Martin Roger Seymour-Smith (24 April 1928 – 1 July 1998) was a
British poet, literary critic, biographer and astrologer.
Seymour-Smith was born in
London and educated at
Highgate School and
St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he was editor of Isis. He began as
one of the most promising of Anglophone post-war poets, but became
better known as a critic, writing biographies of
Robert Graves (whom
he met first at age 14 and maintained close ties with), Rudyard
Kipling and Thomas Hardy, and producing numerous critical studies.
The poet and critic
Robert Nye stated that Seymour-Smith was "one of
the finest British poets after 1945." Others to praise his poetry
included Robert Graves, C. H. Sisson,
Geoffrey Grigson and James
He came to prominence in 1963, as the editor of the first
twentieth-century edition of Shakespeare's Sonnets to use the
'original' spelling. Characteristically, his commentary concerned
Shakespeare's sexuality, which upset many. Later, his Fallen Women
(1969) and Sex and Society (1975) would become 'standard plundering
material for more famous works' as the author good-humouredly claimed.
He had known Alex Comfort, who was then writing The Joy of Sex (1972),
from their schooldays at
Highgate School and the two often swapped
Seymour-Smith's Poets Through their Letters Vol 1 (Wyatt to Coleridge)
was acclaimed for its scholarship, but sold poorly. Hence, Volume 2
was never published.
His two volumes of poetry Tea with Miss Stockport (1963) and
Reminiscences of Norma (1971), were praised by many, including Peter
Porter. But an apparent creative silence till his last collection,
Wilderness (1994), led to a decline in his reputation with the reading
public during the 1980s.
The Guide to Modern World Literature is an encyclopedic attempt to
describe all major 20th-century authors, in all languages. The book is
over 1450 pages long.
Cyril Connolly said of the first (1973) edition:
"I'm very much afraid he will prove indispensable!" His criticism of
Lawrence Durrell singled out his poetry as his real achievement; John
Fowles, Muriel Spark, C. P. Snow,
Malcolm Bradbury and Ted Hughes
received the first adverse criticism of their reputations in this
book. The stature of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time
(1951–76) as the greatest fictional post-war achievement was
asserted: a view endorsed by
Kingsley Amis and Hilary Spurling. He
also predicted that T. S. Eliot's
Four Quartets would not survive as a
great poem by 2000.
The polyglot Seymour-Smith further used the book to champion writers
he regarded as underrated, such as James Hanley, Laura Riding, Wyndham
Lewis, Roberto Arlt, Pio Baroja,
Rayner Heppenstall and Jose Maria
Arguedas, while attacking those he felt were overvalued, such as
George Bernard Shaw,
W. H. Auden
W. H. Auden and as mentioned above, T. S. Eliot.
Seymour-Smith also disparaged Harold Pinter, Margaret Atwood, and
Tom Stoppard, whom he thought overrated.
Anthony Burgess likened Seymour-Smith to
Samuel Johnson due to his
many literary surveys from
The Guide to Modern World Literature in
The Guide to Modern World Literature, Hodder & Stoughton, London
Who's Who in 20th Century Literature, Mcgraw-Hill, Columbus, OH.
(1977) ISBN 0-07-056350-0
Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction, St. Martins
London (1980) ISBN 0-312-57966-7
A Reader's Guide to Fifty European Novels, Rl Innactive Titles (1980)
Robert Graves: His Life and Work, Bloomsbury Publishing PLC., London
(1982) ISBN 0-7475-2205-7
The New Astrologer, Macmillan Pub Co.,
The New Guide to Modern Literature, Peter Bedrick Books, New York
(1985) ISBN 0-87226-000-3
The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written, MJF Books - Fine
Communications, New York (1998) ISBN 1-56731-678-6
Collected Poems 1943-1993, Greenwich Exchange (2006)
^ Jenner, Simon. Martin Seymour-Smith. Obituary. "In 1981, he had been
a student of astrology for more than twenty-five years when he
published his only astrology book, “The New Astrologer.”"
"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved
2015-04-22. (retrieved 17 August 2011)
^ Mark Wormald "Seymour-Smith, Martin" in Ian Hamilton (ed) The Oxford
Companion to Twentieth Century Poetry, Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 1994, p.487
^ a b Nye, Robert. Obituary: Martin Seymour-Smith, The Independent
^ "Poisoned Pens". Dovegreyreader scribbles. Retrieved 13 January
Martin Seymour-Smith by Robert Nagle. A writer envisions
Seymour-Smith's classic New World of Modern Literature as an Ebook.
Contains generous quotes. Accessed at 2018 March.
Simon Jenner. Biography of Martin Seymour-Smith
Robert Nye. Obituary: Janet Seymour-Smith, The Independent, 16
September 1998 (she died 2 months after her husband)
ISNI: 0000 0001 0898 8226
BNF: cb123143526 (data)