A.S.J. Tessimond

Arthur Seymour John Tessimond (1902-1962) was born in Birkenhead. He was sent to study at Charterhouse but ran away from school at 16. After taking a degree at Liverpool University, he tried his hand at teaching but only lasted two terms, whereupon he broke off his engagement and moved to London, working there in bookshops for two years before becoming an advertising copywriter. At the beginning of the Second World War, he gave up his job and flat and went on the run to avoid conscription, having decided he would be 'intensively miserable' as a soldier as well as 'useless and dangerous to others'. When he finally submitted himself to an army medical, he was declared unfit for service.

One friend from his time in advertising was the Welsh painter Ceri Richards who, with his artist-wife Frances, remained close from 1928 till the end of his life, and she has written how three days before his death she had to take food and money to his Chelsea flat because he had given everything away to his latest girlfriend.

Tessimond has been described as an eccentric, a night-lifer, loner and flâneur. He loved women, was always falling in love, but never married. His friend and literary executor, the poet and novelist Hubert Nicholson (1908-96), editor of his posthumous Collected Poems, wrote of his later circumstances:

'Tessimond's father left him about four thousand pounds, a sum not to be sneezed at, in 1945. He spent half of it on his nightclub hostesses, striptease girls and models, and the other half on "four or five successive psychoanalysts", for by the onset of middle age he had become gravely manic depressive. In the depth of his depression he often contemplated and talked of suicide, but never actually attempted it.

'In the final phase of his life he underwent electric shock therapy at ever-shortening intervals. This had a deleterious effect on his memory, though not on his intellect. It temporarily raised his spirits to a rather hectic pitch, and may or may not have staved off self-destruction. Perhaps it may also have shortened his life.

'On May 15, 1962, he was found dead in his flat in Chelsea, from natural causes, a brain haemorrhage, some two months before his sixtieth birthday. He had apparently been dead for two days before his body was discovered. Old age, which he had always feared, was never to be his.'

Tessimond published three books of poetry in his lifetime: The walls of glass (Methuen, 1934), Voices in a giant city (Heinemann, 1947), and Selection (Putnam, 1958). Hubert Nicholson edited two posthumous selections, Not love perhaps… (Autolycus Publications, 1978) and Morning meeting (Autolycus Publications, 1980), before bringing together all Tessimond's work that had appeared in book form along with 27 uncollected poems and 25 previously unpublished or uncollected translations in The Collected Poems of A.S.J. Tessimond, with translations from the French of Jacques Prévert (Whiteknight Press, University of Reading, 1985). The latter volume is republished by Bloodaxe Books with Whiteknights Press in 2010.

A.S.J. Tessimond (1902-62) by James Bainbridge: article on Bloodaxe Blogs

Books by A.S.J. Tessimond

Collected Poems



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