Library Services


Housman, Laurence: Collection

The Laurence Housman collection is part of the library of Ian Kenyur-Hodgkins (d. 1995), antiquarian bookseller, which was purchased by the College in 1978.

Laurence Housman (1865-1959), brother of poet and scholar A. E. Housman, was an extremely versatile artist, writer and social reformer whose output covered all kinds of literature from socialist and pacifist pamphlets to children's stories. His first works were fairy tales, legends and poems which he illustrated himself, but in 1900 he gained great popular success and some notoriety when he published anonymously 'An Englishwoman's love-letters'. He later turned to playwriting, encouraged by the dramatist, producer and critic Harley Granville-Barker, and it is perhaps in this field that Housman is best known. His early plays included a Nativity play 'Bethlehem' (1902) and 'Prunella, or, Love in a Dutch garden' (1906) co-authored with Granville-Barker and produced at the Court Theatre in London. Later plays featured public figures, heroes and role models and included the collections 'Little plays of St. Francis' (1922), which gave a voice to his pacifist leanings, and 'Victoria Regina' (1934), which was a biography of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. Proceeds from productions of 'The little plays of St. Francis' at University College supported the Franciscan Society, whose library is deposited at Special Collections, in its early days.

The author's depiction of biblical characters and members of the Royal Family were considered scandalous at the time and many of his plays had to be produced privately because of censorship. 'Victoria Regina', for instance, was performed with great success on Broadway before it was granted a licence in England in 1937 at the Lyric Theatre. A note of satire pervaded much of his writing in varying degrees.

Housman's artistic fearlessness was echoed in his public commitment to underprivileged sections of society and to controversial campaigns. He supported the women's suffrage movement, was a founder member of the Men's League for Women's Suffrage, published advice on strategies for protesting in the Women's Freedom League newspaper, and was an indefatigable public speaker and writer of pamphlets and articles on women's issues. He was a member of the No Conscription Fellowship, formed to support those who objected to taking up arms in the First World War, and whose members later became known as 'conscientious objectors'. In 1919 he joined the Independent Labour Party and prison reform and international peace became pressing issues for him. He was also an active member of both the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology, which had as its aim sex education and promoting sexual freedoms, and the Order of Chaerorea, a society for the cultivation of a homosexual moral, ethical, cultural and spiritual ethos. In 1945 he opened Housmans Bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue, London (now located at 5 Caledonian Road) founded in his honour by the Peace Pledge Union, of which he was a sponsor.

This collection houses many of Housman's prose and fiction works. It contains books of verse, poems in anthologies, magazines and journals, including 'Armageddon - and after' in 'The paths of glory: a collection of poems written during the War 1914-1919' and poems in fifteen issues of 'Pall Mall Magazine' from 1901-1912; numerous first editions, including the 1902 publication of 'Bethlehem', together with Joseph Moorat's music scores for the play; 'Prunella, or, Love in a Dutch garden' (1906); 'Victoria Regina' (1934) and 'Little plays of St. Francis' (1922), each of which has a scene design by Laurence Housman. The collection also contains Acting Editions of the 'Little plays of St. Francis' published between 1922 and 1923.

Prose fiction first editions include 'An Englishwoman's love-letters' (1900); 'What next? Provocative tales of faith and morals' (1938); 'The kind and the foolish: short tales of myth, magic and miracle' (1952), and 'A doorway in fairyland' (1922) which includes a frontispiece and fourteen illustrations by Housman. His children's poems and stories were also published in a wide range of children's magazines, journals and annuals, including 'Little folks: a magazine for young people' in 1898 and 1900, and many issues of 'Joy Street: a medley of prose and verse for boys and girls' between 1923 and 1936.

Non-fiction works in the collection which reflect his Suffragette sympathies include an introductory poem by Housman, 'O ye that seek through blood and tears' in 'Great Suffragists - and why: modern makers of history' (1909); and 'The bawling brotherhood' (1910?) published by the Women's Press, which is a parable of the attitudes of pre-War society with the traditional roles of men and women reversed. Works on peace include a first edition of fourteen essays entitled 'The preparation of peace' (1941), and 'Christianity, a danger to the state' (1916?), issued by the No-Conscription Fellowship. Also present is a Special Edition of 'St. Francis Poverello' (1918), bound in leather with embossed ornaments on boards and metal clasps.

Housman wrote articles on religion, justice, social subjects, literature and art, many of which can be found in the collection. 'Ploughshare and pruning-hook: ten lectures on social subjects' (1919) gives a flavour of his opinions on various social issues. He made numerous contributions to the journal 'The album: a journal of photographs of men, women and events of the day' in 1895 under the rubric 'The world of art' or 'Our art supplement'. These include 'An evening with Sir Joshua Reynolds' (Issue No. 39, Oct. 28, 1895) and 'Mr Baxter gives his views upon Dutch art' (Issue No. 38, Oct. 21, 1895). 'Mr Baxter' was Housman's fictitious practising artist friend, used by him as a mouthpiece for the academic point of view. As well as containing contributions by Housman 'The album ...' is a vivid snapshot of late 19th century life with colourful pictorial covers, numerous photographs of well-known contemporary politicians, actors, musicians, singers, sportspeople and authors, and articles on travel, gardening, animals, fashion, sport, music and home improvement. In the 1920s and 1930s he regularly contributed poems, stories and articles on religious matters to 'St Martin's review', the church magazine of St. Martin's-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, a church known for playing an active role in wider social, humanitarian and international issues.

Housman's writings on sexual subjects include 'The immoral effects of ignorance in sexual relations' (a lecture given in 1911 and published by the Women's Freedom League) and addresses given by him at the inaugural meeting of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology on July 14, 1914 contained in 'British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology: Policy and Principles: General aims'.

Many of these works contain Housman's inscriptions and some were donated by Housman to Harley Granville-Barker. The collection also contains a first edition of Housman's autobiography 'The unexpected years' (1937) as well as a tribute to his brother, 'A.E.H.: some poems, some letters and a personal memoir by his brother' (1937).