Laurence Housman

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Photo portrait by Bain, 1915

Laurence Housman (/ˈhsmən/; 18 July 1865 – 20 February 1959)[1] was an English playwright, writer and illustrator.

Early life[edit]

Laurence Housman was born in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, one of seven children including an older brother and sister, the classical scholar and poet A. E. Housman and the writer Clemence Housman. In 1871 his mother died, and his father remarried, to a cousin. After education at Bromsgrove School, he went with his sister Clemence to study art at the Lambeth School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London.


He first worked with London publishers by illustrating such works as George Meredith's Jump to Glory Jane (1892), Jonas Lie's Weird Tales (1892), Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (1893), Jane Barlow's The End of Elfintown (1894) and his sister's novella The Were-Wolf (1896)[2][3] in an intricate Art Nouveau style. During this period, he also wrote and published several volumes of poetry and a number of hymns and carols.[4]


Undated portrait by William Rothenstein (1872-1945)

Housman turned more and more to writing after his eyesight began to fail. His first literary success came with the novel An Englishwoman's Love-letters (1900), published anonymously. He then turned to drama with Bethlehem (1902) and was to become best known and remembered as a playwright. His other dramatic works include Angels and Ministers[5] (1921), Little Plays of St. Francis (1922) and Victoria Regina (1934) which was even staged on Broadway. Housman's play, Pains and Penalties, about Queen Caroline, was produced by Edith Craig and the Pioneer Players.[6]

Some of Housman's plays were scandalous for depicting biblical characters and living members of the Royal House on stage, and many of them were performed only privately until the subsequent relaxation of theatrical censorship. In 1937 the Lord Chamberlain ruled that no British sovereign may be portrayed on the stage until 100 years after his or her accession. For this reason, Victoria Regina could not be staged until the centenary of Queen Victoria's accession, 20 June 1937. This was a Sunday, so the premiere took place the next day.[7]

Housman also wrote children's fairy tales such as A Farm in Fairyland (1894) and fantasy stories with Christian undertones for adults, such as All-Fellows (1896), The Cloak of Friendship (1905), and Gods and Their Makers (1897). [8]

A prolific writer with around a hundred published works to his name, his output eventually covered all kinds of literature from socialist and pacifist pamphlets to children's stories. He wrote an autobiography, The Unexpected Years (1937), which, despite his record of controversial writing, said little about his homosexuality.[9]

After his brother's A.E.'s death in 1936, Laurence was made literary executor, and over the next two years brought out further selections of poems from his brother's manuscripts. His editorial work has been deprecated recently: "The text of many poems was misrepresented: poems not completed by Housman were printed as though complete; versions he cancelled were reinstated; separate texts were conflated; and many poems were mistranscribed from the manuscripts."[10]


Dedication by Laurence Housman in Mabel Cappers' WSPU prisoners' scrapbook October 1910

Housman held political views that were controversial. He was a committed socialist and pacifist and founded the Men's League for Women's suffrage with Henry Nevinson and Henry Brailsford in 1907. He was also a member of the British Society for the Study of Sex Psychology and the Order of Chaeronea.[11]

In 1909 Laurence and sister Clemence founded the Suffrage Atelier, an arts and crafts society that worked closely with the Women's Social and Political Union and Women's Freedom League. They encouraged non-professional artists to submit work, and paid them a small percentage of the profits.[12] In 1911 the Anti-Suffrage Alphabet, written by Housman and edited by Leonora Tyson, was published in London.

In 1945 he opened Housmans Bookshop in Shaftesbury Avenue, London, founded in his honour by the Peace Pledge Union, of which he was a sponsor. In 1959, shortly after his death, the shop moved to Caledonian Road, where it is still a source of literature on pacifism and other radical approaches to living.[13]

Later life[edit]

After World War I, Laurence and Clemence left their Kensington home and moved to the holiday cottage which they had previously rented in the village of Ashley in Hampshire.[14][15] They lived there until 1924,[16] when they moved to Street, Somerset, where Laurence lived the last 35 years of his life.[17]

Posthumous recognition[edit]

His name and picture (and those of 58 other women's suffrage supporters) are on the plinth of the statue of Millicent Fawcett in Parliament Square, London, unveiled in 2018.[18][19][20]

Published writings[edit]

Source: Open Library list of his works.[21]
This list includes no publications by Housman as illustrator only.


