Mr. Matthew Arnold. To him, Miss Mary Augusta, his niece: “Why, Uncle Matthew, oh why, will not you be always wholly serious?
—Max Beerbohm, in a caption

But why do you take everything I say so seriously?
—W. H. Auden to Stephen Spender

W.H. Auden collected hats, at least as a younger man (he subsequently renounced them). He had a workman’s cap that he picked up in Berlin and later consigned to the fireplace after throwing up into it, a panama hat that leant him the air of a lunatic vicar (his impersonation of which always brought the house down), and a mortarboard for his more donnish moods. In his biography from 1979 of the poet, Charles Osborne suggests that “there was a strong element of the poseur, the role-player, in the mature Auden.” This proclivity for assuming different guises extended not only to Auden’s choice of...


A Message from the Editors

Since 1982, The New Criterion has nurtured and safeguarded our delicate cultural inheritance. Join our family of supporters and secure the future of civilization.

Popular Right Now