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Grigson, Geoffrey Edward Harvey (1905–1985), poet and writer, was born on 2 March 1905 at Pelynt, Cornwall, the seventh and last son (there were no daughters) of Canon William Shuckforth Grigson (1845–1930), vicar of Pelynt, and his wife, Mary Beatrice (b. 1863), daughter of John Simon Boldero, vicar of Amblecote, near Stourbridge, Worcestershire. His childhood and adolescence, as described in his vivid, impressionistic autobiography The Crest on the Silver (1950), were deeply unhappy. He was sent as a boarder to a preparatory school at the age of five, then to a minor public school, St John's School, Leatherhead, which he detested. This was succeeded by what he called a profitless sojourn at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, where he gained a third class in English in 1927. These years were marked also by grief at the death of three of his brothers during the First World War, including one whom he particularly loved. Three more were to die during the Second World War, so that by the end of it this seventh son was the only survivor of his parents' large family.

Grigson came down from Oxford an awkward, reticent young man, loving Cornwall and the countryside, knowing little of London, where he was to spend much of his future career. On 1 July 1929 he married Frances Franklin Galt (1906/7–1937), the daughter of Thomas Franklin Galt, an American attorney. They had one daughter. After the death of his first wife, he married Berta Emma Beatrix (1916–2001), the daughter of Otto Kunert, an Austrian major, on 8 October 1938. They had a son and a daughter. Meanwhile, Grigson had worked on the Yorkshire Post, then the Morning Post, where he became literary editor. He founded New Verse (1933–9), a ‘malignant egg’ as he later called it, the most influential British poetry magazine of the 1930s. In New Verse he printed the finest poets of the W. H. Auden generation, but the magazine was almost equally known for his own criticism of his contemporaries, always unsparing and at times ferocious. He later regretted what he called such savage use of the billhook, but he still employed it often, in hundreds of reviews written for The Observer, the Manchester Guardian, the New Statesman, and other papers. Some of the best and sharpest of them were gathered together in The Contrary View (1974) and Blessings, Kicks and Curses (1982).

New Verse was the beginning of a literary career which embraced art criticism, anthologies of verse and prose, guides to the countryside and its flora, and the writing of poems. Grigson spent the war years in the BBC at Evesham and Bristol, but thereafter was a freelance, making his home at the farmhouse he had found in Wiltshire, living mostly by literary journalism, but never relaxing his standards. The results were remarkable, in both quality and variety. The finest of his essays on art are to be found in The Harp of Aeolus (1947), which includes appreciations of artists as diverse as George Stubbs, Francis Danby, and de Chirico, and along with this book should be put Samuel Palmer: the Visionary Years (1947), which prompted a revised view of Palmer's genius. The Romantics (1943) and Before the Romantics (1946), two of the first among many anthologies, mark the immense scope of his reading, his endless curiosity about the relationship of man and nature, and his concern with the shape and sound of language. He had a quite separate fame as author of The Englishman's Flora (1955), The Shell Country Book (1962), and other works about the English countryside.

And last, and to Grigson most importantly, he was a poet. His first book, Several Observations (1939), fulfilled his own requirements of ‘taking notice, for ends not purely individual, of the universe of objects and events’. All his poems do this, whether they are lyrical, satirical, or views of scenes and people. Genuine feeling and observation, and a refusal of rhetorical gestures, are the hallmarks of his poetry. Collected Poems appeared in 1963, and a further volume covering the years up to 1980 in 1982. In the same year he published The Private Art, a ‘poetry notebook’ of comments and quotations that emphasized again the generosity and tough delicacy of his mind. Grigson at Eighty, edited by R. M. Healey, a collection of tributes from friends and admirers, appeared in the year of his death.

In person Grigson was tall, handsome, and enthusiastic, with an attractive blend of sophistication and innocence. The fierceness of his writing was belied by a gentle, sometimes elaborately polite manner. He distrusted all official bodies dealing with the arts, and served on no committees. When, in 1972, he received the Duff Cooper memorial prize for a volume of poems, his short speech made clear his uneasiness on such large formal occasions.

Grigson's second marriage had ended in divorce, and he married Jane (1928–1990), daughter of George Shipley McIntire CBE, town clerk of Sunderland. became a celebrated cookery expert; they had one daughter. Grigson died on 28 November 1985 at Broad Town Farm, near Swindon, his Wiltshire home, and was buried in the churchyard of Christ Church, Broad Town.

Julian Symons, rev.

Sources  

R. M. Healey, ed., Grigson at eighty (1985) · G. Grigson, The crest on the silver (1950) · personal knowledge (1990) · private information (1990) · Sunday Times (1 Dec 1985) · The Observer (1 Dec 1985) · The Times (30 Nov 1985) · The Times (14 Dec 1985)

Archives  

BL, notebook, Add. MS 53787 · Ransom HRC, corresp. and literary MSS · State University of New York, Buffalo, corresp. and literary MSS · U. Birm. L., notebook |  U. Leeds, Brotherton L., letters to London Magazine · U. Reading L., corresp. with Paul Ferris


Likenesses  

F. Godwin, bromide print, 1970, NPG

Wealth at death  

under £40,000: probate, 20 Feb 1986, CGPLA Eng. & Wales