Siegfried Sassoon

Crosland

In the spring of 1909, having had limited success in getting his work published, Siegfried Sassoon was looking for other publications to contact and sent some poems to  T.W.H. Crosland the editor of the journal, The Academy, who was himself a poet and whose work Sassoon  respected. Crosland became interested, probably because he saw the prospect of earning some money from Sassoon, something that he was always short of.

On being contacted by Crosland and knowing him as ‘a powerful but repellently pugilistic literary journalist’ (Moorcroft Wilson, 1998), Sassoon promptly lost his nerve and declined his invitation to meet. Crosland sent Sassoon a ‘brusque’ letter returning his poems which brought about a change of Sassoon’s mind and they met soon afterwards. Sassoon later described Crosland as an ‘out and out blackguard’ with whom he nevertheless ‘couldn’t dislike.’ Crosland offered Sassoon a guinea each for the nine poems he submitted, but in all the time he knew him, Crosland never paid him a penny, although he has the distinction of being Sassoon’s first commercial publisher.

Thomas William Hodgson Crosland was a journalist of caustic notoriety; he had famously joined forces with Oscar Wilde’s ‘friend’ Alfred Lord Douglas to destroy the reputations of all those people who had supported Wilde during his trial, particularly Robbie Ross, one of Sassoon’s early lovers. A fact that Sassoon was yet to discover.

T. W. H. Crosland

T. W. H. Crosland

In November 1912 Sassoon wrote a parody of John Masefield’s poem ‘The Everlasting Mercy’ called ‘The Daffodil Murderer.’ He sent the poem to Crosland who promptly asked him for ten pounds to cover costs; Crosland then had a thousand copies printed as a small paperback of thirty pages with orange covers. Printed on the front cover he put ‘Being the Chantrey Prize Poem’ when no such prize existed, and made up a mock preface under an assumed name also singing the praises of the poem.

The Daffodil Murderer

Sassoon, alias Saul Kain

In 1913 Crosland asked Sassoon for some more poems but Sassoon, who was being advised and mentored by Eddie Marsh, decided only to send a five year old poem which Crosland agreed to print in exchange for another ten pounds. Before the poem was printed Sassoon decided he wanted to change it, for which the indignant Crosland asked for a further ten pounds. Communication then broke down and some months later when Sassoon went to Crosland’s offices to collect his unprinted proofs, he discovered Crosland had been sacked and the proofs were nowhere to be seen.

Sassoon did meet Crosland once more after contacting him through Alfred Lord Douglas. This time for lunch which Crosland uncharacteristically paid for. Crosland told Sassoon that he was ‘too comfortable. Life ought to be a Promethean struggle with adversity and injustice.’ (Egremont, 2005). They never met again.

As already mentioned, Crosland was a poet in his own right. I have managed to obtain a copy of his ‘Collected Poems,’ published in 1917 entitled: ‘The Collected Poems of T. W. H. Crosland.’ It is strange to note that Jean Moorcroft Wilson has him as T. W. A. Crosland in the index of her book: ‘Siegfried Sassoon, The Making of a War Poet,’ and Max Egremont has him as T. C. Crosland in his book: ‘Siegfried Sassoon – A Biography.’

A comparison with ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’

On reading Crosland’s poems I find a strange and subtle similarity between some of them and others of more famous origin which may or may not be significant. This ‘coincidence’ is too intriguing to ignore.

In Crosland’s ‘Collected Poems’ (1917), containing poems written in 1916 and 1917, we find ‘Steel-True and Blade-Straight’ which begins:

    ‘Steel-true and blade-straight-
    There’s your man! And soon or late
    He is England...’

Sassoon wrote ‘The Kiss’ in 1916, which begins:

    ‘To these I turn, in these I trust-
    Brother lead and sister steel.’

These are different lines it is true, but I feel a similarity. Not convinced? Ok, try these two descriptions of death made manifest on earth, making his choice. The first is Crosland again and the beginning of a poem called ‘Sursum.’

    ‘I saw his dread plume gleaming,
    As he rode down the line,
    And cried like one a-dreaming
    “That man, and that, is mine!” ‘

Again, in 1916 Sassoon wrote ‘The Death Bed’ which ends:

    ‘But death replied: “I choose him.” So he went,
    And there was silence in the summer night.’

Perhaps the image of death as an earthly figure was common among poets. The use by both poets is worth mentioning if only to prove that point. (Although I do believe they are strikingly similar!)

My final word on this subject relates again to Crosland, but this time in comparison to one of Sassoon’s fellow war poets, Wilfred Owen. Let us first remember that Crosland’s poems were published in 1917, some of which were written in 1916. The example I want to show is a poem called ‘Slain,’ with the sub-title ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.’ The last verse reads:

    ‘yea, it is very sweet
    And decorous
    The omnipotent Shade to meet
    And flatter thus.’

It is hardly necessary to state that one of Owen’s greatest poems is entitled: ‘Dulce et Decorum est.’

Owen wrote to his mother, Susan, in October 1917 while the poem was unfinished saying: “The famous Latin tag means of course It is sweet and meet to die for one’s country. Sweet! and decorous!”

Owen was still revising this poem in March 1918 (Stallworthy, 1983), at which time it still hadn’t been published. If the dates had been reversed, I wonder if Crosland would have received much credit for originality?

To finish, I have reproduced below a poem by Crosland entitled ‘The Full Share.’ The poem was inspired by a speech by the then Prime Minister Mr. Asquith, who unrepentantly stood by his decision to go ahead with the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in the Dardanelles, and saw no reason to be penitent about it afterwards. I think Sassoon would have liked the sentiments expressed; it follows his belief in the ineffectiveness of most politicians of the time.

The Full Share
 
“I take my full share of responsibility for the initiation of that operation - my full share.... I do not propose to adopt the attitude of a white-sheeted penitent, with a couple of candles, one in each hand, doing penance and asking for absolution.”        
-Mr Asquith.
 
                   I
 
Do not expect from me
(Whom you have set
In this authority)
Defence, apology,
Excuse or plea,
Or even a regret:
No sheeted penitent
Am I,
To stand
Candle in hand
And cry
That I may be forgiven,
Absolved or shriven,
For what is spilt and spent.
 
All that has happened so,
Is so.
I lay it bare;
Admission I make:
The wisest of us err,
The best plans go awry;
Perhaps we blundered sore;
But I would have you know
No one is more
Responsible than I,
And of the accountability I take
My share - and my full share!
 
                   II
 
In far Gallipoli
Where Achi frowns to the sea,
And wild war-fires are set;
Stark to the Eastern moon,
There lies,
Huddled in the past agonies,
Beside his shattered gun,
A new-slain English boy:
And his dead eyes
Hint not apologies,
Excuses or regret,
Neither dismay nor joy;
No candles at his head
Nor sheet nor shroud has he,
And by his blood-soaked bed
No shriving words are said.
 
It is a woman’s son-
the child she bare
In England free and fair:
Following the English drum
Hitherward is he come,
So to annul
And break
Himself for England’s sake-
He, too, hath taken his share,
And taken it in full.
 
                    III
 
Lord of the Mysteries,
Who on the shining air
Launchest despair,
And black, by rose and vine,
Spillest the battle-line;
This is the Bread, and this
The perfumed Wine:
No period dost thou set
Unto our dole and fret,
Which, being of Thee, are Thine;
Yet, if we yield our breath
To death,
Or keep in strife
This fripperied fardel life,
Help each of us to bear
His share - and his full share!
Collected Poems of T. W. H. Crosland

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