Often poets and other artists have been portrayed as stuggling individuals who have had to sell their works for a pitance to make ends meet. What is the real story? How many poets have really not had the means to support themselves?
Are there really any starving artists on our list of classic poets?
Please categorize these by time period:
Post Edited (08-27-04 14:32)
and were any of them really fat?
Not being facetious....genuinely curious
A few examples:
Chatterton died- possibly by suicide, possibly by accident- in a garrett
Milton sold the copyright of Paradise Lost for £7
Dowson died in poverty
Francis Thompson ditto
James Tomson (BV) ditto
Richard Savage and Samuel Johnson lived on thestreets of London.
Samuel (Hudibras) Butler died of starvation
John Clare died impoverished in a county asylum
Edward Thomas wrote hackwork for most of his life
"Seven towns in Greece claimed great Homer dead
Through which the living Homer begged his bread."
I'm in the process of going through the "Classical Poets" list RJ to see if the stereotype holds. Here are my results so far:
Note only Richard Barnfield meets the criteria of a starving artist.
Lascelles Abercrombie, munitions expert
Sarah Adams, daughter of a politician
Joseph Addison, was given a fellowship to teach
Mark Akenside, physician
Cecil Frances Alexander, daughter of a tax inspector
William Allingham, civil servant son of a banker
Matthew Arnold, government fellowship, professor
Anna Lętitia Barbauld, teacher and writer
Mary Barber, married draper, published poems
Richard Harris Barham, heir to a moderate fortune
William Barnes, teacher, curate
*Richard Barnfield, orphaned early in life he attended university and depended on the generosity of family and friends
David Bates, clerk and customs agent
Katherine Lee Bates, professor of English
Thomas Bateson, church organist
Francis Beaumont, wrote plays and married an heiress
Thomas Lovell Beddoes, son of a radical professor
Aphra Benn, married a merchant became a spy
Hilare Belloc, writer, politician
Ambrose Bierce, soldier, treasury department
Robert Blair, professor
Jorge Luis Borges, son of wealthy parents, writer
Anne Bradstreet, daughter of an English earl, housewife
Bronte, sisters, daughters of English minister
Rupert Brooke, writer, soldier
What are the references for the assertion, Les?
I doubt you will find all that many in the classic archives, it seems to me that those who are successful at whatever they do rarely starve. It is also often difficult to gain publication if you are poor.
What of those who wrote to the exclusion of any other type of gainful employment? for whom it was their sole source of income?
you've set yourself a difficult task, Les
So some weren't desperately poor. I didn't say all poets were.
Even of those you list: Barnes was a Dorset village schoolmaster- a badly paid job dependent on pleasing others- the squire and the parson.
Beddoes was an exile, a revolutionary and unsuccessful doctor, died by suicide, unpublished.
Aphra Behn died in poverty.
The Bronte sisters- like any other women then- were entirely dependent on their father's stipend or their marriage.
Two more additions: Charlotte Mew- given small civil list pension, but killed herself with her sister.
Edwin Arlington Robinson lived in poverty until given a customs-house sinecure by tTheodore Rooseveld.
RJ, the assertion has been made here and elsewhere that most poets are either desperate, or broke, or both. I contend that this is not the case.
Post Edited (08-30-04 16:02)
Desperate need not mean broke- or indeed vice-versa. Many were one or the other or both.
One who was broke, but not desperate was W H Davies: an ex-hobo he lost a leg falling off a train, but tramped round England and Wales selling his poems.
OPoets today really don't sell all that many books...in comparison to great fiction novelists, music entertainers, and the film industry. (at least not until they ar dead and their work appears in textbooks) but isn't that the thing that makes poetry different? Could you imagine having a Brittney Spears poet?
I can imagine a Broccoli Spears poet
From an entry in the Writers Market Encyclopedia: [www.writersmarket.com]
"The American Society of Journalists and Authors (primarily magazine and book writers) estimated in 1990 that its members' median gross earnings from full-time freelancing were $26,000." Of course, if this is including people like Stephen King, we can imagine how his income skews the average.
I recall reading the statement that SF writers average about $6000 per year. Again, the Stephen Kings and J.K. Rowlings skew the figures.
-Robert W. Service
While I make rhymes my brother John
Makes shiny shoes which dames try on,
And finding to their fit and stance
They buy and wear with elegance;
But mine is quite another tale,--
For song there is no sale.
