17 April 2009


[Constance Babington Smith: John Masefield: A Life (1978)]

A Chronology of John Masefield

(Up to the First World War, with salient dates thereafter)

  • June 1, 1878 – born at Ledbury, Herefordshire.

  • January 20, 1885 – his mother, Caroline, dies of pneumonia shortly after giving birth to a sixth child. (A hunting accident may also have been partly responsible for her death, according to Masefield (Smith, 1978, p.9)).

  • January 1888 – goes as a boarder to Warwick School, 'an old foundation of the grammar school type', where he is, at first, extremely unhappy, but later settles down on being moved to a 'Junior House … for the smaller boys' (Smith, 1978, p.15).

  • March 1888 – writes his first two poems (neither of which has been preserved).

  • Late 1889-early 1890 – Edward Masefield (John's father) undergoes a severe mental breakdown, and is admitted to hospital, where he dies the following year. John goes to live with his uncle and aunt, William and Kate Masefield.

  • September 24, 1891 – joins the school-ship H.M.S. Conway as an apprentice. (During this time he first reads Melville, Treasure Island, and Mark Twain).

  • March 1894 – leaves the Conway, having gained his "certificate".

  • April 25, 1894 – sails as apprentice aboard the Gilcruix, bound for Chile.

  • August 1894 – the Gilcruix arrives at Iquique, in Chile – Masefield falls ill, and is discharged from the ship 'on grounds of mutual consent' (Smith, 1978, p.29).

  • October 1894 – arrives back at Ledbury, having (presumably) travelled home overland across South America, and then by steamship through the Caribbean (Smith, 1978, p.30).

  • March 4, 1895 – Masefield secures a place on the Bidstone Hill, a ship docked in New York. He sails to meet her aboard the White Star mail-ship Adriatic.

  • March 30, 1895 – the Bidstone Hill sails from New York ­without Masefield, who has "deserted" by failing to report for duty.

  • 1895-1897 – lives in America, doing a variety of odd jobs from bartending to working in a factory – described in In the Mill (1941). Reads Chaucer and Malory for the first time.

  • 1896 – Masefield starts writing seriously – mostly sonnets and short lyrics.

  • July 1897 – returns to England, but fails to find any work in Liverpool, where he first lands.

  • Summer 1897 – goes to London and gets a job as a junior clerk through the good offices of his sister Ethel. He is very sick – with malaria, and what he believes to be consumption.

  • 1898 – after a period of convalescence, he starts a new job as a clerk at the Capital and Counties Bank in London. He is to remain there for the next three years.

  • June 3, 1899 – 'Nicias Moriturus', a sea poem, is published in The Outlook.

  • Late 1899 – discovers the poetry of Yeats, who is to influence him more than anyone else except Chaucer.

  • November 5, 1900 – meets Yeats for the first time. Encounters, on this and subsequent occasions, many artists and writers in Yeats's rooms – including Synge, Lady Gregory, Laurence Binyon, and William Rothenstein.

  • Mid-1901 – leaves his bank job and determines to live as a writer.

  • October 5, 1901 – Masefield has another ballad, 'Trade Winds', accepted by The Outlook, and thereafter sells more to that and other literary magazines.

  • January 1902 – accepts a job organizing a big art exhibition in Wolverhampton.

  • October 1902 – the exhibition closes; but Masefield has published many more poems, articles and reviews in the meantime.

  • November 19, 1902 – his first book, Salt-Water Ballads, is published in an edition of 500 copies. It attracts 'immediate if not considerable attention' (Smith, 1978, p.73).

  • July 23, 1903 – marries Constance Crommelin, an Irishwoman eleven years his senior.

  • August 1903 – starts reviewing for the Manchester Guardian.

  • October 26, 1903 – his second book of poems, Ballads, is published in an edition of 762 copies.

  • April 28, 1904 – the Masefields' first child, Judith, born. Masefield is working feverishly as a journalist to support his family, and complains of no longer having the time or the energy for poetry (Smith, 1978, p.85).

  • June 1, 1905 – his first prose work, A Mainsail Haul, consisting of reprinted articles and stories, is published in an edition of 1,000 copies.

  • September 1905Sea Life in Nelson's Time, 'a historical essay' (Simmons, 1930, p.12), published in an edition of 2,000 copies.

  • During 1905 – “The Sweeps of Ninety-Eight”, a prose play, written (though not published until 1916).

  • May 3, 1906On the Spanish Main, another 'historical essay', published in an edition of 1,500 copies. A more sizeable work than Nelson, it also contains material later incorporated in Masefield's first novel, Captain Margaret.

  • October 1906 – edits A Sailor's Garland, an anthology of sea poetry, with a note on sea chanties.

  • November 1906 – publishes an edition of Dampier's Voyages in two volumes, containing, in all, 1236 pages of text.

  • During 1906 – “The Locked Chest”, a prose play based on the Laxdaela Saga, is written; though, again, not published until 1916.

  • January 8, 1907 – Masefield's play “The Campden Wonder” is produced by Granville-Barker. A 'succès de scandale despite the fact that the production at the Court had been a fiasco' (Smith, 1978, p.94). According to Frank Swinnerton, it was so 'poignant' that it 'caused sensitives to faint in the theatre' (1956, p.101).

