Being a collector of books relating to Siegfried Sassoon does not have to be an expensive hobby. Some of his books are still in print and many others are easily available on the internet and from numerous second-hand bookshops and dealers. If you want to collect first editions it becomes a little harder, but his autobiographies are not difficult to find although obviously they fetch a higher prince due to their relative scarcity in comparison to the many subsequent reprints. If you want dust jackets in good condition, then expect to pay a premium on top.
You don’t have to go down the road of paying hundreds of pounds to build up a collection, you can even do as I have done and look for books that include contributions by Sassoon. These include a multitude of anthologies published in many countries during his lifetime (that is my rule, it must be in his lifetime), and not even Sassoon’s bibliographer, Geoffrey Keynes knew how many of these were published. Anthologies can fetch just a few pounds and you could discover a little gem that no one else was aware of while rummaging through the dusty shelves of a second-hand bookshop.
There will come a time however when any serious collector reaches a tipping point with regard to the cost of their collecting. When you have all the usual books, poetry, autobiography, and what might seem an impossible number of anthologies, you will hit the price barrier when it comes to extending your collection. Moving on to signed books, association copies, limited editions and those published privately by Sassoon in his early years can present a chasm most collectors will blanch at. I have advanced into this area at times and picked up some exciting books and it may surprise some people how relatively cheaply some books that come from Sassoon’s own library can be bought for. However, for everyone there is a limit.
Although we can never say never, after many years of collecting I do feel that I may have reached my limit with regard to the amount of money I am willing/able to spend on a book. Therefore, I have begun to focus on a different aspect of book collecting in connection with Sassoon, and this is to look for books that are related to his family, friends and acquaintances. These need to be signed and closely related (I’m not looking for a book signed by the milkman!) One example is normally enough, although when a better one comes along at a reasonable price, I would not rule out acquiring it. Looking for examples of these books requires a little homework to discover just how strong the relationship was, and I have found no better books in which to carry out this research than his biographies, written by Jean Moorcroft Wilson and Max Egremont. In doing this I have discovered that my knowledge of Sassoon has increased immensely.
I have been picking up examples of these ‘Friends’ books throughout my collecting but I am now focusing on them specifically. I have recorded them all in pictures on the Friends page as they do not always fall neatly into one of the existing pages. I have described the Sassoon connection for each one on this page. Most of these are books that have been written by the person involved and signed. Always, my requirement is they must be signed as that is the ultimate connection. It does not matter who the recipient was. I stated earlier that one example was normally enough, but in the case of Harold Laski for instance, my original signed book only contained his initial, although it was signed to Sassoon so there was no doubt about who it was. Nevertheless, I want my books to have the full signature, usually initial and full surname, and I managed to find one for Laski at a reasonable price, so I bought it.
It seems that some of Sassoon’s friends were very jealous of their signatures and I struggle to find examples of Thomas Hardy, W. H. R. Rivers and Betrand Russell for example. For this reason I will stray into the area of letters in order to obtain a missing signature, as in the case of Edward Marsh, Robbie Ross and Hamo Thornycroft to name a few. Perhaps the signature that I most want for my collection and which still eludes me is that of Norman Loder, ‘Denis Milden’ in Sassoon’s Sherston trilogy. Norman Loder was not a literary man and never to my knowledge ever wrote a book. It may be however that some day I will come across a letter that he has signed so that I can fill this gaping hole in my collection of Friends.
Arnold Bennett (1867 - 1931), was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, and was an English writer. He is best known as a novelist, but he also worked in other fields such as the theatre, journalism, propaganda and films. Siegfried Sassoon was introduced to Bennett by his close friend Robbie Ross. In January 1919 Sassoon accepted membership of the Reform Club. Ross had been a member and had introduced Sassoon to the club, but Ross had died, and Sassoon needed membership of his own and was grateful to Arnold Bennett, who Ross had introduced him to in 1917, for proposing him. Sassoon liked Bennett immensely, he was charming, witty and kind and thought his success as a writer had not spoiled him. When Sassoon carried out his protest in 1917, Bennett was one of the people he sent his original statement to, such was his admiration for him. However, Bennett, at the time being head of French propaganda at the Ministry of Information remarked that the points could not ‘survive argument’.
Bennett showed a fatherly interest in Sassoon, telling him in 1921 that he did not take enough interest in women. He frequently invited him to dinner and even suggested in 1925 that Sassoon should take up novel-writing. Sassoon admired Bennett’s novels but did not like his plays. Sassoon introduced Bennett to the man he admired most, Dr. W. H. R. Rivers, and took Wilfred Owen to the Reform Club and introduced him to Bennett, Robbie Ross and H. G. Wells.
Bennett died of typhoid at his home in Baker Street, London, on 27 March 1931, after returning from a visit to Paris where, in defiance of a waiter's advice, he had drunk tap water in a restaurant. His ashes are buried in Burslem Cemetery.
