Cover image for Siegfried Sassoon : the making of a war poet : a biography, 1886-1918
Siegfried Sassoon : the making of a war poet : a biography, 1886-1918
Wilson, Jean Moorcroft.
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Publication Information:
New York : Routledge, 1999.

Physical Description:
viii, 600 pages : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
General Note:
Originally published: London : G. Duckworth, 1998.
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PR6037.A86 Z9 1998 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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First published in 1999. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa company.

Author Notes

Jean Moorcroft Wilsonis Lecturer in English at London University. She has published widely, including biographies of Virginia Woolf, Isaac Rosenberg, Charles Hamilton Sorley and William Watson. She is currently writing the second volume of the Sassoon biography.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

Reintroduced to contemporary readers by Pat Barker's acclaimed Regeneration trilogy, in which he figures as a major character, Sassoon was the first English soldier-poet to achieve notoriety as an opponent of WWI. A literary dilettante before his experience in the trenches, Sassoon was both made and unmade by the war: the Armistice of 1918 ended his effectiveness as a poet at age 32. Wilson (who has written lives of war poets Charles Hamilton Sorley and Isaac Rosenberg) also ends this biography in 1918, although Sassoon lived on until 1967. Sassoon was remembered primarily for his bitter verse satires about the war, although he "revisited" the conflict with "nostalgic regret" in fictional, then autobiographical, trilogies. His changing attitude hints at a second personal drama running parallel to the war. Like many of the friends to whom he was drawn, the war plunged Captain Sassoon into a male setting that intensified a homosexual longing that found physical expression only after 1918. Paradoxically, he realized, the war, which he excoriated in vivid and often brutal images, also left him "glad to be there," feeling "intensely alive" and a "living antithesis" to his own protests against its wastefulness. These contradictions landed him in a mental hospital. Drawing on his diaries and other writings, this first full-scale biography of Sassoon evokes the writer in such overwhelming detail that his personality sometimes seems buried under it. Nonetheless, it is valuable for its depth of documentation and as a resource for the growing number of Pat Barker fans on these shores. 53 b&w illustrations. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Wilson (English, London Univ.; Virginia Woolf: Life and London, LJ 10/1/88) has written an exhaustively researched life of Sassoon (18861967) from his childhood through World War I. Although Wilson claims in her introduction that this is her subjects first full-scale biography, there have been some excellent critical studies of his work, notably Paul Moeyess Siegfried Sassoon: Scorched Glory (LJ 4/1/97). But as a portrait of this man of action, caught up in the bloodiest conflict in history, Wilsons effort is one of a kind. The youngest of three sons of a Catholic mother and Sephardic Jewish father, Sassoon had a talent for poetry, particularly satirical verse, that was recognized early. He enlisted at 28 and shared his generations youthful enthusiasm for the war until his beloved brother Hamo was killed at Gallipoli. Sassoon fought bravely, perhaps recklessly, and was eventually treated for shell shock. Later he recognized that during his lifetime a truly complete biography would not be possible because of his homosexuality. Sassoons limited exposure makes this an important addition to poetry collections.Diane G. Premo, Rochester P.L., NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One Heredities `Our heredities are, I think, of all things the most fascinating notion.' Letter from Siegfried Sassoon to H.M. Tomlinson, 15 March 1956 A tall, athletic figure in army service dress stood at the mouth of the River Mersey, watching a scrap of purple and white material bobbing lightly on the waves. It was the ribbon of his Military Cross awarded to him for conspicuous courage on the Western Front. Looking back on the scene with the detachment of thirteen years, Siegfried Sassoon was deeply aware of both the irony and futility of his gesture: Wandering along the sand dunes I felt outlawed, bitter, and baited. I wanted something to smash and trample on, and in a paroxysm of exasperation I performed the time-honoured gesture of shaking my clenched fists at the sky. Feeling no better for that, I ripped the M.C. ribbon off my tunic and threw it into the mouth of the Mersey. Weighted with significance though this action was, it would have felt more conclusive had the ribbon been heavier. As it was, the poor little thing fell weakly on to the water and floated away as though aware of its own futility. One of my point-to-point cups would have served my purpose more satisfyingly, and they'd meant much the same to me as my Military Cross. Watching a big boat which was steaming along the horizon, I realized that protesting against the prolongation of the War was about as much use as shouting at the people on board that ship.     