Search - List of Books by Martin Seymour-Smith
Martin Roger Seymour-Smith (24 April 1928 – 1 July 1998) was a British poet, critic and biographer.
Total Books: 53
Seymour-Smith was born in London and educated at Oxford University 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. He was also interested in astrology.
The poet and critic Robert Nye stated that 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 Reeves.
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 probed issues around Shakespeare's sexuality which upset many. Later, the author's 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 notes.
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.
Meanwhile, his two volumes of poetry Tea with Miss Stockport (1963) and Reminiscences of Norma (1971), praised by many including Peter Porter whom Seymour-Smith had hardly courted, led to the acclaim cited above. But a perceived creative silence till his last extraordinary collection, Wilderness (1994) led inevitably to his reputation fading 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. Daringly individualistic, it is eccentric and occasionally frustrating but always readable and highly stimulating. As Cyril Connolly summarised of the first (1973) edition: "I'm very much afraid he will prove indispensable!" And many judgments previously thought eccentric have proved sound. For instance, his criticism of Lawrence Durrell singled out his poetry as his real achievement; John Fowles, Muriel Spark, C. P. Snow, Malcolm Bradbury and even Ted Hughes first felt the chilling of their reputations in these covers. 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, Hilary Spurling and an increasing number of readers since. And Seymour-Smith's prediction that T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets would not survive as a great poem by 2000, has been arguably vindicated.
The polyglot Seymour-Smith further used the book to champion writers he regarded as underrated, such as James Hanley, Laura Riding, Cesar Vallejo, Pio Baroja, Rayner Heppenstall and Jose Maria Arguedas, while attacking those he felt were overvalued, such as George Bernard Shaw, W. H. Auden and as mentioned above, T. S. Eliot. Seymour-Smith also disparaged John le Carré, Harold Pinter, Margaret Atwood, and Tom Stoppard whom he thought overrated.
In addition to The Guide to Modern World Literature, he wrote other large literature surveys, including The 100 Most Influential Books Ever Written (1998), Who's Who in 20th Century Literature (1976), and Novels and Novelists: A Guide to the World of Fiction (1980). It was because of these books that Anthony Burgess likened Seymour-Smith to Samuel Johnson.
His Collected Poems were published in 2005 by Greenwich Exchange.