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Moses John Jackson (1858 – January 14, 1923) was a young undergraduate at Oxford to whom A.E. Housman fell deeply in love. In 1923, Housman wrote:

Trinity College, Cambridge, Jan 17 1923. My dear Pollard, Jackson died peacefully on Sunday night in hospital at Vancouver, where he had gone to be treated for anaemia, with which he had been ailing for some years. I had a letter from him on New Year's Day, which he ended by saying "goodbye". Now I can die myself: I could not have borne to leave him behind me in a world where anything might happen to him. Yours sincerely, AE Housman

Pollard is Alfred Pollard, a friend of Housman and Jackson. This and other letters have been published with Pollard's great-grandson, the bibliographer and critic Professor Henry Woudhuysen of University College London.

When his younger brother Laurence Housman asked him about a photograph hung over the fireplace in his rooms at Trinity College, Cambridge, in a "strangely moved voice", A.E. Housman, now an old man, answered: "That was my friend Jackson, the man who had more influence on my life than anybody else." Apparently Jackson did not reciprocate Housman's devotion.

Housman, Pollard and Jackson won scholarships together at St John's in 1877. Housman and Pollard had rooms on the same staircase, and being the two classicists they saw more of each other than of Jackson, who was a science scholar and an athlete. It may be that it was not until their fourth and last year, when the three friends shared accommodation outside the college, that Housman's love for Jackson took root in him.

When Housman died - in 1936 - Pollard recalled that after dinner in Hall the three would return home and "I mostly retired to work by myself in the lower sitting room, leaving the other two on the first floor". In a private letter to Housman's first memoirist, ASF Gow, Pollard elaborated: "It was very unlucky for him that Moses Jackson shared rooms with us in our last year. Jackson didn't need to read of an evening, and Housman enjoyed idling with him - or that is my impression." Housman failed his finals and failed utterly. The consequence was that the following year he began work in a lowly capacity at the Patent Office ("the gutter", he called it). The place of work was no accident; Jackson, who got his First, was working there, in a more senior position at a higher salary.

And from there, Housman performed one of the most astounding acrobatic leaps in the annals of academia, jumping from the gutter to the chair of Latin at UCL. During his nine years at the Patent Office, dealing with applications for trademarks for cough lozenges or bottled beer, he had spent many of his evenings in the Reading Room of the British Museum and had gradually built a reputation as a brilliant critic of Latin and Greek texts.

One of his colleagues at the Patent Office wrote to congratulate Housman: "As a rule English people never allow themselves to say or write what they think about anyone, no matter how much of a pal he may be. Well, I am going to let myself loose. I like you better than any man I ever knew. There is, as far as I could ever discover, absolutely no flaw in your character as a man, and no one would ever hope for a better friend. I don't say this only on my own account, but I have seen how you can stick to a friend like you have to Jackson. I mean not to stick to him in the sentimental sense of not forgetting him although he is right out of your reach ..." Laurence found this letter among his brother's papers, "lying alongside another letter - the last which he ever received from the greatest of all his friends, the Jackson above referred to".

Jackson's last letter - that is the one which Housman had just received when he wrote to Pollard - was written faintly in pencil and Housman had carefully inked it in. Laurence wrote to Pollard, "Do you think that touching fact is too intimate to tell?" Pollard encouraged Laurence to tell it.

The intimate friendship of Alfred and Moses lasted about five years while the two were young men. From some time in 1883 Housman lived in the same house as Jackson and his brother, in Talbot Road, Bayswater, until he moved out two years later after an unexplained rupture. They continued to lunch together, along with colleagues, but at the end of 1887 Jackson left to take up the post of principal of Sind College, Karachi.

Jackson married a young widow, Rosa Chambers, at St Saviour's, Paddington, and Housman, far from being invited, learned of it a month afterwards when Moses and Rosa Jackson had departed for India. Five years later Housman was invited to be godfather to Jackson's fourth son

Apart from home leaves, Jackson remained in India until he retired in 1910 and moved to Canada.

A few months after Housman died, Laurence wrote to Pollard. "One thing I want very much to know - did Alfred blossom out in Jackson's company and cease to be so reticent and stiff? ... Was Jackson lively or witty; and was he anything like as fond of A as A was of him?" Pollard wrote back, "Not even Moses Jackson could make Alfred babble, but he was never reticent or stiff with me at Oxford ... Jackson was often lively, but not at all witty; I think it was the simplicity and singleheartedness that attracted A ..."

When the three friends were middle-aged men, there was a "jolly interlude" recalled by Pollard, who'd had them to stay overnight at his house in Wimbledon.

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  1. https://www.theguardian.com/books/departments/classics/story/0,,1789033,00.html