Authors: Mike Read
THE LIFE OFRUPERT BROOKE
This book is dedicated to my two co-founders of the Rupert Brooke Society and the Rupert Brooke Museum, Robin Callan and Dr Peter Miller. Great men, possessing inventive minds, sharp wit, an in-depth knowledge of literature, and the gift of brilliant conversation – they left an enormous legacy. I am proud to have enjoyed their company and benefited from their friendship.ContentsTitle PageDedicationAcknowledgementsPrefaceChapter 1 Laughter and the Love of FriendsChapter 2 King’s HeraldChapter 3 Apostle or Apollo?Chapter 4 The Dew-DabblersChapter 5 First of May 1933Chapter 6 Unrequited LoveChapter 7 When You Were There, and You, and YouChapter 8 Monsters of the Darkest Hell Nibbled My SoulChapter 9 Hope Springs Eternal (Alexander Pope)Chapter 10 From the Old World to the New WorldChapter 11 Ships – Ocean-Going, Laureate and FriendChapter 12 Goe, and Catch a Falling Starre (John Donne)Chapter 13 The ‘Brussels-Before-Waterloo Feeling’Chapter 14 I Can’t Fly or Drive a Car or Ride a HorseChapter 15 ‘Some Corner of a Foreign Field’Chapter 16 He Does Not Die That Can Bequeath Some Influence To The Land He KnowsChapter 17 RevelationsBibliographyIndexPlatesCopyrightAcknowledgements
IAM VERY GRATEFULto the following people whom I met while putting this book together. Without their interest, help and enthusiasm, the whole escapade would have been less fun and less fruitful. In no particular order they are: Alison Jenkins; Peter Ward; Winifred Kinsman; Edith Hoare; Dr Peter Miller; Prue Miller; Pippa Harris; the Finlinsons; the staff at Sidmouth Museum; Robin Callan; Tom Hinton; the staff at the Orchard Tea Rooms, Grantchester; David Sykes; Tony Johnson; the staff at Beaulieu Heritage; Mrs C. A. Dineen; Roy Jackman; Sye Atkinson; Lt. Col. Tony Claydon and Mrs Claydon; Jack Palmer; K. A. Hook; the Provost, Scholars and Domus Bursar, King’s College, Cambridge; Sebastian Doggart; the Rev. Noel Sandford; Leslie Bearman; Lord and Lady Archer; Sebastian Carter; Clive at theQueen Adelaide,Croydon; Mr Chaffey; Roy and Mary Webber; the Curator of TheMuseum at Blandford; the staff at Bedales School; Rusty Maclean at the Temple Reading Room, Rugby School; Bob Drennan, Director of Drama, Rugby School; Brian Walton, Housemaster of School Field Rugby; Barbara Davis; the Dymock Poet’s Society; Linda Hart; the staff at theBlack Bear,Wareham; Sandra Carlisle; Mike Gibbons at Kilmartin; Bill and Jan Rademaker; Tim and Catie Jenkins; Mark Keen; Dai Michael at Coleg Harlech; Tony and Judith Newbery; Mark Ramage; Jeff Cooper; Gillian Patterson; Earl Schenk; Nick and Nancy Redgers; Lord Hastings; Selina Hastings; Lady Moorea Black; the staff at the University of Texas at Austin; Bob Withers, British Consul for French Polynesia; Miss J. A. L. Nunn; Ian Cornfield, Director of Research, the Fabian Society; the staff at Bournemouth Reference Library; Mrs Hart; Elaine and Roy Timperly; Peter Greenslade; Peter Mitchell; Roger Westwood; Sue Wilier; the staff at thePink and Lily; the staff at theGreen Dragon,Market Lavington; the staff at theCrown Inn,Everleigh; Mr and Mrs Tony Eley at Gallon Gate House; E. N. Willmore; Vivienne King; Karen Berkley; Peter Hook; the staff at theMermaid Inn,Rye; Tim Cribb; Theo Peacey; Nick Peacey; Richard Havers; Anne and Jeremy Powell, Palladour Books; Julian Kola, Bertram Rota; the John Ireland Trust; Jon Stallworthy; Andrew Motion; The Brooke Trustees; Messrs Faber and Faber; the stall at the National Library of Australia; Jerry and Delphine Isaaman. I offer my sincere apologies for any omissions.Preface
THE HUMAN RACEchooses its own icons. Which members will be put on a pedestal is decided by popular opinion alone. The status cannot be bought, nor decided upon by governing bodies.
James Dean made a handful of films, where others have made dozens, yet he remains the cult figure of films. Marilyn Monroe could never be considered a great actress, yet her name is still on everyone’s lips many years after her death. Many artists from the rock and roll era are no longer with us, but as an influential icon, John Lennon still stands head and shoulders above the others. Oscar Wilde wrote only a few plays, one novel and some poetry, before being carted unceremoniously off to jail, and yet people still argue over a century later as to the colour of the grapes that Lord Alfred Douglas insisted Oscar buy him.
So what are the ingredients? A tragic death – a young death, vulnerability, rebelliousness, an enigmatic persona, an unfulfilled life, an undefinable charisma, and identification with a large enough group of people who regard their icon as a touchstone. Invariably and somewhat implausibly, the powerful feeling for these people fails to diminish with time, each generation keeping the flame alive and maintaining the spirit of the person they cherish.
Rupert Brooke had only one small book of poems published in his lifetime, and yet his image and everything he was meant to have stood for is as alive in the late 1990s as it was in the Edwardian and Georgian periods. In spite of suffering periods of bubble-bursting iconoclasm, the ‘Young Apollo’ of the First World War will not lie down.
Many poets have lived a full, rich, long life, with their output spanning forty, fifty, sixty years or more, yet Brooke’s name shines more brightly and his image looms larger than most.
Following his death in 1915 at the age of twenty-seven on the way to Gallipoli, his Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, reflected on why Brooke seemed special:
Is it because he was a hero? – There were thousands.
Is it because he looked a hero? – There were a few.
Is it because he had genius? – There were others.
But Rupert Brooke held all three gifts of the gods in his hand…
So who was Rupert Brooke, and why does his likeness and poetry still affect millions a hundred years after his death? This was the quest I set myself when I decided that I would track down and experience at first hand the places that influenced this extraordinary young man to write his poetry and letters, and the areas that he loved. My travels took me to the banks of the Teign, Eden, Beaulieu, Ouse and Granta rivers, to Dartmoor, the depths of theNew Forest, the very tip of the Lizard, and the hills of Surrey. My wanderings also took in the picturesque villages of Penshurst, East Knoyle, Market Lavington and Bucklers Hard, and the seaside towns of Eastbourne, Hastings, Bournemouth, Sidmouth and Clevedon. I journeyed south to Rye on the East Sussex coast, north to Moffat in Scotland, east to Cley-next-to-the-Sea and west to Cornwall and the Welsh coast. The dozens of other places visited included Rugby, Brooke’s birthplace and home, and Cambridge, where he attended King’s College.
Everywhere, I met with interest, information and a fascination for a man that all but three had never met, and those only as young children. Many people were eager to know more about his life, and were surprised at his links with certain areas of the country.
Living in a media-conscious age, we have become used to people claiming relationships with the rich and famous who are no longer with us, although the phenomenon is clearly not new. I talked to many women who knew someone who had been engaged to, or had a serious affair with Brooke. When both parties are dead, it’s foolish to speculate, so I’ve let them lie, until any details arise which might in future substantiate the claims.
For several days in the summer of 1994 I stayed in Brooke’s old room at the Orchard, Grantchester and, without wishing to appear mawkish, or appeal to the cloyingly sentimental, one feels that the spirit of Brooke and his friends might just be here. ‘Here’, being the small corner of England that encompasses the Orchard, the Old Vicarage and the stretch of the Granta that runs past them.
In writing this book, I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with three people who had met Rupert Brooke, albeit they were very young at the time. Winifred Kinsman was Brooke’s cousin, who recalled him chasing her around the garden as a little girl. Winifred was a delightful lady who told me many tales and opened theRupert Brooke Museum at Grantchester for us in 1999. Peter Ward was the son of Brooke’s great friend Dudley Ward and was also an excellent host. It was Peter who brought down old boxes from the attic in which I found the trail of letters that led to the discovery that Brooke had fathered a child. Peter also gave me artefacts for the Brooke Museum. Patricia Aldington, the sister of Richard Aldington, met Brooke briefly as a young child when he visited the family at the Mermaid in Rye. In April 2015, the British Plaque Trust will be erecting a Blue Plaque on Orchard House, Grantchester, where Brooke lived, loved, wrote and entertained his friends.
Chapter 1Laughter and the Love of Friends
RUPERT BROOKE’S PARENTS, William Parker Brooke and Ruth Mary Brooke (née Cotterill), first came to Rugby School in January 1880, two weeks after their wedding, when his father took up the post of tutor for the School House. Their home was 5 Hillmorton Road – a two-storeyed red-brick villa with twin gables and bay windows, where Mrs Brooke gave birth to their first son Richard, the year after they took up residence. Their second child, a girl, died in infancy, and Mrs Brooke gave birth to Rupert on 3 August 1887; his second Christian name, Chawner, was taken from a seventeenth-century parliamentarian ancestor. A third son, Alfred, was born in 1891. The following year a vacancy occurred at the schoolfor housemaster of School Field. Parker Brooke secured the position and with it a substantial new home – a large and late Victorian house that adjoined the school.
Rugby School was founded in the mid-sixteenth century by Lawrence Sheriffe, a member of the Livery of the Grocers’ Company, who had been born early in the reign of Henry VIII. During a serious illness, Sheriffe made a will that included provision for a scheme to found a school at Rugby, beginning with a schoolhouse. Subsequently he added a codicil that was to make the fortune of Rugby School. A previous legacy of £100 was revoked and in its stead the school was bequeathed one-third of a 24-acre field then ‘near London’, now the Lamb’s Conduit Street and Great Ormond Street area of the capital. The parcel of land yielded £8 a year in 1597 and £5,700 a year by 1900.
Rupert was tutored at home by a governess, Miss Tottenham, until the summer of 1897, when he began school at nearby Hillbrow as a day boy. There he befriended James Strachey, whose elder brother Lytton was to become an eminent writer and member of the Bloomsbury Group, and cousin of Duncan Grant, who was to become a well-known painter.
The school was only a hundred yards or so along the road from Rupert’s home at School Field. His elder brother, Richard, saw him across what was then Watergate Road (now Barby Road), a main thoroughfare into Rugby from Coventry, among other places. From the top of the hill, the school looked out towards the village of Barby.
Hillbrow was built by William Butterfield, the Gothic Revival architect, in the 1860s as a private residence, before becoming a prep school. Later, during the 1930s, it was bought by Rugby School, and a sizeable portion of it was demolished, leaving the end of the house nearest the road as a separate building. A purpose-built boarding house was completed by 1941, next to the remaining portion of the original house, and the whole was named Kilbracken after LordKilbracken, the chairman of the governors (who had been Prime Minister William Gladstone’s private secretary). The boarding house that already bore his name, previously sited at 1 Hillmorton Road, moved lock, stock and barrel to the new position.
In 1893, the Brookes went to St Ives in Cornwall for their summer holidays, where they met up with the English critic Sir Leslie Stephen and his family, who had taken Talland House, high above the bay, every year since 1882. The younger children, including Richard, Rupert and the two Stephen girls – who would one day find fame and be better known by their married names, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell – played cricket together on a small pitch in the grounds of the house. The ball would invariably be covered with a layer of luminous paint, in order for play to continue as dusk fell. Virginia was a formidable bowler – better, apparently, than most boys of her age. In 1891, at the age of nine, Virginia had started her own domestic periodical,Hyde Park Gate News,at the family’s London home, as a vehicle for her early writings. It may well have inspired Rupert, five years her junior, to start his own newspaper at Rugby School some while later. In 1894, the Stephens decided to quit Talland House following the building of a new hotel in its gardens, which obstructed the sea view. There were no more visits to Talland House for Rupert, and his family spent the following year’s holiday at Brighton, where he bumped into his friend from prep school, James Strachey, and met his older brother Lytton for the first time.
That Christmas, Hillbrow staged a show comprising nine items. These includedThe Peace Egg; A Christmas Mumming Play,in which Rupert’s schoolfriend W. H. G. Saunt, who would go on to Rugby with him, played the Fool; a scene from Shakespeare’sRichard III; ‘The Tyger’, by William Blake; H. W. Longfellow’s ‘Hiawatha’s Chickens’; and Act IV, Scene i from Shakespeare’sThe Merchant of Venice,in which Brooke played Portia, and another friend, Owen O’Malley,played Shylock. O’Malley’s nickname was ‘Bug’, while Brooke was called ‘Oyster’, because of his reticence in allowing his fellows to have access to his thoughts and dreams. A letter from ‘Ye Oyster’ to ‘Ye Bug’ in the early summer of 1901 is the earliest existing piece of correspondence from Brooke. In it he bemoans the fact that he has played only ‘four games of cricket this century’.
In December 1900 Brooke won the first form prize, for which his reward was a copy of naturalist Charles Waterton’sWanderings in South America,which had been published three years earlier. The headmistress at Hillbrow in Brooke’s day was Mrs Eden, who James Strachey remembered as ‘an embittered martinet who intimidated her husband and the form assistant masters quite as much as the boys’. Her husband, the easy-going Tommy, was clearly more popular with the boys, although he was moved to comment on Rupert’s attempt at Greek: ‘He is inclined to throw caution to the wind.’ James Strachey also recalled being sent back to the changing-room with Rupert to comb their hair properly, and being told, ‘You look like a couple of girls!’
In September 1901, Michaelmas Term, Rupert was transferred to his father’s house at Rugby School, School Field. The houses were known by the name of the housemaster – Collins’s, Stallard’s, Mitchell’s, Brooke’s, etc., with the exception of School House and Town House. Now Brooke showed his prowess for sport, which had begun to display itself during his time at Hillbrow. School records show him taking five wickets for Brooke’s against School House on 6 and 7 June 1904, hitting a 3 not out and 18 with the bat; and later that month scoring 13 against Stallard’s. Leading lights for Brooke’s at cricket were J. E. Gordon and Perth-born twins David and William Burt-Marshall, both of whom would be wounded during the First World War, William dying of his wounds while in enemy hands. InThe Meteor,the school magazine since 1867, an article called ‘Characters of the XI 1906’ described Rupert as:‘A slow bowler who at times kept a good length and puzzled the batsmen. A safe catch.’
The panoramic view from the drawing-room at School Field took in most of New Bigside, a splendid cricket pitch, which was, and still is, a cricket lover’s dream setting. Cricketing heroes of the day were W. G. Grace, who was still playing first-class cricket, C. B. Fry, the great sporting all-rounder and former captain of the Rugby School Cricket XI, and Pelham ‘Plum’ Warner, of Middlesex and England. Doubtless rugby’s cricketing schoolboys were delighted in the recent elevation of their county team, Warwickshire, to first-class status.
Rupert also played for the house XV at Rugby football, the game invented at Rugby School in 1823. Prior to that, soccer players were allowed to catch the ball and drop-kick it, but not to run with it in their hands. M. H. Bloxham, who entered the school in 1813, noted that during the second half of a match being played on Bigside in 1823, pupil William Webb Ellis ‘for the first time disregarded this rule, and on catching the ball, instead of retiring backwards [to take his kick] rushed forwards with the ball in his hands, towards the opposite goal’. This move was adopted as part of the game between 1830 and 1840, legalised at Rugby School in the 1841–42 season, and eventually became adopted everywhere when the rules to Rugby football were drawn up in 1846. For many years after this a ball that was on the ground had to be played with the feet, and it was still admissible to pick up the ball only when it was bouncing. The origins of Rugby football are undoubtedly much earlier than 1823, a variation of it having been played as ‘Harpastum’ by the Romans during their occupation of Britain. Various match reports refer to Rupert’s ability: ‘before half-time both Brooke and Fargus crossed the line’; ‘from an opening by the halves Brooke scored far out’. Again the Burt-Marshall twins and J. E. Gordon were key players.
As well as being skilled at cricket and rugby, Rupert was also acompetent athlete, excelling in the steeplechase, for which he won a silver cup. But he was never very robust, the slightest ailment laying him low; he often had to miss sporting fixtures and events through illness. He was so bad over Christmas 1904 that the family doctor recommended removing him to a warmer country for a period of recuperation. He was sent to stay with Dr and Mrs Gibbons, who were friends of the Brookes, at the Villa Molfino, Rapallo, near Genoa, close to the Ligunian Sea and 100 miles east along the coast from Monaco. Accompanied by his younger brother Alfred, he spent two months in the sunshine, building up his strength, and writing poems intended for the school magazine,The Phoenix,a literary supplement toThe Meteor,which Rupert and another boy had been given permission to found and edit.The Path of Dreams
Go, heart, and pluck beside the Path of Dreams,
Where moans the wind along the shadowy streams,
Sad Garlands wreathed of the red mournful Roses
And Lilies o’ moonbeams.
Strange blossoms faint upon that odorous air,
Vision, and wistful Memory; and there
Love twofold with the purple bloom of Triumph
And the wan leaf of Despair.
Go, heart; go quickly; pluck and weave thereof
Dim garlands, scattering pallid dew above,
And far across the sighing tides of darkness
Lay them beside my Love.The Return
Long had I dwelt in dreams and loneliness
Until thy sad voice sighed through the dusk to me
Hinting of joy, of better things to be,
Laughter and light beyond my dim distress.
Then I arose. Amid the fevered press
Of hot-eyed men, across the desolate sea,
Hoping a dreamer’s hope I sought for thee.
Wisdom at last I found, and weariness.
Now, I was foolish, weak; I shall return
Back to the Night and Silence that I love,
Back to my dreams. It may be even yet
The old fires on the old grey altars burn,
The old gods throng their shadowy haunted grove,
Where I can sleep, and rest me, and – forget.
He also wrote a third entitled ‘Afterwards’.Afterwards
O brother, dost thou know what this thing means, to dread
The cold inevitable dawn, the sickly light,
The hours’ slow passage marked by tolling bells, that smite
Madness and swift blind pangs within the aching head?
Knowst thou this too, brother, when the day is fled
How to the sleepless eyes the strange fears of the Night
Come mocking, and the bitter thoughts of old delight
Mix with the unforgiving faces of the Dead?
Ah, if thou know’st this sorrow, thou art even as I;
As one who has long outlived his jot, and would forget;
Who nurses in his festered soul a slave’s dull hate
For this interminable Hell of Life; and yet
Shrinketh from ending it, in fear of what may wait
Behind the pitiless Silence of Eternity.
Rupert had also been planning to work on ‘The Bastille’, the title that had been laid down for the 1905 school poetry prize, but in a letter to author St John Lucas, a homosexual aesthete some nine years his senior, who had become his literary mentor during 1904, confessed that he was ill-prepared: ‘I might find something out about the Bastille: for I have come away without looking it up; and my knowledge of it is a little vague at present. I have only a suspicion that it was a prison, and fell in the French Revolution.’ He also admitted to Lucas his ignorance of Italian history and art.
At his mentor’s request, he sent him some more poems, two of which he’d written at the Villa Molfino. He would often write with the purpose of trying to impress him with his literary style.In January
What shall I tell thee of?
Of the new sad memories one name can move?
Of the Heaven that Love brings? or of the Hell
That followeth such Love?
Of these shall I tell?
I have not forgotten yet
The mist that shrouded all things, cold and wet;
The dripping bough; the sad smell of the rotten
Leaves. How should I forget?
– Has thou forgotten?
Dost thou remember now
How our eyes met; and all things changed; and how
A glorious light thrilled all that dim December;
And a bird sang on the bough?
Dost thou remember?
The second comprised five verses that as yet had no title.(Nameless at present)
Lo! in the end the pure clean-hearted innocent throng
Will climb the spacious star-lit road and enter Heaven;
And I shall watch far off and desolate there, among
Those that have dared the sins that cannot be forgiven.
With bitter hearts and silent lips we shall line the way,
Foul with the mire we chose and hopeless to forget,
Envying them who never learnt to hate the Day,
Nor knew the strange wrong loves we knew, nor found regret.
Yet shall I stand, defiant, glorying in my sin,
Though conquered, still unconquerable; only this,
What if my sullen gaze should see one entering in,
– One with the sorrowful lips I once had died to kiss
One with the fluttering eyelids and grey wistful eyes
The long chin dying in the neck’s pale loveliness,
The low voice heavy with a thousand nameless sighs,
And delicate pleading mouth that droops in weariness?
Ah! My strong pride, as once my heart, will break and die
Hungrily I shall watch till that sad face be gone
Then turn me, knowing at last my black foul misery,
And face the dreary night, remembering, alone.
During his stay in Italy, Brooke journeyed to Pisa and Florence, where he stayed with two of his cousins, Margaret and Reeve, enjoying both the noisy spectacle of a street carnival and the awe-inspiring magnificence of the galleries. He read Oscar Wilde’sDe Profundis, which Lucas had sent him, as requested; and he corresponded with, among others, his schoolfriend Geoffrey Keynes, to whom in a letter from the Villa dated 12 March 1905, he talked of the next school term:
[W]e shall pull the world to pieces again. You may think me impatient. But you see that is a thing one can only do while one is young, I take it. I have made an epigram on it. Before the age of twenty-five you pull the World to pieces: after twenty-five the World pulls you to pieces. And we are getting on for eighteen, you know!
Alfred left Rapallo first in order to get back to Rugby in time to start school, Rupert following in mid-March.
In March, before a planned holiday with his mother at Hastings, he went to stay with his two aunts in Bournemouth. Less than a century before, the area had been nothing but a desolateand remote stretch of heathland, with not one house, other than a few fishing huts standing within 3 miles of what was to become the centre of the town – in the words of Thomas Hardy, ‘not a sod having been turned there since the time of the Caesars’. Rupert Brooke’s grandfather, the Reverend Richard England Brooke, Rector of Bath, retired to Bournemouth in 1895, by which time there were some 60,000 inhabitants – an unrivalled growth rate for a British seaside resort. He took a house called Grantchester Dene at 41 Littledown Road, where he lived with his two unmarried daughters, Harriet Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Frances May (Fanny), until his death on 27 March 1900, after which the two sisters kept the house on. Rupert had first come to stay regularly at Grantchester Dene as a boy during the 1890s. It was here in 1896 that Rupert first discovered the poems of Robert Browning, which were to kindle his interest in the crafting of words.
From Grantchester Dene he wrote to Geoffrey Keynes, mockingly chastising him for some near-the-knuckle schoolboy remark that Keynes had written on the envelope of a letter to Rupert:
For other matters – I only admire your device for proving so unconventional, but really you know! This is to say I am staying with two faded but religious aunts. They happened to be in when the post came and one of them, chancing on your letter, received quite a severe shock … it’s not as if she were young either … you really must be careful! … I haven’t as you may surmise much to do here. However, it is I think, less like hell than Italy is. Hell is a place where there are no English books!
He moved on to Southsea, some 40 or so miles east, where he wrote to local Rugby dramatist and contributor toPunch, ArthurEckersley, ‘The sun is about to undergo a partial eclipse on Wednesday, which appeals to my symbolic soul so much that I am thinking of writing a sonnet about it!’ He continued, ‘Fired by your example, I have begun a school novel,’ of which the letter includes a sample. Never completed, in fact barely started, it concluded: ‘Silence is older and more terrible than speech. Man speaks. God is silent. Sooner or later we shall all yield to silence…’
From Southsea Rupert joined his mother at the Palace Hotel in Hastings. The advent of the railways had afforded thousands of people the opportunity to get away from the industrial atmosphere of the towns and cities, and Hastings was an increasingly popular seaside resort. Some came to take the air, others came to live, resulting in its population rising from 3,175 in 1801 to almost 70,000 at the time of the Brookes’ stay more than 100 years later. The Palace Hotel was an imposing building just east of the pier, which had been constructed in two stages during the 1880s and 1890s, the façade displaying all the wrought-iron intricacy and architectural opulence of the late Victorian period. Rupert had sent his mother a note prior to his arrival, describing his hirsute appearance: ‘I haven’t had my hair cut since the end of February, and it’s simply grand now!’ The assumed impending maternal wrath caused him to add, ‘But I shall have it cut today. I daren’t face you as I am.’ During his stay at the Palace he read works by the English writer Walter Pater who publishedMarius the Epicureanin 1885 andImaginary Portraitin 1887. Rupert also attempted to work on his projected poem, ‘The Bastille’. He recounted his lack of motivation in a letter to St John Lucas: ‘so far without producing a line. It is a most distressing task to have to write about a subject which neither interests nor inspires you. It lies heavily upon one like a nightmare.’
From the Palace Hotel Brooke also wrote to Geoffrey Keynes on 14 April, complaining in mock horror and drama:
The only tolerable things in Hastings are dinners at this Hotel. They are noble. I had some soup tonight that was tremulous with the tenseness of suppressed passion, and the entrees were odorous with the pale mystery of starlight … I write after dinner, by the way. The real reason of this absurd epistle is this – I wish to warn you. Be prepared. It is this … I am writing a Book. There will only be one copy. It will be inscribed in crimson ink on green paper. It will consist of thirteen small poems; each as beautiful, as perfect, as meaningless as a rose petal, or a dew drop. (These are not written however.) When the book is prepared I shall read it once a day for seven days. Then I shall burn the book: and die.
On 15 April Rupert returned to Rugby to the upper bench of the sixth form. He was still slaving away on ‘The Bastille’, and continuing to complain to Lucas about his lack of inspiration. He sent him twelve lines of other spontaneous verse: ‘I have evolved twelve lines, which I enclose; but they are, I know, of a sort it is merely ridiculous for me to write.’
Only the slow rain falling
Sobs through the silence of this bitter place.
(And in my heart returns one pale lost face
And the old voice calling, calling…)
Only the grey dawn breaking
Makes visible the long despair of rain.
(And from weariness of sleep I turn again
To the weariness of waking…)
Only the dark wave crying
Mocks ever the loneliness of hearts that yearn.
