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Thomas Ernest Hulme (16 September 1883 – 28 September 1917) was an English critic and poet who, through his writings on art, literature and politics, had a notable influence upon modernism.
Hulme was born at Gratton Hall, Endon, Staffordshire, the son of Thomas and Mary Hulme. He was educated at Newcastle-under-Lyme High School and, from 1902, St John's College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics, but was sent down in 1904 after rowdy behaviour on Boat Race night. He was thrown out of Cambridge a second time after a scandal involving a Roedean girl. He returned to his studies at University College, London, before travelling around Canada, and spending time in Brussels, acquiring languages.
From about 1907 Hulme became interested in philosophy, translating works by Henri Bergson and sitting in on lectures at Cambridge. He translated Georges Sorel's Reflections on Violence. The most important influences on his thought were Bergson and, later, Wilhelm Worringer (1881–1965), German art historian and critic; and in particular his Abstraktion und Einfühlung (Abstraction and Empathy, 1908). From 1909 he contributed critical articles to The New Age, edited by A. R. Orage.
Hulme developed an interest in poetry, and wrote a small number of poems. He was made secretary of the Poets' Club, attended by such establishment figures as Edmund Gosse and Henry Newbolt. There he encountered Ezra Pound and F. S. Flint. In late 1908 Hulme delivered his paper A Lecture on Modern Poetry to the club. Hulme's poems Autumn and City Sunset, both published in 1909 in a Poets' Club anthology, have the distinction of being the first Imagist poems. A further five poems were published in The New Age in 1912 as The Complete Poetical Works of T.E. Hulme. Despite this misleading title, Hulme in fact wrote about 25 poems totalling some 260 lines, of which the majority were possibly written between 1908–1910. Robert Frost met Hulme in 1913 and was influenced by his ideas.
In his critical writings Hulme distinguished between Romanticism, a style informed by a belief in the infinite in man and nature, characterised by Hulme as "spilt religion", and Classicism, a mode of art stressing human finitude, formal restraint, concrete imagery and, in Hulme's words, "dry hardness". Similar views were later expressed by T.S. Eliot. Hulme's ideas had a major effect on Wyndham Lewis (quite literally when they came to blows over Kate Lechmere; Lewis ended the worse for it, hung upside down by the cuffs of his trousers from the railings of Great Ormond Street). He championed the art of Jacob Epstein and David Bomberg, and was a friend of Gaudier-Brzeska, as well as being in at the birth of Lewis's literary magazine BLAST and vorticism.
Hulme volunteered as an artilleryman in 1914, and served with the Royal Marine Artillery in France and Belgium. He kept up his writing for The New Age, with "War Notes" written under the pen name "North Staffs", and "A Notebook", which contains some of his most organised critical writing. He was wounded in 1916. Back at the front in 1917, he was killed by a shell at Oostduinkerke near Nieuwpoort, in West Flanders. He is buried at the military cemetery of Koksijde (Coxyde).