Thursday, 24 October 2019

Robert Underwood Johnson (1853-1937) - American poet, editor and diplomat

Born on 12th January 1853, Robert’s father was Nimrod Hoge Johnson, a lawyer and judge and his mother was Catherine Coyle Underwood, a Suffragette. The family lived in Indiana.  Educated at Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, Robert then joined the staff of “The Century” magazine (known then as “Scribner’s Monthly”), where he became Associate Editor in 1881 and edited the magazine from 1909 – 1913.   A prolific writer, Robert became Permanent Secretary to the American Academy of Arts.

America’s entry into the First World War gave Robert the chance to “present the little-known facts of Italy’s important contributions to the Allied cause, and that in general I had written much in prose and verse in admiration of that country and her people.” 
American Poets’ Ambulances in Italy poster 

In 1917 Robert organized and was chairman of the American Poets' Ambulance in Italy. The organization presented 112 ambulances to the Italian army in four months. In 1918–19 he was president of the New York Committee of the Italian War Relief Fund of America. He served as the U.S. Ambassador to Italy from April 1920 to July 1921, and represented the United States as observer at the San Remo conference of the Supreme Council of the League. He was decorated by the Italian government in recognition of his work in behalf of good relations between Italy and the United States.

In later life, Robert devoted his time to writing and publishing poetry and his memoirs – “Remembered Yesterdays”.  He died on 14th October 1947.

” After being shown a photograph of a child holding ‘the only doll in the valley’ (Bezecca) Robert wrote a poem by that name, sent out a press appeal and ‘hundreds of dolls’ were distributed to the Val.”

“The only Doll in the Valley” poem reproduced here by kind permission of Delaware University Library, where Underwood Johnson's papers are held -

MSS 121, Robert Underwood Johnson Collection, Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware

Works by Robert Underwood Johnson

Poems of War and Peace (Indianapolis and New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1916)
Italian Rhapsody and Other Poems of Italy (Published: By The Author, 745 Fifth Avenue, NY, 1917)
Collected Poems, 1881–1919 (New Haven: Yale University, 1920).
"Collected Poems, 1881-1992" (New Haven: Yale University, 1923)
Remembered Yesterdays (Boston: Little, Brown, 1923)

Friday, 18 October 2019

Sir Thomas Henry Hall Caine CH KBE (1853 – 1931) – British writer, poet, critic

“The Manxland Bard… a genuius … a powerful pen” (“Dundee Courrier, 25th December 1901)

Portrait of Hall Caine by R.E. Morrison 
With thanks to Stuart Allen of The Runcorn & District Historical Society for telling me about Hall Caine.  Although I knew about “King Albert’s Book”, I did not know that Hall Caine was the Editor.

Known later as Hall Caine, Thomas Henry Hall Caine was born on 14th May 1853 in Runcorn, Cheshire, UK.  His parents were John Caine, from the Isle of Man, and his wife, Sarah, nee Hall (from Cumberland – now called Cumbria).  Hall’s siblings were John (b. 1856), William Ralph (b.1865), who also became a writer, and Elizabeth Ann (1869-1914), who became a famous actress using the name Lilly Hall Caine. Caine is a Celtic name and Hall, his mother’s maiden name, is Norse.

Hall was educated at Hope Street School in Liverpool, where he was taught by George Gill, who was head of a school book publisher, and encouraged Hall’s talent for writing.  Hall spent time with his Father’s family on the Isle of Man when he was growing up.  Leaving school at the age of fifteen, Hall was apprenticed to an artichect and trained as an architectural draughtsman.  He also contributed articles to local newspapers and magazines and gave lectures around Merseyside to various societies. The subject of one of those lectures - Dante Gabriel Rossetti - invited Hall to go to London. Hall lived with the old man right up until Rossetti died in 1882 and the two became great friends.
Under Rossetti’s influence Hall developed his literary talents and eventually became a novelist, playwright, short story writer, poet and critic.  Hall worked for the “Academy” (a review of literature and general topics published in London from 1869 to 1902) and also contributed atricles to the “Athenaum” (a literary magazine published in London, from 1828 to 1921). His novel “The Eternal City” was the first novel to sell over a million copies worldwide. His plays were performed to wide acclaim both in America and Britain and Hall became very famous indeed.