In many ways Sassoon's was a highly individual response to a deeply emotional conflict. But it was also one which was determined by many extreme influences, not least of them those resulting from his family background. Siegfried Sassoon was the product of two very different cultures. His father's family, the Sassoons, often referred to as the Rothschilds of the East, were almost completely Oriental in outlook, manners and dress until the arrival of Siegfried's grandfather in England in 1858. This made their rapid acclimatization to Europe within one generation all the more remarkable. They claimed to trace their ancestry back to King David himself, but it is not until the birth of Sason ben Saleh in 1750 that any real documentary evidence exists. By this time the family had settled in Baghdad, in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq), among the first Jews to do so.     The Sassoons were Sephardic Jews, whose name means `joy'. Unlike the Ashkenazy Rothschilds, who rose dramatically from the Frankfurt ghettoes, the Sassoons were reputed to have been courtiers and merchant princes from their earliest days. Sason ben Saleh was the last in a line to serve as `Nasi' (prince of the captivity) to the Caliph's court in Baghdad. Appointed to this post (which included the job of Chief Treasurer) in 1778, Sheik Sason, as he was known, officiated for thirty-eight years, collecting the heavy military and other taxes imposed on his fellow Jews and at the same time building up a trading empire.     As Baghdad decayed under the Ottoman Empire and governors came and went at an alarming speed, Sheik Sason's own position grew increasingly precarious. By the time he retired from public life in 1817, it was clear that his eldest surviving son David, born in 1792, would not be chosen to succeed him at court. A tyrannical ruler hostile to the Sassoons had succeeded as Pasha and David was eventually thrown into prison in 1828 for his resistance to the new regime. Though ransomed, at huge cost to his father, David quite rightly feared for his future and escaped first to Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf, then to the emerging commercial centre of Bushire on its northern shore.     Left virtually a beggar, David is said to have spent his first nights at Bushire in a warehouse keeping rats at bay with his pistol. However, his quick wits and business acumen helped him to re-establish himself quickly as a merchant and very soon his family was able to join him there. By 1830 David had started a small export trade from Basra to India, where prospects seemed to him promising, following the breach in the East India Company's monopoly. So hopeful that in 1832, borrowing money from a fellow Jewish trader, he set out for Bombay with the four children of his first marriage and his second wife Fahra. Here the trading venture really mushroomed, refounding the Sassoon dynasty. And to his great-grandson Siegfried Sassoon the story of `old David's starting the enormous merchant business' from scratch was the main interest of his father's family.     David Sassoon established his business mainly by opening up trade in China and eventually Japan. He exported opium and cotton in exchange for Chinese tea and silk and the two eldest of his eight sons set up branches of his firm in the East. At the same time David consolidated his Persian connections, sending another of his sons there to open further branches. By the time of the Indian Mutiny in 1857, `David Sassoon and Sons' was one of the most powerful firms in the Orient. Still not satisfied, however, David continued to expand his business, finally sending his third son, Sassoon David (`S.D.') Sassoon, the first child of his second marriage, to open a small branch in London at the end of 1858.     