The Poetry of Sidney A. Alexander

Bust of Sidney AlexanderImage reproduced by permission of the Dean and Chapter of St Paul's Cathedral.

The Poetry of Sidney A. Alexander rescues from oblivion the works, largely unpublished, of a Victorian poet who abandoned his nascent literary ambitions. Alexander (1866-1948) won the prestigious Newdigate Prize for poetry at Oxford, and began to place his poetry in periodicals. His last appearance in those was in 1891, after which he began a rise in the Anglican Church that led to prominence, if not fame.

As a student at St. Paul’s School, Alexander distinguished himself by winning a number of prizes and awards, accomplishments he repeated as an Exhibitioner at Trinity College, Oxford. In 1887, he read his winning Newdigate Poem, “Sakya-Muni: The Story of Buddha,” in the presence of Robert Browning. Several of his poems were accepted by leading periodicals of the day; some were reprinted in America.

But from about 1891, Alexander turned his attention to his ecclesiastical career, which culminated in his appointment as a canon at St. Paul’s Cathedral. His position as Treasurer included fundraising and responsibility for the fabric of the cathedral; he was successful in both areas, helping to protect the structure from damage from commercial development in the City and from German bombs during the Blitz. His accomplishments, however, did not lead to what Alexander devoutly wished, appointment as Dean of St. Paul’s.

The works in this edition, mostly unpublished, come from a notebook where Alexander transcribed fair copies of his work. Though the juvenilia may be of little interest, Alexander’s sensibilities and capabilities as a poet do develop, and his later works, especially the narrative poems, have a certain power. His works will interest especially those drawn to Victorian religious poetry.

The poems are presented as scans of Alexander’s holograph transcriptions accompanied by a typescript transcription and explanatory notes. The last pages of the notebook offer the evidence for Alexander’s contemplating a more sustained poetical career. The editorial matter includes a biographical sketch of Alexander and, in the appendices, his Newdigate poem, an unrecorded printing of a St. Paul’s prize poem, and several works from much later in his career. See too: