can’t do without for long!’, Sassoon told another Cambridge musician, Edward Dent, in a letter of 1915. The manuscripts in St John’s Miscellaneous Papers SA4 and the UL’s MS Add. 9192 cast an interesting light on a brief but fruitful artistic collaboration.

Outline online

By , September 30, 2010 12:13 pm

A quick post to alert readers to the URL of the beginnings of the online version of the catalogue that I am producing for the ‘new’ Sassoon deposit. The collection’s classmark is MS Add.9852 and the catalogue to it may be found at:

Readers may also be interested to see catalogue entries for Sassoon items held in various other Cambridge repositories which are made available on the same website. They are indexed as part of the unified Cambridge online archival catalogues initiative at the Janus website:

A freetext search for ‘Sassoon’ using the site’s search function will also turn up further references.

Cups, costumes and a candelabrum

By , September 21, 2010 2:56 pm

Being an archivist, I naturally tend to think that the most effective way of understanding the life of a literary or historical figure will usually be through the documentary record. All the same, there’s no denying the fascination which can attach to objects closely associated with the person in question.

From time to time such artefacts do find their way into archives: it has been reported that the Humanities Research Center in Austin, Texas, preserves the pair of bed-socks in which the novelist Compton Mackenzie died, and here in the U.L. we keep the composer Sir Arthur Bliss’s Companion of Honour badge along with his papers. In October, a collection of items associated with Siegfried Sassoon will be offered for sale by the Salisbury auctioneers Woolley and Wallis ( Although these objects fall outside the Library’s collecting policy, there are interesting links with documents on display in the ‘Dream Voices’ exhibition.

The second display case in the exhibition contains a notebook kept by Sassoon (MS Add. 9852/3/2) titled ‘Details of point-to-point races –1911–12–13–14–’. Sassoon turned to point-to-point racing in 1911, riding his newly-acquired horse Cockbird. The description in the Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man of George Sherston carrying off the Colonel’s Cup in the Ringwell Heavy Weight Race is based on Sassoon’s experience competing for the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup in April 1911, and the notebook is opened to show the account of this race. Compared with the fictionalised version, it gives a sparse factual record, noting that the event took place at Cooksbridge, was open to subscribers of fifteen guineas to the Southdown Foxhounds, and attracted ten entries. ‘Won easily’ was Sassoon’s laconic statement of the result.

 The Salisbury sale will include the Southdown Heavy Weight Cup itself, inscribed with the names of the winning horse and rider.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911.

Southdown Heavy Weight Cup, 1911. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The inscription confirms what has to be surmised from the notebook, that the ‘b.g.’ given after Cockbird’s name stands for ‘bay gelding’. The 1911 Southdown was Sassoon’s first victory, in his third point-to-point, and he was sufficiently proud of the performance to have photographs taken of himself posing with Cockbird and the Cup, examples of which are reproduced in the biographies. Sassoon and Cockbird went on to win several more races, including the Atherstone Hunt Point to Point in March 1914, the trophy for which is also in the sale.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914.

Atherstone Hunt Point to Point Cup, 1914. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Perhaps the documents in the exhibition with the greatest associative power are the diaries and journals kept by Sassoon on active service: the small pocket notebooks he carried with him in France and Palestine. The Salisbury sale will include Sassoon’s Royal Welch Fusiliers service dress jacket, with Military Cross ribbon and Sassoon’s name inscribed on an inside label.

Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket.

Label inside Sassoon's service dress jacket. Image: Woolley and Wallis.

The sleeves show Sassoon’s rank as captain, and therefore in its current state the jacket cannot be earlier than 1918, but although there is no proof one way or another, it is easy to imagine one or more of the notebooks on display in the exhibition having at one time nestled in one of its breast pockets.

The sale, which will also include hunting costumes, and a candelabrum mentioned in one of Sassoon’s post-war poems, takes place on Wednesday 27 October.

Sassoon and birth

By , September 7, 2010 3:27 pm

Hard of the heels of the anniversary of Sassoon’s death comes the 124th anniversary of his birth. He was born on 8 September 1886 in at the family home in Weirleigh, Kent.

Although there are some family items in the new acquisition there does not at this stage appear to be anything directly related to Sassoon’s birth. Sassoon’s diaries are patchy at the time of his own son’s birth, perhaps owing to anxiety about the health of his wife Hester following an earlier miscarriage. However here is part of the first entry in a new diary begun by Sassoon on 12 December 1936 when George would have been just six weeks old:

And George, of course, is a thought which satisfies my whole being. I love him so much already, & long for the time when I can converse with him – watching myself as a child again – for he is exactly like me.
MS Add.9852/1/39

George Thornycroft Sassoon was to remain Sassoon and Hester’s only child.

Sassoon and death

By , September 1, 2010 3:45 pm

As a brief nod to the anniversary of Sassoon’s demise (he died at home in Heytesbury on 1 September 1967) I should like to draw your attention to three resources that throw light on how Sassoon thought about death at two very different points in his life.

In July 1916 Sassoon was involved in the bloody battle of the Somme and fully expected to die. An item in the new accession shows an extraordinary sketch of monument he wanted erected to him on Market Hill, Cambridge. There is an image of the sketch on the exhibtion webpages at:

Sassoon, of course, survived the war. His demise was a slow one; a decline in his health was noticeable from the age of 74 and he died from stomach cancer just before what would have been his 81st birthday. Sassoon had converted to Roman Catholicism as a direct result of a correspondence with Revd Mother Margaret Mary McFarlin and his faith brought him much comfort in his final years. A brief catalogue to the correspondence can be viewed at:

The importance of Catholicism in the last years of Sassoon’s life is also demonstrated by an item from the Cambridge University Library’s Keynes collection. It is a collection of four poems composed in 1962 and 1964 entitled Ave, Atque Vale (Hail and farewell). The poems were produced posthumously as a small, fine pamphlet by the Stanbrook Abbey Press. The catalogue record is at:

The sketch and copy of Ave, Atque Vale may currently be viewed by anyone who is able to visit the free Dream Voices exhibition (open until 23 December 2010).
The letters can be consulted by anyone with a Cambridge University Library reader’s card validated for the Manuscripts Reading Room. Information on how to apply for reader status is online on the Library’s Admissions pages.