  • Gods and Their Makers (1897)
  • An Englishwoman's Love-letters (1900)
  • A Modern Antaeus (1901)
  • Sabrina Warham (1904)
  • John of Jingalo (1912) — US title: King John of Jingalo
  • The Royal Runaway and Jingalo in Revolution: A Sequel to King John of Jingalo (1914)
  • The Sheepfold (1918)
  • Trimblerigg: A Book of Revelation (1924) — political satire
  • Uncle Tom Pudd (1927)
  • The Life of H.R.H. the Duke of Flamborough (1928) — political satire

Short fiction[edit]

  • A Farm in Fairyland (1894)
  • The House of Joy (1895)
  • All-fellows (1896)
  • The Field of Clover (1898)
  • Blind Love (1901) — chapbook; short story later included in Ironical Tales
  • The Blue Moon (1904)
  • The Cloak of Friendship (1905)
  • Stories from the Arabian Nights, Retold by Laurence Housman (1907) — illustrated by Edmund Dulac
  • Princess Badoura: a tale from the Arabian nights (1913) — illustrated by Edmund Dulac
  • Gods and Their Makers and other stories (novel and four stories, 1920)
  • Wish to Goodness! (1920) — chapbook; short story later included in Turn Again Tales
  • A Thing to be Explained (1920) — chapbook; short story later included in Turn Again Tales
  • Moonshine & Clover (1922) — selected from the 1894, 1895, 1898, and 1904 collections
  • A Doorway in Fairyland (1922)
  • All-fellows and the Cloak of Friendship (1923)
  • The Open Door (1925) — chapbook; short story later included in Turn Again Tales
  • Odd Pairs: A Book of Tales (1925)
  • Ironical Tales (1926)
  • Cotton-Woolleena (1930) — chapbook; U.S. title: Cotton-Wooleena; short story included in Turn Again Tales
  • Turn Again Tales (1930)
  • A Clean Sweep: The Tale of a Cat and a Broomstick (1931) — chapbook
  • What-O'Clock Tales (1932)
  • What Next? Provocative Tales of Faith and Morals (1938)
  • Strange Ends and Discoveries (1948)
  • The Kind and the Foolish (1952)


  • Little Plays of St. Francis: a dramatic cycle from the life and legend of St. Francis of Assisi (1900)
  • Followers of St. Francis (1900)
  • Bethlehem: A Nativity Play (1902)
  • Prunella, or, Love in a Dutch garden (1906; with Harley Granville-Barker)
  • The Chinese Lantern (1908)
  • Lysistrata: A Modern Paraphrase from the Greek of Aristophanes (1911)
  • Pains and Penalties (1911)
  • A Likely Story (1916)
  • The Lord of the Harvest: A Morality in One Act (1916)
  • As Good as Gold (1916)
  • The Return of Alcestis (1916)
  • The Snow Man (1916)
  • Bird in Hand (1916)
  • Nazareth (1916)
  • The Wheel (1919)
  • A Mint o' Money (1920)
  • The Death of Orpheus (1921)
  • Angels & Ministers: Four Plays of Victorian Shade & Character (1921)
  • Possession (1921)
  • Brother Sin (1922)
  • Sister Gold (1922)
  • Brother Sun (1922)
  • The House of Bondage (1922)
  • Little Plays of St. Francis (1922)
  • False Premises (1922)
  • Echo de Paris (1923)
  • The Death of Socrates: a dramatic scene, founded upon two of Plato's Dialogues, the "Crito" and the "Phaedo" (1925)
  • The Comments of Juniper: six plays from the life and legend of St. Francis of Assisi (1926)
  • Ways and Means: Five one-act plays of village characters (1928)
  • Cornered Poets: A Book of Dramatic Dialogues (1929)
  • The New Hangman (1930)
  • Palace Plays (1930)
  • 20 Selected Little Plays of Saint Francis (1930)
  • Ye Fearful Saints! Plays of creed, custom, and credulity (1932)
  • The Queen's Progress (1932)
  • Victoria and Albert (1933)
  • Ashes to Ashes: A Palace Epilogue (1934)
  • Four Plays of St. Clare (1934)
  • Victoria Regina, a Dramatic Biography (1934) — collection of 30 short plays; illustrated by E. H. Shepard
  • Little Plays of Saint Francis, volume III (1935)
  • Palace Scenes: more plays of Queen Victoria (1937)
  • The Golden Sovereign (1937) — collection of 19 short plays; illustrated by E. H. Shepard
  • The Rose and the Thorn (1938)
  • The Six o'Clock Call (1938)
  • The Bed-chamber Plot (1938)
  • The Queen! God bless Her! (1938)
  • 'A great relief' (1938)
  • Enter Prince (1938)
  • Under Fire (1938)
  • Gracious Majesty (1941)
  • Palestine Plays (1942)
  • Happy and Glorious: A Dramatic Biography of Queen Victoria (1943)
  • Samuel, the King-maker (1944)
  • The Family Honour (1950)
  • Old Testament Plays (1950)


