At the beginning of 1915 Constance Masefield decided to keep a journal. It reveals the Masefields enjoying country life at Lollingdon, on the edge of the Berkshire Downs in the Thames Valley near Wallingford. There is also a sense, however, of indecision, claustrophobia and anxiety. Constance wrote on 14 January: ‘Oh for the war to end. No real peace of mind can come to one, while so much of the world is in pain.’ Masefield himself was ‘depressed’ and the journal notes on 21 January that ‘he is uncertain whether he ought to take some more active part. He has declared himself ready if he is wanted…’ During this time Constance recorded an incident that occurred on 7 February 1915:
… A poor little fox was in our garden today. He was dragging a trap which had broken his leg. They are beautiful creatures. Yet their whole existence seems to rebuke Englishmen. They live only to be tortured.3
Within a few weeks Masefield would be in France as an orderly at a hospital for French wounded. Masefield’s experiences of war would also include providing medical assistance at Gallipoli, observing the Somme battlefield, and accompanying the American Ambulance Service.4 The war undoubtedly contributed to Reynard the Fox, but the sight of a maimed and tortured animal in Masefield’s garden only a few weeks before tending wounded soldiers may have been the inspiration.
The manuscript of the poem reveals that Masefield started writing on 20 December 1918 and completed the narrative four months later on 21 April 1919.5 On 5 May Masefield’s diary recorded that he had posted the first part:
Now blessings on 1st part of Fox May those who thwart it die of pox.6
and the second part followed five days later on 10 May with further nonsense:
Now blessings on the whole two parts May those who thwart it burst their hearts And may God make me a better poet And give me Time and place to show it With Joy to revel in my Fable And Light to make my poor clay able. The American publishing agreement was the first to be signed (on 13 May 1919) with the English agreement following on 26 June 1919.7 Masefield’s diary reveals that the ‘last American Fox (2nd viii