Walter James Redfern Turner (1889 – 1946), Sassoon had first met Turner at a dinner given by Osbert Sitwell in late 1918. Later in March 1919 Sassoon became literary editor of the Daily Herald and it was there that he got to renew his acquaintance with Turner who was music critic for the newspaper. Born in Australia, Turner had come to London determined to be a poet. There he met and befriended several literary intellectual figures, including Sassoon, Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, and Lady Ottoline Morrell (the caricature of her in his book The Aesthetes ended their friendship). He had also managed to get to know Edward Marsh and interest him in his poetry. After serving in the Royal Artillery during the First World War he had continued afterwards to work as a music critic with the New Statesmen, then moving on to the Daily Herald, and later became drama critic of the London Mercury. Sassoon had read Turner’s poetry and admired him since 1917, recommending him to Robert Graves. Although there was never any evidence of a sexual relationship between Turner and Sassoon, Sassoon felt the bond of friendship and mutual admiration strong enough to be able to confide in Turner about his own sexuality.
At the end of 1919, Sassoon, who was already lending money to Turner and his wife Delphine among other friends, lent the Turners £1,300 to buy a house at 54 Tufton Street, Westminster, and Sassoon took two small rooms there himself. Sassoon lived as a sort of lodger at Tufton Street. He wasn’t always at home, travelling to America for some time on a lecture tour took him away to begin with but as the years went by he began to resent Turner for his slovenliness and noisiness about the house, the fact that he played Sassoon’s piano without asking and also cheating on Delphine by taking a mistress had all put a great strain on the relationship. By the end of 1925 Sassoon had had enough, and he moved to a flat at Campden Hill. Once he had moved out of Tufton Street Sassoon found that his antipathy towards Turner had melted somewhat and a month later he spent Christmas with Turner and Delphine at Garsington, Ottoline Morrell’s house.
Although Turner produced several novels and plays, as well as books of poems, his reputation mostly rests on his musical biographies of Mozart, Beethoven and Berlioz. He died on the 18 November 1946 at Hammersmith of a cerebral thrombosis.
John Beverley Nichols (1898 – 1983), was an English author, playwright, journalist, composer, and public speaker. He was a friend of the Sitwells and a fellow student of Sacheverell at Bailliol. Young, handsome and gifted, he was just the sort of man that Sassoon would be attracted to and he may have first met him at Cambridge in 1915. Nichols was interested in Sassoon and he wrote in his diary in January 1919 that Gabriel (Atkin) was great friends with Sassoon. Knowing of Atkin’s homosexuality, it would have signalled to him that Sassoon was of a similar temperament and was ‘available’. Nichols started his relationship with Sassoon by inviting him to his rooms for tea in February 1919, and on this occasion, Sassoon went with Gabriel, Sacheverell and Osbert Sitwell. They met again over the next few days, which included another visit to Nichols’ rooms to hear him play the piano, a talent that Sassoon particularly appreciated. Nichols also asked Sassoon for a contribution to a magazine Oxford Outlook which he was starting.
The magazine provided the opportunity for another meeting between just the two of them at Sassoon’s rooms shortly afterwards, perhaps to discuss the poem Sassoon was about to submit, ‘Lovers’, which contained explicit details and erotic overtones. On the 9th March 1919 a cryptic note in Nichols’ diary code indicated a likely outcome with Sassoon ‘Siegfried came up after.’ For Nichols, who was cheerfully promiscuous throughout his life, the encounter probably meant very little and he remained friends with both Sassoon and Gabriel. But for Sassoon it was a significant step in the acceptance of his own sexuality.
Between his first book, the novel Prelude, published in 1920, and his last, a book of poetry, Twilight, published in 1982, Nichols wrote more than 60 books and plays. His main interest apart from the writing of his books was gardening, especially garden design and winter flowers. Among his huge acquaintance in all walks of life were many famous gardeners including Constance Spry and Lord Aberconway, who was President of the Royal Horticultural Society. In 1934, Nichols wrote a bestselling book advocating pacifism, Cry Havoc! By 1938, he had abandoned his pacifism; he later supported the British campaign in World War II.
Sir Edmund William Gosse C.B. (21 September 1849 – 16 May 1928) was an English poet, author and critic. He encouraged the careers of W. B. Yeats and James Joyce and also lectured in English literature at Cambridge. Gosse was an old friend of the Sassoon family and became a formative influence on Siegfried Sassoon, the nephew of his lifelong friend, Hamo Thornycroft. Sassoon's mother was a friend of Gosse's wife, Ellen, and Gosse was a witness at the wedding of Siegfried’s parents, Alfred Sassoon and Thresea Thornycroft. Gosse encouraged Sassoon’s poetry and after Sassoon’s uncle Hamo Thornycroft remarked to Gosse that he should ‘like him to meet literary men’, in 1913 Gosse introduced Sassoon to Edward Marsh.
Sir John Collings Squire (2 April 1884 – 20 December 1958) was a British writer, most notable as editor of the London Mercury, a major literary magazine between the world wars and a friend of Siegfried Sassoon. He antagonised several eminent authors but attracted a coterie that was dubbed the Squirearchy. He was also a poet and historian.