Excerpts from the Life of Sassoon - Njeanius Productions

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From Chapter 2: Siegfried gets pneumonia as a child and discovers solitude

Siegfried then went down with pneumonia.
It is surprising, and relevant, how many outstanding people have experienced some such significant break in their youth. No doubt the less outstanding often experience it too; but they do not so greatly benefit from it. It is more than that the invalid has time in which to read and think and daydream and imagine. It is a time of stocking-up, a fuelling - not a re-fuelling for he has never yet been fully fuelled. Without it he would never have become quite the same person. Siegfried at the beginning of his convalescence had to help him an old friend of the family who was staying with them, Ellen Batty - “dear Ellen Batty” - who was untidy, forgetful, unpractical, but imaginative and supremely kind. She told Siegfried long stories, from her experiences in India or from the Old Testament. As to the heroes of the latter, “They all seem to have the right names,” confided Siegfried, not knowing quite what he meant, but having a vivid picture in his mind. Then came noble stories from English history, stories that set an example to all little boys that followed. To be like General Gordon was about the best thing one could do, she suggested. ”My Uncle Hamo had made a statue of him which was in Trafalgar Square; there was a photograph of it hanging above the mantelpiece in the room where I was now lying in bed. The sun had gone down but I could see the tops of the red may trees in bloom below the open window while Batty was telling me how Gordon had been heroically killed by the dervishes at Khartoum. Being a hero nearly always meant getting killed, it seemed, but I supposed that the glory made it worthwhile”.
Then as the warm weather came Siegfried was removed each daytime to a tent in the garden:- .
To be out of doors again at that time of year was indeed like coming back to life. But it was more than that, for illness had made my perceptions detached anti sensitive. I know how memory idealizes things; but I think, all the same, that this was my first conscious experience of exquisite enjoyment. ...
I was beginning to discover that solitude could quicken my awareness of aspects within me and around me. My pneumonia had revealed that I had a mind with which I liked to be alone”.
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon

From Chapter 3: Sassoon's childhood and the stories in “Foxhunting Man”

If one writes of oneself first as a semi-fictionalized character and then later as a true one there are bound to be difficulties, as Siegfried Sassoon was to confess. There must also surely be some significance in the disparities.
In The Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man Sassoon, as must be well known, describes himself as living not with his separated or widowed mother but with a maiden aunt, his father and mother having both died before he can remember them. He himself is an only child and a shy and solitary one, his only true companion being a dream-friend. And yet on the same page, the first of the book, Sassoon is introducing Tom Dixon, , the horse-and-hunting-mad young groom (the Tom Richardson of real life) who is going to see to it that his youthful master does not fail to follow in the manly and equine-loving path.
So we have a nicely simplified picture, of a boy destined to become a huntsman and a sporting man in general, and yet a boy who, even if there is no suggestion of his wanting to be a poet, is yet not quite of the ordinary run of unimaginative young fox-hunting gentleman and is capable when seeing the fox close-to on his first hunt of crying out to his admired young friend who gives the View Hallo! “Don’t do that; they'll catch him.”
There is one other shift from one sort of truth to another, amusing as well as significant in a minor way. In real life the three Sassoon boys shut up an unpopular boy at a party in a cupboard; in the Fox-Hunting Man it is the semi-fictionalized young George Sherston himself who gets shut in the cupboard, and is in fact so out of tune with the rowdy gaiety of the party that he is content to stay there for the best part of an hour.
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
From chapter 4: Sassoon as a fox hunting man