(Till from the weariness of Life at last I turn
To the wariness of dying…)
His entry for the previous year’s poetry prize, ‘The Pyramids’, had received a special runner-up award; now in 1905, not withstanding his tardiness in completing ‘The Bastille’, he took the first prize, winning poetry books by Christina Rossetti and Browning. Mrs Brooke had both poems privately bound at Overs, a leading Rugby printer, little realising that later in the century these early verses of her schoolboy son would be so sought after that they would eventually fetch many thousands of pounds a copy.
Rupert’s world was mainly confined to Rugby and almost entirely male-dominated. The exception, apart from his mother and the two aunts, was his cousin, Erica Cotterill, who lived with her parents, her mother’s brother Clement and Maud his wife, at Coombe Field, Harrison Road, in Godalming, Surrey. Uncle Clem was a teacher, writer and socialist campaigner. Rupert and Erica corresponded regularly on a range of topics that invariably included their views on books and plays. He had written to her from Rugby School in May 1904, affecting a self-effacing and world-weary attitude to his prize-winning poem ‘The Pyramids’: ‘It’s no use askingmeabout that poem, I have nothing to do with it … As a matter of fact I’ve disowned it long ago. It was a failure – nay more, it was a tragedy.’ He also told her that he felt George Bernard Shaw’sCandidato be the greatest play in the world. Brooke would soon share Shaw’s political convictions and be heavily influenced by a book left by his bedside at Coombe Field.
In addition to Keynes, another school contemporary with whom he was to remain friends throughout his life was Hugh Russell-Smith. Writing later about their schooldays in an obituary for Brooke for the school magazineThe Meteor,in 1915, he said:
Rupert had an extraordinary vitality at school and afterwards, and it was a vitality that showed itself in a glorious enthusiasm and an almost boisterous sense of fun — qualities that are only loo rare in combination … I see Rupert singing at the very top of his voice, with a glorious disregard for tune, the evening hymn we used to have so often at Bigside Prayers … I see him tearing across the grass so as not to be late for Chapel. I generally think of him with a book.
Geoffrey Keynes observed,
Rupert, though a few months younger than I, was much wiser and more clever and he soon became the friend to whom I turned with complete confidence and admiration. I was at first unaware of the physical beauty for which he afterwards became so famous. He seemed somewhat overgrown, with cropped hair and rather bowed legs, which earned him the nickname ‘Bowles’ among his friends.
Speaking of himself, Brooke and Russell-Smith, Keynes also reflected,
We made up a cheerful trio, Brooke providing most of the entertainment with a flow of hilarious nonsense. Thus we climbed up the school in parallel until we found ourselves working in the same form, known as the Twenty, under a great classical scholar, Robert Whitelaw [Brooke’s godfather]. Brooke was at the top of the form and I was stationed firmly at the bottom.
Hugh Russell-Smith spent his summers at Watersgreen House, Watersgreen, Brockenhurst, in the New Forest, Hampshire, withhis parents, younger brother Denham and sister Elsie, and Brooke was a frequent visitor. He wrote to Hugh in September 1905, ‘I may see the fair Geoffrey before he has the happiness to be with you all at B’hurst … I shall probably disguise myself as Pimpo and visit you at B’hurst again…’ It was to prove one of the many parts of England with which he would fall in love and become a regular visitor. William Gilpin, in his bookRemarks on Forest Scenery, wrote in 1791 that, ‘Brockenhurst is a pleasant forest-village, lying in a bottom, adorned with lawns, groves and rivulets, and surrounded on the higher ground by vast woods. From the churchyard an expanded view opens over the whole.’ It was little changed by Edwardian times.
At the beginning of the Michaelmas term, Rupert wrote from ‘an abyss of loneliness and dreariness’ to Lucas, complaining of an ‘excess of Classics’ and of being ‘rather weary of football and work’. He enclosed a new poem, ‘Vanitas’, and posted him another a little later: ‘I send you a sonnet I have just made; which seems to me to have some nice lines but to be quite incomplete as a whole.’The Dawn
When on my night of life the Dawn shall break,
Scatt’ring the mists of dreams, the old sad gloom,
Before the terrible sunrise of the Tomb;
Shall I forget the dull memorial ache?
Shall not my tired heart, as a child, awake,
Filling the morn with music? nor retain
Aught of the sad notes of my former strain
But through that splendid day spring rise, and make
Beauty more beautiful, the dawn more fair?
Only – I fear me that I may not find
That brave smile that once lit my sunless air,
That bright swift eyes with purety there-behind,
Nor see the pale cloud of her tossing hair
Laugh and leap out along the desolate wind!
In between school, work and poetry, he borrowed an edition of Sir Thomas Malory’sMorte D’Arthurwith Aubrey Beardsley illustrations from the school’s Temple reading room, edited a Liberal election paper, ‘The Rugby Elector’, and played numerous football matches. On the back flyleaf on his copy of theCarminaof Horace, which he was translating, he scribbled a few lines on Rugby football.
Our captain’s a Scotsman, what more need we say,
And the foe sometimes collar him once, but no more;
If you wish the best forward in Rugby to pace
He is fat and short-sighted and honest of face.
Neither Watson nor Beck could stand up before Peter,
Then our Kaffir no half could be pluckier or neater.
Brooke also jotted down an alternative phrase to ‘what more need we say’: ‘loves a good fray’.
As no Scotsman captained the School XV at this time, it seems likely that in this poem Brooke was referring to the School Field XV, whose captain was the Scottish half-back William Burt-Marshall. The Watson and Beck mentioned were Charles Challinor Watson, who went on to captain the School XV, and Charles Arthur Beck, a South African, from the Cape of Good Hope, both from other houses. Although there was no mention of him by name in the poem, Brooke played alongside Ronald William Poulton, who went on to play rugby for England from 1909 to 1914. The schoolrugby report recorded that the 11st 2lbs centre three-quarter R. C. Brooke ‘tackles too high’.
His looks were beginning to create a stir:
A purple and terrific scandal has arisen around me … it began by Dean catching me one day and informing me that ‘a gentleman’ in another house had been trying to buy a photo of me … I secretly made enquiries and found it was one I knew of old – one with the form of a Greek God, the face of Hyacinthus, the mouth of Antinous, eyes like a sunset, a smile like dawn … it appears that the madman worships me at a pale distance…
Towards the end of March, Rupert, Hugh Russell-Smith and another schoolfriend developed an eye condition called opthalmia, which put paid to reading and writing for a couple of weeks. To save the strain on their eyes, they were read to, being treated to a new book by Hilaire Belloc. Geoffrey Keynes remembers it as beingHills and the Sea; as that particular book was not published until October of that year it is more likely that the book wasEsto Perpetua. Brooke was disappointed in it – ‘it is not Belloc. I still miss that grave and fantastic irresponsibility; it is a clever book which might have been written by any of several men; I wanted one that only one could have written.’ Rupert’s eyes had still not healed enough for him to accompany his cousin Erica to see the playHippolytus, so he resorted to developing the flirtation with his admirer at Rugby. ‘How much I am in earnest – or how much he is – I can’t really say. But it is spring.’ The relationship appeared to be carried out solely by letter.
I usually address him as Hyacinth, Apollo or Antinous, and end with a quotation from Swinburne or Catullus. I bring in odorous and jewelled phrases ‘The Greek gods lived that you mightbe likened to them: the world was created that you might be made of gold and ivory’ … it is all rather sweet and rather unusual; and he really looks very nice.
Notwithstanding this schoolboy nonsense, Brooke also had a very masculine side, throwing himself enthusiastically into the discipline of the school cadet corps, where he rose swiftly to colour sergeant before being promoted to second lieutenant.
During the April school break, the Brookes repaired to Venice for a short holiday, following which Rupert went to spend a few days with his older brother Richard, who was now working for a firm in Southsea, Hampshire.
On May 1906 Rupert wrote from School Field to Geoffrey Keynes, who had left Rugby the previous year:
The Summer Term has dawned. It is my last and I weep. The same fantastic things happen, there is that strange throng of young beings, unconscious of all their youth and wonder. Another spring dies odorously in summer … but I am quite happy. To be here is wonderful and suffices. I live in a mist of golden dreams. Afterwards life will come, cold and terrible. At present I am a child.
His overwhelming sadness at the realisation that these were his final days as a pupil al School Field came pouring out in words, powerfully demonstrating his feelings in the closing lines of a letter to Keynes dated 22 June: ‘That gay witch, the summer, who charmed me three weeks ago! I have looked into her face and seen behind the rouge and the smile, the old, mocking visage of a harlot.’
During the height of his final golden summer at School Field Rupert was moved to write a poem that was eventually publishedas ‘English Minnesong’ in theWestminster Gazetteon 16 February 1907 and later as ‘The Beginning’ inPoems 1911.The Beginning
Some day I shall rise and leave my friends
And seek you again through the world’s far ends,
You whom I found so fair,
(Touch of your hands and smell of your hair!),
My only God in the days that were.
My eager feet will find you again,
Though the ugly years and the mark of pain
Have changed you wholly; for I shall know
(How could I forget having loved you so?),
In the sad half-light of evening,
The face that was all my sunrising.
So then at the ends of the earth I’ll stand
And hold you fiercely by either hand,
And seeing your age and ashen hair
I’ll curse the thing that once you were,
Because it is changed and pale and old
(Lips that were scarlet, hair that was gold!),
And I loved you before you were old and wise,
When the flame of youth was strong in your eyes,
– And my heart is sick with memories.
Rupert was never again to find the security afforded him by Rugby School, except perhaps many years later as an officer in the Royal Naval Battalion, when once again he belonged to a unit of young men with whom he had a unique bond and sense of purpose. Brookewas moulded by the school made great by its former headmaster Thomas Arnold. Thomas Hughes, the author ofTom Brown’s Schooldays, who had been a pupil there some years before Brooke, noted: ‘The mark by which you may know them is, their genial and hearty freshness and youthfulness of character.’ So enamoured was Hughes of Arnold’s ‘New Jerusalem’ that in 1880 he founded the township of Rugby in Morgan County, Tennessee.
Two months before he was to go up to King’s College, Cambridge, Rupert was drawn back to the Russell-Smith household in the New Forest. His obvious enjoyment of staying at Watersgreen House was displayed in a thank-you letter to Mrs Russell-Smith in August 1906:
Dear Mrs Russell-Smith
I can truthfully say that I never enjoyed a visit more in my life (with the possible exception of one to my aunt when I was nine, and discovered there for the first time Browning’s poems). I never was in a home where everyone was so affectionate to one another and the world at large. It made me very envious. I now understand the secret of Hugh and Denham’s unfailing cheerfulness during the term – a constant enigma. I was vastly sorry to go; I should like to have stayed five months. As it was, I was almost sociable for ten days – a rare thing for me. Many thanks for tolerating me so long. I shall soon write to one of the boys. I loved it all – even the excessive physical exercise in a way – and especially one of the hammocks – the one further from the house. Please give my love to it – a delightful hammock!
In October, with his new life at Cambridge about to begin, Rupert was again at Bournemouth, from where he wrote to Geoffrey Keynes,‘I have been in this quiet place of invalids and gentlemanly sunsets for about a hundred years, ever since yesterday week.’ St John Lucas was also treated to vivid descriptions from Brooke’s over-imaginative scribblings during the same visit:
Your eyeless letter found me in this strange place, which is full of moaning pines and impressionist but quite gentlemanly sunsets. With other decrepit and grey-haired invalids I drift wanly along the cliffs … Meanwhile I linger here and read Sordello and Baudelaire alternately and the weather is very fine … I am very busy with an enormous romance of which I have written five chapters. It is really a mediaeval paraphrase of the Marble Sphinx.
It is clear that Brooke was apprehensive about leaving Rugby for Cambridge, covering his fears with an assumed equanimity: ‘I have seen everything there is to see and my eyes are tired.’
Chapter 2King's Herald
BEFORE OCTOBER1906 was out, Brooke was living away from home for the first time as an undergraduate of King's College, at Cambridge University. The King's College of St Nicholas in Cambridge was established by Henry VI in 1440, the monarch giving thanks âto the honour of Almighty God, in whose hand are the hearts of Kings; of the most blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary Mother of Christ, and also of the glorious Confessor and Bishop Nicholas, Patron of my intended college, on whose festival we first saw the light'. In imitation of William Wykeham (founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford), the King immediately closely connected hiscollege with the King's College of Blessed Mary of Eton beside Windsor. The King's Chapel is a breathtakingly unique piece of architecture, surrounded by later work from eminent architects such as William Wilkins, Sir Gilbert Scott and Sir George Boldy. Until 1857, just half a century too early for Rupert, King's College students had the right to claim degrees without examination. He became one of some fifty freshmen to join the 100 or so established King's men, and was allotted Room 14 (actually two rooms) at the top of staircase A, in Fellows' Buildings, almost in the far corner of the front court â rooms that had been occupied by the artist Aubrey Beardsley some seventeen years before. Rupert had once written to his cousin Erica, while still at school, suggesting that she acquired and absorb âone third of Swinburne, all Oscar Wilde, and the drawings of Beardsley'.
Brooke had won a scholarship to King's, where his uncle Alan Brooke was Dean of the college, as his father had done before him. As with Rupert's schooldays under his father, no favours were asked for, nor expected, except that an arrangement was reached that he would call on his uncle for tea on Saturday afternoons. At an initial, more formal meeting with the Dean he met and became friendly with Hugh Dalton, later to become Chancellor of the Exchequer under Prime Minister Clement Attlee in the mid-1940s. Discovering that they had much in common, Brooke and Dalton, the son of a canon of Windsor, agreed to form a society where they could discuss such mutual interests as poetry, politics and any other subjects that took their fancy, deciding on the name âCarbonari' (the charcoal burners) after the nineteenth-century Italian revolutionaries.
Brooke also fraternised with old Rugbeians who had gone up to Cambridge, Hugh Russell-Smith, Geoffrey Keynes and Andrew Gow, and found (as he had in St John Lucas at Rugby) anotherliterary mentor, in the 42-year-old university librarian Charles Sayle, known as âAunt Snayle'. Brooke was later to write in his diary on 22 February 1908: âI do not know in what language to moderate my appreciation of this great man â¦ great in his ideals, great in his imagination, great in his charm.'
Other Cambridge men with whom Rupert became close friends were Justin Brooke, who had come up to Emmanuel in 1904 and was a leading light in the university's dramatic circle, and Jacques Raverat, a Frenchman from Prunoy who had arrived at Cambridge from university at the Sorbonne, Paris, having previously been at Bedales School with Justin. Raverat had this to say of Rupert:
[T]he forehead was very high and very pure, the chin and lips admirably moulded; the eyes were small, grey-blue and already veiled, mysterious and secret. His hair was too long, the colour of tarnished gold and parted in the middle; it kept falling in his face and he threw it back with a movement of his head.
During his first year at King's, Rupert took time to glance over his shoulder at the past: âI have been happier at Rugby than I can find words to say. As I looked back at five years I seemed to see almost every hour golden and radiant, and always increasing in beauty as I grew more conscious and I could not and cannot hope for, as even quite imagine, such happiness elsewhere.' The man later to become another literary mentor, Edward Marsh, a high-ranking civil servant and former Cambridge graduate who was to fly the flag for Brooke's poetry and would bring him together with many other leading poets, was to say of Brooke's time at School Field, âHe loved the house and garden, especially his own particular long grass-path, where he used to walk up anddown reading.' Brooke showed misgivings about leaving Rugby for King's: âI shall live in Cambridge very silently, in a dark corner of a great room â¦ I shall never speak, but I shall read all day and night â philosophy or science â nothing beautiful any more.'
Once at Cambridge, he soon began to orchestrate a suitable image. To Keynes he confided:
I shall be rather witty and rather clever and I shall spend my time pretending to admire what I think is humorous or impressive in me to admire. Even more than yourself I attempt to be âall things to all men', rather cultured among the cultured, faintly athletic among athletes, a little blasphemous among blasphemers, slightly insincere to myself.
Although Rupert made no great claims to be an actor, his looks and charisma drew him to the attention of the university dramatic societies. Via Justin Brooke, and fourth-year King's man A. E. Scholfield, Rupert landed the non-speaking role of the Herald inThe Eumenides,which was being produced by the Greek play committee. It was in this production that he first made an impression on Eddie Marsh, who was in the audience. Following his triumph inThe Eumenides, Brooke became a college pin-up. Winston Churchill's cousin Sir Shane Leslie later wrote in an article forTatlerabout him:
[H]e suffered unusually from love-hysteria due in turn to several maidens who could be called advanced rather than advancing â¦ Cambridge ladies were already reasonably advanced, chiefly because of the unchivalrous rags that broke out among the undergraduates at any sign of giving them degrees after they had endured the toil of examinations! Thetype of ladies whom advanced on clever men were just as clever themselves, and as advanced religiously. These seemed to fall about Brooke or rather he fell about their feet.
This side of him was shielded from his mother, to whom he wrote from King's of other matters: âI am going to see the South Africans, if they play, tomorrow. As it has been raining for a week they will probably have a wet ball and be handicapped considerably, but I suppose we shan't beat them. I have an atrocious but cheap seat right behind the goal-posts.' This was the Springboks' first ever visit to the British Isles, rugby having been introduced there just thirty years earlier. He also informed her about his new neighbour Oscar Browning, the historian and fellow of King's already in his seventieth year, who had rooms just opposite Rupert's: âI went to lunch with the “OB” on Sunday. He was rather quaint to watch but I did not much like him. He was so very egotistical, and a little dull.' If James Strachey had similar views, they didn't appear to deter him from being sexually submissive to Browning, who would have sexual intercourse with him, accompanied by a string quartet of elderly ladies, secreted behind a curtain!
In January 1907, Rupert was ill in bed at Rugby with a bout of influenza which had hit the family; his mother and elder brother Richard were also down with it. He described his ailments in letters to Geoffrey Keynes and Erica Cotterill, writing to the latter enclosing a new poem that he had just written: âTo make up for all this bosh, I shall copy out for you the wonderfullest sonnet of the century. But if you show it to respectable people they'll kill you.' Some four and a half years after his original handwritten verses were secretly read by Erica, they were published inPoems 1911as âThe Vision of Archangels' and would sit on the bookshelves of the ârespectable people' he once feared might blanche at them.The Vision of Archangels
Slowly up silent peaks, the white edge of the world,
Trod four archangels, clear against the unheeding sky,
Bearing, with quiet even steps, and great wings furled,
A little dingy coffin; where a child must lie,
It was so tiny. (Yet you fancied, God could never
Have bidden a child turn from the spring and the sunlight,
And shut him in that lonely shell, to drop for ever
Into the emptiness and silence, into the nightâ¦)
They then from the sheer summit cast, and watch it fall,
Through unknown glooms, that frail black coffin â and therein
God's little pitiful Body lying, worn and thin,
And curled up like some crumpled, lonely flower-petal â
Till it was no more visible; then turned again
With sorrowful quiet faces downward to the plain.
On Sunday 13 January, Richard died of pneumonia, with his father Parker Brooke by his side. The family was devastated and Rupert was feeling âterribly despondent and sad â¦ there is an instinct to hide in sorrow, and at Cambridge where I know nowhere properly I can be alone'. He also felt that his father was âtired and broken by it'. He offered to stay at School Field for a while, but his parents felt they could cope. Rupert went back to Cambridge and very gradually life began to return to normal.
As Brooke became increasingly involved with student life, he began to contribute poems and reviews to theCambridge Review,as well as playing Stingo in the Amateur Dramatic Club's (ADC) production of Oliver Goldsmith's sentimental comedy,She Stoops to Conquer.His first poem to be printed while at King's was âThe Call', in February 1907.The Call
Out of the nothingness of sleep,
The slow dreams of Eternity,
There was a thunder on the deep:
I came, because you called me.
I broke the Night's primeval bars,
I dared the old abysmal curse,
And flashed through ranks of frightened stars
Suddenly on the universe!
The eternal silences were broken;
Hell became Heaven as I passed â
What shall I give you as a token,
A sign that we have met, at last?
I'll break and forge the stars anew,
Shatter the heavens with a song;
Immortal in my love for you,
Because I love you, very strong.
Your mouth shall mock the old and wise,
Your laugh shall fill the world with flame,
I'll write upon the shrinking skies
The scarlet splendour of your name.
Till Heaven cracks, and Hell thereunder
Dies in her ultimate mad fire,
And darkness falls, with scornful thunder,
On dreams of men and men's desire.
Then only in the empty spaces,
Death, walking very silently,
Shall fear the glory of our faces
Through all the dark infinity.
So, clothed about with perfect love,
The eternal end shall find us one,
Alone above the Night, above
The dust of the dead gods, alone.
Having found his feet and many new friends, and established his popularity, the Brooke of 1907 was a quantum leap from the freshman of 1906 who had written to St John Lucas on his arrival, âthis place is rather funny to watch; and a little wearying. It is full of very young people, and my blear eyes look dolefully at them from the lofty window where I sit and moan â¦ my room is a gaunt yellow wilderness.'
On top of Rupert's dramatic commitment and studies, he was writing poetry and reviewing it. He confessed to St John Lucas, âin my “literary life” I have taken the last step of infamy and become â a reviewer! I have undertaken to “do” great slabs of minor poetry for theCambridge Reviewâ¦ Cambridge is terrible, slushy and full of un-Whistlerian mists.'
Rupert's increasing enthusiasm for exploring England took him along the South Downs of Sussex through the sleepy villages of Amberley, Arundel, Duncton and Petworth and along the River Arun in a walking tour with Hugh Russell-Smith, which he picturesquely embellished in a letter to St John Lucas: â[W]e slew a million dragons and wandered on unknown hills. We met many knights and I made indelicate songs about them.' This was the heart of Hilaire Belloc country: Belloc had started many of hisown walking tours from his house, Kings Land at Shipley. It must have crossed Brooke's mind to call unsolicited; even though he did not, the two were to meet within a couple of months. The marathon ramble ended at the Green Dragon, Market Lavington, over the Easter weekend of 1907, during which time Rupert was proclaiming himself, through Hugh Dalton's influence, a committed Fabian and was allegedly trying to write Fabian hymns, although one suspects they were more fancy than fact, as Rupert had little musical talent. For one who was so taken with the image and character of Belloc â who would write many songs while walking the downs and the Arun Valley, through which Brooke had just travelled â if he were trying to compose, it would undoubtedly be in Belloc style. Possibly something in the vein of Belloc's âOn Sussex Hills'.On Sussex Hills
On Sussex hills where I was bred,
When lanes in Autumn rains are red,
When Arun tumbles in his bed,
And busy great gusts go by;
When branch is bare in Burton Glen
And Bury Hill is a-whitening, then,
I drink strong ale with gentlemenâ¦
Brooke and Belloc eventually met at King's in the spring of 1907:
[L]ast night I went to a private small society in Pembroke where Hilaire Belloc came and read a paper and talked anddrank beer â all in great measure. He was vastly entertaining. Afterwards Gow [Andrew Gow, who had been at Rugby with Rupert, and was now at Trinity] and I walked home with him about a mile. He was wonderfully drunk and talked all the way â¦ you can tell Ma if you see her; but for God's sake don't say he was drunk, or she'll never read him again.
During May, Brooke played many games for King's Cricket XI, under the captaincy of H. F. P. Hearson, returning bowling figures of three wickets for sixteen runs against Queen's on 16 May, one of thirteen matches played during a four-week period. The following month the King's College magazineBasileonprinted three of Brooke's poems: âDawn', âThe Wayfarers' and âMy Song'.My Song
They are unworthy, these sad whining moods.
Shall I not make of Love some glorious thing? â
A song â and shout it through the dripping woods,
Till all the woods shall burgeon into Spring?
Because I've a mad longing for your eyes,
And once our eager lips met wonderfully,
Men shall find new delight in morning skies,
And all the stars will dance more merrily.
Yes, in the wonder of the last day-break,
God's Mother, on the threshold of His house,
Shall welcome in your white and perfect soul,
Kissing your brown hair softly for my sake;
And God's own hand will lay, as aureole,
My song, a flame of scarlet, on your brows.
At the beginning of June, while knee-deep in exams and late nights, Brooke was informed by the Chapel Clerk that he had to read in chapel every morning that week, at the un-student-like hour of 8.00 a.m. However, a respite from duties came in the shape of the summer vacation, which ran from June to October. Chapel, drama, studies and his new life were put on hold while he went to stay at Grantchester Dene in Bournemouth, with his aunts Lizzy and Fanny. The latter was at one time the honorary secretary of the Church Missionary Society for the parish, and insisted on Rupert accompanying her and her sister to the local Holy Trinity Church when he stayed with them. While at his aunts' house, he pored over maps to find somewhere suitable to go off to with friends for a few days, and was captivated by the name of the Mupe Rocks near Lulworth Cove, Dorset. Later that month he wrote to his old schoolfriend Hugh Russell-Smith, âYou know I always like to keep youau fait(as our Gallic neighbours would have it) with my latest literary activity. Thiscame to meas I was sitting by the sea the other day I don't know what it was â perhaps it was the rhythm of the waves. But I feltI must sing. So I sang:
I love a scrabbly epithet
The sort you can't ever forget,
That blooms, a lonely violet
In the eleventh line of a sonnet.
I know one such; I'm proud to know him.
I'll put him in my next GREAT POIM.
He plays the psack-butt very well:
And his Aunt was a Polysyllable.
The night is purple with a weariness older than the stars;
And there is a sound of eventual tears.
A week or two later Brooke dashed off a few flippant lines of verse to Andrew Gow:
Things are a brute,
And I am sad and sick;
Oh! You are a Spondee in the Fourth Foot
And I am a final cretic
(I hope the technical terms are right.)
Things are beasts:
Alas! and Alack!
If life is a succession of Choreic Anapaests,
When, O When shall we arrive at the Paroemiac?
