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28 LASCELLES ABERCROMBIEi A BIOGRAPHICAL ESSAY By Esther Safer Fisher (Toronto, Ontario) In the first four decades of this century, Lascelles Abercrombie (I88I-I938) was considered to be a poet and critic displaying no small degree of merit. His first volume of verse (I9O8) was hailed for its "powers and originality"; D. H. Lawrence found Abercrombie's Emblems of Love (1911) "rather fine - magnificent phraseology"; and Abercrombie 's later The Sale of Saint Thomas was seen in 1932 as "perhaps the most considerable poem of length since The Waste Land."1 At present, his name has almost faded into obscurity; aside from occasional references to him in works dealing with the Georgians, an excellent bibliography of his works and a published thesis treating the poetry,2 little attention has been focused on Abercrombie himself since Oliver Elton's sensitive posthumous study in 1939· In a sense Abercrombie was a victim of the first World War. Born into Victorian times, he emerged in Edwardian, reaching his apogee and, in his own view, the nadir of his experience in the modern age. Not only was Abercrombie a complex figure with wide connections in the literary and sometimes political world of his day, but from the vantage point of the 'eighties he can also be seen as a symbol of his time. It is time for a reappraisal. I Victorian and Edwardian Born at Manor House, Ashton-upon-Mersey, 9 February 1881, Lascelles Abercrombie was the fifth son among nine surviving children of William Abercrombie, a Manchester stock broker, and Sarah Anne Heron. The large prosperous family enjoyed a happy, spirited life in the Cheshire countryside. Sunday afternoons were spent listening to the father read poetry, and although not encouraged by the pater familias, at nine years of age the young Lascelles, a thin delicate boy, was already writing verse.-1 The idyllic life at the Manor House ended in I889 or I890 when the family moved to a new house in Brooklands. From about this time until 1895. Abercrombie attended a preparatory school at Lockers Park, Hemel Hempstead, and from 1895 until I900 he was at House 4 at Malvern College. His interests lay in both the Classics and Science and he had to choose between two worlds. Abercrombie chose to study Chemistry at Owens College. In 1902 he left Owens without completing his certification requirements. Oliver Elton suggests that he lost interest in Science, but it may also be that his father's financial bankruptcy in I902 precipitated the end of his formal education. With his father, mother and brother Patrick (who later became an architect and was knighted for his civic work), Abercrombie moved to Birkenhead, where the father died a few years later. 29 While living in Birkenhead in 1902 and I903, Abercrombie contributed several articles and poems to a periodical entitled The Trawl¡ An Occasional Miscellany from a Monthly Budget, published in Birmingham. Apparently the budget was depleted quickly; the journal lasted for three issues only. Who financed it or how Abercrombie became associated with it remains a mystery. A list of his contributions provides a good example of the wide range and diversity of his literary interests ! a long poem, several lyrics, an extract from a poetic drama, ^ two or three short stories, and some philosophical prose dialogues. Literature was at this time his avocation; to earn a living he worked for a while as a quantity surveyor; not surprisingly, he showed an adaptability that proved to be valuable in later life; it was not the last time he was to be employed in industry. From about I903 until I906 it is uncertain whether Abercrombie had a regular job. He is alleged to have had a patroness, Leila Reynolds, a Liverpool eccentric, who encouraged aspiring artists and intellectuals . Professor C. H. Reilly, then Professor of Architecture at Liverpool and a close friend to Mrs. Reynolds, speaks of Liverpool in 1904 as a flourishing, independent centre for industry, the professions , and the arts.5 Abercrombie's poetry and plays do not reflect the type of formal, urban culture described by Reilly. Instead, the lower class atmosphere of such works as "Blind" and "The Adder" resembles Augustus John's...


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