David had chosen S.D. partly because he felt that England's less extreme climate would be better for his uncertain health and partly because he was already more Western in outlook than his two older brothers. He had, for example, already adopted Western dress before leaving India, the first of his family to do so. A carefully posed photograph taken shortly before S.D. left for England shows his tall, thin figure in dress-suit and bow-tie contrasting oddly with his father and two older brothers, whose flowing Eastern robes seem more appropriate to their Oriental looks. Whilst S.D. avoids the camera, the patriarch looks firmly at it. S.D.'s grandson Siegfried inherited his height and his shyness from S.D. rather than from his father, Alfred Ezra, a small man full of social confidence. S.D. set out for England in 1858, leaving his young wife Fahra (anglicized to Flora) to follow a few months later with their three-year-old son, Joseph, and baby daughter, Rachel.     S.D. imagined that his small office in Leadenhall Street would represent an unimportant branch of `David Sassoon & Sons'. It must, therefore, have come as a shock both to S.D. and the family when, with the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 and the blockade of Alabama's rebel ports, Indian cotton was suddenly in frantic demand by desperate Lancashire cotton mills. The strain apparently was too much, for S.D. died of a heart attack not many years later aged thirty-five in 1867, only three years after his father's death. His younger brother Reuben was sent immediately to replace him, and another brother, Arthur, followed five years later.     S.D.'s next to youngest child, Alfred -- Siegfried's father, who was only six when S.D. died -- was the first Sassoon to be born in England, in 1861. Together with the death of David, the family's Oriental founder, and the arrival of two more Sassoon brothers in London, these events, all in just over a decade, mark a turning-point in the Sassoons' history. From the 1860s onwards their fate is increasingly bound up with England. The patriarch had left his sons very wealthy indeed -- they had at least £500,000 each -- and, with their father's encouragement, they had also acquired property of their own. They were now free to travel and did so in style. Abdullah (Albert) followed his three brothers to England in 1873 and set himself up lavishly.     Stories told of the brothers' palatial houses and extravagant entertainments abound; they were at this point fabulously rich. Siegfried's father's generation of the family no longer needed to earn its own living, though many of them continued to work for the family business. When Alfred grew up, he turned to the arts, which his immediate ancestors had had little time for. Admittedly his father, S.D., had as a young man dabbled in journalism, helping to edit a new Hebrew-Arabic periodical in Bombay and later, in England, had translated and written papers for Indian journals. But his desire to write had sprung from a mainly scholarly interest; what exactly drove his children is unclear. Alfred became first a gifted violinist, and then a student in sculpture at the Royal Academy, and his daughter, Rachel, took up writing professionally if a little erratically.     By strong contrast Siegfried's mother's family, the Thornycrofts, had been dedicated to art, for three generations in some cases, by the time he was born. His mother's maternal grandfather, John Francis (1780-1861) had begun life as a farmer at Thornham on the Norfolk coast. Having met and married a relative of Nelson's, he had gone to London for the great man's funeral. On his return, he carved a model of the funeral car in pieces of jet found on the sea-shore.     Backed by local patronage from the Vernon family and the famous agriculturist Coke of Holkham, Francis made repeated attempts to earn his living at various types of sculpture in London. Three times he was forced to return to his Norfolk farm, but after eighteen years he finally established himself as a sculptor of portrait busts (family legend has it that his exasperated wife threw his first commissioned work out of the window). Among Francis's best-known busts are Lord Nelson's daughter, Horatia, Princess Charlotte, King William IV, Queen Victoria and, through his patron the Duke of Sussex, most of the Whig Statesmen concerned with the passing of the 1832 Reform Bill.     A similar spontaneous impulse to sculpt in almost identical circumstances possessed Siegfried's maternal grandfather -- and Francis's future son-in-law -- Thomas Thornycroft. Intended, like Francis, for farming, Thomas had from his earliest years shown far more interest in drawing and carving. He displayed great ingenuity and energy in making sculpting tools for himself out of old cart wheels and broken files, but none whatever in the practical work of farming. His mother, Ann, who had been left a widow with three sons after only seven years of marriage, soon realized this. So she sent him, together with her youngest, Isaac, to the local Grammar School, keeping the middle son William at home to carry on the farm.     