The Ralph Hodgson Collection


Kim Pelkey

Ralph and Aurelia Hodgson, with unidentified friends, in front of their Sendai home.

The Library's Adelman Collection contains many rare and wonderful books, manuscripts and related items. Among them are books, papers, and correspondence of the British poet Ralph Hodgson, which constitute one of Seymour Adelman's most outstanding collections. Adelman had begun a correspondence with Hodgson in 1927; over time friendship developed and after Hodgson moved to the United States in 1940 Adelman visited him several times. Many of Hodgson's later poems were published in Philadelphia by Adelman, under the name Namleda & Co., in a series of broadsides called The Flying Scroll.

Ralph Hodgson's literary reputation rests upon a small but distinguished number of publications: in 1907 he published The Last Blackbird and Other Poems, his first collection of poems; his second, Poems, followed in 1917. Several poems in this collection, among them "The Bull," "Eve," "The Bells of Heaven," and "The Song of Honour," have won a permanent place in poetry anthologies. A third collection, The Skylark and Other Poems, did not come out until 1958.

Hodgson was a rather reclusive figure, disliking publicity about either his poetry or his private life. As a result, details of his early life are sketchy. He worked as an artist for various newspapers and magazines from the 1890s until 1912; in 1913 he founded a private press, "At the Sign of the Flying Fame," in partnership with Claud Lovat Fraser and Holbrook Jackson. It was this press that first published several of his poems as chapbooks and broadsides, including "The Song of Honour" and "The Bull," for which he won the Polignac Prize in 1914. In 1924 he went to Japan to become lecturer in English at Sendai University.

In Sendai, Hodgson met Aurelia Bolliger, a young missionary from the United States, who was a teacher at a local mission school; she became his third wife in 1933. Prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Hodgsons left Japan for the West, eventually settling in Minerva, Ohio, not far from Aurelia's birthplace. While there he completed his long dramatic poem The Muse and the Mastiff, which he had begun in 1934 and continued well into 1951.

The Hodgson materials in the Adelman Collection are rich with original manuscripts of Hodgson's literary output, his original drawings, Flying Fame chapbooks and broadsides and correspondence with numerous literary figures of the early twentieth century. This wealth of material is ripe for exploration by literary scholars and biographers.

Less obvious, but by no means less interesting, is the material found in Aurelia's extensive correspondence with Ralph, primarily during their courtship in the late 1920s, and also with her family in Wisconsin during her years teaching in Sendai.

A sense of the moral climate of the times can be gleaned from Aurelia's correspondence. Her relationship with Ralph Hodgson, who was more than twenty-five years her senior, developed while he was still married to, though estranged from, his second wife. Letters to Ralph, her sister, and friends chronicle the strain placed on her relationship with her parents, especially her father, a minister in the Reformed Church. In correspondence with her parents she eloquently acknowledges their discomfort but also stands up for the decisions she has made regarding her relationship with Hodgson. In 1929 she wrote, "How can we see the world alike, when our preliminary impressions of childhood are so different, when we enter different experience worlds? I don't care about the letter of the law, or even law itself. (We differ on that, don't we.)... If my association with Ralph Hodgson troubles some people, I am sorry for them. I will not change."

Aurelia was a prolific, articulate and thoughtful correspondent. Tightly written on several pages, her letters are a treasure trove for those interested in the history of daily life, especially the world as seen by a young American missionary in Japan. The letters are filled with descriptions of her teaching duties, her home life, Japanese custom, and events in the larger world. Her thoughtful musings and forthright opinions on all manner of subjects make for fascinating reading and bring the period vividly alive.

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