'Oh, God, make small
The old star-eaten blanket of the sky
That I may fold it round me and in comfort lie'
The Embankment, T E Hulme, 1909
T E Hulme was born in Staffordshire in 1883. He attended Newcastle School for boys, and read Mathematics at St John's College, Cambridge. He was unable to work in any disciplined manner and he failed to take a degree. He had the unusual distinction of being sent-down twice from Cambridge, after going-up again in 1914 to read Psychology and Mathematics
He travelled in Canada between 1906 and 1907 and began writing philosophical and critical pieces which were posthumously published by Herbert Read as 'Speculations: essays on humanism and the philosophy of art' published in 1924. Hulme went on to become one of the first English critics to write about modern art (Csengeri, The collected writings of T E Hulme, Introduction).
In 1907 Hulme taught English for a year in Belgium, but quickly gave up such prosaic activity. In 1909 he was a member of the Poets' Club that met at the Cafe Tour d'Eiffel in Fitzrovia where he met Ezra Pound. He was instrumental in introducing Pound to English literary society. Hulme regularly published in A R Orage's journal the New Age. Tom Steele, refering to Hulme's reputation as a pugilist, writes that 'his pronouncements on art and poetry were like so many hard jabs in an ageing culture's kidneys'. He was also almost solely responsible for introducing the philosophical works of Henri Bergson and Georges Sorel to the English-speaking literary societies of England and America through his translations from the French.
Back in England, between 1910 and 1914, Hulme held literary evenings on a Tuesday night at 67 Frith Street, which were hosted by Mrs Ethel Kibblewhite. Jacob Epstein later said that he thought Hulme must have been a man of 'great urbanity' to attract such a large number of people to Frith Street. From 1912 Hulme became interested in the work of Wilhelm Worringer which led him to an enthusiasm for the avant guarde art emerging in England in the painters and sculptors of the London Group. He immediately began writing enthusiastically about the work of Epstein, Wyndham Lewis, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and David Bomberg (Csengeri, The collected writings of T E Hulme, Introduction; Epstein, Epstein: an autobiography, p.60).
It is clear from Epstein's autobiography that between 1912 and 1914 a close-knit group existed consisting of Hulme, Pound, Epstein and Gaudier-Brzeska. The two sculptors attended the Tuesday literary evenings and the two philosopher-poets attended exhibitions of the London Group. When Gaudier-Brzeska left for war service, Epstein and Hulme saw him off at Charing Cross. When Hulme left for war service, he took with him a manuscript of a book he had written on Epstein's work. According to Epstein this 'disappeared from his effects and never turned up'. Corroboration for the existence of this manuscript may exist in the form of the album of photographs of Epstein's work (including one photograph of the sculptor at work) to be found at DHU/12. The book manuscript may originally have been with this album. The album, itself, was 'disinterred' from the basement of Bertram Rota, a London bookseller, who offered it to A R Jones in 1955. In addition to the photograph of Epstein, it contains four photographs of a bust of Hulme and two studio photographs of the tomb of Oscar Wilde (Epstein, Epstein: an autobiography, pp.46, 59-68).
T E Hulme had an enormous influence on his contemporaries without gaining an enduring reputation of his own. His espousal of a new simplicity of form was later echoed by Epstein when he explained his abstract experimentation as being not end in itself but a step on the return journey to 'the discipline of simplification of forms'. Perhaps his most important impact on the plastic arts was the role he played as an ideologue for the Vorticists, an avant-guarde art movement in London including Lewis, Gaudier-Brzeska, William Roberts and Edward Wadsworth, to which Epstein was associated. In poetry he was a founder of Imagism, a group including Pound, F S Flint and Hilda Doolittle, which eventually came to be dominated by Amy Lowell. Peter Ackroyd's biography of T S Eliot attributes to Hulme Eliot's 'new classicism', his ideas on simplicity and order, and his ideas on original sin. Karen Csengeri, the editor of Hulme's collected works, has also noted Hulme's considerable influence on Eliot, and has said they had more in common intellectually than any other modernists. Hulme was an anti-humanist (in the same way as Evelyn Waugh) and an anti-pacifist (which led him to argue with Bertrand Russell). His obscurity may be explained by lack of publication in his lifetime (Epstein, Epstein: an autobiography, p.56; Ackroyd, T. S. Eliot, pp.57, 76, 107, 143, 157; Csengeri, The collected writings of T E Hulme, Introduction; Paige [ed], The letters of Ezra Pound, pp.288, 292, 295).
In 1914 Hulme went to France on war service, as a private in the Honorable Artillery Company, and from there sent letters home about his experiences in the trenches. These letters were published in 1955 by Sam Hynes as 'Further speculations: by T E Hulme'. In these Hulme provided in descriptive detail a picture of life in the trenches. A recurring theme was the unnatural nature of only moving around at night and never seeing the landscape of death all around. 'This is a curious thing' he wrote home 'one of our snipers walking about in the daylight discovered that one of these paths that we walk over ['going always in the same direction'] led right over the chest of a dead peasant' (Csengeri, The collected writings of T E Hulme, p.330).
Hulme was wounded in 1915 and sent to a hospital to recover. In the same year Ezra Pound published 'Ripostes' and appended Hulme's complete poems to his own. The lighthearted preface to Hulme's poems begins: 'in publishing his Complete Poetical Works at thirty, Mr Hulme has set an enviable example to many of his contemporaries'. Hulme added a footnote: 'Mr Pound has grossly exaggerated my age'. However, Hulme was already 33 and there were only five poems. He told Epstein that he thought he had lots of time; he projected lots of work and a large family. However, on 28 September 1917 he was killed by a German shell. News of his death 'caused widespread pain and loss', Epstein said later. Epstein viewed his death as being 'a loss to England', his influence had been so great in just a few years. Hulme's collected works were finally published in 1994. They contain only eight poems, three of which Eliot claimed were amongst the best short poems ever written in the English language (Epstein, Epstein: an autobiography, pp.61-2).