Later in June, he described the atmosphere at Grantchester Dene to St John Lucas:
Here in the south it is hot. In the mornings I bathe, in the afternoons lie out in a hammock among the rose-beds and watch them [his aunts] playing croquet (pronounced krÃ¶ky) â¦ My evangelical aunts always talk at meals like people in Ibsen. They make vast symbolic remarks about Doors and Houses and Food. My one aim is to keep the conversations on Foreign Missions, lest I scream suddenly. At lunch no one spoke for ten minutes! Then the First Aunt said, âThe Sea? â¦ The Sea! â¦' And an Old Lady Visitor replied, âAh!'
The intriguingly named Mupe Rocks hadn't been forgotten. It transpired that they were at Bacon Hole, a little east of Lulworth Cove. Rupert informed Hugh Russell-Smith, who was to holiday with him,
Mrs Chaffey, of the Post Office, West Lulworth, thanks me for my card and will reserve rooms âas agreeded'. (She thinks my name is Brooks, and therefore she is P. P. [puce Pig]. She is no Woman of Business, for she doesn't say what is agreeded (Doric for agreeded) and I don't know â¦ The effort of conducting a correspondence in the Arcadian variety of the Doric dialect, with Mrs Chaffey, P. P. is exhausting.
Unbeknown to Rupert, Emily Jane Chaffey was barely able to read or write, so her communications with him about the holiday arrangements were, in the light of that knowledge, highly commendable. She had been so illiterate at the time of her wedding to Henry J. Chaffey that she had signed her marriage certificate with a cross.
Rupert and Russell-Smith were joined there by a new friend who was also studying at Cambridge, Dudley Ward. In his excitement Brooke exclaimed to a friend: âIn a week I'm going to the most beautiful place in England, Lulworth Cove.' Brooke, of course, wasn't the first wordsmith to wax lyrical about the village of West Lulworth. John Leland, the earliest chronicler of Lulworth and chaplain, librarian and antiquary to Henry VIII, wrote:
I saw the shore
A little fisher town
Sumtyme longgings to the Newborows
Now to Poynings
Wher a gut or crek
Out it the se into the land
And is a socour for small shippes
The area is one of natural beauty; the rocks which form the cove,Stair Hole, and the surrounding coastline are over 150 million years old, fossils having been found there that predate the evolution of reptiles and birds. To the east is the Isle of Purbeck, a spectacular ridge of chalk hills that were once continuous with the Isle of Wight, while to the west are rugged cliffs, including Durdle Door, the more inaccessible crags providing ideal nesting grounds for puffins and guillemots. Not surprisingly, the natural beauty and idyllic charm of Lulworth has attracted its fair share of artists and writers, including John O'Keefe, who stayed at the Red Lion, now Churchfield House, for six weeks in 1791, Sir John Everett Millais, who is reputed to have painted hisDeparture of the Romans from Britainat Oswald's Wall, and John Keats, who is believed to have written his sonnet âBright Star' while berthed in the cove. Thomas Hardy, who lived at Bockhampton and Dorchester from 1890 to 1928, used a thinly disguised Lulworth in several of his novels; Bertrand Russell often stayed at Newlands Farm between 1916 and 1934; and actor Laurence Olivier would spend his first honeymoon there at a house called Weston. Brooke was yet to meet and fall in love with Olivier's cousin, Noel.
On 21 July 1907 Rupert wrote to his mother from the Chaffeys' post office at Albion Villas, West Lulworth:
Sometimes we go in a boat in the Cove, or outside, for exercise, and sometimes walk on the downs or ramble about the cliffs and rocks. This last pastime is extremely destructive to shoes. Where we are is really Lulworth Cove, West Lulworth being half a mile further up from the sea, East Lulworth 3 miles to the NE â¦ The sea is always different colours, and sometimes there are good sunsets â¦ The lodgings are quite nice but rather free and easy!
The lines written to his mother differ wildly from the contents ofa letter the same day to Geoffrey Keynes, written with deliberate affectation:
Lulworth is a tiresomely backward and old-fashioned place. There are no promenades, nor lifts, nor piers, nor a band; only downs and rocks and green waters; and we sit and bathe and read dead and decaying languages. Very dull â¦ on Tuesday we sat on seagirt rocks and read J. Keats. When I leapt from rock to rock J. K. fell from pocket into swirling flood beneath; and, ere aught could be done, was borne from reach on swift current. We rushed to the harbour, chartered a boat, and rowed frantically along the rocky coast in search of it. The sea was â. At length we spied it close in, by treacherous rocks â in a boat we could not get to it alive. We beached our barque (at vast risk) half a mile down the coast and leapt lightly over vast boulders to the spot â¦ I cast off my garb, and plunged wholly naked into that âfury of black waters and white foam' â Enough. J. K. was rescued, in a damaged condition.
Four years later he discovered that Lulworth was the last place in England that Keats had been to, before going to Italy. Brooke's stay at Lulworth inspired five untitled verses, which feel as if they should be sung. Again one feels the influence of Belloc creeping in.
Oh give our love to Lulworth Cove
And Lulworth Cliffs and sea
Oh! Lulworth Down! Oh! Lulworth Down!
(The name appeals to me)
If we were with you today in Lulworth
How happy we should be!
The Lulworth Downs are large and high
And honourable things
There we should lie (old Hugh and I!)
On the tombs of the old sea kings;
If you lie up there, with your face on the grass
You can hear their whisperings
And each will sigh for the good day light
And for all his ancient bliss
Red wine, and the fight, song by night
Are the things they chiefly miss
And one, I know (for he told me so)
Is sick for a dead lad's kiss
Ah! they're fair to be back or many things
But mainly (they whisper) these;
England and April (the poor dead kings!)
And the purple touch of the trees
And the women of England, and English springs
And the scent of English seas
But a lad like you, what has he to do
With the dead, be they living or dead
And their whims and tears for what can't be theirs?
Live you in their silly stead
With a smile and a song for the live and strong
And a sigh for the poor old dead
Verses VI to LX
On 8 July he wrote âPine Trees and the Sky: Evening', while at Lulworth.Pine Trees and the Sky: Evening
I'd watched the sorrow of the evening sky,
And smelt the sea, and earth, and the warm clover,
And heard the waves, and the seagull's mocking cry.
And in them all was only the old cry,
That song they always sing â âThe best is over!
You may remember now, and think, and sigh,
O silly lover!'
And I was tired and sick that all was over,
And because I,
For all my thinking, never could recover
One moment of the good hours that were over.
And I was sorry and sick, and wished to die.
Then from the sad west turning wearily,
I saw the pines against the white north sky,
Very beautiful, and still, and bending over,
Their sharp black heads against a quiet sky.
And there was peace in them; and I
Was happy, and forgot to play the lover,
And laughed, and did no longer wish to die;
Being glad of you, O pine-trees and the sky!
After Lulworth, Rupert headed up to the Russell-Smiths at Brockenhurst, writing from there to St John Lucas, on 4 August. He again affected a different stance and writing style, attempting to convey a world-weariness beyond his years. He clearly adored the Russell-Smiths, but wrote with obvious exaggeration and suitable embellishment:
Now I am staying with this foolish family again till about next Saturday. They are delightful, and exactly as they were last year â¦ A few days ago they found I was exactly twenty; and congratulated me on my birthday, giving me a birthday cake, and such things. I hated them, and lost my temper. I am now in the depths of despondency because of my age. I am filled with a hysterical despair to think of fifty dull years more. I hate myself and everyone. I have written almost no verse for ages; I shall never write any more â¦ The rest are coming back from church. They want to tell me what the sermon was about.
Rupert was spared the fifty dull years, as within eight, he, Hugh and Hugh's brother Denham, would all be dead, and Brockenhurst church where the Russell-Smiths worshipped would fill rapidly with First World War graves. For now, though, no shadow cast itself over the exuberant years of youth, where the summers seemed longer than the winters, and the countryside was there for the taking.
His travels around the south of England during the summer of 1907 included a stay with the Cotterills at Godalming. In his bedroom there he found a copy of William Morris's Utopian classic,News From Nowhere or an Epoch of Rest, a book which he had never read, but which had been on his list to track down ever since fellow student Ben Keeling had told him that a poster in his rooms at Cambridge had been inspired by it. The poster depicted a workerwith clenched fist and the legend, âForward the Day is Breaking'. Morris's book and the piece of vivid artwork and slogan were to inspire Brooke to write in 1908 his only socialist poem, âSecond Best'.
Here in the dark, O heart;
Alone with the enduring Earth, and Night,
And Silence, and the warm strange smell of clover;
Clear-visioned, though it break you; far apart
From the dead best, the dear and old delight;
Throw down your dreams of immortality,
O faithful, O foolish lover!
Here's peace for you, and surety; here the one
Wisdom â the truth â âAll day the good glad sun
Showers love and labour on you, wine and song;
The greenwood laughs, the wind blows, all day long
Till night.' And night ends all things.
Then shall be
No lamp relumed in heaven, no voices crying,
Or changing lights, or dreams and forms that hover!
(And, heart, for all your sighing,
That gladness and those tears are over, overâ¦)
And has the truth brought no new hope at all,
Heart, that you're weeping yet for Paradise?
Do they still whisper, the old weary cries?
â'Mid youth and song, feasting and carnival,
Through laughter, through the roses, as of old
Comes Death, on shadowy and relentless feet,
Death, unappeasable by prayer or gold;
Death is the end, the end!'
Proud, then, clear-eyed and laughing, go to greet
Death as a friend!
Exile of immortality, strongly wise,
Strain through the dark with undesirous eyes
To what may lie beyond it. Sets your star,
O heart, for ever! Yet, behind the night,
Waits for the great unborn, somewhere afar,
Some white tremendous daybreak. And the light,
Returning, shall give back the golden hours,
Ocean a windless level, Earth a lawn
Spacious and full of sunlit dancing-places,
And laughter, and music, and, among the flowers,
The gay child-hearts of men, and the child-faces,
O heart, in the great dawn!
Of William Morris's book he said, âI foundNews From Nowherein my room and read it on and on all through the night till I don't know what time! And ever since I've been a devoted admirer of Morris and a socialist, and all sorts of things!' Rupert was allowed to keep his uncle's copy. Although the Utopian ideas it embraced were delightfully idealistic, he wholeheartedly embraced Morris's socialist ideology in his day-to-day life.
Chapter 3Apostle or Apollo?
RUPERT’S RETURN TOKing’s in the autumn of 1907 saw his pen in vitriolic mood towards the university town: ‘Cambridge is less tolerable than ever’; ‘I pine to be out of Cambridge, which I loathe’, ‘Cambridge is a bog’, ‘in Cambridge the hard streets are paven with brass and glass and tired wounded feet of pilgrims flutter aimlessly upon them’. In a letter to his cousin Erica he was also disparaging about George Bernard Shaw: ‘[I]t was the same speech as he made the night before in London and the night after, somewhere. Mostly about the formation of a “middle-class party” in Parliament: which didn’t interest me much.’
As well as being a member of the Carbonari and acting in theADC, Brooke became a co-founder of the Marlowe Society, formed with the object of staging Elizabethan plays. By October, the finishing touches were being put to their debut production, Marlowe’sTragical History of Doctor Faustus, due to be performed on Monday 11 November, and Tuesday 12 November. Rupert was not only playing the part of Mephistopheles but had agreed to take on the role of President of the Society. Among the first-night audience were Prince Leopold of Belgium, the former Cambridge don E. J. Dent, and Rupert’s mother. Hugh Russell-Smith played one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Gluttony; Geoffrey Keynes, the Evil Angel; Justin Brooke, Doctor Faustus; W. Denis Browne, Rugby’s star music pupil, Lucifer; and George Mallory, who was later to lose his life on Everest, the Pope. The chorus was directed by Clive Carey, of Clare College.
Later that month, Brooke was elected to the Fabian Society, as an associate member. As such he had not as yet signed the Basis (a commitment to the party), but his interest in politics was increasing. His Uncle Clem, an advanced socialist, had just publishedHuman Justice for Those at the Bottom; An Appeal to Those at the Top, prompting Brooke to write to him, while staying with his aunts in Bournemouth, with the news that socialism was making great advances at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. He had read his uncle’s book and wondered whether ‘this Commercialism or Competition or whatever the filthy infection is, hasn’t spread almost too far, and that the best hope isn’t in some kind of upheaval’. Despite being
an Associate (not an actual member) of the Cambridge Fabian Society I have lately been coming across a good many Socialists, both at the University and without, as well as unattached sympathisers like Lowes Dickinson. I wish I could get more of these, especially among the Fabians, to accept your definition of Socialism. Most of them, I fear, would define it as ‘EconomicEquality’ or the ‘Nationalisation of Land and Food Production’, or some such thing.
The one Society that was decidedly ambivalent about Brooke was the Apostles. Founded in 1820 by a group of friends dedicated to working out a philosophy for life, its hierarchy would mark out suitable young men, undergraduates mainly from Trinity and King’s, to swell its ranks by two or three a year – if that. The Society was intimate, secretive and often predominantly homosexual. ‘Born’ into the inner circle at various times before Brooke’s day were: Bertrand Russell, Eddie Marsh, Maynard Keynes, G. E. Moore, Leonard Woolf, Oscar Browning, Clive Bell, Saxon Sydney-Turner and Lytton Strachey. James Strachey had suggested Rupert to Lytton as a possible candidate, before Brooke even came up. The Society meetings, invariably on Saturday evenings, were often graced by the occasional appearance of an ‘angel’ or retired Apostle, but it was Lytton and Maynard Keynes who were the main deliberators in the decision as to whether to enlist Brooke. Lytton felt that Rupert’s influences at Rugby – Arthur Eckersley and St John Lucas – had not helped his literary style, expression or quality of thought, and the idea that the young Rugbeian had not read the novels of the celebrated American writer Henry James was too abhorrent to Strachey for him to further consider the application.
It was at this time that Lytton, who had met Brooke briefly, dubbed him ‘Sarawak’, as there was some talk of his family being related to James Brooke, the British administrator who became the ‘White Rajah of Sarawak’. This led to Brooke referring to his mother as ‘The Ranee’, a nickname that he was to use for the rest of his life.
By 30 October 1907, Maynard Keynes, too, was still undecided about electing Rupert to the Apostles. Of the others who were in on the discussion, Harry Norton didn’t really know Brooke, although he’d met him briefly, Jack Sheppard was faintly opposed, while James Strachey was enthusiastic. Maynard wrote to Lytton: ‘I’m damned if I know what to say. James’s judgements on the subject are very nearly worthless; he is quite crazy. I have been to see R. again. He is all right I suppose and quite affable enough – but yet I feel little enthusiasm.’ During November, Rupert went to Oxford with the Fabians, for a debate at the university. Despite referring to his own party as ‘an indecorous, aesthetical, obscene set of ruffians’, Brooke was elected by a large majority to the committee. He was also elected, in January 1908, to the Apostles. He was the first new member for two years, and membership meant membership for life, to a fraternity that hermetically sealed itself from outside forces. This led to, or was often because of, the insecurities of many of its members – brilliant intellectuals, who were often awkward in day-to-day situations or with ordinary people. For some, membership of the Apostles became a way of life; for Rupert there was a wider world waiting.
Strachey, as well as being an Apostle, was also a member of the Bloomsbury group, a circle of friends who’d begun meeting a couple of years previously at the Bloomsbury home of Virginia and Vanessa Stephen. The arts-orientated coterie would include among others Strachey, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Saxon Sydney-Turner, Roger Fry and Leonard Woolf, several of whom would figure in Brooke’s life, although he would never be a member of their circle.
During the Christmas break, he went with friends on a skiing holiday in Andermatt, staying at Danioth’s Grand Hotel; while there they rehearsed and performed Oscar Wilde’sThe Importance of Being Earnest.Then he went back to the grind of exams and his continued disenchantment with living in Cambridge. His apparent despondency continued into 1908: a letter to St John Lucas ended with the gripe, ‘I pine to be out of Cambridge which I loathe’, and to Jacques Raverat he wrote:
[I]t is not from the Real England that I write. It is from the Hinder Parts. The faeces or crassamentum or dregs, the Eastern counties; a low swamp; a confluence of mist and mire; a gathering-place of darkness and mud and fever; where men’s minds rot in the mirk like a leper’s flesh and their bodies grow white and soft and malodorous and suppurating and fungoid and so melt in slime.
These exaggerated lines, intended to amuse or create a dramatic air for his friend to marvel at, are earthed by the line, ‘I have a cold.’
In early April, Brooke escaped from Cambridge to Torquay to read Greek for Walter Headlam – a fellow of King’s – who had introduced Brooke to the plays of John Webster and the poetry of John Donne. Headlam was to become a friend and mentor. Brooke’s lodgings were on the east side of the bay at 3 Beacon Terrace, facing Beacon Quay.
Beacon Hill itself had been quarried away during the 1860s to provide the requisite limestone to infill the new Haldon Pier – not surprisingly causing a storm of protest from the locals. The pier had been completed by 1870. Beacon Terrace itself, hard by Beacon Hill, had been completed in 1833, when it was deemed to be ‘a fine example of Regency marine building, with its crisp stucco facade and projecting cast-iron balconies’. In Brooke’s day the Bath Saloons, originally the Medical Baths, were to his left, looking from his apartment window, and a little nearer stood the Electricity Generating Station, inaugurated in March 1898 – not pretty, although not blocking this view over the bay. At the time of Brooke’s stay in Torquay, the town had just changed its public transport system from fifteen-seater steam buses to trams, and the town’s first public library had just opened.
On 8 April, Rupert wrote from Beacon Terrace to Hugh Dalton, a devout Fabian, about his decision to sign the Fabian Basis: ‘I have decided to sign even the present Fabian Basis and to becomea member (if possible) of the central Fabian society. The former part I suppose may wait till next term, as I have no Basis with me, spiritually, the thing is done (not without blood and tears).’ During his ten-day sojourn in Torquay he was moved to take time out from his political thoughts and Greek studies to write the sonnet ‘Seaside’.Seaside
Swiftly out from the friendly lilt of the band,
The crowd’s good laughter, the loved eyes of men,
I am drawn nightward; I must turn again
Where, down beyond the low untrodden strand,
There curves and glimmers outward to the unknown
The old unquiet ocean. All the shade
Is rife with magic and movement. I stray alone
Here on the edge of silence, half afraid,
Waiting a sign. In the deep heart of me
The sullen waters swell towards the moon,
And all my tides set seaward.
Leaps a gay fragment of some mocking tune,
That tinkles and laughs and fades along the sand,
And dies between the seawall and the sea.
Highlights of his stay there were an invitation from his cousin Erica, who had asked him to go with her to see George Bernard Shaw’s new play,Getting Married, the following month at the Haymarket Theatre in London, and a play of hers that she had sent to him. He replied, ‘Thanks for the play. Its market value would be higherif you had written “from the authoress to her adorable cousin” or words to that effect, inside. I carry it about with me and sit on it at intervals, so that it often lies quite flat now.’ His thoughts were also on a chance meeting and conversation he had with the author H. G. Wells in London, en route to Torquay. He was more than happy to let his friends know about it, including the fact in letters to both Hugh Dalton and Geoffrey Keynes, to whom he wrote, ‘Shall you be in London on Thursday or Wednesday? I am at my club. Last time I was at it I met Wells and talked with him – a month ago. Did I tell you? If not, you’re a bright, bright green.’ In the same letter, written from 3 Beacon Terrace on 17 April, he wrote, ‘I am not a poet – I was, that’s all. And I never, ah! never was a superman – God forbid.’ The sea brought back fond memories of Lulworth, necessitating a postcard to Geoffrey, who was staying there: ‘I hope you’re still there [Lulworth Cove]. Give my love to the whole lot, downs and all, and especially the left-handed boy, who dwells in the coastguards’ cottages, and the village idiot, and all the Williamses.’
From Torquay Rupert returned to the inn on the western edge of Salisbury Plain, where he and Hugh Russell-Smith had stayed during a walking tour the previous Easter. This time the Green Dragon at Market Lavington was the venue for a gathering organised by Geoffrey Keynes’s eldest brother Maynard, later to become one of the century’s most eminent economists. Among those present were Desmond MacCarthy, hailed as his generation’s greatest drama critic, Lytton Strachey and the philosopher G. E. Moore, whose revolutionary ethical concepts were woven into hisPrincipia Ethica, published in the autumn of 1903. The novelist E. M. Forster was also present, and that Brooke was reading his ‘The Celestial Omnibus’ at the time was either an interesting coincidence or well-organised public relations by Rupert. The weather was bitter and the food ghastly, according to Strachey, but it clearlydidn’t deter Moore from accompanying himself on the piano. He sang many of Schubert’s songs during the temporary lulls in a weekend that swung from intellectual jousting to overt flirtation, in the maze of lofty rooms with their fine views towards the Plain and along the narrow high street. Brooke was younger than the others at the gathering, and one wonders whether the invitation would still have been forthcoming if he hadn’t looked as he did. He appeared to cope with the homosexual proclivities of many of the Apostles, without either becoming involved or being rejected for not doing so.
In May 1908, a shaft of sunlight fell on King’s when Brooke met Noel Olivier, the youngest daughter (then fifteen) of Sir Sydney Olivier, the Governor of Jamaica, at a dinner held in Ben Keeling’s rooms in his honour. The dinner guests included H. G. Wells, Newnham students Amber Reeves and Dorothy Osmaston, and Noel’s sister Margery. Rupert and Noel got on famously and he was clearly taken with her, the young girl becoming the object of his affections for several years. Her family lived at Limpsfield Chart, in Surrey, where she and her three sisters, Bryn, Daphne and Margery, would often spend all day in the local woods and fields leading a tomboy existence. The fact that Noel was still a schoolgirl (at Bedales in Hampshire) did not deter Brooke from pursuing her with dogged determination.Your Eyes
Your eyes are a black lake
Where the moon always shines,
Her white fires make
Sound in the close black pines.
Deep in those waters old
One finds fantastic things,
– Strange cups, and gold
Crowns of forgotten Kings,
Cracked mirrors, jewelled pins
That bound dead harlots’ hair,
Old monstrous sins
That once the world found fair…
Dark little shadows creep
Dumbly, in wait to kill
What voices weep
Dead hearts beneath the hill.
Glares one great star, a wound
Blood-red in the night’s womb,
The woods around
Whisper; and wait – for whom?
After finding a little time for sport – ‘I had my first game of tennis and found myself quite bad’ – the majority of his time was taken up with the organisation of a production of John Milton’sComus, which was to be staged at the New Theatre in Cambridge to celebrate the poet John Milton’s tercentenary. Brooke played the Attendant Spirit and stage-managed the production. The organisation was indeed enormous. He dealt with H. and M. Rayne, the theatrical stores opposite Waterloo Station: ‘We received your letter today and note you require seventeen more animal masks … we cannot give you a definite price until we have seen the sketches.’ They also offered him ‘anything in Wigs, Tights, Shoes, orCostumes.’ In mid-June, there was a flurry of letters and post-office telegraphs between Rupert and the set designer Albert Rothenstein, who informed him, ‘You will see from the drawing that it is perfectly possible to make use of scaffold or telegraph poles as trees,’ and, ‘When ordering clothes don’t forget they must be sized and prepared for working on.’ Rothenstein, groggy from having had his tonsils removed a few days before, was still full of enthusiasm: ‘Don’t forget that we shall want two Back Cloths, ready primed and prepared for painting on.’ Brooke’s workload was eased mentally by the workforce being joined by Noel Olivier, on holiday from Bedales. The telegrams, letters and notes increased as members of the cast checked rehearsal times, sent apologies for absence and made endless enquiries.
Comushad first been presented in the Great Hall at Ludlow Castle on Michaelmas Day, 29 September 1634, with music by Henry Lawes, who, like Brooke, played the Attendant Spirit. Lawes, born in Salisbury in 1600, and a close friend of Milton, is credited with having been the first musician to introduce the Italian style of music into England. As the Spirit, Brooke had the task of handling both the prologue and the epilogue, so the first words the audience would hear would be Rupert’s, declaring:
Before the starry threshold of Jove’s court
My mansion is, where those immortal shapes
Of bright aerial spirits live insphered
In regions mild of calm and serene air.
Above the smoke and stir of this dim spot
Which men call earth…
Francis Cornford, a 33-year-old don, undertook the title role. It was during rehearsals forComusthat fellow student Frances Darwin, agranddaughter of the naturalist Charles Darwin, who was to later marry Cornford, composed her famous lines on Brooke:
A young Apollo, golden-haired
Stands dreaming on the verge of strife
For the long littleness of life.
Although she later rather regretted having written it, Brooke himself confessed to not minding the Apollo image. Those two words of hers, ‘young Apollo’, were to change people’s perception of Rupert for decades. In 1953, thirty-eight years after his death she wrote:
Certainly there was something legendary about Rupert Brooke’s appearance. He might have been born a youth in any century. It was easy to see him as one of Socrates’ young men, listening and frowning in the Athenian sun. Again he would have been entirely happy with Chaucer, noticing everything about the Canterbury Pilgrims, in that English mood of laughing at what you care about most. He would have been especially at home in Elizabethan times as a young poet about Court.
Frances saw Brooke as the pivotal figure in their circle of friends, which in effect he had become, having learned the knack of how to be the centre of attention and the central attraction. Bizarrely, he made all those associated withComussolemnly promise that they wouldn’t get engaged or married during or within six months of the production – nonsense, of course, and impossible to impose upon anyone. In fact, Frances Darwin and Francis Cornford were the first to break the so-called pact by getting engaged.
Comus, using the original music by Lawes, was repeated at a public matinee on the following day at the New Theatre, Cambridge. Ticket prices ranged from one to three shillings. The reviews for the first night were mixed, though Lytton Strachey, writing kindly of it inThe Spectator, felt that it was ‘happily devoid of those jarring elements of theatricality and false taste which too often counterbalance the inherent merits of a dramatic revival’.
