From the Stacks: The Life and Opinions of Thomas Ernest Hulme by A. R. Jones

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 2:52pm -- anonymous



The Life and Opinions of Thomas Ernest Hulme by A. R. Jones. Beacon Press: Boston, 1960   | Cutter Number 1AE .H879zJ

The historical importance in Edwardian-era literature, art and aesthetics of the tragically abbreviated life of T.E. Hulme (1883 – 1917) is highlighted in this 1960 literary biographical study by Alun Jones, formerly lecturer in English at University of Hull. Hulme was raised, like so many at the time, in a severe, Victorian middle-class home (think Ivy Compton-Burnett novels) and subsequently rebelled during two stints at Cambridge where he managed to study Mathematics and Philosophy before being removed in 1904 for an “escapade” during a boat-race night. It was during this time that Hulme developed his life-long love of womanizing and conversational art as he came to believe that talking was the highest form of activity. Due to a generous inherited allowance, he was able to insulate himself and partake in the literary and artistic circles of Edwardian London's café scene, honing his loquacious constitution. An early acquaintance of Ezra Pound through the London’s Poets Club where Hulme was Honorary Secretary, he was to play an important part in developing the “Imagist” movement in poetry- in fact, many claim that Hulme’s poetry (collected in the latter half of this tome) constitutes some of the earliest formulations of Imagism, attributed most closely with Pound.

In philosophy and through his extensive writings in the Fabian journal New Age, he became a champion of Henri Bergson’s intuition-based metaphysical worldview and, as a sometimes reactionary figure he was very suspicious of the enthusiasm featured about and among the Victorian sciences and the Humanist-inspired idealism of the perfectibility of man. Although casting doubt upon the efficacy of Bergson’s religious viewpoints, Hulme held that Romanticism was a humbug as he valued social order, secular authority and tradition above the messy individualism of Romanticism. This reactionary spirit also permeated, in an odd fashion, his aesthetic philosophy in which he believed that it is only through a historical study of the whole of humanity, other cultures and viewpoints that one could properly understand one’s own cultural milieu and the unconscious, intuitive assumptions underpinning the same, stating: “…humanity ought, therefore, to always carry with it a library of a thousand years as a balancing pole”. This early proponent of “multi-cultural studies” - albeit for different aims - was a strong supporter and champion of Joseph Epstein’s work in geometric-mechanical and Non-Western inspired sculpture (Epstein was commissioned by Oscar Wilde’s estate to create his infamous tomb in Père Lachaise); this coincided nicely with Hulme’s interest in Byzantine mosaic tile-art. A physically imposing figure (at one point he left his sometime friend, painter and writer Wyndham Lewis dangling upside down on the iron rails of Soho Square thanks to a disagreement over a woman), Hulme died tragically according to eyewitnesses while in a state of deep thought from a direct shelling attack on the WWI battlefield at Oost-Duinkerk Bains in September, 1918, mere days after his 34th birthday.

Historically overlooked but of late gaining more scholarly attention (see T.E. Hulme and the Question of Modernism, Edward P.Comentale, ed. Ashgate; London, 2007), Hulme is generously described in this well writen but sometimes repetitive full length biography, one of the few written since his death. It also contains samples from his writing and, as mentioned, his complete poems. It was last checked out in 1982 and may be found in our basement-level stacks where we encourage members to browse.