Thomas continued to resist all attempts to interest him in anything but sculpture, proving this rather pointedly by ruining the scalpels of the surgeon to whom he was temporarily apprenticed in his efforts to carve marble with them. Another local surgeon, Mr Dickinson, found Thomas's work so promising that he recommended him to an influential patron, Davenport of Calverley, who in turn brought Thomas's case up with the Duke of Sussex.     The result of this extended affair was that in 1835, supported by an unusually understanding mother, Thomas set out from his home in Cheshire for London to become apprenticed to the Duke's other protégé, John Francis at his house at 56 Albany Street near Regent's Park. He almost immediately fell in love with Francis's sculptor daughter, Mary, whom he married in 1840. The Dictionary of National Biography remembers Thomas for his group of Commerce on the Albert Memorial, but posterity will probably remain aware of him through his statue of Boadicea and her Daughters, which he worked at for most of his life, but which was not erected at Westminster Bridge until after his death. His equestrian statues, particularly of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, are scattered over a number of northern towns.     It was, however, not only a strong dedication to art which distinguished the Thornycrofts from the Sassoons. In sharp contrast to the Eastern family of merchants who gravitated naturally towards the city to carry on their trading, the thoroughly English Thornycrofts had farmed lands in Cheshire for generations. Their roots were deep in English soil. Thomas's father, John Thornycroft (1791 - 1822), had farmed at Great Tidnock, Gawsworth, near Macclesfield, which had been in the family for three generations. They claimed descent from the ancient Gawsworth family of de Thornicroft which had lived at Thornycroft Hall since the thirteenth century. But whatever their former social position, by the nineteenth century they were of solid yeoman stock, unlike the Sassoons at the Baghdad Court.     Neither as rich as the first and last Sassoons, nor as poor as David in flight from Baghdad, the Thornycrofts were comfortably established. Their farm was said to produce the finest cheese in Cheshire and they survived the various problems which affected farming during their tenancy of it. Theirs was, a middle course without the exoticism, drama and glamour of the Sassoons, but with its own strong appeal. They had a deep love of the countryside around them, which Thomas's children came to share when they returned, as they frequently did, to visit their relatives. One of the younger generations of Thornycrofts, who knew Siegfried and his mother's family well, said that the two families failed to understand each other at all. A gift of flowers from the Thornycrofts, she said, must be something you had grown yourself, whereas Sassoon flowers had to be bought.     Another salient feature which distinguished the Thornycrofts from the Sassoons was the dominance of strong women in the shaping of its family history. It seems ironic that the Jewish Sassoons, with their matriarchal bias, produced no significant example of female influence, though there were a number of gifted women among them and some memorable hostesses. Yet, from the patriarch David, down through sons such as Albert, Reuben and Arthur and great-grandsons such as Philip, Victor and Siegfried Sassoon, it is the men who dominate the family.     The Thornycroft history, on the other hand, begins with Ann Cheetham (1785-1875), who married Siegfried's great-grandfather, John Thornycroft, the Saturday before the Battle of Waterloo. When she was left widowed only seven years later with three young sons, she took up the running of the farm with great success at a time when a female farmer was far from usual. For the next twenty years she managed to keep going through a difficult period, becoming well known for her independence and hard work. On one occasion, during the riots provoked by the Corn Laws, a mob surrounded the local market-place and threatened to stone the first farmer who tried to leave. No one but Ann dared to do so, clearing a way for her male colleagues. Her fierceness was well-known to trespassers who, when they attempted to steal her cranberries, would not only be ordered off her land but have their rakes and baskets confiscated too. Yet she was generous, always keeping a large egg-custard ready for anyone who came to beg for food at her farm.     