My brother Tom a tailor shop
Is owner of, and ladies stop
To try the models he has planned,
And richly pay, I understand:
Yet not even a dingy dime
Can I make with my rhyme.
My brother Jim sells stuff to eat
Like trotters, tripe and sausage meat.
I dare not by his window stop,
Lest he should offer me a chop;
For though a starving bard I be,
To hell, say I, with charity!
My brothers all are proud of purse,
But though my poverty I curse,
I would not for a diadem
Exchange my lowly lot with them:
A garret and a crust for me,
And reams and dreams of Poetry
Why not take the opposite tack? Were there any rich poets? I like John San's idea also - which poets actually earned a living from their writings? I remember, in earlier times, there were a bunch of poets/writers who died early from tuberculosis, not to say that matters in the discussion here.
Hugh, my principal assumption in this research is to determine how many well-known poets died for lack of money. Also, I would like to know how many famous poets died by choice, rather than work at some other job which would have supported them.
I honestly believe, and I think that the facts here will bear my assumption, that most who choose to write do so willingly and could do something else if they so chose.
As far as how they died, my only concern there is this: did they begin to make a living from writing and then have to do something else to support themselves?
Hugh, as to your suggestion, look at my post above, you'll find many wealthy writers on the list. Matthew Arnold and several others made a fortune from their efforts and abilities in writing.
Arnold didn't make a fortune from his writings- he was still an inspector of schools when he died. Beaumont and Belloc both made money from other forms of writing, not from their poetry. Borges worked as a librarian into his fifties. Nearly all of the writers you mention inherited money or obtained it by other means or other forms of writing besides poetry.
RJ, here is the website I got some of my information on Arnold. Notice I said he earned money from writing, not "writing poetry". Most of his money came from writing criticism.
I would be interested to read about the others you have mentioned. Belloc, and Barnfield in particular. Do you have any online sources which I could use to read about them?
Richard Barnfield wrote as William Shakespeare, so he got his money from the theatre. How come the lines on this thread gos beyond the edge of the page, anyway? Yes, I find it difficult to stay on topic, so kill me.
Hugh, the reason the lines go to the maximum length of the page set by the programmers here at e-mule is due to the length of Johnny's hyperlink. Unless someone, extends the page by writing a word/link which requires extra length, the program will truncate the length of the line to fit into html format.
If a comparison can be made--
I don't know much about the earnings of poets, but I know lots of professional musicians. They consider themselves to be earning a living as a musician if they are able to pay their bills with some combination of
-- money they get for performing
-- royalties on their recordings
-- fees they get for helping with others' recordings
-- teaching music (individual lessons, college courses, whatever)
-- writing about music (reviews, books, whatever)
-- making and/or repairing instruments
-- selling music (their own or others')
-- anything else that requires a musician's mind, hands, voice, etc.
Analagously, a poet filling out a tax return might list his/her occupation as POET and then report income from
-- getting poems published
-- getting books of poems published
-- selling books of poetry (including his-her own)
-- fees for readings
-- teaching about poetry
-- teaching creative writing
-- writing a biography of Poe
-- reviewing a biography of Poe
-- judging a poetry contest
-- anything else that requires "a poet"
A good point Marian, many of the poets, as you can see from my partial list above, were teachers and professors whose skills landed a job teaching which underwrote their publishing expenses.
How frustrating for a poet to fill out a tax return when only 7 and 11 rhyme.
I've never heard of Barnfield. Sorry. Belloc I learned about via Wilson's biography.
The starving poet is a standard figure in eighteenth and early nineteenth century books and popular culture. Somerimes- like Savage- they were otherwise unemployable, sometimes- like Kit Smart- mad, often just not very good at it. Smollet has one of them as a character in one of his novels- can't remember which, though.
Women couldn't often get any job, so they often wrote to support themselves- quite a few of the gothic novelists had been deserted by their husbands or widowed.
Male graduates who wouldn't or vouldn't get jobs as clergymen or tutors often took up hack writing too- a century later it was "penny- a- lining", from the pay rate.lg wrote:
A good point Marian, many of the poets, as you can see from my
partial list above, were teachers and professors whose skills
landed a job teaching which underwrote their publishing