Scott and Wilkinson, photographers who were based at Camden Studio adjoining the New Theatre, Cambridge, wrote to Rupert asking him to ‘make an appointment with us to be photographed in your character in Milton’sComus’. They added that the photographer would ‘consider it a personal favour’ if Brooke would be willing to pose for them. He posed. The production ofComuswas a major feather in Brooke’s cap: the Milton tercentenary celebration was attended by such luminaries as the Poet Laureate Alfred Austin, Robert Bridges, who was to become Laureate after Austin’s death five years later, the author Edmund Gosse, Lytton Strachey and Thomas Hardy. The production was followed by a dance at Newnham Grange with the whole cast in costume, including Rupert in a rather short, spangled, sky-blue tunic that was far too skimpy to sit down in.
The only shadow cast over the success ofComuswas the death, during the dress rehearsals, of Brooke’s friend and mentor at King’s, Walter Headlam. who had encouraged him to undertake a production of the play. Headlam had been taken ill while watching a cricket match at Lord’s and later died in hospital of strangulation of the bowels. Rupert was devastated, pouring out his feelings to his mother: ‘[I]t made me feel quite miserable and ill for days … he was the one classic I really admired and liked … what I loved so in him was his extraordinary and loving appreciation of all English poetry.’
In the summer of 1908, Brooke and several of his Cambridge friends, including Hugh Dalton, Noel’s sister Margery, Ben Keeling,Dudley Ward and James Strachey, attended a Fabian summer school on the Welsh coast, in Merionethshire, some 3 miles south of Harlech. The first of the Society’s summer schools in Llanbedr had taken place the year before, following a suggestion by Fabian member Mabel Atkinson after she had been inspired by a German summer school. At the same time, a similar suggestion had arisen, and Frank Lawson Dodd had devised a scheme by which a large house could be procured for the education and recreation of Fabians during the holidays. The Society put their heads together and came up with a solution: Dodd discovered a house at Llanbedr called Pen-yr-Allt (top of the cliff), while Mabel Atkinson laid down a blueprint for an educational programme. A management committee of twelve was formed, all of whom pledged their own money in ten-year loans, at 5 per cent interest. They included George Bernard Shaw and his wife, H. G. Wells, and socialists Sydney and Beatrice Webb. On the way to the camp Brooke and the others stayed with Beatrice at Leominster, after which the whole party went to Llanbedr via Ludlow Castle.
Before setting off, Rupert had sent Dalton a postcard claiming he was going to bring ‘a blanket, chocolate and nineteen books, all in a bag’. Dalton carried a torch for Rupert and was always eager to be in his presence, even though his feelings were not returned. Brooke’s rebuffs fired Dalton’s passions to greater heights and, although no relationship was forthcoming, Dalton was still inspired enough to quote Brooke’s poem ‘Second Best’ in his political speeches, both as Labour MP and as Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1935. When he went down from Cambridge, he pointedly burned all his correspondence, keeping only communication from Rupert. News of Rupert’s death some seven years later would find Dalton inconsolable and in floods of tears. Thus Brooke moved people. Brooke also repelled James Strachey’s advances and suggestions with gentle humour during the period at Llanbedr.
Pen-yr-Allt became their temporary home for almost a fortnight. The origins of the house go back further than 1869, when a Mr Humphreys converted the old Welsh farmhouse into a fine family residence, complete with its Caernarvon arches, an architectural feature not usually found that far south. It was later inhabited by the Williams family with their seventeen children, before becoming a school. Four years before Brooke’s arrival, another future poet, Robert Graves, attended the establishment for a term, at the age of eight and three-quarters. It was there that Graves chanced upon the first two poems he remembered reading: the early English ballads of ‘Chevy Chase’ and ‘Sir Andrew Barton’. Here Graves was caned by the headmaster for learning the wrong collect one Sunday, and was terrified by the head’s daughter and her girlfriend, who tried to find out about the male anatomy by exploring down his shirt. It was not only girls who frightened him: ‘There was an open-air swimming bath where all the boys bathed naked, and I was very overcome by horror at the sight.’ Brooke had the benefit of the same swimming facilities, which were more like a small plunge bath than today’s conception of a pool. The changing hut had a small coal fire, to enable the boys to dry off properly before walking the quarter of a mile back to the house.
During his ten days at Pen-yr-Allt, Rupert attended lectures on Tolstoy and Shaw, long walks, daily exercises and evening dances – a formidable mixture. Fees were set at 35 shillings a week, with half a crown extra for Swedish drill. Despite these, and his comment, ‘Oh, the Fabians, I would to God they’d laugh and be charitable’, Rupert was not deterred from returning the following year. In between studies, there were not only Fabian meetings, football, rugby and cricket matches, drama societies, and poems to write, but also Carbonari gatherings. These are a few entries from Brooke’s Cambridge pocket diary for 1908–9.Sat 12 Sept 1908 Cornford Tues 20 Oct 1908 G. L. K. [Geoffrey Langdon Keynes] Thurs 22 Oct 1908 Carbonari Sat 14 Nov 1908 Tea-party – Keynes Sun 15 Nov 1908 Supper – Justin Mon 7 Dec 1908 Fabians Sun 2 May 1909 Darwins 7.45 Thurs 13 May 1909 Noon – tennis Mon 7 June 1909 Picnic
It was at one of the Carbonari gatherings that Brooke was properly introduced to Eddie Marsh, then a civil servant at the colonial office, who had first seen Rupert in 1906 inThe Eumenides.A former Apostle of the 1890s and the great-grandson of the assassinated British Prime Minister Spencer Perceval, he was extremely well connected both politically and socially and was later to introduce Brooke into the rarefied atmosphere of these circles. At breakfast, the morning after meeting Marsh, Brooke, who had just won a prize in theWestminster Gazettefor ‘The Jolly Company’, showed an impressed Marsh his poem, ‘Day That I Have Loved’.Day That I Have Loved
Tenderly, day that I have loved, I close your eyes,
And smooth your quiet brow, and fold your thin dead hands.
The grey veils of the half-light deepened; colour dies.
I bear you, a light burden, to the shrouded sands,
Where lies your waiting boat, by wreaths of the sea’s making
Mist-garlanded, with all grey weeds of the water crowned.
There you’ll be laid, past fear of sleep or hope of waking;
And over the unmoving sea, without a sound,
Faint hands will row you outward, out beyond our sight,
Us with stretched arms and empty eyes on the far-gleaming
And marble sand…
Beyond the shifting cold twilight,
Further than laughter goes, or tears, further than dreaming,
There’ll be no port, no dawn-lit islands! But the drear
Waste darkening, and, at length, flame ultimate on the deep.
Oh, the last fire – and you, unkissed, unfriended there!
Oh, the lone way’s red ending, and we not there to weep!
(We found you pale and quiet, and strangely crowned with flowers,
Lovely and secret as a child. You came with us,
Came happily, hand in hand with the young dancing hours,
High on the downs at dawn!). Void now and tenebrous,
The grey sands curve before me…
From the inland meadows,
Fragrant of June and clover, floats the dark, and fills
The hollow sea’s dead face with little creeping shadows,
And the white silence brims the hollow of the hills.
Close in the nest is folded every weary wing,
Hushed all the joyful voices; and we, who held you dear,
Eastward we turn and homeward, alone, remembering…
Day that I loved, day that I loved, the Night is here!
At the beginning of the Michaelmas term of 1908, a Trinity manwho had been at Cambridge two years earlier returned for another year. He was Vyvyan Holland, Oscar Wilde’s son, who had recently, at a friend’s behest, experimented with using his real surname. He found it an embarrassment, and indeed had dropped the experiment, and by the time he came up again, was using the family’s adopted name. ‘I got to know Rupert Brooke and A. C. Landsberg, and he used to hold poetry recitals in Firbank’s rooms.’
When Wilde’s close friend Robert Ross, who had done much to try to redeem Wilde’s reputation, came to Cambridge on business, Holland and his old Cambridge chum Ronald Firbank threw a supper for him, retaining the menu signed by those present, including Ross and Brooke. They drank Moët et Chandon, 1884.
During 1908, Methuen and Co. publishedThe Westminster Problems Book, which included three of Brooke’s contributions to the problem page of theWestminster Gazette.Two of these were in verse.A Nursery Rhyme
Up the road to Babylon,
Down the road to Rome,
The King has gone a-riding out
All the way from home.
There were all the folks singing,
And the church-bells ringing,
When the King rode out to Babylon,
Down the road to Rome.
Down the road from Babylon,
Up the road from Rome,
The King came slowly back
All the way back home.
There were all the folks weeping.
And the church-bells sleeping,
When the King rode back from Babylon,
When the King came home.Fragment Completed
What of the voyage (the Dreamer saith)?
How shall the brave ship go?
Bounding waters to lift her keel,
Winds that follow with favouring breath –
Shall she come to her harbour so?
Up the shimmering tideway steal
To the flying flags, and the bells a-peal,
And the crowds that welcome her home from Death,
And the harbour lights aglow?
What at the end of her seafaring,
What will her tidings be?
Lands in the light of an unknown star?
Midnight waves, and the winds that bring
Scents of the day to be?
Lost little island in seas afar,
Where dreams and shadowy waters are,
And the winds are kindly, and maidens sing,
To the throb of an idle sea?
What of the voyage (the Dreamer saith)?
How hath the good ship come?
(They answered) The Sea is stronger than Dreams,
And what are your laughter and Hope and Faith
To the fury of wind and foam? –
Wreckage of sail, and shattered beams,
An empty hulk upon silent streams,
By the Tides of night to the Harbour of Death,
So hath your Ship come Home.
While he continued to develop as a poet, his passion for Noel Olivier grew. He became infatuated with her, although a strong will, sense of caution and independence instilled in her by school and family kept him firmly at arm’s length. Her unavailability fanned the flames of desire to such an extent that Rupert even wrote to Dudley Ward on 20 October, ‘Can’t she be kidnapped from Bedales?’
The spirit of the pioneering establishment at which she was studying was to affect Brooke via some of the pupils who passed through it. In 1900, the founder of the co-educational Bedales School, J. H. Badley, moved his expanding establishment from Haywards Heath in Sussex to a new home in Hampshire. A 150-acre site just to the north at Petersfield and close to the village of Steep was selected. It has fine views of the Downs towards Butser and Wardown to the south, while to the north, rising to 800 feet, the beech hangers from Stoner Hill to the Shoulder of Mutton mark it is a dramatic area of England. The main house on the estate, Steephurst, built in 1716, initially housed the seven girls at the school (compared to sixty-seven boys who had their dormitory in another building), while the architect and former pupil, Geoffrey Lupton, designed a new school building as an addition to the establishment. Badley’s creed, still praised by the Bedalians and staff alike in autonomousretrospection, was integrated into his initial prospectus: ‘to develop their powers in a healthy and organic manner rather than to achieve immediate examination results; and thus to lay a sound basis for subsequent specialisations in any given direction. With this view, body, mind and character as subjects for training are regarded as of equal importance!’ Badley, ‘the Chief ’, was, in short, building an alternative to the imperialist sausage machine of the public schools (he, like Brooke, was a Rugbeian), with the focus more on the individual.
Several of the circle that were to become Brooke’s friends were Bedalians -Justin Brooke, Jacques Raverat and Noel Olivier – and their way of life and attitude towards it instilled the spirit of the school so strongly in him that he almost felt he had been partially educated there. Bedalian-style camps became a way of life for the group of friends for years. J. H. Badley had laid down the rules for the school camps:
The camp is always pitched near a bathing place, for Bedalians, like fish, cannot live long out of water. The camp itself consists of four tents – the cook tent, one sleeping tent for the girls and two for the boys. Bedding of straw, bracken or heather is provided, and each camper brings with him three blankets, one of which is sewn up into a sleeping bag. Pillows most of us scorn; the most hardened do without, the others roll up their clothes, and this makes a good substitute … Every other day, at least, is spent in a good tramp across the country – 10 or 15 miles at first to get into training, but this may be increased to 20 or even 25 later on.
Rupert and Noel formed part of a crowd who went skiing at Klosters, Switzerland, at the end of 1908; the eleven-day holiday cost him 11 guineas, which he was able to borrow from his mother.While there Brooke helped to compose a melodrama,From the Jaws of the Octopus, in which he played the hero, Eugene de Montmorency. They saw the new year in with a whirligig of skiing, tobogganing and youthful exuberance, before Rupert returned to King’s, a round of Carbonari meetings, political and social debates, and to take up his role of president of the Cambridge Fabians for the year 1909–10.
On 9 February, he entertained in his own rooms, with Hilaire Belloc as the main guest and speaker. Belloc was a good catch, as he had already written some twenty-eight books stretching back to 1896, and 1909 would see another five published, including his epicMarie Antoinette. His books were discussed by King Edward VII; and he was the subject of cartoons inPunch. Rupert knew many of Belloc’s poems by heart and certainly some of his songs. The outpourings of the beer-loving Anglophile from La Celle St Cloud in France had far-reaching influences on Brooke’s poems. These lines from Belloc’s ‘West Sussex Drinking Song’ –
They sell good beer at Hazelmere
And under Guildford Hill
At little Cowfold as I’ve been told
A beggar may drink his fill;
There is good brew at Amberley too,
And by the bridge also;
But the swipes they sell in the Washington Inn
Is the very best beer I know.
– with their naming of places in Sussex and Surrey villages, are not dissimilar in their roots to sections of a poem Brooke would write in 1912, ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, in which he used place names local to Cambridge.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! ah Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there…
As well as Belloc’s words, Brooke was clearly impressed by the exhilarating manner, uproarious humour and powerful gift of speech of this larger-than-life character, who appeared to exist on a diet of beer and cheese.
The Athenian comic dramatist Aristophanes was not so much of an influence. Brooke declared his playThe Frogs,written around 400 BC, to be a farce after seeing it in Oxford during February 1909, declaring to his mother that it was ‘quite extraordinarily bad’. Notwithstanding his opinion,The Frogs, The BirdsandThe Wasps,three of Aristophanes most famous plays, have certainly achieved a certain amount of durability!
With the spring approaching, Rupert was temporarily without holiday plans. There were thoughts of Wales, Devon, Cornwall, and even Belgium and Holland, when he realised that he could get from London to Rotterdam for just 13 shillings. ‘In April,’ he declared, ‘I shall be God let loose!’A Saint
I left the tomb where pilgrims prayed
To walk upon the hills apart,
And in the blackest of the shade,
I thought of Evil in my heart.
What were the prayer and praise to me,
The shrine, and many lights therein?
One night of all eternity
I know the lonely truth of sin.
For I was tired of all the chaunting
And all the chaunting dreary grew,
And always I felt something wanting,
That my perfection never knew.
So, from the world most far apart,
In the blind darkness only I,
I thought of Evil in my heart,
Alone between the earth and sky.
There was no light; And no thing stirred.
I thought, and chuckled. Suddenly
I crouched in fear, because I heard
A sound of music near to me;
A music many players made,
Of flutes and lutes and of timbrels;
And I knew that somewhere in the shade,
God was dancing on His hills.
And all the night He leapt and trod,
To the courtly flute and mad timbrels;
God whirling and pacing, a stately God;
God’s lonely dance among the hills!
Chapter 4The Dew-Dabblers
THE PLANOFdriving a donkey cart through Holland was forgotten as Rupert discovered Becky Falls, on the edge of Dartmoor. On 25 March, he extolled the virtues of the local topography in a letter to his cousin Erica: ‘My view from the window before me includes a lawn, flower-beds with many flowers, a waterfall, rocks and trees, forests, mountains and the sky. It covers some 20 miles of country and no houses.’
From under the shadow of Hound Tor to the south west, Becky, or Becka, Falls, tumbles and plunges some 70 feet over vast granite boulders becoming the Becca Brook, which eventually joins the River Bovey to the east of the Falls. The stamp of the Iron andBronze Age inhabitants on the area is very marked, with burrows, cairns and hut circles littering an area rich in natural and spectacular beauty. Manaton, a derivation of Maleston – Robert de Maleston having been given the manor by Edward I – is the parish in which the Falls lie, and at the time when Rupert Brooke, Lytton Strachey and their circle came to write here, there were just 300 or so people living in the area. From late Victorian times Becky Falls farmhouse, with its 60 acres, was occupied by Mr and Mrs Hern and their son Bob, the buildings comprising a sixteenth-century stone farmhouse with three bedrooms, a cowshed, milking parlour and Beechwood cottage, a two-bedroom Victorian structure.
Lytton Strachey was already staying at the Falls at Rupert’s suggestion, when Brooke and Hugh Russell-Smith arrived, following advice that Rupert should terminate his studies of Classics and concentrate on English Literature for his fourth year at Cambridge. Strachey was working onLandmarks in French Literature.In letters to friends, descriptive passages about this part of Devon which he had just discovered flowed from Rupert’s pen, with almost the speed and majesty of the Falls themselves. To Erica he wrote:
I am leading the healthy life. I rise early, twist myself about on a kind of pulley that is supposed to make my chest immense (but doesn’t), eat no meat, wear very little, do not part my hair, take frequent cold baths, work ten hours a day and rush madly about the mountains in flannels and rainstorms for hours.
And to his close friend Dudley Ward, ‘Here it rains infinitely. But I – I dance through the rain, singing musically snatches of old Greek roundelays. Have you ever seen me in my mackintosh walking-cape dancing 17 miles in the rain?’ Jacques Raverat also received a missive:
We walked for hours a day. On one side were woods, strangely covered with green and purple by spring, and on the other great moors. The sunsets were yellow wine. And the wind! – oh! there was never such a wind to take you and shake you and roll you over and set you shouting with laughter.
The author John Galsworthy lived at Wingston Farm near Manaton for eighteen years until moving into Bury House, Sussex, in 1926. It was here he wroteThe Forsyte Sagaand other works, but there is no record of Brooke having visited him, although his friend David ‘Bunny’ Garnett did in 1914, just before the outbreak of war.
The Herns, the farmhouse tenants who played host to Brooke, were described by another visitor, Peggy Cornwell: ‘Mr and Mrs Hern were lovely people. Mrs Hern used to come up each morning with a tray of tea for mother and wedges of that home-made bread, spread with clotted cream for us little ones.’ The Herns’ son Bob continued to run the place until the 1950s, when it was described as a ‘large tea garden – set in surroundings of majestic beauty’.
By April 1909, Rupert was further west, at another gathering of the Apostles on the furthest tip of the Lizard, Cornwall. It was essentially a reading party, organised by G. E. Moore, who had been at Trinity with Edward Marsh and had become an Apostle in the early 1890s, at the same time as Bertrand Russell. Moore, in his early thirties at the time of this ‘coming together’ at the Lizard, was certainly a great influence on Brooke, who found the older man’s philosophies and attitude to life absorbing, and his personality infectious, despite his dislike of Fabianism. Moore was also a gifted pianist and singer. Their base, Penmenner House (‘Pen’ meaning headland and ‘menner’ standing stones) is one of Britain’s most southerly houses and was built around 1860 by Thomas Rowe. On his death in 1881, his Irish wife, Grace, lived there until her deathin 1914. The eight-bedroomed dwelling that she was running at the time of Brooke’s visit afforded panoramic sea views in all directions and views of the Lizard Lighthouse, as well as access to the path across the cliffs. This idyllic setting proved to be a great attraction to writers. It is said that Oscar Wilde came here to read to the locals, but the members of G. E. Moore’s reading party offered no such public declamations, keeping their philosophies, poetry and readings within the confines of their own circle. Among the Cambridge Apostles at the gathering were the drama critic Desmond Mac-Carthy, barrister and author C. P. Sanger, author Leonard Woolf, poet and playwright R. S. ‘Bob’ Trevelyan (another leading Fabian), James Strachey, and Lytton Strachey. Strachey, some years before, had described the setting of Penmenner House in a letter to his mother as being ‘nose to nose with the sea’. Brooke described the house in a letter from there to Dudley Ward: ‘The house is 12 miles from a station and the posts are said to be irregular.’ To Jacques Raverat he enthused that he went
luggageless, and strange, and free, to The Lizard; and stayed some days. Cornwall was full of heat and tropical flowers: and all day I bathed in great creamy breakers of surf, or lay out in the sun to dry (in April!); and all night argued with a philosopher, an economist, and a writer. Ho, we put the world to rights!
The bays of Kynance and Housel were just a short stroll from the house, low tide revealing hundreds of rocky outcrops, and at Kynance a beautiful expanse of sandy beach. The extraordinarily warm weather and subsequent swimming activities brought pressure to bear on the desires of James Strachey, who had longed for an active relationship with the uninterested Brooke. James wrote to his brother, Lytton,
[F]or the first time in my life, I saw Rupert naked. Can’t we imagine whatyou’dsay on such an occasion?. … butI’msimply inadequate of course. So I say nothing, except that I didn’t have an erection – which was fortunate as I was naked too. I thought him – if you’d like to have a pendant – ‘absolutely beautiful’.
After the brief sojourn by the Cornish sea, the peripatetic Brooke was off again, this time to the depths of the New Forest, the main attraction being the presence of the object of his desires, Noel Olivier. Although Brooke’s letters and correspondence from there are headed ‘Bank, Lyndhurst’, the hamlet in which the house Beech Shade is situated is deeper into the forest, past Bank, in a cluster of some half dozen cottages called Gritnam, at the end of a track deep in the forest. Initially discovered by leading Cambridge University socialist Ben Keeling, the area may have been brought to his attention through Virginia Woolf, who stayed at Lane End House in Bank during 1904 and 1905. Bank, and nearby Lyndhurst, attracted many writers during the 1880s, as well as the inspiration for one: Alice Liddell, the model for Lewis Carroll’sAlice’s Adventures in WonderlandandThrough the Looking Glass,lived at Bank, after marrying a local man, Reginald Hargreaves. Gritnam, small as it is, is mentioned in the ‘Domesday Book’ as Greteha (the Great Homestead) – its area being ‘half a hide’, some 120 acres, and the whole being held by the romantically named Waleron Hunter.
Noel’s sister Margery had organised a Newhamite reading party at Beech Shade, which included not only Noel, but also Cambridge friends Evelyn Radford and Dorothy Osmaston. The rooms were let to them by Alice Primmer, née Hawkins, and her new husband, former army officer, Harry, who was a stud groom at Wilverly Park, Lyndhurst, at the time of the reading party, later becoming Master of the Hounds before his death in 1925. Learning that Noel wouldbe at Bank, Rupert contrived, through Dudley Ward, who let him know the exact location, to drop in on the party as if by chance. Full of the joys of spring, he recounted his arrival in the New Forest in a letter to Jacques Raverat, liberally spiced with flights of poetic fancy:
But then, after the Lizard, oh! then came the Best! And none knows of it. For I was lost for four days. I was, for the first time in my life, a free man, and my own master! … For I went dancing and leaping through the New Forest, with £3 and a satchel full of books, talking to everyone I met, mocking and laughing at them. Sleeping and eating anywhere, singing to the birds, tumbling about in the flowers, bathing in the rivers and in general behaving naturally. And all in England, at Eastertide! And so I walked and laughed and met many people and made a thousand songs – all very good – and in the end of the days, came to a woman who was more glorious than the Sun and stronger than the Sea and kinder than the Earth, who is a flower made out of fire, a star that laughs all day, whose brain is clean and clear like a man’s, and her heart is full of courage and kindness and whom I love. I told her that the Earth was crowned with wind flowers and dancing down the violet ways of Spring; that Christ had died and Pan was risen; that her mouth was like sunlight on a gull’s wing. As a matter of fact, I believe I said ‘Hullo! Isn’t it rippin’ weather!’
Although Margery had been the instigator of the reading party, her presence did not make for an easy passage for Rupert, as a little jealousy, combined with her dual roles of guardian and older sister, meant that she watched over them. Despite that, Noel and Rupert managed walks in the woods together and some time alone, although it seems that his frustration with her ‘cheerful, clear, flat platitudes’came through clearly at the end of The Voice’, a poem inspired by the few days at Beech Shade.The Voice
Safe in the magic of my woods
I lay, and watched the dying light.
Faint in the pale high solitudes,
And washed with rain and veiled by night.
Silver and blue and green were showing.
And the dark woods grew darker still;
And birds were hushed; and peace was growing;
And quietness crept up the hill;
And no wind was blowing …
And I knew
That this was the hour of knowing,
And the night and the woods and you
Were one together, and I should find
Soon in the silence the hidden key
Of all that had hurt and puzzled me –
Why you were you, and the night was kind,
And the woods were part of the heart of me.
And there I waited breathlessly,
Alone; and slowly the holy three,
The three that I loved, together grew
One, in the hour of knowing,
Night, and the woods, and you -
There was an uproar in my woods,
The noise of a fool in mock distress,
Crashing and laughing and blindly going,
Of ignorant feet and a swishing dress,
And a Voice profaning the solitudes.
The spell was broken, the key denied me,
And at length your flat clear voice beside me
Mouthed cheerful clear flat platitudes.
You came and quacked beside me in the wood.
You said, ‘The view from here is very good!’
You said, ‘It’s nice to be alone a bit!’
And, ‘How the days are drawing out!’ you said.
You said, ‘The sunset’s pretty, isn’t it?’
By God! I wish – I wish that you were dead!
During the few days at Bank, one of the party was extremely camera-happy – presumably Dorothy Osmaston, as she does not appear in any of the many photographs taken outside Beech Shade.
‘The Voice’ was tidied up and completed at Sidmouth, where Rupert, after his few days in what he termed ‘Arcady’, at last arrived joining his parents and Aunt Fanny at the holiday hotel where they were staying. Aunt Lizzie, with whom Fanny shared Grantchester Dene in Bournemouth, had died on 9 April and this was by way of a recuperative holiday for her.
Long considered a ‘fashionable watering place’ for the wealthy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Sidmouth became a healthresort for the old and sickly, despite the street being deep in mud during the winter, and carts moving around to lay the dust in the summer. The roadways were made of cracked flints bonded with clay and flattened with a horse-drawn roller, the horses creating their own form of pollution which ended up on the municipal manure dump on Bedford Lawn – on a hot day, too close for comfort to the Esplanade. When Rupert came to the resort at the mouth of the River Sid in April 1909, the fishing fleet had twenty-three ‘drifters’ in which the local fisherman would drift for mackerel; on fine evenings the town turned out to watch them sail away, as Brooke may well have done from his bedroom window at Gloucester House on the Esplanade, a part of York Terrace. The following winter brought a sudden disappearance of the herring, due partly to severe weather and more industrial methods being employed; the fishing industry was never the same again in Sidmouth. During Rupert’s stay, the beach was decorated with a dancing bear, barrel organ, hurdy-gurdy, crab, cockle and nougat vendors, a penny photographer, pony rides and bathing machines.Lines on a monument to Mary Lisle (d. 1791) in Sidmouth churchyard
Blest with soft airs from health restoring skies
Sidmouth! to thee the drooping patient flies
Ah! not unfailing is thy poet to save
To her thou gavest no refuge, but a grave!