Whatever else Siegfried's hunting did it provided him with a gallery of characters upon whom he could later practise his pen in describing. We, however, are concerned with Siegfried’s own progress. It was a triumphant progress – until a little while before the First World War loomed upon England and the world and suddenly Siegfried was no longer a fox-hunting man with poetic ambitions. First he went to stay with his old school friend, Stephen Colwood, a mad enthusiast, and young, one would imagine for his age. The two spent their time in talking to each other in the manner of a Surtees character. (Surtees was a famous nineteenth century novelist who wrote many humourous books about hunting.)
Then – after a summer of waiting for the next hunting season, however much the summer had its own delights – Siegfried began to hunt in the fairly nearby county where one Dennis Milden (in real life Norman Loder) was Master. Siegfried was thrilled but shy. Here, as grown-up, serious, utterly dedicated fox-hunter, was the admired boy in front of whom he had made the gaffe of crying “They'll catch him” about a fox some years before.
He was forgiven however, or the incident forgotten. Before very long he was being invited to stay with Dennis Milden - or, rather, Norman Loder - in the somewhat ramshackle premises which were the headquarters of the Hunt. It was a Spartan sort of existence: cups of cocoa whilst Norman busied himself with the voluminous correspondence as a Master of the Hunt or sat back and listened to Siegfried playing selections from The Geisha on the pianola. The next year was even better - and harder work. Norman Loder moved to be master of a more famous hunt. Siegfried (and his faithful groom) went too, and went with some horses, for not otherwise could they encompass the hunt's full programme. Siegfried was now the complete fox-hunting man, helping the Master, delighting in the beauty of the dawn as they went cubbing, proud of his prowess in the field, “living” as he himself puts it, “in total immunity from all intellectual effort.” But, he adds, he has “never cared greatly about highly sophisticated persons” and then adds this final and handsome tribute to his M F H (Master of Foxhounds) friend and mentor:-
He was one of those people whose strength is in their consistent simplicity and directness.
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
From Chapter 6: Start of his poetic experience dinner with Rupert Brooke author of the famous poem “If I should die think only this of me
Rupert arrived late, and was welcomed back (from the Pacific) by Marsh's other guest, the tramp poet, W.H. Davies, Brooke was wearing an open-necked shirt and sandals - how different from Siegfried - and he listened modestly to the somewhat talkative Davies. Quite a modest chap after all, Siegfried had to admit. And how sensible of him to have become a Cambridge intellectual, and not to suppress the fact that he had been a good cricketer and that his idea of adventure was to go halfway across the world and write vividly about it while his, Sassoon's,”was to go somewhere in Warwickshire, gallop after a pack of hounds, and stop being a writer altogether.”
Then the others had to leave and Brooke and Sassoon were left alone together. They talked about poetry, and Siegfried was somehow made to feel at a disadvantage, though Brooke was obviously being kind and polite. Siegfried remarked that they must have been up at Cambridge together - and felt that his companion must be feeling wearily bored and was wishing he would go:-
To him I was merely an amateur poet who had scarcely arrived at publication, strongly flavoured with the Philistinism of the hunting field. His intellectual development was years ahead of me, and his character was much more fully formed than mine. I was still slowly unlearning the mental immaturities which he had got rid of before he was twenty-one. From me, as I then was, he could have acquired nothing. So there we were, and my present notion is that I felt rather like a lower Fifth Form boy talking to the Head of the School!
Not therefore a great success, Eddie's effort to help his friend, though Siegfried was left with a genuine admiration for Rupert Brooke. 
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
From Chapter 11: Sassoon in the tunnel a German underground trench
He made his way to his Company headquarters. It was in the Tunnel:-
There were fifty steps down the shaft; the earthy smell of that triumph of Teutonic military engineering was strongly suggestive of appearing in the Roll of Honour and being buried until the Day of Judgement. “Dry-mouthed and chilled to the bone, I lay in a wire-netting bunk and listened to the dismal snorings of my companions. Along the Tunnel the air blew deathly cold and seasoned with mephitic odours.”
By ten a.m. Siegfried was on duty again, in charge of a fatigue party, carrying boxes of trench mortars. They were heavy, and it was very muddy. Siegfried was sorry for his men and carried some of the boxes himself “I can believe that my party, staggering and floundering under its loads, would have made an impressive picture of 'Despair'.”
It was when he returned from this job that the surprise awaited him. He was detailed to lead a bombing party along the tunnel to support an attack by the Cameronians. (The Cameron Highlanders a famous Scottish regiment.) Sassoon was being put upon - or at least his reputation had gone before him. He made his way along the tunnel to his own Battalion Headquarters. There came the incident that he was never to forget
Prying my way along with an electric torch, I glimpsed an assortment of vague shapes, boxes, tins, - fragments of broken furniture and frowsy mattresses. It seemed a long way to Headquarters, and the Tunnel was memorable but not fortifying to a fatigued explorer who hadn't slept for more than an hour at a stretch or taken his clothes off since last Tuesday, Once, when I tripped and recovered myself by grabbing the wall, my tentative patch of brightness revealed somebody half hidden under a blanket, not a very clever spot to be taking a nap, I thought as I stooped to shake him by the shoulder. He refused to wake up, so I gave him a kick, "God blast you, where's Battalion Headquarters?" My nerves were on edge; and what right had he to be having a good sleep, when I never seemed to get five minutes' rest? … Then my beam settled on the livid face of a dead German whose fingers still clutched the blackened gash on his neck ... Stumbling on, I could only mutter to myself that this was really a bit too thick.”
Zero hour was 3 a.m.; but at least the order to attack along the tunnel had been cancelled, Siegfried had merely to penetrate beyond the Cameronians and bomb the Germans out of their trench....
He spent most of the intervening time reminiscing with a brother officer who also knew the Kentish Weald.
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
From Chapter 13: After his anti-war protest, Sassoon reports to his regiment expecting to be
arrested.
Ignoring the first order to return to the Depot, the second he found was peremptory enough. It read: “Report immediately.” That had to be obeyed.
Siegfried was lucky in that the insensitive and 'die-hard' Colonel in command of the Depot was on leave and a more understanding Major in his place. Nevertheless Siegfried entered the presence expecting the worst. To his amazement the Major leant over his desk and shook hands.
Nobody however could pretend that things were going to be ordinary or easy. The Major asked Siegfried to follow him into his private room. He was a very decent chap, a true gentleman. He offered Siegfried a cigar, which the latter with infinite regret refused: that would have been virtual capitulation. He was then begged most earnestly to withdraw his “ultimatum”; again, with increased regret, Siegfried refused, trying to explain the reasons for his attitude, and adding desperately, “Hadn't you better put me under arrest?”
The Major had too much respect for Siegfried, and a temporary way out was discovered: he should take himself to Liverpool's Exchange Hotel and there “await further instructions.” Although his troubles might only just be beginning, at least he was not under arrest. With considerable relief Siegfried did what he was told. 
From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
The end: A last comment from H E L Mellersh and a last poem by Sassoon
The other poem comes from the true Siegfried Sassoon. There is always, I believe, a great integrity in all that Siegfried wrote, a great honesty, a great sincerity. He never offends by boasting, or by the worse sin of mock modesty. Though he may show anger and scorn he does not hate. Nor does he ever seek to belittle people by clever writing, as do some other autobiographers.
In fact he shows the virtue, which we referred to earlier in the book, as being held by Sir Charles Sherrington to be the distinctive attribute of man, which is altruism. But for Altruism we might just as well use the simpler and shorter word, Love.
We may therefore finish the book, with his poem to his son:-

The Child at the Window
Remember this, when childhood's far away;
The sunlight of a showery first spring day;
You from your house-top window laughing down,
And I, returned with whip-cracks from a ride,
On the great lawn below you, playing the clown.
Time blots our gladness out. Let this with love abide,
The brave March day; and you, not four years old,
Up in your nursery world - all heaven for me.
Remember this - the happiness I hold -
In far off springs I shall not live to see;
The world one map of wastening war unrolled,
And you, unconscious of it, setting my spirit free.
For you must learn, beyond bewildering years,
How little things beloved and held are best.
The windows of the world are blurred with tears,
And troubles come like cloud-banks from the west.
Remember this, some afternoon in spring,
When your own child looks down and makes your sad heart sing.

From Poet into War: A life of Siegfried Sassoon
 
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