Samuel Hynes

Samuel Hynes author of The Auden Generation, is Professor of English at Princeton.

Like the trees on Primrose Hill

Samuel Hynes, 2 March 1989

In ‘The Cave of Making’, his elegy for MacNeice, Auden describes his friend as a ‘lover of women and Donegal’. The geography seems a bit wrong – the Irish counties in MacNeice’s heart were surely Antrim and Galway – but the terms are apt enough for the man in the poems: a lover, certainly, and of both women and the land of his birth. A full list of his loves would have to be longer than Auden’s, though. It would go on to include many other affections that composed his life: for friends, London, rugby, drink, Classical languages, fast cars, idle talk, clichés, pubs, and not most of all, perhaps, but most of the time – poetry.’

Bloody Horse

Samuel Hynes, 1 December 1983

Roy Campbell has been dead for twenty-five years, and in that time his reputation, such as it was, has faded almost entirely away (I can quote only one of his poems from memory – the epigram on South African novelists that ends ‘But where’s the bloody horse?’). Campbell is one now of that large, sad category, the Neglected Poets, along with many whom, in his day, he despised: Humbert Wolfe, for example, and Vita Sackville-West and Edward Shanks. Can it be that he belongs in such forgotten company? Is his a just neglect?–

The Call of Wittenham Clumps

Samuel Hynes, 2 April 1981

Wyndham Lewis had a phrase for himself and those of his contemporaries whom he considered worthy of his company: he called them ‘The Men of 1914’. The phrase has a nice martial ring, and it is not surprising that critics have taken it up: but it implies a historical point that one simply can’t make. 1914 was the year the war started: but it didn’t start then for any of Lewis’s ‘Men’. Indeed, it never started at all for Pound, or Eliot, or Joyce, and for Lewis it had to be delayed for two years while he cured himself of the clap. It would be more accurate, and better history, to think of the Men of 1914 simply as members of the generation of the 1880s, along with Bartok, Berg, Braque, Epstein, Gropius, Keynes, Kokoschka, D. H. Lawrence, T. E. Lawrence, Picasso, Stravinsky and Virginia Woolf; and with Chiang Kai-shek, Hitler, Mussolini and Roosevelt, not to mention Sam Goldwyn and Charlie Chaplin. These are the men and women who made the modern world, and the Modernist expression of it: their identity as a generation is more important than 1914, a year in which some of them began to fight a war, but more of them didn’t.

Hardy’s Misery

Samuel Hynes, 4 December 1980

The first volume of Hardy’s letters, published two years ago, covered the three decades from 1862, when at 22 he set off for London to work as an architect, to 1892, the year after the publication of Tess. The story that those earlier letters tell is mainly the story of a career: how Hardy cast off architecture and took up novel-writing; how by 1884 he had earned enough from his books to build himself a substantial house near Dorchester; how a few years later he could also afford a flat in London for the ‘season’; how in London he entered both the world of letters and the world of Society, lunched with Browning and dined with Matthew Arnold, and visited Lord This and Lady That and the Honourable Whatshisname. The Hardy that we have at the end of the volume is a prosperous, middle-aged English Man of Letters, someone who might have written the works of, say, Edmund Gosse, or Walter Besant.

Poet-in-Ordinary

Samuel Hynes, 22 May 1980

One doesn’t ordinarily expect a son to be a trustworthy recorder of his father’s life: if he isn’t paying off the old gentleman for remembered slights, like Shakespeare’s Edmund, he’ll be praising him for unremembered virtues, like Hamlet. So the first thing to be said about Sean Day-Lewis’s biography of his father is that he is neither an Edmund nor a Hamlet. He has written a calm and generous book, free of either rancour or special pleading, a book that carries a convincing sense of objectivity.

The Unhappy Vicar

Samuel Hynes, 24 January 1980

George Orwell was one of the great self-mythologisers. He sought out extreme experiences, was a policeman in Burma and a pauper in Paris and London, lived among unemployed workers in the North of England and among soldiers in Spain, and then turned those hard adventures into fables of imperialism, poverty and war. Everything that he wrote has the feel of direct experience, as though the books composed one long autobiography: yet everything is transformed, moulded into meaning, by his fierce moral sense. It’s no wonder that myths grew up about him, or that they still persist, screening the actual man.

Who would not want to wear a uniform with a Sam Browne belt from the cavalry days and a pair of wings on the left breast?

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Condy’s Fluid

P.N. Furbank, 25 October 1990

That the ‘Great War’ is still deeply disturbing to the imagination came home to one last year, when a First World War tank stood on display in the forecourt of the British Museum. One...

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Nonetheless

John Bayley, 2 February 1989

Renato Serra, who died heroicaly in action on the Isonzo front in August 1915, wrote in his diary a week before that ‘war becomes like life itself. It’s all there is: not a passion...

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Ghosts

Hugh Haughton, 5 December 1985

In a letter of May 1919 Hardy told his friend Sir George Douglas he hadn’t been doing much, ‘mainly destroying old papers’. ‘How they raise ghosts,’ he added. He was...

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Miserable Creatures

C.H. Sisson, 2 August 1984

The fourth volume of the Collected Letters of Thomas Hardy opens with a recommendation for Mr Harry Pouncy, ‘Lecturer and Entertainer’, of Dorchester, apparently with a view to his...

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Raining

Donald Davie, 5 May 1983

At the end of a recent and refreshingly untypical poem R.S. Thomas, recalling his sea-captain father, addresses him where he lies in his grave: ...

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