In the next generation Ann's daughter-in-law, Siegfried's grandmother, Mary Thornycroft, also proved an exceptionally distinguished sculptor, one of the few women sculptors of the Victorian age to receive public recognition. She was -- almost certainly to her own embarrassment -- more successful than her husband, Thomas, whom she revered. Siegfried remembered her as a gracious and beautiful old lady, but history recognizes her as the creator of royal portraits. She was commissioned to make marble busts of Queen Victoria's numerous children, more or less as they were born, as well as many other members of the Royal Family. In addition she created some `ideal' statues, of which `Skipping Girl' is probably the best.     All Mary's daughters began by sculpting or painting. Though none achieved their mother's fame, Helen Thornycroft became a well-known watercolourist and Vice-President of the Society of Women Artists. Siegfried's mother, Theresa, though she did not pursue her early promise as an oil-painter, remained highly independent and survived circumstances which would have daunted a less determined woman. Blanche Thornycroft, Mary's granddaughter and Siegfried's cousin, helped her father John with many of his famous engineering achievements as well as becoming a woman engineer in her own right. Like her great-grandmother, Ann, and grandmother Mary, she was a pioneer in a largely male domain. None of these Thornycroft women had set out deliberately to challenge the male-dominated areas in which they found themselves, but by comparison with the Sassoon women or any other women of their time, their achievements are remarkable. Siegfried Sassoon made similar generalizations about the two families and their probable influence on his own temperament. In early and middle life he felt he was more of a Thornycroft. Growing up in the country like his Thornycroft ancestors, when his life was peopled almost exclusively with Thornycroft relatives, he identified closely with them. His mother, moreover, was antagonistic to the Sassoons who had, with one exception, rejected her, and for many years they hardly entered his consciousness.     Siegfried's first real awareness of his father's side of the family came abruptly when, at the age of eight, he met his Sassoon grandmother at his father's death-bed. Having never seen her before, he was fascinated by her foreignness and aura of wealth. It was on the same occasion that he was first shown the Sassoon family tree, starting with his great-grandfather David. Though very miserable about his father's hopeless condition and particularly unhappy about his mother's exclusion from the scene, he clearly remembered wondering what `all those other Sassoons' were like.     A few months later, just after his father's death and Siegfried's subsequent illness, he thought again of his ancestors, whom he was already beginning to romanticize. He had borrowed a filigreed scent-bottle from his mother which had been given to her by his father and had once contained attar of roses. As he lay recuperating in a little tent on the lawn, the faint smell of the scent, which he imagined to have come from his father's ancestral home of Persia, seemed to him `a sort of essence of my father's Oriental extraction'.     In his day-dreaming Siegfried always placed his ancestors in Persia, though some of them had lived in India for two generations by the time his father was born. Presumably Persia seemed to him more romantic. It also fitted in neatly with another momento of his father which he treasured, Alfred's copy of Fitzgerald's Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyam . Siegfried's description of this privately printed quarto edition of 1883 reveals a similar impulse to romanticize his father: The boards of its binding were covered by a damask of faded rose-colour figured with old gold, and the queer coarse-woven paper on which it was printed contributed further to its esoteric attractiveness.     Siegfried immediately identified both with the Rubáiyát's Persian background and its melancholy outlook. Like Fitzgerald, who remained a life-long favourite, he felt that he was all his life `apprentice to the business of idleness', but it was initially the Persian connection which drew him to the past. For, though he had been constantly reminded of the wealth of his father's family, it was clearly their exoticism and esoteric beliefs which appealed to him as a child. Even as a young man he continued to equate Persia with mystery and romance and to identify himself proudly with both. When he came to write poetry he began with heavily romantic lyrics, choosing a quotation from another writer on the East, Charles Doughty, with which to preface one of his earliest volumes, Sonnets and Verses (1909): In the first evening hour there is some merrymake of drum-beating and soft fluting, and Arcadian sweetness of the Persians singing in the tents about us; in others they chant together some piece of their devotion.     