In 1886, Hall married Mary Chandler and their sons were Gordon Ralph (1884 – 1962), who became a writer, publisher and Conservative politician and Derwent (b. 1891).

Hall became a resident of The Isle of Man in 1895 and sat from 1901 to 1908 in the Manx House of Keys, the lower house of Tynwald, the parliament of the Isle of Man (the other branch being the Legislative Council). He was elected President of the Manx National Reform League in 1903 and became Chairman of the Keys' Committee that prepared the 1907 petition for constitutional reform. In 1929, Hall was granted the Freedom of the Borough of Douglas, Isle of Man. He visited Russia in 1892 on behalf of the persecuted Jews and in 1895, travelled in north America and Canada, where he represented the Society of Authors.

During the First World War (1914 – 1919), he wrote many patriotic articles and edited “King Albert's Book”, the proceeds of which went to help Belgian refugees.
Cover of "King Albert's Book"

In 1917, Hall was created an Officer of the Order of Leopold by King Albert I of Belgium. He cancelled his literary engagements in America in order to devote his time and energy to the British war effort.  At the recommendation of then Prime Minister Lloyd George, King George V made him a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 1918, for services as an Allied propagandist in the United States. In 1922, Hall Caine was made a Companion of Honour (CH).

Hall died on 311st August 1931 on the Isle of Man.

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, “Hall Caine: The Man and the Novelist” by C. Fred Kenyon (Greening & Co. Ltd., London, 1901)

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Ralph Hale Mottram (1883–1971) – WW1 soldier poet, banker and writer

Ralph Mottram in WW1 – standing back row left.

I first came across Ralph Mottram in Catherine W. Reilly’s amazing book “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography”, in which he features on p. 231 without reference to his WW1 military career.  And then I found him again recently, when I read “In the Trenches: Those who were there” by Rabel Bilton (Pen & Sword Military, 2016), which features a very frank description of Ralph’s experiences in the trenches of the Western Front during the First World War.

Ralph  Hale Mottram was born on 30th October 1883 in the living accommodation of the eighteenth-century building that housed Gurney's Bank in Norwich. His parents were James Mottram, chief clerk of Gurney’s Bank, and his wife, Fanny Ann Mottram, nee Hale.  Ralph was their eldest son. Ralph had an idyllic childhood growing up in 'Bank House' - a Georgian mansion on Bank Plain - which was later Barclay's Bank and is now a youth centre. The Mottrams were non-conformist and worshipped at the Octagon Chapel, Norwich in Colegate.

Ralph became a bank clerk in Norwich before the First World War, during which he served as a Lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment on the Western Front.  In 1918, he married Margaret Allan and the couple had two sons and a daughter.   In 1924, Ralph was awarded the Hawthornden Prize for his trilogy “The Spanish Farm”.

During the Second World War, Ralph and his family lived in Poplar Avenue, Norwich. He became friendly with the American poet Hyman Plutzik who was stationed at the Shipdham Airbase. In his role as Education Officer for the USAAF, Plutzik invited Ralph to lecture at the airfield and then, later in the evening, drove him and his wife back to Norwich. Plutzik's poem “On the Airfield at Shipdham” is dedicated to Ralph Mottram.

In 1953, Ralph became Lord Mayor of Norwich.  Among his literary works was a biography of his friend and fellow novelist John Galsworthy. In 1966, Ralph received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the newly-established University of East Anglia.  Ralph died on 16th April 1971 and was buried in the Mottram family plot at the Rosary Cemetery, which was the first non-denominational cemetery in England.

There is a memorial to Ralph on St. James' Hill on Mousehold Heath - which overlooks the City of Norwich. He once claimed that Mousehold Heath was 'the property of those who have the privilege of Norwich birth'. Unfortunately, the memorial was badly damaged by metal thieves in 2011.