Guard it mild Sidmouth, and revere its store
More precious, none shall ever touch thy shore
The rooms Rupert’s parents had taken were often favoured by the actor/manager and builder of His Majesty’s Theatre, Herbert BeerbohmTree. The proprietor of Gloucester House was a Miss Couling and the Brookes’ fellow guests were a Mrs and Miss Sitzer. Rupert stayed from 13 to 20 April. Before he arrived, he wrote to Dudley Ward, ‘If I am going to join my people at Sidmouth (the bloody latest!) on Tuesday morning, pretending to have arrived from Cornwall that moment, I must be up on their last letters to me.’ The elaborate deception seems to have passed off without a hitch, his parents remaining totally oblivious to the fact that he had spent four days in the New Forest.
The visitors list in theSidmouth Observermentioned the Brookes staying there for several weeks, the page on which their name appeared also displaying an advertisement for the latest popular air, ‘A New National Song’ called ‘Wake Up England’.
While at Sidmouth Rupert finished a sonnet, the seeds of which had been sown during the three days at Bank. In it his feelings for Noel shine through.Sonnet
Oh! Death will find me, long before I tire
Of watching you; and swing me suddenly
Into the shade and loneliness and mire
Of the last land! There, waiting patiently,
One day, I think, I’ll feel a cool wind blowing,
See a slow light across the Stygian tide,
And hear the Dead about me stir, unknowing,
And tremble. And I shall know that you have died,
And watch you, a broad-browed and smiling dream,
Pass, light as ever, through the listless host,
Quietly ponder, start, and sway, and gleam –
Most individual and bewildering ghost! –
And turn and toss your brown delightful head
Amusedly, among the ancient Dead.
Brooke wrote from Sidmouth to fellow King’s man Geoffrey Fry, who would later be knighted for his work in the Civil Service, ‘yet ‘England, My England’ (Henley) is to use an old-fashioned word, nice’ and, ‘there is a grey sea like this … and a grey sky like this … and I have just readCymbeline’. On 15 April he wrote to Eddie Marsh, ‘Returning on reluctant and bare feet from a long period of fantastic roaming, to the bosom of my sad family in their present seaside resort, I have found documents from King’s that passionately demand my presence earlier than I had thought.’ The following day he wrote to Hugh Dalton:
You will wonder why Simple Life ends in a Seaside Resort and lined paper. It looks a little like Second Childhood, doesn’t it? I think it is merely the first, revenant, but it is all too difficult to explain. I play a great deal on the beach. On reluctant and naked feet I turned from the violet wilderness to the sad breast of my family in their present seaside resort. For the first time in three weeks I wear a tie; almost a collar. This is a bloody place. And in this house Mr Joseph Hocking was staying a week ago; and, last year, Mr Beerbohm Tree and family! I move, as ever, you see, among the tinsel stars.
Other ‘tinsel stars’ associated with Sidmouth included Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who lived there with her family from 1832 in Fortfield Terrace and Cedar Shade (then called Belle Vue), beforemoving to Wimpole Street in London in 1835. Jane Austen and William Makepeace Thackeray were two other eminent authors with strong Sidmouth connections. Gloucester House where the Brookes stayed is still as much as it was, only no longer bearing the name, and now incorporated into the Royal York and Faulkener Hotel, which began as the York, the first purpose-built hotel in Sidmouth – the ‘Royal’ prefix emanating from Edward VII’s presence there when he was still Prince of Wales.
Having received a welcome financial prize from theWestminster Gazettefor his poem ‘The Voice’, Rupert headed back to Cambridge via London, staying at 5 Raymond Buildings, Gray’s Inn, with Eddie Marsh. By now Marsh was becoming an increasing influence in artistic circles, as well as in London’s social and political arena, into which he was beginning to introduce Rupert.
In the ancient manor of Portpoole, Old Gray’s Inn was bounded to the south by Holeburn Street, the Roman road which entered the City of London at New Gate, while to the east lay the town residence of Bishopric, later known as Ely Palace. To the north open fields stretched to Highgate, and to the west there was more country landscape, known as Jockey Fields. Raymond Buildings, on the west side of Gray’s Inn, were built in the early 1800s on part of the gardens formerly known as the black walks, the southerly end of the impressive six-storey terrace rising on Bacon’s Mount, where Francis Bacon had once constructed a 30-foot-high mound topped by a summerhouse. As others, including Brooke, would come to also, Bacon the philosopher loved the tranquillity of the walks; he wrote of them in his essay on gardens, ‘God Almighty first planted a garden and indeed it is the “Pursuit of Human Pleasure”.’ The buildings were named after Sir Robert Raymond, as they were originally to be erected in 1725 when he was Chief Justice, although fate decreed they were not to grace the site until, as it proclaimsover the door of number five, 1825, when George IV was halfway through his ten-year reign.
Brooke had become the pin-up of Cambridge and Marsh, like others, was captivated by the Old Rugbeian’s looks and charisma. He kept a close watch on the young poet, inviting him to stay whenever he liked at 5 Raymond Buildings, which he did frequently as Rupert’s gravitational pull towards London became stronger; so adding to the already colourful history of the area. But however much the literary and social activities lured him to the capital, they would never surpass his love of the English countryside.
Three years later, in his poem ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, Brooke would write, ‘At Over they fling oaths at one’, but in May 1909 the locals may have had good reason to fling oaths, when Rupert and a crowd of Cambridge friends packed into Justin Brooke’s German Opel motor car – surely a terrifying sight in any sleepy hamlet at that time – and nearly crashed the car there on the way to Overcote.
For centuries, Over depended on the River Ouse and the Fens for its existence, in Norman times the river being full of fish and wild fowl plentiful in the area (although now the closest point to the River Ouse, which at one time flowed much nearer to the actual village, is at Overcote, 2 miles over the fields). Catches were dispatched daily to many cities, including London. In 1630 the Earl of Bedford appointed the Dutch engineer Vermuyden to drain the Fens, causing angry locals who feared for their livelihood to wreck the dykes as fast as they were being built. Despite this opposition, 21-mile-long canals, known as the Old and New Bedford Rivers, were successfully constructed, as well as red-back houses in the Dutch style being erected in Over. Woad, the blue dye with which the ancient Britons daubed themselves, was grown extensively around Over in the tenth century, which brought the cloth trade to the area. Architecture of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries is still in evidence there.
On 2 May, the near-accident avoided, the Opel, with Justin Brooke at the wheel, Rupert, Geoffrey Keynes, Gwen and Margaret Darwin from Newnham Grange, and Ka Cox and Dorothy Lamb from Newnham College, rumbled down the track from Over to Overcote, where there was nothing more than a ferry and a small inn on the other side of the river. They laid out their breakfast at the edge of a meadow, where a crab apple was in bloom and a nightingale sang – an idyllic scene, despite only a watery sun and damp grass, inspiring Rupert to read aloud from Robert Herrick’s poem ‘Corinna’s Going a-Maying’:
Come let us goe, while we are in our prime
And take the harmlesse and follie of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short: and our dayes run
As fast away as does the summer.
Through such early-morning escapades, at Cambridge they swiftly earned themselves the nickname of ‘dew-dabblers’, running barefoot through the grass at dawn, and making wreaths of apple blossom and chains of cowslips and daisies. The ‘dew-dabbling’ was so successful that it was repeated later that month, the party this time including Rupert, Justin Brooke, Keynes, Trinity scholar Jerry Pinsent, Dudley Ward, Donald Robertson and three women thought to be the Darwins – Margaret, Frances and Gwen – although forty-three years on, Donald Robertson, who was photographed wrestling with Rupert at the gathering, and Dudley Ward could not agree on their identity when writing to Geoffrey Keynes in 1952. He thought the women could have included Dorothy Osmaston and Evelyn Radford, confessing ‘the kneeling man defeats us all’.
Chapter 5First of May 1933
BEFORE SITTING FORhis Tripos in May, Rupert’s thoughts turned to taking rooms out of King’s, a few miles upstream, at Grantchester. The village was a key locality in pre-Roman times, as the River Granta could be forded there, the Fens circumvented and the dense forest leading south-west to the Chilterns avoided. In Roman times the Icknield Way, Ermine Street and Akeman Street all passed close enough to Cambridge to make the crossing of the Granta a position of importance. Grantabrycge is mentioned in a chronicle of 875ADand is on the site of an early Roman settlement. The small cluster of houses had been known by at least twenty-four names or variants of spelling by the timeit acquired its present name during the fourteenth century. A. C. Benson, a friend of Brooke’s and student at Magdalene College, wrote of the village in an article ‘Along the Road’ for the church family newspaper:
There is a little village near Cambridge called Grantchester, with an old church and pleasant homely houses among orchards and gardens. The hamlet dips down to the river by Trumpington Mill – the scene of one of Chaucer’s tales which solidly and sturdily bestrides the Leat, that flows from the upper waters of the Cam, here called the Granta. It is a place of perfect English charm. The long high-towering woods of Trumpington Hall fringe the stream and the water-meadows and the pool where Byron used to bathe; the great clear mill-pool swirls and eddies below the mill.
Brooke’s intimacy with the Granta was such that he became adept at paddling in a small boat the 3 miles from Cambridge to Grantchester, even on a moonless night and through overgrown stretches of the river. One of his friends Sybil Pye recalled how ‘he would know, he said, when we were nearing home by the sound of a certain poplar tree that grew there: its leaves rustled faintly even on such a night as this, when not a breath seemed to be stirring.’ He had walked there on several occasions and taken tea at the Orchard. First planted in 1868, the Orchard became a popular place for taking tea purely by chance in 1897, after a Cambridge student, having punted up the Granta from the area behind the colleges known as ‘the backs’, asked Mrs Stevenson of Orchard House if she could possibly serve him and some fellow students tea, beneath the apple trees. She assented, and the students, so enjoying the experience, spread the word; and their enthusiasm turned it into a popular ‘up-river resort’ for all the colleges. The late-Victorianstudents of 1897 weren’t the first to grace the area. For over 700 years Cambridge scholars had ventured to Grantchester by boat, foot, or horse, including such eminent names as Cromwell, Milton, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Newton, Darwin, Marlowe and Spenser. A frequent visitor to the Orchard was the philosopher, mathematician and essayist Bertrand Russell who, for ten years, lived two doors away, the other side of the Old Vicarage, at the Mill House; his Austrian pupil, the suicidal Ludwig Wittgenstein, was often to be seen working off his excess mental energy by running along the banks of the river. Rupert idly wondered whether there was a possibility of taking rooms in Grantchester.
In cavalier fashion he wrote to Noel Olivier:
At eleven o’clock in the morning I finished the last of my Classical Tripos. There were 108 other candidates in the room, but they all stayed the full time, till noon. They write longer, better papers than mine. (They all wear spectacles) … I screamed with laughter, suddenly; and the 108 turned round and blinked. I nodded at the hairless don who was in command, amd ran cheerily out of the room, tearing the examination paper to bits as I went.
No sooner was the exam over than his romantic side sprang into action. ‘Oh lo! The south! The lakes of Surrey! They call me! And I shall possibly see Noel in the distance! … And then to have to pack a bag! And even that is a ritual of infinite joy and calm splendour.’
His destination was again the Cotterills’ house at Godalming, although Noel and Bedales was his real goal. His infatuation with Noel continued unabated, while she exercised a natural caution and independence. She maintained a distance that continually fuelled his verbal passions and outpourings. He wrote to Noel at Bedales on 28 May 1909:
Why should I do more than observe you in a distant crowd? Why, rather, come to Bedales at all? … I want to see you; and, as things are at present, I shall come over to Bedales, under the high protection of an OB [Old Bedalian], wander about, talk with Badley [the headmaster], and, ultimately, find out if I am allowed to talk to you. You can, and may, evade or stop me. (Surely we have got beyond the last insult of politeness?)
Noel responded on 1 June, ‘I too always have the fear of you – the outsider – looking a fool and my feeling one; but as the last depends on the first, and the first depends on you, I am willing to risk owning your acquaintance, if you like?’ Her postscript adds, ‘She wishes you weren’t coming; but she daren’t say so outright, for fear of offending your pride!’
Writing from Coombe Field, Godalming, Rupert responded furiously on 2 June:
You’re a devil! Beginning by assigning a time, going on to water it down . . and ending with a postscript in the third person, but referring, as far as the meagre wit classics have left me can discover, to you, and changing the whole thing, and leaving me cr-r-rushed!
He wrote as an adolescent lovesick schoolboy, although nearly twenty-two, while Noel, at seventeen, responded with measured adult caution, sometimes her tone being incredibly brusque, as at the end of a letter written to Rupert from Bedales: ‘I’m sorry – I’m in a very bad rage because I’ve been doing easy exams badly – a thing you never did, so you can’t sympathise. Don’t try … from Noel.’
In among the angst there was light relief. The King’s magazineBasileoncarried Gerald Shove’s tongue-in-cheek freshers’ guide to the college clubs and societies, including the Carbonari.
Objects: The production of minor poets and strong silent politicians.
Subscriptions: All payments are made in kind – verse and epigrams preferred.
Qualifications: Culture: long hair; old pumps (or carpet-slippers).
The magazine also sent up the first Carbonari Ball, claiming that various unlikely performances would occur during the evening, culminating with the news that ‘Mr RUPERT BROOKE will perform a dream-dance on tiptoe’. The organ also carried two of Brooke’s poems, ‘Day and Night’ and ‘Sonnet’.Sonnet
All night the ways of Heaven were desolate,
Long roads across a gleaming empty sky.
Outcast and doomed and driven, you and I,
Alone, serene beyond all love or hate.
Terror or triumph, were content to wait,
We, silent and all-knowing. Suddenly
Swept through the heavens, low-crouching from on high,
One horseman, downward to the earth’s low gate!
Oh! perfect from the ultimate height of living,
Lightly we turned, through wet woods blossom-hung,
Into the open. Down the supernal roads,
With plumes a-tossing, purple flags far-flung,
Rank upon rank, unbridled, unforgiving,
Thundered the black battalions of the Gods.
During the summer of 1909, socialising, poetry and the Fabian Society were making such an increasing demand on Brooke’s time that his tutor suggested that he should not only give up Classics to concentrate on English Literature during his fourth year, but also move out of King’s – preferably out of town altogether, away from the temptations of the social scene. So by June, Rupert had fulfilled at least one desire – to take rooms at the Orchard in Grantchester.
Having settled in to his new home, Rupert wrote from there to Noel:
I am in the country in Arcadia; a rustic. It is a village 2 miles from Cambridge, up the river. You know the place; it is near all picnicking grounds. And here I work at Shakespeare and see very few people … I wander about barefoot and almost naked, surveying nature with a calm eye. I do not pretend to understand nature, but I get on very well with her in a neighbourly way. I go on with my books, and she goes on with her hens and storms and things, and we’re both very tolerant. Occasionally we have tea together … I live on honey, eggs and milk, prepared for me by an old lady like an apple (especially in face) and sit all day in a rose garden to work. Of a morning Dudley Ward and a shifting crowd come out from Cambridge and bathe with me, have breakfast (out in the garden, as all meals) and depart.
Noel dealt Brooke a curt, sarcastic, down-to-earth response to this latest epistle, which was adorned with exaggerations about his surroundings and lifestyle:
I don’t quite see how it is you can enjoy breakfast – and all meals – but especially breakfast in a rose garden in this sort of weather, I should think the butter would be too hard and frozen and the coffee – I beg your pardon, of course you don’t drink such poisonous stimulants, but milk – the milk too diluted with dirty rain water – dirty with Cambridge soots – to be enjoyable. But no doubt you have a tremendous capacity for enjoyment, only I wish you wouldn’t talk about Nature in that foolish and innocent tone of voice – you call it making jokes, and I suppose you think it’s nice, but I don’t like it a bit – I’ve told you why lots of times.
He also wrote to his cousin Erica with a description of his new abode.
I’ve been home for ten days and came here on Friday. It is a lovely village on the river above Cambridge. I’m in a small house, a sort of cottage, with a dear plump weather-beaten kindly old lady in control. I have a perfectly glorious time, seeing nobody I know day after day. The room I have opens straight out onto a stone verandah covered with creepers, and a little old garden full of old-fashioned flowers and crammed with roses.
That July, the eminent Welsh-born painter Augustus John camped by the Orchard, in the field by the river, prompting Brooke to write to Noel:
Augustus John (the greatest painter) (of whom I told you) with his wife and seven children (all ages between three and sevenyears) with their two caravans and a gypsy tent, are encamped by the river, a few hundred yards from here – I go and see them sometimes and they come here for meals … yesterday Donald Robertson, Dudley Ward and I took them all (the children) up the river in punts, gave them tea and played with them. They talked to us of an imaginary world of theirs, where the river was milk, the mud honey, the reeds and trees green sugar, the earth cake, the leaves of the trees (that was odd) ladies’ hats, and the sky Robin’s blue pinafore … Robin was the smallest.
The arrival of John, with his gypsy-like countenance, immense stature, earrings and long red beard, caused such a stir in Grantchester and Cambridge that expeditions were organised by the likes of Jacques Raverat to the field in which John was camping. Their intrigue and fascination at the unusual sight moved John to comment: ‘we cause a good deal of astonishment in this well-bred town.’ At a time when gypsies were being persecuted, John was desperately trying to imitate their lifestyle and become a non-blood brother. Eddie Marsh had already bought one of his paintings and Rupert himself was ‘quite sick and faint with passion’ on seeing another of his works, and decided to set aside enough money to buy two A. J. drawings. While Augustus John was causing a stir in the meadows of Grantchester, Rupert was creating his own ripples at King’s. This profile on him appeared inThe Grantawritten by Hugh Dalton:
Rupert Brooke came into residence at Cambridge in October 1906. The populace first became aware of him when they went to see the Greek play of that year,The Eumenides,and many of them have not yet forgotten his playing of the Herald.
He brought with him to Cambridge a reputation both as anathlete and as a poet, a combination supposed by vulgar people to be impossible.
He represented Rugby at cricket and football, rose to high rank in the Volunteer Corps, and was not unknown as a steeplechaser. He also won a prize poem…
At Cambridge he has forsaken a few old friends and entered many new ones. While a Freshman he used on occasions to represent his college in various branches of athletics, but soon dropped the habit, in spite of protests. On his day he is still an irresistible tennis player, preferring to play barefooted, and to pick up the balls with his toes.
As an actorThe Eumenidesprovided him with not only his only triumph. He was one of the founders of the Marlowe Dramatic Society, which still flourishes, and among his later successes may be counted his performances in Marlowe’s Faustus and inComusduring the Milton celebrations.
He has continued to write poems, some of which should be familiar to readers of theWestminster Gazetteand theCambridge Review.But the rest and certain other writings, not in verse, are known as yet only to a few, and mainly to certain King’s Societies of which he is a member.
Some of us hope that the world will one day know more of them.
He is also a politician. His public utterances have indeed been few, though he once made a speech at the joint meeting of the Fabian Society and the Liberal Club, which two ex-presidents of the Union may still remember. But public speaking is not the only function of the politician, though the contrary opinion is sometimes held. For two years he has been a prominent member of the Fabian Society, of which he is now President. He is sometimes credited with having started a new fashion in dress,the chief features of which are the absence of collars and headgear and the continual wearing of slippers.
He will tell you that he did not really begin to live till he went out of college at the end of his third year and took up his residence at the Orchard, Grantchester.
It is said that there he lives the rustic life, broken by occasional visits to Cambridge; that he keeps poultry and a cow, plays simple tunes on a pan pipe, bathes every evening at sunset, and takes all his meals in a rose garden.
On the academic side of his Cambridge activities, Brooke achieved a Second in his Classical Tripos in the summer of 1909, after which, in July, he was off again, ‘restless as a paper scrap that’s tossed down dusty pavements by the wind’, for a second visit to the Fabian summer school at Llanbedr. The general manager of the school was Mary Hankinson, who was very popular with the students but felt that the set-up should be more focused on dancing, sports, walks and pastimes, punctuated by some educational facilities and lectures; Sidney and Beatrice Webb, on the other hand, felt that it should be a learning establishment, with leisure activities available when time allowed. The main thrust of the Webbs’ lectures was centred on the outdated Poor Law of 1834. For months Rupert had read and reread the Fabian Society’s book,The Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission, which set out the Fabian views. These differed from those in a review which had been set up by Balfour’s government in 1905. The basic Fabian premise was that each case of poverty should be considered on its merit and treated accordingly, unlike the outdated Victorian approach of lumping together the infirm, dissolute, mentally ill, old and unemployed as ‘the poor’.
For this and the previous summer, the summer school had proved so popular that a further Llanbedr house was secured. Caer-meddyg(the doctor’s house in the field) was relatively new, having been built in 1905 as a retreat for the elderly and infirm, as the on-site spring allegedly possessed restorative properties. Were there no ailing ageds during the Fabian occupation, or was the good doctor’s apparent altruism temporarily affected by hard Fabian cash? It was here that the famous photograph of Brooke and other young Fabians clustered around an ornate fireplace was taken. There were strict rules governing meals, lecture times, ‘lights out’, noise after hours and times that musical instruments and phonography could be played, and there was a total ban on alcohol. Owen, the gardener at the other summer-school house at Pen-yr-Allt, would have been a familiar sight to Rupert, as he undertook odd jobs, as well as ensuring that the garden was in good order for the early morning Swedish drill classes that were held before the morning dew had evaporated. The activities of the Fabians worried the locals, who were concerned that a revolutionary uprising was being organised in their village. The ghost of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus, from whom the society took its name, would have been proud – as long as the uprising was non-confrontational. Sexual segregation was the order of the day, although Beatrice Webb was becoming increasingly alarmed by the close friendship between H. G. Wells and the brilliant young Cambridge student Amber Reeves. Amber would, however, eventually marry another Fabian, ‘Blanco’ Rivers White. The Utopian ideal of the summer school was beginning to tarnish a little in the Webbs’ eyes, especially as news of evening parodies of daytime lectures reached the ears of Beatrice. Lytton Strachey recalled that he and Brooke upset her as they ‘tried to explain Moore’s ideas to Mrs Webb while she tried to convince us of the efficacy of prayer’.
After a surfeit of talks, lectures and discussions on the Welsh coast, Rupert headed south, to a riverside camp in Kent. An idyllic location had been discovered by a close neighbour and friend ofthe Oliviers, David Garnett, who had found it when cycling with Bryn and Daphne Olivier to Penshurst for a picnic, with colleagues Godwin Baynes, the giant rowing blue later to become a physician at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, and fellow student doctor Maitland Radford, who late in life would become Chief Medical Officer of Health for St Pancras in London. Garnett recalled the outing in his autobiographyThe Golden Echo:
[W]hen we reached Penshurst we found a little road crossing the river Eden and above a narrow old bridge was a wider pool with water lilies, in which we bathed. Nearby was a little weirhouse over the river. I was enchanted by the place and came back there alone with camping things. When I had been living there a week Godwin came back and joined me, and then the Oliviers came with Harold Hobson and Dorothy Osmaston, a lovely blue-eyed girl who is now Lady Layton.
Over the field stood the magnificent Penshurst Place, built during the first half of the fourteenth century for the wealthy John de Pulteney (four times Lord Mayor of London) on his recently acquired 4,000-acre estate at Penshurst, which had belonged to Sir Stephen de Penchester in the previous century. By the early part of the fifteenth century Henry IV’s third son John, Duke of Bedford, was in residence, the property on his death passing to his younger brother Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, founder of the Bodleian library at Oxford. The next incumbent Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham, entertained Henry VIII there, the King repaying his host’s hospitality by beheading him and letting Anne Boleyn’s brother run the property. Henry VIII’s successor Edward VI eventually bequeathed the house and estate to his tutor and steward of his household Sir William Sidney. It soon passed to his son Henrywho, although related by marriage to the doomed Guildford Dudley and Lady Jane Grey, escaped implication in the plot against the eventual Queen Mary. Henry Sidney’s first child was Philip Sidney, later to become Sir Philip, soldier, scholar, poet and the personification of everything that was virtuous, chivalrous and noble. After Brooke’s death, his name would often be linked with that of Sidney; both poets died while serving as soldiers. The family built a London house, twice the size of Penshurst, but it was a white elephant pulled down 100 years later; the Empire, Leicester Square, now stands on the site. Many years later Sir Bysshe Shelley married into the family, his grandson Percy Bysshe Shelley becoming one of England’s most famous poets, who, like Brooke and Sidney, was to die tragically young.
At Penshurst the party in the long meadows flanking the river Eden was soon joined by Noel Olivier, when her summer term at Bedales ended, and then by Brooke and Dudley Ward, Rupert again knowing fully Noel’s movements. It was the first meeting between Brooke and Garnett, whom Rupert nicknamed ‘Bunny’. Garnett’s memory of his encounter with Brooke remained crystal clear:
The following night, just after we’d all retired to sleep, there were gay shouts of greeting as we all emerged from sleeping bags and tents to find two young men from Cambridge had come to join us. They were Rupert Brooke and Dudley Ward. Rupert was extremely attractive. Though not handsome, he was beautiful. His complexion, his skin, his eyes and hair were perfect. He was tall and well built, loosely put together, with a careless animal grace and a face made for smiling and teasing and sudden laughter. As he ate in the firelight I watched him, at once delighted by him and afraid that his friendliness might be a mask. What might not lie below it?