  • Green Arras (1896)
  • Spikenard: A Book of Devotional Love-Poems (1898)
  • The Little Land: With Songs from Its Four Rivers (1899)
  • The Story of the Seven Young Goslings (1899) — illustrated by Mabel Dearmer
  • Rue (1899)
  • Mendicant Rhymes (1906)
  • Selected Poems (1908)
  • The New Child's Guide to Knowledge (1911)
  • The Heart of Peace, and Other Poems (1918)
  • The Love Concealed (1928)
  • The Collected Poems of Laurence Housman (1937)
  • Hop o'-me-heart: A Grown-Up Fairy Tale (1938)
  • Cynthia: A True Love Tale (1947)


  • Of Aucassin and Nicolette: A Translation in Prose and Verse from the Old French together with Amabel and Amoris (1902)


  • Arthur Boyd Houghton (collection of art by Arthur Boyd Houghton, 1896)
  • Articles of Faith in the Freedom of Women (1910)
  • National Art Training (1911)
  • Sex-war and Woman's Suffrage: A Lecture Given by Laurence Housman (1912)
  • Great Possessions (1915) — chapbook; lecture later included in Ploughshare and Pruning-Hook
  • St. Francis Poverello (1918)
  • Ploughshare and Pruning-Hook: Ten Lectures on Social Subjects (1919)
  • The Rubáiyat of Omar Khayyám (1922) — introduction only
  • Dethronements: Imaginary Portraits of Political Characters, Done in Dialogue (1922)
  • Echo de Paris (1925) — an account of Housman's last meeting with Oscar Wilde
  • Modern Religious Belief (1925)
  • The "Little Plays" handbook (1927)
  • A Substitute for Capital Punishment (1928)
  • The Religious Advance Toward Rationalism: Delivered at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, W.C.1, on 25 September 1929 (1929)
  • The Long Journey: A Tale of Our Past (with C. H. K. Marten, 1933)
  • The Unexpected Years (autobiography; 1936)
  • My Brother, A. E. Housman (1938)
  • What Can We Believe? Letters exchanged between Dick Sheppard and Laurence Housman (1939)
  • Autarchy, Internationalism and Common Sense (1940)
  • The Preparation of Peace (1941)
  • Terrorism by Ordinance (1942)
  • Back Words and Fore Words (1945)
  • Edward FitzGerald, preface[22]

Works edited[edit]

  • The Venture: An Annual of Art and Literature (1903) — edited by Laurence Housman and W. Somerset Maugham
  • A.E.H.: some poems, some letters and a personal memoir by his brother Laurence Housman (1937)
  • War Letters of Fallen Englishmen (1930)


  1. ^ 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica gives a different birthdate, 18 June 1867.
  2. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Housman, Laurence" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "Hymns and Carols by Laurence Housman". Archived from the original on 21 November 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2008.
  5. ^
  6. ^ Cockin, Katharine. Women and Theatre in the Age of Suffrage: The Pioneer Players 1911–25, Palgrave (2001)
  7. ^ All the Best People ...: The Pick of Peterborough 1929–1945, George Allen & Unwin, 1981; p. 139
  8. ^ "Housman, Laurence" in Stableford, Brian (2005). The A to Z of Fantasy Literature (Scarecrow Press, 2005) (p.205).
  9. ^ "Laurence Housman". Knitting Circle. Archived from the original on 5 February 2008. Retrieved 6 August 2007.
  10. ^ Archie Burnett, notes to A Shropshire Lad and Other Poems, Penguin 2010, p.xxxi.
  11. ^ Cockin, Katharine (2004). Housman, Laurence (1865–1959). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
  12. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 9 February 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. ^ Tom Willis and Emily Johns, "The man who made it all possible", Peace News #2516 "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 27 September 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2010.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. ^ Laurence Housman, (1937), The unexpected years, page 331. Jonathan Cape
  15. ^ Hampshire Treasures Volume 5 (New Forest), p. 268 Archived 31 May 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ A. T. Lloyd, J. E. S. Brooks, (1996), The History of New Milton and its Surrounding Area, Centenary Edition, page 66
  17. ^ "Catalogue of Laurence Housman's works" (Word). Street Society. Retrieved 7 June 2012.
  18. ^ "Historic statue of suffragist leader Millicent Fawcett unveiled in Parliament Square". 24 April 2018. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  19. ^ Topping, Alexandra (24 April 2018). "First statue of a woman in Parliament Square unveiled". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 April 2018.
  20. ^ "Millicent Fawcett statue unveiling: the women and men whose names will be on the plinth". iNews. Retrieved 25 April 2018.
  21. ^ Laurence Housman, OpenLibrary, retrieved 25 February 2013
  22. ^ in: Fitzgerald, Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, followed by Euphranor, a dialogue on youth, and Salaman and Absal, an allegory translated from the Persian of Jami. Collins, London & Glasgow 1953 and often (last ed.: Wildside Press, Rockville MD 2008 ISBN 1-4344-7914-5 pp. 15–24.

External links[edit]