  • April 11, 1907A Tarpaulin Muster, another book of stories and sketches, published in an edition of 1,500 copies.

  • May 24, 1908 – “The Tragedy of Nan”, produced by Granville-Barker with Lillah McCarthy in the leading role, achieves an immediate success.

  • June 17, 1908 – publishes his first novel, Captain Margaret: A Romance, in an edition of 2,000 copies (1,000 for sale in America).

  • June 29, 1909 – a second novel, Multitude and Solitude, is published in an edition of 2,350 copies. Its motto is:

    Nor shall these souls be free from pains and fears,
    Till women waft them over in their tears.
    (Simmons, 1930, p.18)

  • August 7, 1909The Tragedy of Nan and Other Plays, three plays in prose, published. The edition is 500 copies.

  • November 1909 – Meets Elizabeth Robins, with whom he conducts a "platonic" love affair. In their passionate correspondence he addresses her as 'Mütterlein', or 'Mother', while he is her 'grown-up son who had come home' (Smith, 1978, p.103). She is another of the many women (including his wife) who will take on this "mother" role throughout Masefield's life.

  • February 14, 1910 – inspired by Miss Robins, he gives a speech in the Queen's Hall – subsequently published as My Faith in Woman Suffrage.

  • April 4, 1910The Tragedy of Pompey the Great, a prose play, is published in an edition of 718 copies.

  • May 1910 – Elizabeth Robins goes abroad, leaving Masefield emotionally prostrate – a state which will be reflected in his next serious novel, The Street of To-Day.

  • July 4, 1910 – Constance, at the age of 43, gives birth to Lewis, the Masefields' second and final child.

  • September 15, 1910 – publishes Ballads and Poems, a new edition of the 1903 Ballads, with 3 omitted and many added.

  • October 8, 1910Martin Hyde: The Duke's Messenger, Masefield's first novel for boys, is published in America in an edition of 1,009 copies. The English edition, 20 days later, was 2,666.

  • October 10, 1910A Book of Discoveries, another boys' book, in an edition of 3,000.

  • November 25, 1910Lost Endeavour, yet another boys' book – his third to be published in two months (though presumably he had been working on them all for some time past). The edition was 12,000 copies – his biggest so far.

  • March 22, 1911The Street of To-Day – a novel, the sequel to Multitude and Solitude, is published in an edition of 2,600 copies.

  • April 5, 1911William Shakespeare, a critical essay, is published in the Home University Library.

  • April 1911 – publishes in the Contemporary Review the article on John Synge which will later (in 1915) be printed as a book by the Cuala Press.

  • September 21, 1911 – first publication (in America, for copyright purposes) of The Everlasting Mercy, his explosive narrative poem – which appeared in The English Review in October (with most of the 'bloody's' left out), and in book form in England on November 2, in an edition of 1,000 copies.

  • October 4, 1911 – the last of his pre-war novels, Jim Davis, a boys' book, is published in an edition of 2,000 copies.

  • February 1912 – “The Widow in the Bye Street”, Masefield's next long poem, is printed in The English Review. It is published in book form in June in an edition of 3,000 copies.

  • October 1912 – “Dauber” appears in The English Review – and in book form in America in November (the English edition does not appear until May 1913).

  • February 1913 – “The Daffodil Fields” appears in The English Review, and in book form on March 26, in an edition of 1620.

  • September 1914 – Masefield's war poem 'August, 1914' is published in The English Review – it is reprinted in his next volume of poetry.

  • October 1, 1914Philip the King and Other Poems, consisting of a verse play and some miscellaneous poems, which is printed by Heinemann in an edition of 3,000 copies.

  • Early 1915 – Masefield writing the 'sonnets on the theme of beauty' (Smith, 1978, p.121) which will later be collected in Lollingdon Downs and Other Poems (1917).

  • February 18, 1915 – Masefield goes out to France to serve as a Red Cross Orderly.

  • [John Masefield: Two One-Act Plays (1916)]

    Later Dates

  • September 1916Gallipoli: war reportage.

  • October 1919Reynard the Fox: narrative poem.

  • June 1923The Taking of Helen: novella, with verse passages.

  • October 1923Collected Poems.

  • October 1924Sard Harker: a novel.

  • November 1927The Midnight Folk: children's book.

  • May 1930 – appointed Poet Laureate.

  • November 1933The Bird of Dawning: sea story.

  • June 1935 – Order of Merit conferred.

  • August 1938Dead Ned: novel.

  • October 1941Conquer: historical novel, set in Byzantium.

  • December 1947Badon Parchments: his last novel.

  • March 1952So Long To Learn: autobiography.

  • 1967In Glad Thanksgiving: his last book of poems.

  • May 12, 1967 – John Masefield dies in his home near Oxford, at the age of 88.

[John Masefield: Two One-Act Plays (1916)]

Works Cited:

  • Handley-Taylor, Geoffrey, ed. John Masefield, O.M., A Bibliography. London: Cranbrook Tower Press 1960.

  • Simmons, Charles H. A Bibliography of John Masefield. New York: Columbia University Press, 1930.

  • Smith, Constance Babington. John Masefield: A Life. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

  • Swinnerton, Frank. Background with Chorus. New York: Farrar, Strauss & Cudahy, 1956.

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