The meadows by the River Eden, where the young Edwardians laughed, swam, talked and walked as July turned into August in that summer of 1909, were approached by turning off the Penshurst Road along the lane to Salman’s Farm. Just before the hill leading to the farm itself, a small bridge crossed the River Eden, to the left of which some 50 yards away the river opened out into an ideal spot for bathing just above the old weirhouse. During his sojourn there Brooke went for walks along the river with Noel and they all swam, even at night, by the light of bicycle lamps, amid, in Garnett’s words, ‘the smell of new-mown hay, of the river and weeds’. He recalled vividly this time at Penshurst in his autobiography:
[S]oon we were sitting round the blazing fire, Noel’s eyes shining in welcome for the new arrivals and the soft river water trickling from her hair down her bare shoulders. And on the white shoulders, shining in the firelight, were bits of duck weed, which made me love them all the more. The moon rose full. Soon we crawled back into our sleeping bags and slept, but Rupert, I believe, lay awake composing poetry.
Intrigued by the spectacle of a group of young people behaving in what they would deem an erratic, and probably erotic, manner, the locals lined the little bridge by the wider part of the river where they were about to bathe. Undeterred, they continued to swim, Noel picking her way through the assembly on the bridge to effect a perfect dive into the Eden.
In a letter to Brooke, written some eighteen months later, on 10 February 1911, Noel admitted:
[A]t camp at Penshurst I was driven silly with love and it was perhaps at that time that I felt it most strongly. Since then I havegradually began to know him [Rupert] better, and would, I think, have looked on him as a friend, a person whom I loved better than anyone else but for whom I neither needed nor expected more than to see him at times and talk to him; I wanted him to prefer me to others, but not to everything.
The delightful spot by the River Eden that so enchanted Garnett, and where Noel’s feelings for Rupert were at their height, remains unchanged, with its tranquil meadows, winding waterway soon to flow into the River Medway views to Penshurst Palace and little arched bridge. The weirhouse has disappeared, although the weir still falls, and in the wide pool where Brooke and his friends swam, the occasional fisherman waits patiently for an obliging dace or chub.
The round of summer activity continued, as Rupert, his family and his friends headed west. A part of Avon since the shuffling of the counties in 1976, Clevedon, on the Severn Estuary was firmly in the more delightfully named Somerset in the summer of 1909, when Brooke persuaded his parents to rent a large Victorian vicarage there. Clevedon was once referred to as ‘the brain-workers’ paradise’; local postcards proudly proclaimed its best features as ‘unrivalled sunsets, daily steamer services to Devon and delightful inland and coastal scenery’. The literati had always been drawn to the town. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was the first poet to write about the area when he resided in Old Church Road, describing the cottage and the view from Dial Hill in the ‘Valley of Seclusion’: ‘dim coasts, and cloud-like hills, and shoreless ocean’. Minor poets associated with the area include Charles Abraham Elton (of the Elton family of Clevedon Court), Alfred Lord Tennyson’s friend Arthur Hallam (buried in the Elton vaults), H. D. Rawnsley and Hallam’s second cousin Charles Isaac Elton, who wrote the following lines on Clevedon in 1885 about his childhood memories of the place:
Come out and climb the garden path
The China rose is all abloom
And buzzing with the yellow bee
I’ll swing you on the cedar bough
How long since you and I went out
To see the kings go riding by
Over lawn and daisy lea
With their palm leaves and cedar sheaves
Clevedon’s literary magnetism is borne out in the street names, acknowledging the likes of Thackeray, Tennyson, Hallam and Coleridge. The literary history of the area would have appealed to Brooke, who would undoubtedly have been familiar with the poem, ‘In Memoriam’, Tennyson’s poetic epitaph to his friend Arthur Hallam.
The Danube to the Severn gave
The darkened heart that beat no more;
They laid him by the pleasant shore
And in the hearing of the wave.
There twice a day the Severn fills;
The salt sea-water passes by,
And hushes half the babbling Wye,
And makes a silence in the hills.
It was to All Saints Vicarage in Coleridge Road that the Brookes came that summer. The incumbent, the Reverend Richard A. Arden-Davis,had taken up his position seven years earlier in 1902, five years after the building was erected. In a letter dated 10 November 1902, Miss Elizabeth Teulon, writing to her daughter Margaret, asked, ‘Have I described the new vicar? I think not. He is short, very bald, with quite light hair, a well-developed forehead and penetrating eyes, no nose worth mentioning, an expressive mouth, and chin denoting power and will. He has a most pleasant voice and I like him very much.’
Rupert and his friends’ predilection for walking and the open road would have been truly sated by the coastal clifftop path leading to Portishead, with its wide distant views to South Wales. But Rupert affected a dislike of the place: ‘Clevedon is insufferable. I have followed up all the rivers for miles around and they are all ditches.’ For the first fortnight of the holiday Rupert was ill: Dudley Ward kicked him by accident, and the injury laid him up. His chums started arriving in dribs and drabs, as was his plan in suggesting the Cleveland Vicarage; it enabled him to invite his friends down as opposed to being subjected to obligatory seclusion at home in Rugby. Paradoxically, though, he enjoyed the role of one appearing to sequester himself from the world, while really encouraging visitors. A mixed assortment of Cambridge friends and associates appeared for varying lengths of time, including Margery and Bryn Olivier, Dudley Ward, Maynard Keynes, Gerald Shove, Hugh Dalton, Francis Birrell, Gwen Darwin (who was to marry Jacques Raverat), A. Y. Campbell, Eva Spielman, Bill Hubback and Eddie Marsh. Mrs Brooke clearly was not sure what to make of Rupert’s new friends, commenting, ‘I have never met so many brilliant and conceited young men’.
She was none too pleased at their bad timekeeping and general behaviour; Rupert wrote to Ka Cox from the Vicarage, ‘Oh, poor Mother’s Experiment of having some of my Acquaintances in a House in the Country this Summer! They’ve come and gone, singly and in batches, and the Elder Generation couldn’t stand any ofthem.’ Mrs Brooke was generally aware of several of her son’s friends, especially the Olivier girls, Bryn, Margery Daphne and Noel, about whom an acquaintance had exclaimed, ‘My, yes, the Oliviers! They’d do anything, those girls!’ Her major misgiving was about the attitude of Bryn (who, she wrongly assumed, was the object of Rupert’s affection) and her seemingly deliberate flaunting of normal convention and etiquette, although her attitude was in accordance with the freedom of her upbringing and education. In reality it was, of course, Noel who inflamed Rupert’s passion, but Margery ensured that Noel didn’t come to Clevedon and went as far as to tell him on arrival that his feelings weren’t returned – clearly out of a mixture of jealousy, complicity and concern on Margery’s part.
Of the girls in Rupert’s circle, his mother admitted:
I prefer Miss Cox, her wrists are very thick, and I don’t like the expression of her mouth, but she’s a sensible girl. I can’t understand what you all see in these Oliviers; they are pretty I suppose, but not at all clever, they’re shocking flirts and their manners are disgraceful.
Despite these shortcomings, Daphne co-founded the first Steiner School in England and Noel became an eminent physician.
Margery and Bryn Olivier, Dudley Ward and Bill Hubback joined Rupert on one particular walk along the cliffs to Portishead, where, looking out over the Severn Estuary, the company fell into conversation about the poet John Davidson, who had recently drowned himself in Cornwall at the age of fifty-one, and conjectured as to whether he had merely faked death to escape to another life elsewhere. Davidson’s dictum that life on the road to anywhere was preferable to a long-drawn-out downhill slide into old age appealed to the five friends. Discussing it during the walk back toClevedon, they made a pact to cast off their old lives at a certain point in the future and start afresh elsewhere, thereby denying any of their acquaintances the opportunity of watching them slip into senility. The plan was firmed up – to meet on 1 May 1933, the venue the dining-room, Basle station, where they would meet for breakfast. Back at the All Saints Vicarage they decided on others who would get the call and be an essential part of their plan; these included Godwin Baynes, Ka Cox and Jacques Raverat. Rupert wrote to the latter:
We are twenty-something. In 1920 we shall be thirty no-something. In 1930 we shall be forty no-something … still going to the last play reading the last book; passing through places we’ve been in for twenty years … having tea with each other’s wives; ‘working’ 10–5; taking a carefully organised holiday twice a year, with Ruskin, luggage and a family, to Florence, disapproving of rather wild young people … my dear Jacques, think of 1940, 50! … we shall become middle aged, tied with more and more ties, busier and busier, fussier and fussier; we shall become old, disinterested, peevishly or placidly old men; the world will fade to us … the idea, the splendour of this escape back into youth fascinated us … Will you join us? Will you, in twenty years, fling away your dingy wrappings of stale existence, and plunge into the unknown to taste Life anew? … it’s the greatest grandest offer of your life, or of ours … This is an offer. A damn serious and splendid offer … We’ll be children seventy years instead of seven.
Twenty-one years old when they made the Clevedon pact, Rupert would have been forty-five if he had made it to Basle station in 1933.
During the sojourn at Clevedon, theEnglish Review,vol. III no. 2,September 1909, published five of Brooke’s poems – ‘Blue Evening’, ‘Song of the Beasts’, ‘Sleeping Out’, ‘Full Moon’ and ‘Finding’.Finding
From the candles and dumb shadows,
And the house where love had died,
I stole to the vast moonlight
And the whispering life outside.
But I found no lips of comfort,
No home in the moon’s light
(I, little and lone and frightened
In the unfriendly night),
And no meaning in the voices…
Far over the lands, and through
The dark, beyond the ocean,
I willed to think ofyou!
For I knew, had you been with me
I’d have known the words of night,
Found peace of heart, gone gladly
In comfort of that light.
Oh! The wind with soft beguiling
Would have stolen my thought away,
And the night, subtly smiling,
Came by the silver way;
And the moon came down and danced to me,
And her robe was white and flying;
And trees bent their heads to me
And dead voices wept around me;
And dead soft fingers thrilled;
And the little gods whispered …
Desperately I willed;
Till all grew soft and far
I found you white and radiant,
Far out through the tides of darkness,
And there in that great light
Was alone no more, nor fearful;
For there, in the homely night,
Was no thought else that mattered,
And nothing else was true,
But the whole fire of moonlight,
And a white dream of you.
Of ‘Blue Evening’, the American George Edward Woodberry, who would later write the preface for Brooke’s first ever book ofCollected Poems, was moved to comment:
It is original and complete. In its whispering embraces of sense, in the terror of seizure of the spirit, in the tranquil euthanasia of the end by the touch of speechless beauty, it seems to me a true symbol of life whole and entire. It is beautiful in language and feeling, with an extraordinary clarity and rise of power; and above all, though rare in experience, it is real.Blue Evening
My restless blood now lies a-quiver,
Knowing that always, exquisitely,
This April twilight on the river
Stirs anguish in the heart of me.
For the fast world in that rare glimmer
Puts on the witchery of a dream,
The straight grey buildings, richly dimmer,
The fiery windows, and the stream
With willows leaning quietly over,
The still ecstatic fading skies…
And all these, like a waiting lover,
Murmur and gleam, lift lustrous eyes,
Drift close to me, and sideways bending
Whisper delicious words.
Stretch terrible hands, uncomprehending,
Shaken with love; and laugh; and cry.
My agony made the willows quiver;
I heard the knocking of my heart
Die loudly down the windless river,
I heard the pale skies fall apart,
And the shrill stars’ unmeaning laughter,
And my voice with the vocal trees
Weeping. And hatred followed after,
Shrilling madly down the breeze.
In peace from the wild heart of clamour,
A flower in moonlight, she was there,
Was rippling down white ways of glamour
Quietly laid on wave and air.
Her passing left no leaf a-quiver.
Pale flowers wreathed her white, white brows.
Her feet were silence on the river;
And ‘Hush!’ she said, between the boughs.
While at Clevedon, Rupert discussed his love for Noel with her sister Margery, who later touched on the subject in a letter to him: ‘Do be sensible! … she is so young … You are so young.’ She also informed him that women shouldn’t marry before twenty-six or twenty-seven, that Rupert was to be shut out of Noel’s existence and warned him, ‘if you bring this great terrible, terrible, all absorbing thing into Noel’s life now … it will stop her intellectual development’. Margery was soon to begin suffering from delusions, during which she would invariably imagine every young man she met to be in love with her. Sadly she became increasingly unmanageable, and was eventually, in 1922, committed to an institution.
The Vicarage in Coleridge Road has been less affected by the ravages of time, although the tennis lawn on which Brooke and his friends played in the summer of 1909 has reverted to its natural state, and the only plans drawn up today are those for the Sunday sermon.
Chapter 6Unrequited Love
BEFORE RETURNING TOCambridge, Brooke called in at School Field. While there he made Fabian plans with Hugh Dalton, to whom he indicated a place on the wall in the Poet’s Corner of the Rugby Chapel: ‘There is a vacant space reserved for me between Matthew Arnold and Arthur Hugh Clough.’ His prophecy would come true within a few short years.
More immediate plans included a visit to The Champions, the Oliviers’ home at Limpsfield Chart in Surrey – not somewhere he could be completely at ease, because of the unfulfilled relationship with Noel. He was there not at Noel’s invitation, but strangely at the behest of Margery – compensation of a sort for Brooke beingrefused permission to take Noel to seeKing Lear.It was clear that most of the family, probably including Noel herself, felt that she was too young to be subjected to Rupert’s unswerving fixation. Their home was on the Surrey/Kent border; the Chart (as Limpsfield Chart is known) – Anglo-Saxon for stony ground – now belies its name with its woods and verdant setting, as indeed it already did by the time Sydney Olivier and his family settled there. Olivier, who held a high position on the staff of the South African Department, began to reconstruct the joined cottages at The Champions he had acquired in a wonderful position 600 feet above the Weald in 1891. His wife, Margaret Olivier, recalled, ‘We had already spent two summer holidays there in a tiny cottage near the common, a mile from Oxted station. The cottage we acquired later was a mile further on, near the Chart woods.’ The family found it enchanting, with its woods, commons, scent of the fir trees and stunning southerly views. The area had a magnetism that drew others to it, including the Peases (Edward Pease was the founding father of the Fabians), the literary Garnetts (Edward, Constance and David), and the Pye family, whose daughters Sybil (a bookbinder) and Ethel (a sculptress) would become close friends of Brooke. In 1905, H. G. Wells first came to the house, where he taught the Olivier girls to play croquet on the small and highly unsuitable lawn; another visitor, Prince Kropotkin, the Russian anarchist, helped the girls to collect frogs, beetles and other creatures that fascinate children. George Bernard Shaw was also a regular at The Champions. The Oliviers extended the building in many directions, including building a long playroom for the girls in which they used to put on plays for, and with, their friends; George Bernard Shaw once politely sat through a performance ofThe Admirable Bashful,in which a twelve-year-old David Garnett portrayed the Zulu King, Cetewayo.
The Oliviers wholeheartedly and actively supported the local commons preservation society successfully fighting several right-of-way and enclosure battles with domineering landowners and the lord of the manor. The family often were abroad in Jamaica, and when in England Sydney was invariably based in London, occasionally going down to The Champions, which was looked after by a caretaker and her husband. The other occupant of the house was the Oliviers’ grey parrot – a gift from an African friend. Sydney Olivier embraced the Utopian principles of the Fabian Society when Fabianism was still in its infancy, helping to establish the movement for radical but passive social reform. It was Rupert becoming a young Fabian that led to that meeting with Sir Sydney Olivier and his daughters Margery and Noel at Ben Keeling’s supper party back on 10 May 1908.
The Champions was one of many venues that witnessed the cat-and-mouse tale of Rupert’s unrequited love for Noel, Rupert vacillating between open devotion and an assumed sang-froid, Noel wary and holding his frisky boyishness at arm’s length. While there, they walked in the garden and discussed the 1 May pact, which Rupert reminded her about weeks later:
Well do you remember as I drove away from The Champions in a strangely stuffy cab, weeping a little out of the left-hand window, I indistinctly cried through the cheering of the multitudes, ‘I shall write a letter about it.’ But I expect you never heard. Anyhow you foresaw it when we discussed – or rather when you asked questions among the flower pots, and I could not reply, because my mouth was full of biscuit, and my tongue burnt by the hot milk (which I dislike). By now, perhaps you have answered your own questions, or discovered new difficulties, or worked out the Scheme further than I.
In the middle of December, Rupert attended the Slade School of Art fancy dress ball, dressed, with a little help and advice from Gwen Darwin, as Shelley’s ‘West Wind’, before leaving England for a short holiday in Switzerland. From the Hotel Schweizerhof, at Lenzerheide, on Christmas Eve, he posted greetings to Noel: ‘I send a book you know because tomorrow is your and Jesus’ birthday … there are more trees than at Klosters: fewer people.’ On the way back, Rupert, Jacques and a couple of others stopped at what was their intended destination for 1933, sending a postcard to Ka – ‘We passed through Basle this morning while you slept. Ha, Ha!’ – before travelling to Paris, where Rupert fell ill, having eaten ‘green honey’ that disagreed with him. He fainted at the Louvre, and was so ill on returning to School Field that his face turned a bright orange and his tongue, mouth, throat and stomach were raw: ‘The skin peels off like bad paper from a rotten wall.’ From his sickbed, Brooke tidied up a poem that had been sketched out in Switzerland, having been inspired by a rough crossing from England to France. Initially titled ‘A Shakespearean Love Sonnet’, it became ‘A Channel Passage’, and was somewhat controversial because of the way it dealt with seasickness in such an overt way.A Channel Passage
The damned ship lurched and slithered. Quiet and quick
My cold gorge rose; the long sea rolled; I knew
I must think hard of something, or be sick;
And could think hard of only one thing –you!
You, you alone could hold my fancy ever!
And with you memories come, sharp pain, and dole.
Now there’s a choice – heartache or tortured liver!
A sea-sick body, or a you-sick soul!
Do I forget you? Retchings twist and tie me,
Old meat, good meals, brown gobbets, up I throw.
Do I remember? Acrid return and slimy,
The slobs and slobber of a last year’s woe.
And still the sick ship rolls. ‘Tis hard, I tell ye,
To choose ‘twixt love and nausea, heart and belly.
During January illness was plaguing the Brooke household. Rupert was still under the weather and his father beginning to suffer from acute neuralgia. Parker Brooke’s condition soon gave cause for alarm as his sight began to fail and he suffered increasingly from lapses of memory. A local doctor diagnosed a clot on the brain, an oculist found nothing wrong with his eyes, while a nerve specialist concurred with the doctor that there was something amiss in the brain. His condition was giving the family so much cause for concern that it looked certain that Rupert wouldn’t be able to participate in the Marlowe Society’s production ofRichard II,or W. B. Yeats’s play,The Land of Heart’s Desire.Hugh Dalton took on Rupert’s Fabian work on the Minority Report.
A still feverish Brooke wrote another poem on 11 January.The One Before the Last
I dreamt I was in love again
With the One Before the Last,
And smiled to greet the pleasant pain
Of that innocent young past.
But I jumped to feel how sharp had been
The pain when it did live,
How the faded dreams of Nineteen-ten
Were Hell in Nineteen-five.
The boy’s woe was keen and clear,
The boy’s love just as true,
And the One Before the Last, my dear,
Hurt quite as much as you.
Sickly I pondered how the lover
Wrongs the unanswering tomb,
And sentimentalizes over
What earned a better doom.
Gently he tombs the poor dim last time,
Strews pinkish dust above,
And sighs, ‘The dear dead boyish pastime!
But this – ah, God! – is Love!’
– Better oblivion hide dead true loves,
Better the night enfold,
Than man, to eke the praise of new loves,
Should lie about the old!
Oh! bitter thoughts I had in plenty.
But here’s the worst of it –
I shall forget, in Nineteen-twenty,
You ever hurt a bit!
For a while, it was thought that Rupert may have typhoid.
It turned out to be a false alarm, but he was undoubtedly susceptible to illness and appeared to have a weak immune system. Some forty-five years after his death, a nurse saw, among other photographs, a picture of Brooke. Without knowing who he was, she was moved to comment, ‘Well, that young man won’t see twenty-five, he’s tubercular.’
As Rupert’s condition improved, so his father’s deteriorated. Parker Brooke’s sight began to fail, and on 24 January he had a stroke. Rupert wrote to Dudley Ward from School Field: ‘Father has had a stroke. He is unconscious. We sit with him by turns. It is terrible. His face is twisted half out of recognition, and he lies gurgling and choking and fighting for life.’ Later that day his father died and a great sadness descended on the family. Rupert, still weak from his own illness, caught influenza at the funeral. There was still work to be done though, and fifty-four boys returning from the Christmas holidays. Rupert stepped into the breach and became Acting Housemaster, until the end of term. His Aunt Fanny came up from Bournemouth to lend a hand with the arrangements and Rupert’s friends sent him messages of condolence. He missed Grantchester, but soon warmed to his new role of pedagogue: ‘Being Housemaster is in a way pleasant. The boys are delightful; and I find I am an admirable schoolmaster … they remember I used to play for the School at various violent games, and respect me accordingly.’
In March he completed a poem begun in December:Dust
When the white flame in us is gone,
And we that lost the world’s delight
Stiffen in darkness, left alone
To crumble in our separate night;
When your swift hair is quiet in death,
And through the lips corruption thrust
Has stilled the labour of my breath –
When we are dust, when we are dust! –
Not dead, not undesirous yet,
Still sentient, still unsatisfied,
We’ll ride the air, and shine, and flit,
Around the places where we died,
And dance as dust before the sun,
And light of foot, and unconfined,
Hurry from road to road, and run
About the errands of the wind.
And every mote, on earth or air,
Will speed and gleam, down later days,
And like a secret pilgrim fare
By eager and invisible ways,
Nor ever rest, nor ever lie,
Till, beyond thinking, out of view,
One mote of all the dust that’s I
Shall meet one atom that was you.
Then in some garden hushed from wind,
Warm in a sunset’s afterglow,
The lovers in the flowers will find
A sweet and strange unquiet grow
Upon the peace; and past desiring,
So high a beauty in the air,
And such a light, and such a quiring,
And such a radiant ecstasy there,
They’ll know not if it’s fire, or dew,
Or out of earth, or in the height,
Singing, or flame, or scent, or hue,
Or two that pass, in light, to light,
Out of the garden, higher, higher…
But in that instant they shall learn
The shattering ecstasy of our fire,
And the weak passionless hearts will burn
And faint in that amazing glow,
Until the darkness close above;
And they will know – poor fools, they’ll know! –
One moment, what it is to love.
By the middle of the month he was, he informed Gwen Darwin, longing to return to Grantchester: ‘I shall be at the Orchard next term. Will you have a meal in the Meadows in May with me – i.e. honey under the Orchard apple-blossom?’ While he dreamed of his idyllic home near the Granta he was facing the practicalities of moving from School Field and finding another family home. After fifteen years there, leaving was a wrench for Mrs Brooke, who was praying that they wouldn’t be turned out overnight. Noel asked, ‘Will you have to go and build a house for your mother to live in and then write nonsense to support yourself and her? Or will she be independent and let you go back and play and be distinguishedin Cambridge?’ She was independent, taking a rather solid, plain-looking house at 24 Bilton Road, Rugby, which would be their new home and a part-time base for Rupert. On 27 March 1910, a few days before their departure from School Field, he sent these nostalgic words to Dudley Ward:
… Oh soon
The little white flowers whose names I never knew
Will wake at Cranborne. They’ve forgotten you
Robin, who ran the hedge a year ago
Runs still by Shaston. Does he remember? No
This year the ways of Fordingbridge won’t see
So meaty and so swift a poet as me
Mouthing undying lines. Down Lyndhurst way
The woods will rub along without us
Do you remember the motors on the down?
The stream we washed our feet in? Cranborne Town
By night? And the two Inns? The men we met?
The jolly things we said? The food we ate?
The last high-toast in shandy-gaff we drank?
And – certain people, under trees, at Bank?
Following his mother’s move to Bilton Road, Brooke went to spend some time at Lulworth, staying this time a few yards across the road from the Post Office, at Cove Cottage, belonging to the Williams family. It was a pretty, typically English thatched house with a wonderfully wild garden that faced a peculiar cottage that had been constructed in Canada and transported to Lulworth during the nineteenth century. From Cove Cottage he wrote to Geoffrey Keynes on 8 April:
Here (ecce iterum!) I roam the cliffs and try to forget my bleeding soul. Tonight some Stracheys join me – James for his journalist’s weekend, Lytton for a week or so. After that – i.e. next Saturday or Sunday (or rather, Sat or Sun the 16th or 17th) – Jacques and Godwin Baynes may be joining me, or I them, somewhere for a day or two’s walk.
Five days later he wrote from Cove Cottage to Eddie Marsh, ‘My dear Eddie, At length I am escaped from the world’s great snare. This is Heaven – Downs, Hens, Cottages and the Sun.’
Rupert returned to the Orchard in time to celebrate May Day. It was now exactly twenty-three years away from the date that they all planned to meet at Basle station. On 1 May 1910 a crowd of friends, including Ka Cox and Geoffrey Keynes, came to have breakfast with Brooke at the Orchard, causing him to complain good-naturedly in a letter to Noel Olivier:
[T]he thing is that they insist on ‘dabbling in the dew’ and being ‘in the country’ on the first of May. I had to get up at half-past seven to give them breakfast; though I had worked until two. It rained in the morning, yet they all turned up, thousands of them – men and women – devastatingly and indomitably cheery … when rain ceased we put on galoshes and gathered cowslips in the fields. We celebrate the festival with a wealth of detailed and ancient pagan ritual; many dances and song.
