- William Baker
Aaronson, Lazarus (1895–1966), poet and educationist, was born at 34 Great Pearl Street, Spitalfields, London, on 18 February 1895, the son of Louis Aaronson, master bootmaker, and his wife, Sarah, née Kowalski. His parents were impoverished Jewish immigrants from Vilna in the Pale settlements. In 1905 his father emigrated to New York and in 1912 the rest of the family joined him, leaving the young Aaronson virtually alone in London. In the 1911 census he was registered as a student living at 292 Commercial Road in the heart of the largely Jewish East End with the family of Joseph Posener. He attended Whitechapel City Boys' School and then gained a scholarship to the Hackney Downs grammar school (previously the Grocers' Company's School). He did not serve in the military during the First World War, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis, and he suffered from diabetes for much of his life.
By 1914 Aaronson had gained a sufficient reputation as a writer to appear in A. R. Orage's influential left-leaning weekly, the New Age. He contributed 'A Fairy Tale' and satirized the critic and poet T. E. Hulme as a 'male-goblin' who 'hated' bright colours. Ezra Pound was a 'very foolish male faery … so fond of colour and … had such a little soul that he could not bear subtleties of tone and shade' (New Age, 15, 1914, 553). Between 1913 and 1915 and again between 1926 and 1928 he attended the London School of Economics to study economics, but he did not complete his degree. In or before 1934 he began lecturing in economics at the City of London College, where he taught for more than twenty-five years. He was appointed MBE on retirement in 1959.
Aaronson married three times. On 19 September 1924 he married Lily Shavelson (1903–1989), daughter of Joseph Shavelson, timber merchant. On the marriage certificate Aaronson's father is recorded as 'deceased'. Lily became a distinguished actress, as Lydia Sherwood. According to Ossia Trilling, 'her physical beauty and impeccable dress sense attracted a whole army of admirers' (The Independent, 28 April 1989). The marriage was dissolved in 1931 on the grounds of her adultery with the theatre director and actor Theodore Komisarjevsky. On 9 July 1938 Aaronson married Dorothy Beatrice Lewer (1915–2005), daughter of George Frederick Lewer, tile merchant. Subsequently they divorced and she married the geriatrician Oscar Olbrich. On 14 January 1950 Aaronson married, third, Margaret Olive Ireson (1920–1981), daughter of William Herbert Green Axford, schoolmaster, and former wife of John Clifford Ireson, French scholar. He had one son, David (b. 1953), with his third wife.
Aaronson, known as ‘Laz’, had a remarkable capacity for friendship. His Hackney Downs school contemporaries included Jacob Isaacs, who subsequently became professor of English at Queen Mary College, London: Isaacs was a witness at Aaronson's first marriage and the subject of an unpublished poem by Aaronson in 1933 about their arguments and friendship. Other friends included the novelist Sidney Schiff, who wrote under the pseudonym of Stephen Hudson, John Rodker, whom Aaronson 'converted' to socialism and who remained close to him, Joseph Leftwich, the poet and journalist, the poet Isaac Rosenberg, Sidney Bernstein, who became an entertainment mogul, the sculptor Jacob Epstein, and the author Samuel Beckett. Mark Littman, writing in The Times after Aaronson's death, referred to his 'wit, charm and humanity' (The Times, 10 December 1966).
The title of Aaronson's first and most successful book of poetry, Christ in the Synagogue (published by Gollancz in 1930, and dedicated to his first wife, Lily), indicated that he had become a Christian although he had earlier been active in Jewish cultural affairs, becoming for instance in the autumn of 1917 the secretary of the newly organized, East End-based Jewish Association of Arts and Sciences. Jon Silkin in his discussion of the title poem observed that its subject 'implies a disagreement if not a dissociation with a way of life as lived out by a particular group of people, the Jews'. Furthermore, in the poem Aaronson's 'desire to capture precisely a landscape comes across as an anxiety for roots somewhere, and it is at bottom … a result of the conflict which is: Shall I or shall I not be a Jew?' (lecture notes on Anglo-Jewish poets, Silkin papers, U. Leeds, Brotherton L.). Orlando Cyprian Williams, reviewing the collection in the Times Literary Supplement (6 March 1930), found 'an urgency and living fullness in his verse which holds great promise'. Williams particularly praised 'The Fall', in which Aaronson's 'imagination masters strikingly his exuberance'. In his second collection, Poems (1933), also published by Gollancz, Aaronson's religious turmoil was not as conspicuous as in the first collection. His third and final published collection, The Homeward Journey and Other Poems (1946), was dedicated to his second wife, Dorothy. In his preface, Aaronson admitted that poetry was 'a way of revealing his own meanings to himself (and to others sufficiently moved and interested and persuaded to share that revelation)'.
A post-Georgian rather than a modernist (his work didn't display formal innovation), Aaronson's poetic subjects included the Second World War, the rise of fascism, and the December 1939 Soviet invasion of Finland, but he failed to write directly about the holocaust. The critic Alec M. Hardie in his Times Literary Supplement review of The Homeward Journey picked out 'The Crisis' as containing 'strong emotion and imagery'. Hardie also described Aaronson as 'an acute observer of Nature' and his poem the 'Magnolia Tree' as 'a gentle poem of simplicity' (TLS, 9 February 1946). Aaronson's poetry appeared in anthologies such as The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Verse, edited by John Heath-Stubbs and David Wright (1953). This contained 'The Homeward Journey', 'Pesci Misti' (written in Rapallo), from his second collection, and 'The Baptism', from his first collection. 'Christ in the Synagogue' was also much reproduced.
Early in 1959 Aaronson moved with his family from the upstairs flat at 26 Westbourne Terrace Road, Paddington, where he had lived for many years, to 93 Ox Lane, Harpenden, Hertfordshire. He died there on 9 December 1966 from heart failure and coronary heart disease and was buried in the Westfield Road cemetery, Harpenden. His wife and son survived him. He also left more than a thousand unpublished poems.
- review of The homeward journey, TLS (9 Feb 1946)
- The Times (10 Dec 1966)
- J. Cohen, Journey to the trenches: the life of Isaac Rosenberg, 1890–1918 (1975)
- C. Moorehead, Sidney Bernstein: a biography (1984)
- The Guardian (25 April 1989) [obituary of Lydia Sherwood]
- The Independent (28 April 1989) [obituary of Lydia Sherwood]
- R. Beasley, Ezra Pound and the visual culture of modernism (2007)
- S. Beckett, The letters of Samuel Beckett, ed. M. D. Fehsenfeld, L. M. Overbeck, and others, 3 vols. (2009–14), vols. 1 and 2
- W. D. Rubinstein, ed., The Palgrave dictionary of Anglo-Jewish history (2011)
- W. Baker and J. R. Shumaker, The literature of the fox: a reference and critical guide to Anglo-Jewish writing (2015)
- lecture notes on Anglo-Jewish poets, U. Leeds, Brotherton L., Jon Silkin papers, MS 20c Silkin 7/915
- University of South Carolina, Thomas Cooper Library, Joseph Cohen papers
- private information (2015) [David Aaronson, son; R. Beasley; I. Patterson; archivist registry, London School of Economics]
- b. cert.
- m. certs.
- d. cert.
- Bodl. Oxf., Walter de la Mare MSS, letter
- priv. coll., unpublished poems
- TCD, Seamus O'Sullivan MSS, letter and poems
- U. Reading L., George Bell & Sons archives
- I. Rosenberg, pencil sketch, 1915, priv. coll