As Siegfried himself pointed out, his own Persian ancestry qualified him to claim that he was singing in his tent and that some of his pieces were devotional. He admitted that he may also have been remembering his tent on the lawn during childhood where he sniffed the attar of roses. His somewhat cliched view of the Sassoons at this time is best summed up in an early poem, `Ancestors', written some time between 1908 and 1915 (one of his few poems on the subject): Behold these jewelled, merchant Ancestors, Foregathered in some chancellery of death; Calm, provident, discreet, they stroke their beards And move their faces slowly in the gloom, And barter monstrous wealth with speech subdued, Lustreless eyes and acquiescent lids. And oft in pauses of their conference, They listen to the measured breath of night's Hushed sweep of wind aloft the swaying trees In dimly gesturing gardens; then a voice Climbs with clear mortal song half-sad for heaven. A silent-footed message flits and brings The ghostly Sultan from his glimmering halls; A shadow at the window, turbaned, vast, He leans; and, pondering the sweet influence That steals around him in remembered flowers, Hears the frail music wind along the slopes, Put forth, and fade across the whispering sea. ( C.P. pp. 46-7)     In 1914, when Siegfried eventually got to know David Sassoon's youngest daughter, his great-aunt Mozelle, he was delighted by the detailed account she could give him of his father's family. He had so often felt himself placed in a false position when people assumed that he knew what he called `the conspicuous Sassoons'. Though his mother had taught him vaguely to venerate his great-grandfather, his great-aunt's more factual descriptions made David seem much less mythical to Siegfried, then aged twenty-seven. She was also able to make the other members of the Sassoon family seem less remote and fabulous.     Siegfried saw himself as a `poor relation', and relatively speaking he was, but it was never primarily their money which fascinated him. His attitude towards Sassoon money was both disdainful and apologetic. Sending Robert Graves £23 for his twenty-third birthday in 1918, he refers to his `Semitic sovereigns none of which I have the least right to call my own'. And on another occasion, when he himself was about to inherit Sassoon money, he writes, again to Graves in 1927: they made it in the East by dirty trading, millions and millions of coins. They spent it all in draper's shops and jewellers and pastry cooks and brothels. They hire large mausoleums and get cremated at Golders Green. They smoke Coronas and worship German royalties and dissolute peers.     Nonetheless, as Sassoon grew older, his attitude towards his father's family mellowed until by his seventies he felt that his eastern ancestry was stronger in him than the Thornycrofts. There is little doubt that Siegfried did inherit something from the Sassoons, if only physically. Like his grandfather and great-grandfather, he was tall, spare and muscular, unlike the Thornycroft men who tended to be short. His friends attributed other characteristics to his Oriental ancestry, not all of them entirely convincing. One warned him that his hands `were somewhat over-illustrative', for example, and another detected in him `a very definite Oriental streak' of cruelty. A third suggested that his early `deals' in books showed his Sassoon blood coming out, and a fourth, more fancifully, that `in the Hebrew fashion of the Bible, Jew in this as in so much else, Sassoon always wrote with his heart as well as his head, the heart being the seat of understanding ...' One of his closest friends felt that Sassoon, `like all Oriental men was very secretive -- Reticent, and very eccentric'. And in Sassoon's own later choice of pseudonyms there were many oblique but none too subtle references to his Jewishness, as well as some bad puns -- `Elim Urge', `Solly Sizzum', `Sigma Sâshun'.     Sassoon himself stated that an obviously inherited Sassoon feature was his tendency to adopt a mystic role in his poetry. `As a poetic spirit', he wrote, `I have always felt myself -- or wanted to be -- a kind of minor prophet' and he refers in his autobiography to `some angry prophet in my remote ancestry'. Michael Thorpe spells this out in his comments on Siegfried's 1933 volume of poems, The Road to Ruin : `His is the irascible voice of the Old Testament prophet'.     As with Siegfried's opinion of the Sassoons, not all his comments take such a positive view of Jewishness. In his 1917 diary, exasperated by the evident profit some people were gaining from the War, he wrote: Lieutenant X is a nasty, cheap thing. A cheap-gilt Jew. Why are such Jews born, when the soul of Jesus was so beautiful? He saw the flowers and the stars; but they see only greasy bank-notes and the dung in the highway where they hawk their tawdry wares.     