Ralph Edwin Hodgson (1871-1962)

Potted History

1871 Born in Darlington on 9th September. Coal mining father, mother ran a small private school. Eighth of eleven siblings. Thought to have left home in his early teens to join a travelling ‘troupe’ as a scene artist, including a stint in America. Passionate about Boxing, Billiards, Birds and Bulldogs! Loved talking…

For twenty years, from approx. 1895, Hodgson was an innovative cartoon illustrator for several London magazines on Fleet Street.

Married:

Janet ‘Dolly’ Chatteris, 1896 (grew up near Regents Park, London). Died in 1920

Muriel Fraser in London, c.1923/4 (Canadian-USA). Ended 1927, Divorced 1932

Aurelia Bolliger,1933 (grew up in Ohio, USA)

1907 first published poems: The Last  Blackbird and Other Lines
Considered to be ‘culturally important’ by scholars and ‘part of the knowledge base of civilization as we know it’ – Republished as a facsimile in 2016.

1912-1922
Joined a group of poets who began to meet regularly around the time that King George V succeeded to the throne. Known as the ‘Georgians’, they broke away from the classical Victorian era and returned to the roots of romanticism and simplicity of nature. Of the five Anthologies produced by the group, Hodgson features in the second (1915) and third (1917) editions.

In 1912-13, Claud Lovat Fraser, Holbrook Jackson and Hodgson founded their own small press called Flying Fame which was intended to provide ‘ordinary people’ with accessible poetry.

Hodgson was also an early environmentalist and actively campaigned for the Plumage Bill which was eventually passed in 1921 (prohibiting the importation of exotic feathers).

1924- August 1938
Invited to teach English at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan.
Translated Japanese classical poetry and revised the revered Manyoshu poems (20 volumes).  Sabbatical in the UK, August 1927-1928.

1938- 1961
Second Sino-Japanese war. Left Japan for America in 1938, via an extended stay in the UK – by then aged 67. Whilst in London he was implored by T S Eliot to illustrate his Possum Cats but Hodgson prevaricated being too busy moving home & country. In the end, in spite of ‘this high honour’ he wrote from America, reluctantly turning down the invitation.

The Hodgson’s spent a couple of years looking for somewhere to live and, in 1941, settled on a small farm near Minerva, Ohio. This is where Hodgson spent the next twenty years, as a semi recluse, cared for by Aurelia.

In anticipation of his 90th birthday in 1961, a compilation of letters and poems was prepared. A wide range of poets, young and old, made contributions including John Masefield, T S Eliot and W H Auden. Hodgson also received a surprise letter from the President – J F Kennedy.

By the following year, however, he was bedridden and losing his sight. After several falls and a serious stroke, he died in hospital on 3rd November 1962.  Aurelia survived him for another 26 years, much of which time was spent  sorting through her husband’s paperwork. She died in 1988, in Ohio, aged 89.

Awards:

1914 Royal Society of Literature Polignac prize for Song of  Honour and The Bull
1938 Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Government
1946 American National Institute of Arts and Letters Award of $1,000 as ‘an eminent foreign poet living in America for distinguished achievement’
1954 Queens’ Gold Medal for Poetry

For further information:

See Dreaming of Babylon by John Harding. This was published in 2008 before the author knew anything about Silvia, other than that she was one of Hodgson’s ‘adoring’ young followers! I discovered this book in 2018 when I began to think in terms of writing one about Silvia. Subsequently, I made contact with Harding and he generously sent me some useful notes which he made during his researches, relating to Silvia. 

Silvia’s Mentor & Guru

Silvia first met Hodgson, during WW1, when she was still on the stage. She went to visit an artist friend called Vere Chatteris whose mother had died when she was young. As a result, Vere lived with her sister Dolly who was Hodgson’s first wife. On this occasion, Hodgson was at home, on leave,  and opened the door on Silvia’s arrival. A chord must have been struck…

Hodgson was 21 years her senior, without children, and I get the impression that a middle-aged infatuation developed. He liked the company of attractive, young women who would admire him rather than confront him. His use of language could be flattering and persuasive – and he was clearly stimulating company, as were his literati friends.

At the time, Silvia was struggling to earn a living as an actress, her brother was on active service in Mesopotamia and she needed a father figure to guide her. She was wondering whether to study art at the Slade School. For his part, Hodgson was anxious about Dolly who had some kind of nervous disposition and by 1918 was placed in a psychiatric hospital in South London.

CORRESPONDENCE

An extensive correspondence between Silvia and RH (as he always signed himself) continued for decades – as it did with Muriel and Aurelia. Copies can be found, variously, in the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library (Yale University) and Bryn Mawr College (PA), as well as in family collections.

Part One: 1915-1918

There are seven letters/notes written by RH in this period. They are undated which means the order is not known but a calculated guess can be made from certain references. In each one, Hodgson tells Silvia that he will let her know when he will be ‘up’ or ‘back in town’. We have not had sight of any corresponding letters written by Silvia to Hodgson.

At the outset of WW1, RH had volunteered for foreign service but was turned down on medical grounds and spent most of the war patrolling the East Coast. Three of his missives show they are written from the Britannia Garrison in Norwich.

The extracts below have been selected to give a flavour of their early relationship which developed from a distance.

1     …Don’t think of it. Quite ridiculous. You have neither head nor body for it and I can’t suggest anything either. …It was a great happiness seeing you – but I’m uneasy about you – tired and thinner you looked.
      …Let me know how things go with you. RH

2   … I wish to goodness I could see you. …I don’t quite see what use the Slade will be to you, your whole work is so remote from anything you can learn there. …remember that your work is a form of poetry. …By the way, your letter like many another you’ve written reminds me that you still have another gift worth developing – though you chid(e) me for saying so.
      …RH

3   (RH) waiting ‘patiently’ for a drawing from Silvia
Dislikes cold, spiky drawings (which) the very advanced artists are doing these days
Admires Constable and Corot for seeing trees the way I see them
True eyes will always look for truth… but each generation will see truth differently
      …With love, ever RH

4   I sat down to write a hundred things to you on Sunday – I just couldn’t. I felt they could only be talked when we meet. I’ve got to like you far too much and the dread of finding myself to be only one of your ‘collection’… sends me cold all over.
I do so want to see a Silvia… independent of everybody and all things – coming to the full.
      …But you know that I am always yours, RH

5    How I wish you could get something settled. This eternal worry must be the devil himself to you. …You have genius my lovely Silvia and it will out one day… You have to become Silvia Fausset, artist, somehow and certainly will.
      …Ah my dear I feel like making hot love to you – I refrain. RH 

6    I must be plain, I went away that day disappointed, dismissed – I’d looked forward to too much and found that you had wearied or had too many other things to attend to.
      …To me you’ll always be a sort of idol, love always RH

7   …all this, my dear Silvia will tow you at last to a happiness you barely dream of today – by then you’ll have lost
a good deal of your beauty
will no longer be deluged by invitations to lunch from men who turn silly at
the thought of you
a little of your vanity (you haven’t a great deal)
and nearly all of your friends.
Meanwhile…(too feint to read), Ever RH

Further Correspondence to follow….
1927-31

1933-38

1950-61

1962 – Endnote

'RH liked this'