Amid the comings and goings of the tea garden, Brooke worked on an essay on Webster, which was to win him the Charles Oldham Shakespeare Prize, as well as working on a collection of his own verse and devoting some time to his campaign in support of Beatrice Webb’s plans for Poor Law Reforms. Brooke’s guests at the Orchardat various times included E. M. Forster and Lytton Strachey, both of whom received Mrs Stevenson’s hospitality. Brooke loved the Orchard – ‘golden and melancholy and sleepy and enchanted. I sit neck-deep in red leaves’ – but the Stevensons were unhappy with his habit of wandering around the house, garden and village barefoot. As a result Brooke moved a few months later to the Old Vicarage next door. Prior to his departure he wrote to Noel Olivier from the Orchard:
I’ve been finishing off a poem I began and planned in the spring. It’s a bit out of date now. But illuminating. The position is this – I worshipped. I once ridiculously hoped you’d fall in love withme. But that was blasphemy … Oh, my cleverness! My poor grubby cleverness! That couldn’t at all foresee you falling in love, and yet doing it in your own perfect and gracious manner. The poor poem is rather knocked on the head.Success
I think if you had loved me when I wanted;
If I’d looked up one day, and seen your eyes,
And found my wild sick blasphemous prayer granted,
And your brown face, that’s full of pity and wise,
Flushed suddenly; the white godhead in new fear
Intolerably so struggling, and so shamed;
Most holy and far, if you’d come all too near,
If earth had seen Earth’s lordliest wild limbs tamed,
Shaken, and trapped, and shivering, formytouch –
Myself should I have slain? or that foul you?
But this the strange gods, who had given so much,
To have seen and known you, this they might not do.
One last shame’s spared me, one black word’s unspoken;
And I’m alone; and you have not awoken.
Virginia Stephen (later Virginia Woolf) came out of curiosity, to see the young poet living in the great outdoors at Grantchester, and dubbed Brooke and his group of friends who frequented the Orchard and the Old Vicarage, the ‘neo-pagans’. Her name was undoubtedly added to a long list of luminaries who nature would have called to the only ‘small house’ while taking tea at the Orchard. The privy in the garden with its two-hole bench still exists, as does the wooden tea pavilion.
That June, Rupert was back at Overcote, 13 miles north of Cambridge, camping with Geoffrey Keynes among the wildlife and communing with nature. While there he wrote a review of James Elroy Flecker’s new volumeThirty-SixPoems, commenting: ‘Too often seems to have been inspired with a few good lines and completed the poems with a few dull ones … the healthy human vulgar man’s vulgar and mixed emotions made, somehow, beautiful by the magic of poetry.’ Keynes and Brooke discussed the staging of a revival ofFaustus, walked, read and swam in the Ouse. The day after their return to Cambridge, Rupert described his few days at Overcote with enthusiasm:
I went into camp (a tent 6 feet each way) with Geoffrey on Monday … We had a very good time, with no rain at all. I slept out and Geoffrey slept inside the tent. We got extraordinarily red and brown. My nose is peeling, while Geoffrey’s arms and ankles went quite raw the last few days. We bathed a good deal. I became quite an expert at cooking – especially fried eggs. We had one or two visitors in camp – the Batesons among others. But it was too far for many people to come. Overcourt (ormore correctly Overcote) is a lovely place, with nothing but an old Inn and a ferry. There are villages round a mile or two away, but hidden. And there’s just the Ouse, a slow stream, and some trees and fields and an immense expanse of sky. There were a lot of wild birds about – wild duck and snipe and herons. I sat and wrote my beastly essay most of the day. We rose about 6.30 on Friday yesterday, made breakfast, washed up, packed everything up and rode off.
Four years later, while he was on board ship from the South Seas to the United States in April 1914, Brooke wrote nostalgically of this time to Frances Cornford (although addressing his letter to her six-month-old daughter Helena): ‘but you won’t have gone dabbling in the dew in Justin’s car at Overcote. No indeed – you young folks don’t do these things – these were days … but I weary you.’ Overcote is virtually unchanged to this day – the Ouse still glides past the ferry, wild fowl still abound – but the sight of a 1909 Opel crammed with Edwardian ‘dew-dabblers’ from Cambridge is rare.
Rupert continued to feed his wanderlust, plotting a Fabian expedition to the New Forest with Dudley Ward, where they would undertake a Poor Law Reform tour, travelling by horse and cart and preaching from village greens. Part of Rupert’s agenda was that they would approach their route via Froxfield, because of its proximity to Bedales and Noel. She had already suggested a visit in a letter written several months earlier: ‘You ought to come down here in the Summer once, it is better then than in the Spring or Winter, and there are downs; perhaps you have been already? If not, get Jacques to invite you, or Lupton.’ Rupert responded on 2 April, ‘Yes I shall get Jacques to take me there once more (Petersfield I mean) and in the Summer, or Dudley and I will come in our carriage.’
Known as little Switzerland, the area of Froxfield Green, Steep andStonor Hill, with its wooded heights and beech hangers, rises some 500 feet above the western end of the Weald and the River Rother. Despite the steep nature of Stonor Hill, the stage coaches from Petersfield to Winchester and Alton crawled their way up the face of the slope, tacking patiently across it before the route was replaced with a zigzag road in the 1820s. Brooke had been to the area in June 1909, writing to Noel Olivier from his uncle’s house at Godalming:
I shall go to Froxfield, Petersfield (address) on Thursday, talk to Jacques, meet Badley (perhaps, see Bedales, you by chance in the distance, or not) – and go back to London at six that evening … and if, if, there’s anything more to be said, a letter here by tomorrow’s first post, or to Froxfield, Petersfield (which I reach at noon) would find me. So if I even shan’t see Bedales, you know where and how to stop me. Damn the rain!
This western tail-end of the North Downs had a resident writer in Edward Thomas, who, at the time of Brooke’s first visit to the area, was living at Berryfield Cottage with his wife Helen, moving in December 1909 to the Red Cottage (later the Red House), a William Morris-style dwelling commissioned by Old Bedalian and local furniture craftsman Geoffrey Lupton and built by Alfred Powell. Lupton’s own house and workshops were just a few yards to the west, with equally commanding southerly views over Petersfield towards the South Downs. Both the Red House and Geoffrey Lupton’s home next door were tucked in a far corner of Froxfield Green out on a limb in Cockshott Lane and almost in Steep, which began at the bottom of their gardens. Thomas wrote in a small room away from the house that looked ‘through trees to a magnificent road winding up and round and a coombe among beeches, and to the Downs 4 miles away south’. Three years later Thomas would contemplate incorporating the nameof the area into the pseudonym ‘Arthur Froxfield’, when planning a work of fiction about a Welsh household in London set in the 1890s.
In 1910 Rupert’s plan was to break the journey and stop over at Froxfield Green, where he hoped to see Noel and converse with Edward Thomas. He revealed the plot to Jacques Raverat:
Dudley and I are going to – or want to – go to Petersfield before we start off in our cart: in, that is, about ten days from now. It is enormously unfortunate that you’ll not be there. For I, of course, daren’t face Bedale’s without you. But all, almost, we want to do is to see the gorgeous Noel and talk with the tired Thomas. Thomas himself has a wife and babes, so we should not bother him as a host, I suppose. But what of Lupton? You know the world, and him, and us. Would it be possible for me to suggest that he gave us a bed (or an outhouse) and, if necessary, had Noel to tea … or is he too quiet-loving, and does he hate us quick-tongued urbane people whom you have brought there too much? Tell me these things. For if it would be at all possible, I should like Dudley to see Life on a Hill, as well as Thomas. Is, if all’s well, Lupton’s address just Froxfield, Petersfield?
Despite Rupert’s enthusiasm for the adventure, Noel was typically cautious.
I cannot be sure about seeing you, but as Petersfield – its surroundings –arepleasant and as there is Thomas who you want to see, and also Lumpit, who provides such good teas, both of them live on a hill nearby, your efforts in reaching this district will not have been wasted, even if I have to spend the day in bed. Perhaps you had better find out from the two above mentioned people, whether they will be there …Conclusioncome with yourGerman friend by all means and camp in the cart in Lumpit’s garden; I will try and intimate to you there if I can come, and arrange where, when and how.
Brooke, now hopeful of a meeting with Noel, put pen to paper to Lupton and then Dudley Ward:
I’ve written to Lupton: yesterday. But, you know, he’s one of those splendid, dour, natural, stupid men; who hates my dialectical skill and conversational wit, and would not scruple brutally to say so, or kick me in the stomach with his hobnailed boots. Still I’ve written him a winning letter.
The letter won the day, despite Brooke’s jokily disparaging remarks about Lupton to Ward. ‘Lupton’s answered, and will be alone and can manage us. So all is well.’ The news was quickly passed on to Noel:
Lupton, in fact,willbe there. And the German and I are going to stay with him … Well ‘as things are’ we shall leave London on Thursday and reach Petersfield 3.32 or 4.45 or some such ridiculous time. And will leave it again, no doubt, on Saturday morning … can you, if you can, come on a walk or excursion on the Thursday or Friday, at any hour, and also to a meal? Or to one-developing-into-another? Or to which? I think, you know, you’d better make out, on the information I’ve given you, what can, may and shall be done and tell Lupton, or send a note to me up there.
Noel did get permission to join them for tea, bringing with her Mary Newberry, a close schoolfriend, who later married landscape painter Alick Riddell Sturrock, and lived to the ripe old age of ninety-three, dying in 1985. So Brooke and Dudley Ward stayed with Lupton,among the furniture of the man who had studied under Ernest Grimson, and whom Nikolaus Pevsner called ‘the greatest English artist-craftsman’. Rupert’s mind, though, was more on Noel than on appreciating Lupton’s expertise in fashioning small pieces of timber. Other diversions were the captivating southerly views and Edward Thomas, whose wife Helen was heavily pregnant with their third child Myfanwy, born just one month after Brooke’s departure.
Eventually, Rupert and Dudley Ward set off on their tour, in a caravan borrowed from King’s colleagues Hugh and Steuart Wilson, with a horse called Guy pulling it to various destinations. Armed with assorted utensils from the Orchard, including a Primus stove and kettle, Ward and Brooke travelled the New Forest area for a fortnight, handing out leaflets and making speeches on village greens or in market places and encouraging debate. Posters proclaimed the travellers prior to their arrival at each venue. The Poole poster read: ‘Poole High Street, close to the free library. Principal speaker MR BROOKE. Questions invited. In support of proposals for Poor Law Reform. Sponsored by the NCPD.’ At Wareham, their spirits were temporarily dampened by the weather, which caused them to check into the Black Bear Hotel.
The hotel dates back to the early 1700s, the first mention of it occurring in 1722. Forty years later, the old hostelry was destroyed and the elegant inn where Rupert and Dudley were to stay was built. In their day, the ‘Emerald’ stage coach departed from the hotel for London six days a week, and the owners advertised good accommodation for motorists, cyclists and yachtsmen, the town being situated between the Rivers Frome and Piddle. The Romans were at Wareham for five centuries; St Aldhelm, the first bishop of the West Saxons, founded a nunnery on the banks of the Frome about 700AD. The Anglo-Saxons knew the town as Werham – the homestead by the weir -and fished its salmon-filled waters. Beorthric, theKing of the West Saxons, is buried there. By 876, the Vikings held the town, until they were beleaguered by King Alfred, while King Edward (the Martyr) was buried there 150 years later. In 1066, the town boasted a population of over a thousand, whose offspring years later were to side with William the Conqueror’s granddaughter over her brother Stephen in their tussle for the throne. As a personal thank-you, Stephen had the town razed to the ground. The town revived but Wareham’s next major fire in 1762 again destroyed a major part, including the Black Bear, with its 6-foot ursine character dominating the River Frome end of South Street. Local legend runs that ‘if the bear falls from the porch, the world will end’. In case of accidents and him subsequently getting the blame for the ensuing Armageddon, he is securely fastened by a collar and chain.
From Wareham Rupert wrote to his cousin Erica at Godalming:
The last week (and the next) I have been going round delivering it [the Minority report] at towns and villages in the New Forest and round here. We travel in a caravan and live like savages. As a public orator I am a great success. As a caravaner, less. It rains incessantly.
At the end of the campaign, Rupert and Dudley Ward remained in the area, to join a crowd of their friends at Buckler’s Hard on the Beaulieu River; which included, of course, Noel. Ships had been built on the spot where they set up camp as early as the late seventeenth century, but in the 1740s Buckler’s Hard became an important shipbuilding village, providing fifty ships for the British Navy between 1754 and 1822. Two of the four terraces were demolished, leaving a wide airy space between the remaining two, as by the mid-nineteenth century the workforce and output had been scaled right down, due to the change to iron constructed vessels and the onslaught of the cheaper and speedier railways. By the time Bryn Olivier and Warddiscovered the place earlier in 1910, it looked much the same as it had done for the previous hundred years, with its two rows of old terraced houses and wide expanse of grass, and a clearing surrounded by extensive woodland running down to the peaceful Beaulieu River – an ideal place for a Bedalian-style camp.
The campers, in August 1910, included Noel and Bryn Olivier, Jacques Raverat, Ka Cox, the giant rowing blue and medical student Godwin Baynes, Harold Hobson who was studying engineering at King’s, Maitland Radford’s cousin Arthur ‘Hugh’ Popham, the Cambridge diving champion who was later to become the Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, Bill Hubback and Eva Spielman (by now engaged to each other), Sybil and Ethel Pye, their younger brother David and Bunny Garnett. Ethel Pye painted the neo-pagan camp during their stay; A. E. Popham later describing her painting to Bryn Olivier (whom he eventually married):
On the extreme left the boat comes to her muddy mornings and I am seen unshipping the rudder, then Harold (Hobson) is seen grumbling on his way to fetch wood, then the big tent and Ka and you cooking, then Dudley (Ward) and theFinancial Timesand Rupert and all.
Choosing a moment when he and Noel were alone gathering wood together, Rupert plucked up the courage to ask her to marry him. Surprisingly, she agreed, but added the caveat that it was to be their secret, and he was not to tell a soul. Not surprisingly, it was soon common news in the camp. Jacques Raverat later summed up how the situation appeared to the other campers at Buckler’s Hard:
She accepted the homage of his devotion with a calm, indifferent, detached air, as if it were something quite natural. Nodoubt she was flattered by his attentions, for she cannot have failed to see something of beauty and charm. Also, she saw how he was sought out, admired, showered with adulation on every side. But he did not inspire respect in her; she found him too young, too chimerical, too absurd.
Brooke celebrated his twenty-third birthday in the clearing haunted by blackheaded gulls, oyster-catchers, lapwings, redshanks and curlews on the very spot where three of Nelson’s fleet were built.
On his return to Grantchester, he discovered that Mrs Stephenson had people staying in his rooms, so briefly he decamped to the Old Vicarage next door. During the previous September when he was looking for somewhere, Rupert had described the house, garden and inmates to Lytton Strachey:
The Neeves are ‘working people’ who have ‘taken the house and want lodgers’ (beware of that plural). So far they have been singularly unsatisfied. Mr Neeve is a refined creature, with an accent above his class, who sits out near the beehives with a handkerchief over his head and reads advanced newspapers. He knows a lot about botany. They keep babies and chickens, and I rather think I have seen both classes entering the house. But you could be firm. The garden is the great glory. There is a soft lawn with a sundial and tangled, antique flowers abundantly; and a sham ruin, quite in a corner … Oh, I greatly recommend all the outside of the Old Vicarage. In the Autumn it will be Usher-like. There are trees rather too closely all around; and a mist. It’s right on the river. I nearly went there: but I could find no reason for deserting our present place.
He eventually would live there, but that was in the future.
In the late summer, James Strachey, Hugh Dalton and Rupert were back at the Fabian summer school in Llanbedr, Brooke and Strachey sleeping under their own blankets on the floor of one of the stables. The Society was still using Pen-yr-Allt, Caer-meddyg and their associated outbuildings. By now Beatrice Webb, a prime mover in the setting-up of the summer schools, was becoming disenchanted with them:
We have had interesting and useful talks with these young men, but the weather, being detestable, must have made the trip appear rather a bad investment for them, and they were inclined to go away rather more critical and supercilious than they came. Quite clearly we must not attempt it again unless we can ensure the presence of twenty or thirty leading dons and attractive celebrities. ‘They won’t come unless they know who they’re going to meet,’ sums up Rupert Brooke … They don’t want to learn, they don’t think they have anything to learn … the egotism of the young university man is colossal. Are they worth bothering about?
We all loved Beatrice, who related amusing anecdotes about Mr Herbert Spencer over and over again … The Cambridge group teased her and founded an ‘Anti-Athletic League’ when she tried to organise long, uphill walks, but at least they were eager to talk to her and explain their point of view.
The Oxford boys, however, appeared recalcitrant and antagonistic. Beatrice asked, ‘Why must these young men be so rude?’ On one occasion, the local police had to be called following unruly behaviourwhen the young Fabians vehemently supported each other against the hierarchy. If one of them was upbraided during a meeting, they would walk out as one body. After the summer school Rupert wrote to Geoffrey Keynes, ‘I’m just back from doing my accursed duty at the Fabian Summer School. It was really rather fun. A thousand different people from different parts of life.’ And to Ka Cox, ‘I went to Llanbedr. You ought to go one year, to learn a little about life, and to teach them a little about what? Anyhow it’s not so bad as you think … The Webbs too are very nice.’
By 1911 the lease on Pen-yr-Allt would expire and a decision be taken to abandon North Wales and hold the schools at the Hotel Monte Movo at Saas Grund in the Swiss Alps, but Brooke would not be present.
Rupert’s cousin Erica had become increasingly obsessed with George Bernard Shaw. Initially she sought advice from him, but her attentions were soon to become embarrassing, and Shaw suggested that she found someone of her own age to distract her from her hero-worship. The fact that he had entered into a correspondence with her about his plays, and explained that the expressions and feelings of the characters weren’t necessarily his own, served only to fan the flames. Her declarations of love became more intense and she even moved closer to the Shaws, to try to inveigle her way into their household. He lectured her on the fact that marriage was sacred and spoke of the ‘iron laws of domestic honour’, but it did little to discourage her. It is evident that Rupert knew nothing of the situation.
During October 1910, Edward Thomas stayed with Brooke at the Orchard, as did E. M. Forster, who had just had his new novel,Howards End,published. Rupert returned to Froxfield Green to spend some time with Thomas while his wife was away. It is hard to imagine the two poets gelling – Brooke gregarious and youthful, Thomasan often unhappy and depressed man weighed down with financial worries. Nevertheless, they read aloud to each other Brooke’s latest poems, including ‘Flight’, which would have sounded perfect read aloud in the beech hangers.Flight
Voices out of the shade that cried,
And long noon in the hot calm places,
And children’s play by the wayside,
And country eyes, and quiet faces –
All these were round my steady paces.
Those that I could have loved went by me;
Cool gardened homes slept in the sun;
I heard the whisper of water nigh me,
Saw hands that beckoned, shone, were gone
In the green and gold. And I went on.
For if my echoing footfall slept,
Soon a far whispering there’d be
Of a little lonely wind that crept
From tree to tree, and distantly
Followed me, followed me…
But the blue vaporous end of day
Brought peace, and pursuit baffled quite,
Where between pine-woods dipped the way.
I turned, slipped in and out of sight.
I trod as quiet as the night.
The pine-boles kept perpetual hush;
And in the boughs wind never swirled.
I found a flowering lowly bush,
And bowed, slid in, and sighed and curled,
Hidden at rest from all the world.
Safe! I was safe, and glad, I knew!
Yet – with cold heart and cold wet brows
I lay. And the dark fell … There grew
Meward a sound of shaken boughs;
And ceased, above my intricate house;
And silence, silence, silence found me…
I felt the unfaltering movement creep
Among the leaves. They shed around me
Calm clouds of scent, that I did weep,
And stroked my face. I fell asleep.
Thomas noted that Brooke:
[S]tretched himself out … drew his fingers through his waved, fair hair, laughed, talked indolently and admired as much as he was admired. No one that knew him could easily separate him from his poetry … he was tall, broad, and easy in his movements. Either he stooped, or he thrust his head forward unusually much to look at you with his steady blue eyes. His clear rosy skin helped to give him the look of a great girl.
Brooke returned to Grantchester, inspired by his time with Thomas, just as Thomas himself was to be encouraged in his poetry by the American poet, Robert Frost.
On 5 November 1910, Rupert was at Ye Olde George Hotel at Chatteris, some 20 miles north of Cambridge, where he scribbled down and sent to Jacques Raverat a poem entitled ‘Mummy’ that was later published inPoems 1911as ‘Mummia’.Mummy
As those of old drank mummia
To fire their limbs of lead,
Making dead kings from Africa
Stand pandar to their bed;
Drunk on the dead, and medicined
With spiced imperial dust,
In a short night they reeled to find
Ten centuries of lust.
So I, from paint, stone, tale, and rhyme,
Stuffed love’s infirmity,
And sucked all lovers of all time
To rarify ecstasy.
Helen’s the hair shuts out from me
Verona’s livid skies;
Gypsy the lips I press; and see
Two Antonys in your eyes.
The unheard invisible lonely dead
Lie with us in this place,
And ghostly hands above my head
Close face to straining face;
Woven from their tomb, and one with it,
The night wherein we press;
Their thousand pitchy pyres have lit
Your flaming nakedness…
The following day Noel Olivier received a copy.
This is a very rough unfinished copy of the sort of thing I shall send youon a postcardif you don’t write to me – even ten words to say you exist. Don’t ask me how I got here. I leave in five minutes … Farewell. Imagine, most unapproachable, a little figure stumping across the illimitable Fens, occasionally bowing to the sun because it reminds him of you.
Rupert continued his verbal bombardment to Noel, who, now almost eighteen, was usually confused by the ravings in his letters:
If I could only talk to you, ask you things. Two sensible people can say anything – anything in the world – to each other … I’m an infinitely vulgar nuisance … The world has given to you that you may have any emotion – violent lust, eternal hatred, infinite indifference – to me or to anyone else in the world, for as long or as short a time and at any moment you like.
Noel had just returned from Prunoy, in France, where she’d been a guest of Jacques Raverat’s family. During her stay Rupert had sent Jacques a new sonnet.The Life Beyond
He wakes, who never thought to wake again,
Who held the end was Death. He opens eyes
Slowly, to one long livid oozing plain
Closed down by the strange eyeless heavens. He lies;
And waits; and once in timeless sick surmise
Through the dead air heaves up an unknown hand,
Like a dry branch. No life is in that land,
Himself not lives, but is a thing that cries;
An unmeaning point upon the mud; a speck
Of moveless horror; an Immortal One
Cleansed of the world, sentient and dead; a fly
Fast-stuck in a grey sweat on a corpse’s neck.
I thought when love for you died, I should die.
It’s dead. Alone, most strangely, I live on.
Rupert kept up the onslaught, his frustration seeming to intensify with each letter:
[I]f I could only beat you suddenly on the nose, very hard, or pull your hair with painful and unexpected vehemence – Oh Noel, but I must see you. I weary you with another long slushy letter. I mistrust myself letter writing … I know I often fail to convey the effect I desire.
On 6 December, he enclosed a sonnet written the previous spring; ‘Don’t go reading anything into it except itself. I’ve never seen you “cry and turn away”.’The Hill
Breathless, we flung us on the windy hill,
Laughed in the sun, and kissed the lovely grass.
You said, ‘Through glory and ecstasy we pass;
Wind, sun, and earth remain, the birds sing still,
When we are old, are old…’ ‘And when we die
All’s over that is ours; and life burns on
Through other lovers, other lips,’ said I.
– ‘Heart of my heart, our heaven is now, is won!’
‘We are Earth’s best, that learnt her lesson here.
Life is our cry. We have kept the faith!’ we said;
‘We shall go down with unreluctant tread
Rose-crowned into the darkness!’ … Proud we were,
And laughed, that had such brave true things to say.
- And then you suddenly cried, and turned away.
Noel appeared ambivalent to his poetry: ‘I liked the old “Mummy” poems better than this “we flung us” one.’
During November, Rupert dined at Magdalene College with his friend A. C. Benson, who recorded Brooke’s physical attributes and countenance:
He was far more striking in appearance than exactly handsome in outline. His eyes were small and deeply set. It was the colouring of face and hair which gave special character to his look. The hair rose very thickly from his forehead, and fell in rather stiff arched locks on either side – he grew it full and over-long, it was of a beautiful dark auburn tint inclining to red, but withan underlying golden gleam in it. His complexion was richly coloured, as though the blood were plentiful and near the surface; his face much tanned, with the tinge of sun-ripened fruit. He was strongly built, but inclined to be sturdy, and even clumsy, rather than graceful or lithe … his voice was far from beautiful, monotonous in tone, husky and somewhat hampered in the throat.
Notwithstanding Benson’s comments about his voice, Rupert was a convincing speaker, addressing the Cambridge Fabians a month later for the last time as their president. His lecture was on ‘Democracy and the Arts’, and included various interesting observations and thoughts: ‘It seems to me that this century is going to witness a struggle between Democracy and Plutocracy’, and:
Observe the situation and remember it’s a real one, not one in a book. (1) Art is important. (2) The people who produce art at present are, if you look into it, nearly always dependent on unearned income. (3) We are going to diminish and extinguish the number of those dependent on unearned income. We shall also reduce the number of those rich enough to act the patron to artists, and change in a thousand other ways the circumstances of the arts and of the artists.
Brooke was clearly concerned that the system which enabled artists, writers and musicians to live was being destroyed, debating how much literature would have been lost to us, had writers over the centuries not received patronage:
Poetry is even worse off than the other arts. Even Mr Rudyard Kipling could not live on his poetry. Very few poets, perhaps one or two in five years, sell 1,000 copies of a volume … Anexperienced publisher tells me no one in England makes £50 a year by poetry – except perhaps Mr Kipling and Mr Noyes.
Brooke stressed the importance of contemporary art as opposed to excepting the standards of former generations: ‘Beware for the generations slip imperceptibly into one another, and it is so much easier to accept standards that are prepared for you. Beware of the dead.’
Chapter 7When You Were There, and You, and You
RUPERT HAD ALSOto beware of the living, in the shape of Mrs Stevenson at the Orchard, who had been getting increasingly disenchanted with the comings and goings at all hours of Rupert and his friends, and especially with his habit of going barefoot. The landlady and lodger reached an impasse, which concluded in him defecting to the Old Vicarage next door, with his beloved Granta running at the bottom of the garden.
