I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, I’m afraid. This is partly because I’ve been working on a major new research project, the fruits of which I am delighted to be able to share with you now.
The question I and my collaborators from the Muir Institute of Health sought to answer was this: was it worse for your health to write War Poetry in the trenches of the First World War or to be wandering lonely as a cloud in frilly shirts as a Romantic?
Perhaps surprisingly, according to http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_292196.pdf, the modal age of death for adult males changed little over the century or so which separated the Romantics from the War Poets. It was reductions in infant mortality which increased overall life expectancy.
Ceteris paribus, therefore, we might reasonably expect the War Poets, caught up in the most terrible European war to date, to die younger than the Romantics.
In fact, however, the opposite is shockingly true.
Our study compared the lifespans of 5 random Romantic poets (William Wordsworth, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron) with those of 5 random War poets (Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen; Siegfried Sassoon; Robert Graves; Edward Thomas).
Average age at death for the Romantics ranged from 25 (Keats) to 80 (Wordsworth) with a mean (average) of 46.2 and median 36. For the War poets, the youngest was also 25 (Owen) but the oldest (Graves) died at 90. The mean came out at 52.2 with the median 39.
In other words, becoming a soldier, far from reducing chances of survival, in fact ADDED some 6 years to average life expectancy. Of course, Sassoon, Graves and the others had no way of knowing this would be the case. If they had, perhaps they’d have been a little less glum about life.
Further research will of course be necessary. It is possible, for instance, that the Lake District is less congenial to human habitation than Flanders in wartime. Or that our five romantics suffered disproprtionately from quill pen allergy syndrome and that this affected their life expectancy. Perhaps Woodbines are better for you than keeping a pet bear?
We shall apply for follow-on funding to continue to explore this fascinating cross-disciplinary project.