Andrew Young was born in Elgin, Scotland, on 29 April 1885, the fourth and last child of Andrew John and Maria Young. On his move to Edinburgh in 1887 the former stationmaster of the Highland Railway became secretary to an insurance company and an influential member of the Presbyterian Church. Andrew attended the Royal High School. In his sole published piece of autobiography, ‘Early Days’ (1967) he remembered with fondness his playing truant ‘on principle’.
In 1907 he took an arts degree at the University of Edinburgh. After that he spent some time in Paris where he befriended the artist brothers W. W. and S. J. Peploe.
Andrew’s own brother David, five years his senior, had been working as a doctor in Singapore since 1905. The circumstances of his mysterious disappearance two years later – David had been involved in several questionable transactions – affected Andrew deeply. Though he had intended to take up the law and become a barrister he now gave in to his father’s wishes and from 1908 studied theology at New College, Edinburgh. He established a lifelong friendship with John Baillie later to become a renowned theologian. During this time he published his first volume of poetry ‘Songs of Night’ (1910).
In 1914 Young was appointed to his first ministry in Temple, a village in Midlothian. He married Janet Green (1883-1969) who had been a celebrated student at the University of Glasgow and was already lecturing in English at a teacher training college in Glasgow. Andrew valued her sharp intellect all his life. Janet devoted all her energies to making it possible for her husband to pursue his literary career. They had two children, Anthony (1915-1987) and Alison (1922-2001).
During the First World War Young served as superintendent at an army rest-camp near Boulogne. His closest friend, C. B. Simpson, was killed in the war and Young wrote his ‘Memorial Verses’ (1918) in his memory.
Young’s next appointment led him to Sussex where in 1920 he became the minister of the Presbyterian Church at Hove. New important friendships began during these years including the poets John Freeman and Viola Meynell. Meynell appeared as one of the first and most sensitive critics of Andrew’s forthcoming volumes of poetry. These were issued from 1920 to 1931 by J. G. Wilson of J. & E. Bumpus Ltd. She also helped to establish contacts with publishers. So in 1933 ‘Winter Harvest’ was brought out by the Nonesuch Press where Viola’s brother Francis was director. From then on all his mature volumes of poetry were published by Jonathan Cape Ltd. including the successful mystery play ‘Nicodemus’ (1937).
The struggle of the biblical Nicodemus mirrored his own struggle at this time: Young wished to leave the Presbyterian Church and join the Anglican Church. Out of consideration for his aged father he had waited long before he dared to take the step. Now in 1939, his father still alive, he applied for admission to the Anglican Ministry and in 1941 became Vicar of Stonegate in East Sussex.
The ministry left him enough time to work at his metaphysical poem ‘Into Hades’ (1952, revised in 1958), his greatest poetical achievement of the later years.
Following requests from his publishers, Young started to write prose books in the nineteen-forties. ‘A Prospect of Flowers’ (1945) and its sequel ‘A Retrospect of Flowers’ (1950) showed his love of rare British wild flowers. The two late prose books covered his main lifelong occupations, poetry and religion: ‘The Poet and the Landscape’ (1962) and ‘The Poetic Jesus’ (1972).
The Stonegate years brought several honours: an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Edinburgh in 1951 and the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry the following year.
The closest friend of his later years was Christopher Hassall, while Leonard Clark became the greatest champion of Young’s work. A financial grant from another friend, Pauline Muirhead, enabled him to retire from his ministry in 1959. He and Janet moved to Yapton, near Chichester where he had become a Canon in 1948.
He died 25 November 1971 after having spent his last months in a nursing home in Bognor Regis.
Alison Young, the poet’s daughter, and her husband Edward Lowbury, a microbiologist and a distinguished poet himself, edited ‘The Poetical Works’ in 1985. In their introduction, to which this biographical sketch is much indebted, they characterise Andrew Young, the man, as having ‘had a strong personality, with a teasing wit and humour that emerges in many of his poems as it did in his life… In spite of his lack of small talk and almost pathological reserve, he was loved and admired by his parishioners and friends. Those who knew him came to see, through his protective armour of silence, a compassionate warmth within.’ (PW, p. xxi)
The Poetical Works of Andrew Young,
edited and with an Introduction and
Notes by Edward Lowbury & Alison Young
Secker & Warburg, London (1985)
© Mathias Richter, March 2008