Sunday, 11 September 2016

Raymond Asquith (1878 – 1916) – British lawyer and poet

Raymond was born on 6th November 1878, the eldest son and heir of Herbert H. Asquith, First Earl of Oxford and Asquith, and his first wife Helen Kelsall Asquith, nee Medland, who died in 1891. Raymond’s father was Liberal Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1908 until 1916.   Raymond’s younger brother Herbert (1881 – 1947) was also a poet and he also served in the Army during WW1 with The Royal Artillery in France.

Educated at Winchester School and Balliol College, Oxford, Raymond was a member of ‘The Coterie’ group of Edwardian socialites, writers and poets.  He was also a member of the “Horrace Club” founded by his close friend John Buchan in 1898. Other members included H.T. Baker, A.C. Medd, Hilaire Belloc, Lucian Oldershaw and John Phillimore.
Called to the Bar in 1904, Raymond married Katharine Frances Horner on 25th July 1907.  She was the daughter of Sir John Fortescue Horner of Mells, Somerset, said to have descended from Thomas Horner, ‘Little Jack Horner’ of British nursery rhyme fame.  Katharine’s mother, Lady Horner was a patron of the arts – in particular the Pre-Raphaelites and John Singer Sargent.  Raymond and Katharine had three children.

In December 1914, Raymond was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant into the 16th (County of London) Battalion, London Regiment.  Transferred to the 3rd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards on 14th August 1915, he was offered a Staff Officer post but requested a return to active duty.   Posted to the Western Front, Raymond was killed leading his men in an attack during the advance on “Les Boeufs” on 15th September 1916, near Guinchy on the Western Front in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.   Hit in the chest, Raymond is reported to have lit a cigarette to hide the fact that he had been seriously wounded from his men.  He died on the way to a Casualty Clearing Station and is buried in Guillemont Road Cemetery in France.
Raymond’s brother-in-law Edward Horne (1888 – 1916) was also killed during the battle and is buried in the same Cemetery as Raymond.   Katharine Asquith inherited the manor house at Mells, Somerset on the death of her brother Edward.
I have been searching for poems by Raymond and an article sent to me by Historian Debbie Cameron provides with a valuable clue - apparently Raymond did not publish his poems.   
From "The Westminster Gazette" 3rd November 1916

However, Raymond's Stepmother, Margot Asquit, included two of his poems in her Autobiography. Margot wrote. “It is a commonplace to say after a man is dead that he could have done anything he liked in life:  it is nearly always exaggerated; but of Raymond Asquith the phrase would have been true.
His oldest friend was Harold Baker,[Footnote:  The Rt.  Hon. Harold Baker.] a man whose academic career was as fine as his own and whose changeless affection and intimacy we have long valued; but Raymond had many friends as well as admirers.  His death was the first great sorrow in my stepchildren’s lives and an anguish to his father and me.  The news of it came as a terrible shock to every one.  My husband’s natural pride and interest in him had always been intense and we were never tired of discussing him when we were alone:  his personal charm and wit, his little faults and above all the success which so certainly awaited him.  Henry’s grief darkened the waters in Downing Street at a time when, had they been clear, certain events could never have taken place."
Two of Raymond’s poems: 

 In praise of young girls

    Attend, my Muse, and, if you can, approve
    While I proclaim the “speeding up” of Love;
    For Love and Commerce hold a common creed—­
    The scale of business varies with the speed;
    For Queen of Beauty or for Sausage King
    The Customer is always on the wing—­
    Then praise the nymph who regularly earns
    Small profits (if you please) but quick returns. 
    Our modish Venus is a bustling minx,
    But who can spare the time to woo a Sphinx? 
    When Mona Lisa posed with rustic guile
    The stale enigma of her simple smile,
    Her leisure lovers raised a pious cheer
    While the slow mischief crept from ear to ear. 
    Poor listless Lombard, you would ne’er engage
    The brisker beaux of our mercurial age
    Whose lively mettle can as easy brook
    An epic poem as a lingering look—­
    Our modern maiden smears the twig with lime
    For twice as many hearts in half the time. 
    Long ere the circle of that staid grimace
    Has wheeled your weary dimples into place,
    Our little Chloe (mark the nimble fiend!)
    Has raised a laugh against her bosom friend,
    Melted a marquis, mollified a Jew,
    Kissed every member of the Eton crew,
    Ogled a Bishop, quizzed an aged peer,
    Has danced a Tango and has dropped a tear. 
    Fresh from the schoolroom, pink and plump and pert,
    Bedizened, bouncing, artful and alert,
    No victim she of vapours and of moods
    Though the sky falls she’s “ready with the goods”—­
    Will suit each client, tickle every taste
    Polite or gothic, libertine or chaste,
    Supply a waspish tongue, a waspish waist,
    Astarte’s breast or Atalanta’s leg,
    Love ready-made or glamour off the peg—­
    Do you prefer “a thing of dew and air”? 
    Or is your type Poppaea or Polaire? 
    The crystal casket of a maiden’s dreams,
    Or the last fancy in cosmetic creams? 
    The dark and tender or the fierce and bright,
    Youth’s rosy blush or Passion’s pearly bite? 
    You hardly know perhaps; but Chloe knows,
    And pours you out the necessary dose,
    Meticulously measuring to scale,
    The cup of Circe or the Holy Grail—­
    An actress she at home in every role,
    Can flout or flatter, bully or cajole,
    And on occasion by a stretch of art
    Can even speak the language of the heart,
    Can lisp and sigh and make confused replies,
    With baby lips and complicated eyes,
    Indifferently apt to weep or wink,
    Primly pursue, provocatively shrink,
    Brazen or bashful, as the case require,
    Coax the faint baron, curb the bold esquire,
    Deride restraint, but deprecate desire,
    Unbridled yet unloving, loose but limp,
    Voluptuary, virgin, prude and pimp.

Lines to A young viscount, who died at Oxford, on the morrow of A
Bump supper (by the President of his College)

    Dear Viscount, in whose ancient blood
      The blueness of the bird of March,
      The vermeil of the tufted larch,
    Are fused in one magenta flood.

    Dear Viscount—­ah! to me how dear,
      Who even in thy frolic mood
      Discerned (or sometimes thought I could)
    The pure proud purpose of a peer!

    So on the last sad night of all
      Erect among the reeling rout
      You beat your tangled music out
    Lofty, aloof, viscontial.

    You struck a bootbath with a can,
      And with the can you struck the bath,
      There on the yellow gravel path,
    As gentleman to gentleman.

    We met, we stood, we faced, we talked
      While those of baser birth withdrew;
      I told you of an Earl I knew;
    You said you thought the wine was corked;

    And so we parted—­on my lips
      A light farewell, but in my soul
      The image of a perfect whole,
    A Viscount to the finger tips—­

    An image—­Yes; but thou art gone;
      For nature red in tooth and claw
      Subsumes under an equal law
    Viscount and Iguanodon.

    Yet we who know the Larger Love,
      Which separates the sheep and goats
      And segregates Scolecobrots, [1]
    Believing where we cannot prove,

    Deem that in His mysterious Day
      God puts the Peers upon His right,
      And hides the poor in endless night,
    For thou, my Lord, art more than they.

[Footnote 1:  A word from the Greek Testament meaning people who are eaten by worms.]

From Margot Asquith “Margot Asquith, an Autobiography”
Available to read on Project Gutenberg:

Debbie Cameron's Facebook Page Remembering British Women WW1 - The Home Front and Overseas can be found by following this link: