FALL IN, GHOSTS
Edmund Blunden was born in London on 1 November 1896, to Charles and Georgina Blunden; they had met when he was head teacher of St John’s primary school, Fitzroy Square, and she was starting out as a teacher. With Edmund and his baby sister they moved to Yalding in Kent in 1898, and this village remained his ideal: ‘How I turned to you / Beyond estranging years that cloaked my view / with all their wintriness of fear and strain…’.2 His happy childhood there was succeeded by stimulating schooldays at Christ’s Hospital in Horsham, where he was eventually captain of the school and also captain of his house cricket team – the house being Coleridge A, one of the strong literary links that Blunden so treasured in the school. (S.T. Coleridge, Charles Lamb and Leigh Hunt were all pupils of Christ’s Hospital.) In 1914 he was awarded a scholarship to read Classics at The Queen’s College, Oxford, but he was bound for the army, joining up in August 1915.
His post-war life, in the period in which he was writing most of these essays, included his first marriage in 1918, his meeting Siegfried Sassoon in 1919 and the death of his first child, Joy, aged five weeks, the same year. He went up to Oxford in the autumn, changed his subject from Classics to English, moved to Boar’s Hill outside the town where John Masefield, Robert Graves and Robert Nichols were also living, but found he was more interested in editing the poems of John Clare (1793–1864) than in following his course. It was also very hard for returned servicemen – as other memoirs relate – to adapt to life at Oxford, and he had a wife and family: Clare, born in 1920 and then John, in 1922. So he left Oxford after a year, and became assistant to John Middleton Murry on the Athenaeum. Between 1920 and 1924 he contributed over 200 pieces to the Athenaeum and the Nation, and with his contributions to the Times Literary Supplement and other journals, produced over 400 items in those years, as well as publishing his collections The Waggoner (1920), The Shepherd and Other Poems of Peace and War (1922), and his edition (with Alan Porter) of Poems Chiefly from Manuscript by John Clare.