Ashford’s Poet Laureate

It’s been a wet June, but it’s warming up, and I’ve been investigating someone known as the ‘Laureate of Spring’.

Alfred Austin Cartoon

Alfred Austin (1835-1913) was born in Headingly near Leeds.  After a Roman Catholic upbringing, he joined the Inner Temple in London, and then went on to practise as a barrister on the Northern Circuit in 1857.

However, an inheritance from his uncle, Joseph Locke MP for Honiton in Devon, meant that Alfred abandoned his fledgling legal career, to devote his life to literature.  One might’ve wished his uncle had not left this earth so soon.  His poetry was generally considered to be awful and was rarely critically well-received.

220px-alfred_austin_vanity_fair_20_february_1896
Vanity Fair portrait of Alfred Austin

In 1866 he began to work for the Tory newspaper The Standard and would continue to be its leader writer for the next 32 years.

Following a two year honeymoon in Italy, Alfred and his wife, Hester Jane Mulock, leased Swinford Manor in Hothfield within the borough of Ashford, where they lived until his death.

Swinfield Old Manor

 

On 1 January 1896, four years after Tennyson’s death, Austin was appointed poet laureate in his place (Austin had described Tennyson as not even a third-rate poet).  This appointment was almost certainly based more on his association with the prime minister, Lord Salisbury, and with his journalistic service to the Conservative party in The Standard and the National Review, than on his poetic ability.  It may be apocryphal but Austin is said to have written of the Prince of Wales’s illness in 1871:

Flash’d from his bed the electric tidings came,

He is not better; he is much the same.

Yep: sizzling.

Plate from the garden that I love
Plate from Alfred Austin’s book: The Garden That I Love

Alfred was sometimes called the ‘laureate of the English Spring’, because it was felt that his nature poetry was his best.  Judge for yourself.  Personally, I find his poem “The Springtime, O The Springtime” pretty cloying:

The Spring-time, O the Spring-time!
Who does not know it well?
When the little birds begin to build,
And the buds begin to swell.
When the sun with the clouds plays hide-and-seek,
And the lambs are bucking and bleating,
And the colour mounts to the maiden’s cheek,
And the cuckoo scatters greeting;
In the Spring-time, joyous Spring-time!

 

But, at this spring-time of year, since I moved to Ashford, I’m always reminded of a poem written by someone who turned down the offer of Poet Laureate: Philip Larkin.  No: not the sweary one about parental influence … But Cut Grass:

Cut grass lies frail:
Brief is the breath
Mown stalks exhale.
Long, long the death

It dies in the white hours
Of young-leafed June
With chestnut flowers,
With hedges snowlike strewn,

White lilac bowed,
Lost lanes of Queen Anne’s lace,
And that high-builded cloud
Moving at summer’s pace.

The above two photographs of Queen Anne’s Lace were taken on a (wet) road and by a wheatfield in Hothfield.  I’m sure Alfred Austin would’ve been livid …


2 thoughts on “Ashford’s Poet Laureate

  1. Hi NIcci
    I recently followed you on twitter. I lived in Ashford for 26 years and now I am an artist living in Wiltshire. Your twitter page brought some welcome interest and nostalgia. My work is inspired by elemental poetry, mythology and a sense of place. If you have time please see http://www.artquartet.co.uk/Sally Parker. I look forward to reading more of your tweets and blogs. Best wishes, Sally

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Sally, Thanks for your supportive message! If you can think of anywhere you’d specifically like me to write about in Ashford, do let me know. I shall look at your website later, once the much-mentioned boys are in bed … Best wishes, Nicci

      Like

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