Thursday, April 22, 2010

Edmund Blunden and Thomas Hardy

Edmund Blunden first met Thomas Hardy in July of 1922 at Max Gate.  The meeting was arranged by Siegfried Sassoon.  Sassoon noticed similarities between Blunden and Hardy:

He has a good deal in common with old Hardy.  A simplicity and honesty beyond praise, and a quality of being one with his work to which he has such a noble devotion.
. . .
Seeing T. H. soon after my visit to Blunden makes me aware of certain similarities in them.  B. of course is sensitive in the same way as T. H.  They share a sort of old-fashioned seriousness about everything connected with authorship.  Both are fundamentally countrified and homely.  Even in outward appearance they have a similarly bird-like quality.  Both enjoy talking about simple things.  It is a sublime freedom from sophistication.  My own spontaneously affectionate feeling for them both is identical.  With each of them I feel unembarrassed and able to chatter about commonplace matters in a commonplace way.  Two little 'men of genius.'  One is eighty-two and the other barely twenty-five.  Yet the difference in their ages seems a mere tiresome accident (as it is).  . . .  This affinity of B. and H. is one of the strangest things I have experienced.  Also both are essentially modest and unassuming.

Siegfried Sassoon, Diaries (edited by Rupert Hart-Davis).

Sassoon was correct about the "affinity" between Blunden and Hardy: the first visit went well, and Blunden and Hardy became friends.  (According to Barry Webb, Blunden's biographer, Hardy's sheep-dog Wessex "took an instant liking to Edmund -- an unusual reaction to strangers on Wessex's part."  Edmund Blunden: A Biography (1990), page 134.)  A year later, Blunden and Sassoon spent a week near Max Gate, visiting Hardy daily.

And, finally, there is this:  "On Hardy's death in 1928 his widow presented Edmund with Hardy's treasured copy of Edward Thomas's Poems as a memento of these visits."  Ibid, page 135.  This touching incident is included by Michael Longley in his wonderful poem "Poetry" (from The Weather in Japan), which brings together Blunden, Thomas, and Hardy.  The poem is centered upon another incident that appears in Webb's biography of Blunden (an incident that would be a fit subject for a poem by Hardy, come to think of it):

One find late in 1918 caused [Blunden] particular pleasure.  Billeted in a ruined house in Arras, he found a hole in the wall by the side of his bed.  Feeling inside, his hand rested on a copy of Edward Thomas's study of John Keats.  Thomas had been killed at the battle of Arras, and Edmund never gave up hope that it was the author's own copy:  "I fancied that I could see the tall, Shelley-like figure of the poet gathering together his equipment for the last time, hastening out of this ruined building to join his men and march into battle, and forgetting his copy of John Keats."

Webb, Edmund Blunden: A Biography, page 56; the quotation from Blunden is from an "autobiographical reminiscence" found in Blunden's papers.

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