Perhaps he felt personally ashamed of what he elsewhere called `Jew profiteers'. Nonetheless, being far less conscious of his Jewishness than others, it may have come as something of a surprise to find himself and his brother included in "The Hebrew War List' at Cambridge University. (The fact that Sassoon makes no mention of discrimination against him as a Jew does not mean that he did not experience it -- given the historical context, it would be odd if he had not. But it does suggest that it was not a serious problem for him. He seems to have been far more conscious of his position as a poor relation of an affluent family.)     It is far easier and more tempting to speculate about the traits Sassoon inherited from the Thornycrofts, partly because he himself was more articulate on this subject. While he entirely omitted his Jewish side from his thinly-veiled autobiographical novel, Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man in 1928, he made much of his hero's love of the country, something he firmly believed he had inherited from his mother's yeoman stock. In the straight autobiography which followed his fictionalized trilogy in the late thirties and early forties, he states categorically that being a `poor relation' of the Sassoons was compensated `by being half a Thornycroft in blood and more than that in hereditary characteristics'. Welcoming Stanley Jackson's plan to write a history of the Sassoons in 1965, Siegfried nevertheless felt that a book about the Thornycrofts would be much more worthwhile. He believed that he had inherited from his mother what he called the `Thornycroft sanity', which enabled him, introspective as he was, to `stand aside and look at myself -- and laugh'. Be this as it may, it was a trait shared by both his mother and father. And if he meant that he had a balanced approach to life, it can only possibly be true of his later years.     Less controversial is his claim that his artistic talent derived from the Thornycrofts. Their complete dedication to art from his great-grandfather's generation onwards must have had a profound influence on Siegfried, who not only wrote poetry and prose, but also loved and performed music and drew and painted throughout his life. Though the visual arts were his immediate ancestors' main concern, music was an important feature of their family life. Most of Thomas and Mary Thornycroft's children either sang or played a musical instrument and musical evenings and `glees' were one of their greatest pleasures. This musical side was undoubtedly reinforced by Sassoon's father, who was musically gifted, but it also owed a great deal to his mother's family.     Siegfried himself made a direct link between the Thornycrofts' tradition in sculpture and his own chosen art form, poetry. Writing to a young friend in 1948 he claimed that he was: essentially, sculptural in my conceptions of verse, (probably because my mother's family were sculptors -- she herself was a designer rather than a painter) ... I want verse to be strongly shaped.'     Another trait Siegfried attributed to his mother's family was his frugality: `Like a true Thornycroft I detest waste and luxury and excess in anything' he wrote to a friend in 1942, rejoicing in the fact that he was saving money through the wartime shortage of servants. Though extravagant as a young man, particularly where horses were concerned, he grew more careful until, by the time he inherited money in 1927, he hardly knew what to do with it. "The idea of being "much better off" has brought me no particular sense of pleasure', he wrote in his diary. `I can't see what good it will do me in my everyday life; and it certainly won't help me to write better poetry. I can be generous to my friends, and give a lot of it to my mother. That seems to be about all there is in it'.     Surprisingly enough, Sassoon never theorized about qualities he may have inherited in common from both sides of his family -- industriousness, honesty and ingenuity. He did, however, become convinced that it was not so much what he drew separately from each race which formed his character but the particular way in which these combined. `You have got it right about my Jewish blood', he wrote to a friendly critic in 1965. `My artistic talent derives from the Thornycroft side. But what made me different from the gracious serenity of Uncle Hamo [Thornycroft]'s work was the mixture of west and east. The daemon in me is Jewish'. More jocularly he referred elsewhere to being a mixture of `Cheshire Cheese farmers and Oriental aristocrats'. (Continues...) Copyright (c) 1998 Jean Moorcroft Wilson. All rights reserved.