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View full screen - View 1 of Lot 379. Siegfried Sassoon | The Old Huntsman, 1917, first edition, the dedication copy, inscribed to Thomas Hardy, with inscribed carbon copy of A Soldier's Declaration.

Property of a Gentleman

Siegfried Sassoon | The Old Huntsman, 1917, first edition, the dedication copy, inscribed to Thomas Hardy, with inscribed carbon copy of A Soldier's Declaration

Lot Closed

July 18, 04:18 PM GMT


35,000 - 45,000 GBP

Lot Details


Siegfried Sassoon

The Old Huntsman. London: Heinemann, 1917

FIRST EDITION, THE DEDICATION COPY, INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR TO THOMAS HARDY, 8vo, WITH A RARE INSCRIBED CARBON COPY OF "A SOLDIER'S DECLARATION" tipped-in to front pastedown, cuttings of Sassoon's lyric "Suicide in the Trenches" and of newspaper article referring to the circumstances of "A Soldier's Declaration" tipped-in to front free endpaper beneath inscription to Hardy, six of the poems marked with an "X" in pencil next to the titles, original boards, paper label to spine, dust-jacket, housed in blue half morocco collector's case, extremities bumped, newspaper clipping becoming detached at inner margin, case slightly sunned, a near-perfect copy 

THE DEDICATION COPY OF THE COLLECTION CONTAINING SASSOON'S FIRST PIECES OF WAR POETRY, INSCRIBED TO ONE OF HIS "GREATEST IDOLS" (Egremont), whose poetry Sassoon claimed to have read during the horror of the trenches: "To Thomas Hardy, with all my admiration, from Siegfried Sassoon. ‘What of the faith & fire within us?'" Sassoon penned this effusive dedication having already written to Hardy in February 1917 requesting permission to dedicate the volume to him (Egremont, p. 121).

The quotation "What of the faith & fire within us?" is the opening line of Hardy's poem "Men Who March Away". Published in The Times in September 1914, Hardy's lyric captured the prevailing public mood of jingoistic self-confidence at the outset of the conflict. But whilst in its original context, the rhetorical question posed by the poetic voice of "Men Who March Away" serves as a rallying cry, it holds a very different resonance in the context of Sassoon's 1917 volume, a collection of poems registering the true horror of mechanised mass slaughter. Here, it is as if the voice of Hardy's soldier has re-emerged as a ghostly echo, mocking his old misguided belief in a universe where "Victory crowns the just".

The carbon copy of "A Soldier's Declaration" tipped-in to the front pastedown is a significant object in and of itself. This slight but incendiary document, in which Sassoon declines to return to active duty, citing a betrayal of the noble principles of "defence and liberation" which compelled a generation of men to make the ultimate sacrifice — principles which Hardy rather unconvincingly evokes in 1917 in A Call to National Service (see lot 348) — succeeded in causing quite a public stir, being read before the House of Commons and printed in The Times. But it is important to remember that the present copy of the “Declaration” was one of a very small number of copies originally circulated by Sassoon to a select group of "friends and people he admired" (Egremont, p. 151).

Unusually, Hardy’s copy bears a decisive inscription at the upper margin: "I am handing this to my Commanding Officer. SS.". In this context it is as if the inscription, and the powerful language of the “Declaration” itself, comprise Sassoon’s response to the imploring voice of Hardy’s soldier in “The Men Who March Away”. It is as if the cry of Hardy's soldier has in some measure revived the "faith & fire" within Sassoon, not to convince him that the fighting is just, but rather to urge his bitter denunciation of a war of "aggression and conquest [...] deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it". 

Hardy’s own attitudes to a conflict "in which a favourite cousin, Frank George, was killed" (ODNB) were complex, and reading The Old Huntsman appears to have been a moving experience for him. After receiving the present copy, he wrote to Sassoon: "I should say that I am not reading th[e poems] rapidly. I never do read rapidly anything I care about". Six of the poems are marked in pencil next to the titles: "When I'm among a Blaze of Lights" (p. 18); "Blighters" (p. 31); "They" (p. 35); "The Tombstone Maker" (p. 45); "The Hero" (p. 48); "Conscripts" (p. 51)—subtle signs of Hardy's careful, deliberative reading.

Hardy continued to exert a major literary influence on Sassoon throughout his poetic career, and Sassoon paid him a visit at Max Gate in Dorchester in November 1918, shortly before the Armistice. The two writers developed a friendship, meeting often during the last ten years of Hardy's life.


Hodgson & Co., sale of Hardy's Max Gate library, 26 May 1938, lot 225 (cutting from sale catalogue loosely inserted in prelims); bought by Maggs Brothers; acquired by Henry Lewis Batterman, Jr.: bookplate; thence by descent


Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet, 2004 ("[Sassoon] told his uncle Hamo [...] that after some gruelling experience in the trenches he would sit down calmly to read Hardy's Selected Poems, which he carried in his pocket"); Max Egremont, Siegfried Sassoon: A Biography, 2006 (for circulation of the 'Declaration', see p. 151); "Hardy, Thomas", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004