Ralph’s WW1 poetry collection was “Poems new and old” (Duckworth, London, 1930) and he had poems published in two WW1 Anthologies.

“The Flower of Battle” by Ralph Hale Mottram

The summer twilight gently yields
To star-sown luminous night, and close
The flowers in these Flemish Fields
Are folded, still the leaves repose;

But, as the colour leaves the sky,
And darkness wraps a suffering earth,
Clamouring, climbing endlessly
Another blossom springs to birth:

The Flower of Battle, down the wide
Horizon mantles, tendrils spread,
Its far-hung petals brilliant dyed,
Yellow, and blinding white, and red.

Fed with our bodies at its root,
Fed with our hearts its living flame,
It sways in wonder absolute,
And Flower of Battle is its name. . . .

Men will gaze, awestruck, men will strive
To reach its glowing heart . . . and some
May turn away while yet alive,
But few from out its shade may come !

From “The Mercury Book of Verse” (Macmillan & Co. Ltd, London, 1931) which consists of
poems published in “The London Mercury”, 1919-1930. “The London Mercury” was a major monthly literary journal published from 1919 to 1939. J. C. Squire was Editor from November 1919 to September 1934 and Rolfe Arnold Scott-James was Editor from October 1934 to April 1939.

Fiore dei Liberi was a weapons-master from Italy who was active in the 14th and early 15th century. After fifty years of training Italy's elite, he put his art to paper and created the “Flower of Battle”, which covers unarmed combat, the use of the dagger, sword, spear, axe as well as fighting in armor, without and on horseback as well as other odds and ends.

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, Catherine W. Reilly “English Poetry of the First World War: A Bibliography” (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978) p. 231 and

Photo:  Ralph Mottram in WW1 – standing back row left.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Arthur Hugh Sidgwick (1882 - 1917) – British soldier poet

Born on 2nd October 1882 in Headington, Oxfordshire, UK, Arthur was the son of Arthur Sidgwick, later Fellow and Tutor of Corpus Christi College, Oxford and Reader of Greek at the University, and his wife, Charlotte Sophia Sidgwick, daughter of the Reverend Arthur Wilson, Vicar of Nocton in Lincolnshire.    He had three sisters and one brother.

Arthur was educated at Winchester College and won the Queen’s Gold Medal for English Verse, and the Hawkins’ English Literature Prize. He was Richardson Mathematical Prizeman in 1900 and Goddard Scholar in 1901 – a very rare combination – and played in College VI in his last year. He went up to Balliol College, Oxford University in 1901, obtained distinction in the examination for the Ireland Scholarship and took his degree with First Classes in Mathematical Moderations, Classical Moderations and Literae Humaniores. In 1905 he was elected to a Fellowship at University College and in 1906 won the Chancellor’s Prize for English Essay on “The Influence of Greek Philosophy on English Poetry”. The same year, Arthur was appointed a Junior Examiner under the Board of Education and, when the First World War broke out, he was acting as private secretary to Sir Lewis Selby-Bigge (Coll. 1873-1879), Permanent Secretary of the Board, where he seemed assured of a brilliant career.

Unable to obtain his release before the end of 1915, Arthur was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery.  After serving for a year, he was recalled from France to assist his colleagues at the Board of Education in preparing for the Education Bill of 1917. Arthur returned to his Battery on the Western Front in April 1917, and was killed in action near Ypres on 17th September 1917. Arthur Hugh Sidgwick is buried in Mendingham Military Cemetery, Grave Reference VII.E.6. He was a keen supporter of the Workers’ Educational Association and left a legacy to them and also to his schools and to Balliol College.

In 1912 Arthur published “Walking Essays” and in 1914 ”The Promenade Ticket”. His poetry collection “Jones’s Wedding, and other Verses” was published by Arnold in 1918.
Further information can be obtained from the Balliol College Archives:

Catherine W. Reilly, “English Poetry of the First World War:  A Bibliography (St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1978)