In 1380 Corpus Christi College had appropriated the Rectory at Grantchester, appointing the first vicar, William Wendye, andestablishing a building on the site of the Old Vicarage, built on a strip of land that ran down to the river at a place where the locals extracted gravel from a pit called Hog Hunch. The present dwelling was erected in the 1680s and remained as a vicarage until early in the 1820s, when it was advertised to be let, and was taken by the Lilley family who also owned Manor Farm. In the middle of the century Grantchester’s new vicar, William Martin, had a new vicarage built, and the old one was bought by a local market gardener, Samuel Widnall, on the occasion of his marriage to Elizabeth Smith; Widnall lived there until his death in 1894. The house then passed to his sister-in-law and subsequently a niece; she, having decided not to live in the house, installed Henry and Florence Neeve and their son Cyril as tenants. The fourth member of the family was the bull terrier that Brooke nicknamed Pudsey Dawson. The dog seemed equally at home in the Orchard and the Old Vicarage.
No sooner had Rupert moved his things into the Old Vicarage than he announced that he was soon to leave for Germany and would return in May. Before going abroad, though, he returned to Lulworth early in the new year, staying again at Cove Cottage – with Gwen Darwin, Ka Cox and Jacques Raverat, the latter drawing Rupert’s portrait. Ka tried to buy Rupert a belated Christmas present of a book, and when he seemed indifferent as to what it was she was clearly hurt, for he felt compelled to write, ‘Oh tell me that you’re unhurt, for I hurt you in such a way, and I was mean and selfish, and you’re I think one of the most clear and most splendid people in the world.’ On 1 January 1911 he wrote ‘Sonnet Reversed’:Sonnet Reversed
Hand trembling towards hand; the amazing lights
Of heart and eye. They stood on supreme heights.
Ah, the delirious works of honeymoon!
Soon they returned, and, after strange adventures,
Settled at Balham at the end of June.
Their money was in Can. Pacs. B. Debentures,
And in Antofagastas. Still he went
Cityward daily; still she did abide
At home. And both were really quite content
With work and social pleasures. Then they died.
They left three children (besides George, who drank);
The eldest Jane, who married Mr Bell,
William, the head-clerk in the County Bank,
And Henry, a stock-broker, doing well.
Despite the seemingly one-sided relationship with Noel, Brooke was a frequent visitor to The Champions, where Bryn, Daphne and Margery all enjoyed his company. Prone to more than a little exaggeration on occasion, Rupert wrote to Ka Cox:
I’m staying – I don’t know how long, at The Champions. ’Til Wednesday afternoon or Thursday dawn … Limpsfield. It is very unpleasant. The atmosphere at Priest Hill [the home of the Oliviers’ neighbours, the Pyes], and The Champions is too damned domestic. I love the people and cough the atmosphere.
Although he would later write to Noel, ‘Limpsfield made me incredibly better. Could you let it get round to your mother how nice I found it?’ Rupert later went through a period where he felt drawn to the sensuality and beauty of Noel’s sister Bryn, but nothing ever came of it and it seemed to be a fleeting fancy. Margery became temporarily obsessed with Rupert, which was attributed to her mental instability and her assumptions that many of the males she met were in love with her.
Rupert went to Europe for three months, writing to various friends, ‘I shall be in Germany at peace’, ‘I shall be in Germany for ever’ and, ‘It is a thousand years since I have seen you and it will be more before I can see you again, for in three days I go to Germany, and from there I shall wander south and east and no one will hear of me more.’ During January, February and March. Rupert resided in Munich, where he learned German, watched Ibsen plays and saw one of the first performances of Strauss’s new opera,Der Rosenkavalier. Through an introduction from the publisher Dent, he stayed for some while with the painter Frau Ewald, through whom he was thrust into the social and artistic circles of the city. There was a part of Brooke, though, that couldn’t shake off England completely, which diminished his ability to enjoy Munich to the full. Despite having been away for some while, he was still much talked about in Cambridge and London, one friend declaring to James Strachey, ‘I’m not surprised people don’t fall in love with Rupert, he’s so beautiful that he’s scarcely human.’ By the end of this period, he had produced an excellent new poem, which he explained to Eddie Marsh. ‘I spent two months over a poem that describes the feelings of a fish, in the metre of “L’Allegro”. It was meant to be a lyric, but has turned into a work of twenty lines with a moral end.’ He copied the original onto two separate postcards, which he sent to Ka; this was the version published later, containing several changes.The Fish
In a cool curving world he lies
And ripples with dark ecstasies.
The kind luxurious lapse and steal
Shapes all his universe to feel
And know and be; the clinging stream
Closes his memory, glooms his dream,
Who lips the roots o’ the shore, and glides
Superb on unreturning tides.
Those silent waters weave for him
A fluctuant mutable world and dim,
Where wavering masses bulge and gape
Mysterious, and shape to shape
Dies momently through whorl and hollow,
And form and line and solid follow
Solid and line and form to dream
Fantastic down the eternal stream;
An obscure world, a shifting world,
Bulbous, or pulled to thin, or curled,
Or serpentine, or driving arrows,
Or serene slidings, or March narrows.
There slipping wave and shore are one,
And weed and mud. No ray of sun,
But glow to flow fades down the deep
(As dream to unknown dream in sleep);
Shaken translucency illumes
The hyaline of drifting glooms;
The strange soft-handed depth subdues
Drowned colour there, but black to hues,
As death to living, decomposes –
Red darkness of the heart of roses,
Blue brilliant from dead starless skies,
And gold that lies behind the eyes,
The unknown unnameable sightless white
That is the essential flame of night,
Lustreless purple, hooded green,
The myriad hues that lie between
Darkness and darkness!…
And all’s one,
Gentle, embracing, quiet, dun,
The world he rests in, world he knows,
Perpetual curving. Only – grows
An eddy in that ordered falling,
A knowledge from the gloom, a calling
Weed in the wave, gleam in the mud –
The dark fire leaps along his blood;
Dateless and deathless, blind and still,
The intricate impulse works its will;
His woven world drops back; and he,
Sans providence, sans memory,
Unconscious and directly driven,
Fades to some dank sufficient heaven.
O world of lips, O world of laughter,
Where hope is fleet and thought flies after,
Of lights in the clear night, of cries
That drift along the wave and rise
Thin to the glittering stars above,
You know the hands, the eyes of love!
The strife of limbs, the sightless clinging,
The infinite distance, and the singing
Blown by the wind, a flame of sound,
The gleam, the flowers, and vast around
The horizon, and the heights above –
You know the sigh, the song of love!
But there the night is close, and there
Darkness is cold and strange and bare;
And the secret deeps are whisperless;
And rhythm is all deliciousness;
And joy is in the throbbing tide,
Whose intricate fingers beat and glide
In felt bewildering harmonies
Of trembling touch; and music is
The exquisite knocking of the blood.
Space is no more, under the mud;
His bliss is older than the sun.
Silent and straight the waters run,
The lights, the cries, the willows dim,
And the dark tide are one with him.
After Munich he moved south to Vienna, before continuing to Florence to meet up with his godfather and Rugby schoolmaster, Robert Whitelaw, who had journeyed south with Rupert’s younger brother Alfred. From there Brooke wrote to Eddie Marsh, ‘I am thirsting for Grantchester. I am no longer to be at the Orchard, but next door at the Old Vicarage, with a wonderful garden.’ And a letter to Gwen Darwin also showed an element of homesickness: ‘Oh my God! I do long for England!’
Although Noel and Rupert were technically engaged, there now seemed to be a gulf between them preventing any real relationship from developing. Rupert had been in Munich mingling with painters, psychologists and poets, while Noel was mending underclothes with Miss Middlemore or making dresses and blouses under the watchful eye of Miss Rice. While she attended school dancing classes, and practised Irish jigs and Morris dancing, Rupert was revelling at the ‘Bacchus-Fest’ and having a romantic dalliance with Elizabeth VanRysselbergh, the daughter of a neo-impressionist painter. But on 10 February 1911, Noel’s last letter to Rupert before leaving Bedales shows that she had grown to understand him more and, although putting a disclaimer on any jealousy on her part, following his other flirtations, and writing about him in the third person, she does open up more about her feelings. Doubtless her refusal to become involved in a physical relationship, or even display interest in that direction, coupled with Brooke’s own sexual frustration, led to his affair with Elizabeth in Munich. She wrote:
[H]e is very beautiful, everyone who sees him loves him … I fell in love with him as I had fallen in love with other people before, only this time it seemed final – as it had, indeed, every time – I got excited when people talked of him and spent every day waiting and expecting to see him and felt wondrous proud when he talked to me or took any notice.
So what happened? Rupert and Noel both approached the relationship from angles alien to the other; they did not always communicate with ease; and Noel never really opened up until later in life – by which time Rupert was dead, and she declared that she knew then she would ‘never marry for love!’. Her school, Bedales, continues to thrive; many eminent citizens and household names emanating from the establishment founded by the still spiritually present J. H. Badley, 300 feet above the Rother Valley, where Noel Olivier received those tortuous love letters from Rupert.
By May he was back at Grantchester and settled in at the Old Vicarage, seeking solace in the tranquil atmosphere, and trying to sort out his emotions. In June he gave vent to his feelings in a letter to Ka. ‘How many people can one love? How many people should one love? What is love? If I love at 6 p.m. do I therefore love at 7?’During May and June, Rupert was writing regularly from the Old Vicarage to both Noel and Ka. To Noel: ‘Oh it is the only place, here. It’s such a nice breezy first glorious morning and I’m having a hurried breakfast, half dressed in the garden, and writing to you. What cocoa! What a garden! What a you!’ And to Ka: ‘You must come this weekend. Then we’ll talk: and laugh … Come! and talk! And love me – a little.’ He also sent her his list of
the best things in the world – a sketchy list: and, of course generalities have an unfair advantage –(1)Lust (2)Love (3)Keats (4)go (4 ½)Weather (5)Truth (5 ½)guts (6)Marrons glacés (7)Ka… (29)Rupert
During the third week of July, Rupert visited Oxford to see Noel, who was staying off the Banbury road, in north Oxford, at 2 Rawlinson Road, a large bulky house that Noel considered ugly. As inconsistent as Rupert in her own way, now the warm side of her feelings for him shone through in the invitation, which, uniquely, began, ‘Rupert,darling!’ and continued, ‘so please, if you come, be stern with me, because I should hate to find myself drifting into a relationship that I can not maintain with you.’ And of Ka she says, ‘Oh it would have been so much better, if you had married her agesago!’ While staying at Rawlinson Road, Rupert rose early, bathed in the Cherwell and worked in the Bodleian Library.
July saw the usual stream of visitors to the Old Vicarage, including Eddie Marsh, to whom Rupert wrote an exaggerated account of his primitive lifestyle of simple food, bathing, reading, talking and sleeping. The ‘simple’ lifestyle, though, did include beginning his dissertation and seeing in the Russian Ballet at Covent Garden performingScheherazade.
During the summer of 1911, Virginia Stephen came to the Old Vicarage to spend five days with Rupert, and to revise her novel, begun in 1907 asMelymbrosia, and eventually published in 1915 asThe Voyage Out. In between playing host to Virginia – the anticipation of her visiting having, by his own admission, made him a little nervous – he worked on his thesis and collection of poems.
Gwen Darwin captured the magic of the Grantchester era and even at the time wept for their impending and inevitable adulthood.
I wish one of us would write a ‘Balladedes beaux jours àGrantchester’. I can’t bear to think of all these young, beautiful people getting old and tired and stiff in the joints. I don’t believe there is anything compensating in age and experience – we are at our very best and most livingest now – from now on the edge will go off our longings and the fierceness of our feelings and we shall no more swim in the Cam … and we shan’t mind much. I am still drunk with the feeling of Thursday afternoon. Do you know how one stops and sees them all sitting round – Rupert and Geoffrey and Jacques and Bryn and Noel – all so young and strong and keen and full of thought and desire, and one knows it will all be gone in twenty years and there will be nothing left. They will all be old and tired and perhaps resigned … If one of those afternoons could be written down, just as it was exactly,it would be a poem – but I suppose a thoroughlylivedpoem can’t be written, only a partially lived one. Oh it is intolerable, this waste of beauty – it’s all there and nobody sees it but us and we can’t express it. We are none of us great enough to express a thing so simple and so large as last Thursday afternoon. I don’t believe in getting old.
In less than a year Rupert would capture those feelings in what would become one of the most endearing and enduring poems of the twentieth century.
As they, Brooke and Ka Cox, became closer, Brooke would often visit her home, Hook Hill Cottage just outside Woking in Surrey, with its panoramic vista of the North Downs to the Hog’s Back and Stag Hill – the latter to become the site for Guildford Cathedral. Although a cottage in name, it was a sizeable dwelling, built in 1910 by Horace Field, who was responsible for erecting several of the neighbouring houses; Field himself lived next door at South Hill. Ka’s father Henry Fisher-Cox, a wealthy stockbroker and a member of the Fabian Society, lived at Hook Hill House, which had been built in 1723 as a public house by the men working on the ladies’ prison at Knaphill; the Yew Tree that had given the inn its name still stands to this day. Following Ka’s mother’s early death her father remarried, and he and her stepmother Edith and Ka and her two sisters Margaret and Hester lived there, until he too died suddenly in 1905 when Ka was just eighteen, leaving her a financially independent young woman when she went up to Cambridge, with her own home on the lower slopes of the old family house.
Brooke increasingly turned to Ka in his troubled moments or when he needed a comforting shoulder, and by the second half of 1910, Ka having been supplanted in Jacques Raverat’s affections by Gwen Darwin, Rupert began to see the emotionally devastatedwoman in a new light. The platonic relationship began very gradually to develop into something more romantic in Rupert’s mind, as her mature manner gave the volatile young poet a certain security and warmth – virtues that had been lacking in Noel. He wrote to Ka at Woking:
Oh! Why do you invite responsibilities? Are you a Cushion, or a Floor? Ignoble thought! But why does your face invite one to load weariness upon you? Why does your body appeal for an extra load of responsibilities? Why do your legs demand that one should plunge business affairs on them? Won’t you manage my committees? Will you take my soul over entire for me? Won’t you write my poems? … Ka, what can I give you? The world? A slight matter.
He also went down to Woking in person to ask her to join an imminent summer camp in Devon, having already persuaded Virginia Stephen. Being worn down a little by Noel’s continual rejections, he began to lean more towards Ka, with her down-to-earth, straight-forward manner. His confidence, though, in her feelings towards him would be shattered by the events at Lulworth Cove at the tail-end of 1911 and the New Year of 1912.
The Chaplain at King’s had put a young Swedish student, Estrid Linder, in touch with Brooke, suggesting that he help her with the colloquial English she needed for her translation of Swedish plays. The assistance turned out to be reciprocal, as she was to introduce him to, and help translate, the plays of Strindberg, which he came to adore.
Another positive meeting during the summer was with the publisher Frank Sidgwick, who was sufficiently impressed with Rupert’s poems to agree to publication. The deal was to be 15 per cent for the publisher, with the author bearing the printing costs, which wouldamount to a little under £10, for 500 copies. Brooke’s mother, rather decently, footed the bill, but there would be a small difference of opinion between Sidgwick and Brooke over some of the contents. As Rupert pointed out to Ka, he drove himself hard to achieve the desired result: ‘I’ve been working for ten days alone at this beastly poetry. Working at poetry isn’t like reading hard. It doesn’t just tire and exhaust you. The only effect is that your nerves and your brain go … I had reached the lowest depths possible to man.’
At the end of August 1911 Rupert and several of his friends, including Justin Brooke, Oscar Eckhardt, James Strachey, Geoffrey and Maynard Keynes, Maitland Radford, Daphne, Bryn and Noel Olivier, Gerald Shove and others set up camp in a meadow at Clifford Bridge, Devon, on the banks of the River Teign. Ka Cox and Virginia Stephen joined them later. In fact, they turned up to find no welcoming party, as the others had gone to Crediton, leaving them only mouldy fruit pie for supper. One of the party, Paul Montague (known as Pauly), a zoologist and accomplished musician, had suggested they all go over to his parents at Crediton some 10 miles to the north-east for afternoon tea, and the whole crowd of them descended on the residence of Colonel and Mrs Montague.
The Montagues’ home, Penton (formerly Panton or Painton), a Georgian stucco house with superb south-eastern views over the town, had its origins in a dwelling owned by John Burrington in 1685, the property becoming the area’s first Bluecoat School from 1804 to 1854. In 1860, Penton was rebuilt and enlarged by the Reverend George Porter, the property including parcels of land with the intriguing names of Three Cornered Close, Lame John’s Field, Barn Close and Shooting Close. In 1878, Pauly Montague’s grandfather Arthur purchased the estate, which passed to his son Leopold in 1887. A Justice of the Peace, Leopold rose to the rank of colonel; he also wrote plays which were performed in the double drawing-room,one end serving as a stage, and was a revered writer of Victorian farce. Colonel Montague was not at home when the Clifford Bridge campers arrived at Penton, but Mrs Montague received them and provided them with tea in the dining-room. It was this occasion that inspired Rupert Brooke to write ‘Dining-Room Tea’ – one of his finest poems – where he, the observer, encapsulated a moment in time through the eyes of the writer. While the others are talking, laughing and eating, he takes a literary photograph, freezing a fleeting, but ultimately blissful, moment in his life – withdrawing to an objective plane before returning to the reality and normality of the situation. At the centrepiece of the poem were his feelings for Noel Olivier, and the security of a circle of friends who he loved, captured in a cameo that, ideally, he would have liked to have preserved for ever:Dining-Room Tea
When you were there, and you, and you,
Happiness crowned the night; I too,
Laughing and looking, one of all,
I watched the quivering lamplight fall
On plate and flowers and pouring tea
And cup and cloth; and they and we
Flung all the dancing moments by
With jest and glitter. Lip and eye
Flashed on the glory, shone and cried,
And fitfully and like a flame
The light of laughter went and came.
Proud in their careless transience moved
The changing faces that I loved.
Till suddenly, and otherwhence,
I looked upon your innocence.
For lifted clear and still and strange
From the dark woven flow of change
Under a vast and starless sky
I saw the immortal moment lie.
One instant I, an instant, knew
As God knows all. And it and you
I, above Time, oh, blind! could see
In witless immortality.
I saw the marble cup; the tea,
Hung on the air, an amber stream;
I saw the fire’s unglittering gleam,
The painted flame, the frozen smoke.
No more the flooding lamplight broke
On flying eyes and lips and hair;
But lay, but slept unbroken there,
On stiller flesh, and body breathless,
And lips and laughter stayed and deathless,
And words on which no silence grew.
Light was more alive than you.
For suddenly, and otherwhence,
I looked on your magnificence.
I saw the stillness and the light,
And you, august, immortal, white,
Holy and strange; and every glint
Posture and jest and thought and tint
Freed from the mask of transiency,
Triumphant in eternity,
Dazed at length
Human eyes grew, mortal strength
Wearied; and Time began to creep.
Change closed about me like a sleep.
Light glinted on the eyes I loved.
The cup was filled. The bodies moved.
The drifting petal came to ground.
The laughter chimed its perfect round.
The broken syllable was ended.
And I, so certain and so friended,
How could I cloud, or how distress,
The heaven of your unconsciousness?
Or shake at Time’s sufficient spell,
Stammering of lights unutterable?
The eternal holiness of you,
The timeless end, you never knew,
The peace that lay, the light that shone.
You never knew that I had gone
A million miles away, and stayed
A million years. The laughter played
Unbroken round me; and the jest
Flashed on. And we that knew the best
Down wonderful hours grew happier yet.
I sang at heart, and talked, and ate,
And lived from laugh to laugh, I too,
When you were there, and you, and you.
The paving stones, laid by Napoleonic prisoners of war a century before, still lead up to the house, dappled by the shade from the magnificent beech trees high above Crediton. The postal facilities at Clifford Bridge being nonexistent, it has been deemed over theyears most likely that Brooke posted his package of poems to publisher Frank Sidgwick from Crediton, thereby dating the ‘Dining Room Tea’ episode as 30 Augustex silentio. They proved to be the only collection of his poems he saw published in his lifetime.
In the evening at Penton, Miss Montague suggested they all went to Crediton Fair, where a version of the popular dramaThe Lyons Mailwas to be performed. The party took up the entire front row at a shilling a ticket, before moving on to the fair, where they saw a girl who looked uncannily like Ka Cox – who at that moment was making her way with Virginia to the Clifford Bridge camp. Pauly Montague’s sister Ruth, who was present at the tea, recalled:
[I]n return for tea my Mother and I were invited to spend the day at the camp at Clifford Bridge – she rode her bicycle and I my pony – returning in the dark. As I was young Rupert and Justin decided that a ball game was the best way to entertain me. I remember an enormous meal of stew cooked by my brother Paul, in which someone discovered a button. Afterwards we watched Rupert looking very beautiful swimming up and down in the river.
Ruth was later befriended by Ka Cox while at the Slade School of Art, and Justin Brooke would propose to her but withdraw the offer after she decided she needed time to think about it. She married another, becoming Mrs Pickwoad, and surviving her brother Paul (who was killed in the First World War) by some seventy-odd years, passing away in the late 1980s at the age of ninety.
Today, the Beeches is much as it was in 1911, apart from having being divided in two by Maurice Webber in the mid-1950s; the dining-room is intact, complete with its fireplace – and the alabaster Buddhas, squatting on the mantelpiece in the old picture, still preside over meal times.
Not everyone was a lover of the principles of Bedalian-style expeditions. James Strachey disappeared, to join his brother Lytton at nearby Becky Falls, after one night huddled in a blanket, sitting up especially to see the sun rise in an attempt to get into the mood of the camp. Rupert wrote the following couplet allegedly about him, although Noel Olivier felt it was written about Gerald Shove – either way it demonstrates that not all were willing or natural neo-pagans: ‘In the late evening he was out of place / And utterly irrelevant at dawn.’
The more enthusiastic embarked on a 32-mile round walk to Yes Tor, to the north-west of the camp, and organised a manhunt on the return journey, in which Bryn Olivier became the quarry and succeeded in gaining the camp without being caught. At night there were songs around the fire as Pauly Montague played his Elizabethan gittern, possibly inspiring Rupert in his dissertation on ‘John Webster and the Elizabethan Drama’ at which he was working by day. Brooke used an apt quote for one at that time living a rough and ready outdoor existence, from Webster’sAppius and Virginia: ‘I wake in the wet trench, loaded with more cold iron than a gaol would give a murderer, while the General sleeps in a field-bed, and to mock our hunger feeds us with the scent of the most curious fare. That makes his tables crack!’ His dissertation argued both for and againstAppius and Virginiabeing the work of John Webster, eventually reaching the conclusion that it was, in his opinion, from the pen of Thomas Heywood. The work, partly written in the meadow by the Teign at Clifford Bridge, won him his fellowship at King’s College, Cambridge, and was published in book form in Britain and America in 1916.
Today the Clifford Bridge camp site plays host to far more than the handful of neo-pagan tents of 1911. The tranquil and idyllic area where Brooke read Webster, Keats’s letters to Fanny Browne, and crafted ‘Dining-Room Tea’ now bustles with holidaying families.
Rupert arrived back at the Old Vicarage to discover that Frank Sidgwick of Sidgwick and Jackson, who had agreed to publish his first book of poetry, was objecting to the title of one of the poems. ‘Lust’ wasn’t the first of the works intended for inclusion that had raised Sidgwick’s eyebrows. ‘The Seasick Lover’, which had originally been ‘A Shakespearean Love Sonnet’, he also found faintly objectionable. Against his better judgement, and having argued his points, Rupert conceded that if it were absolutely necessary the title ‘Libido’ could be substituted for ‘Lust’. ‘The Seasick Lover’ became ‘A Channel Passage’. He complained to friends of the enforced changes, but seemed to accept them with a degree of equanimity if any other course meant losing sales. The excitement of having his first volume of poetry published was tempered by Dudley Ward’s betrothal to his German girlfriend Anne Marie, as this meant, in his eyes, that yet another friend was shedding their skin of youth to become domesticated. Francis and Frances Cornford were an item; so were Jacques Raverat and Gwen Darwin. His thoughts turned to Ka, as he still imagined Noel to be out of his reach – at least physically – while Ka might just not be…
The increasingly domiciliary attitude of his friends seemed only to fuel his restlessness; he implored Ka to join him doing something romantically exciting and interesting: ‘I am getting excited. Lincolnshire? The Peaks? The Fens? East London? Lulworth, if you like, butsomewhere.’ In another spirited outburst to Ka, he declared that ‘I’m determined to live like a motor car, or a needle, Mr Bennett [Arnold Bennett], or a planetary system, or whatever else is always at the keenest and wildest pitch of activity’. At the same time, he was still professing his love to an ostensibly ambivalent Noel.
In October 1911 he wrote to Ka Cox of a drama at the Old Vicarage, which happened in the middle of a letter he was writing to her:
I’ve been the last half hour with my arms up a chimney. The beam in the kitchen chimney caught fire. ‘These old houses!’ we kept panting. It was so difficult to get at, being also in part the chimney piece. Only Mrs Neeve, I and Mr Wallis at home. Mr W. dashed for the brigade on his motorbike. An ever so cheerful and able British working man and I attacked the house with buckets and a pickaxe.
During October, Rupert was becoming increasingly stressed, worrying about the lack of work he felt he had put into his dissertation on Webster, being in love in different ways with both Noel and Ka, and rushing backwards and forwards between Rugby, Grantchester, Cambridge and London. In the capital, he walked Hampstead Heath, stayed with James Strachey in Belsize Park, saw Wagner’s Ring Cycle, ate at the National Liberal Club, talked with Eddie Marsh and moved into the second floor of the studio of the Strachey’s cousin, the artist Duncan Grant, at 21 Fitzroy Square. He also took time to correct the proofs of his forthcoming poetry book.
Bizarrely, for someone not musically gifted, Rupert decided he would like to have singing lessons and asked Clive Carey, with whom he had worked on various Cambridge productions, if he would be available: ‘If I was taught singing by some sensible person who understood all the time that I couldn’t ever sing properly whatever happened, I might gain anyhow two things. 1. Be able to hear music … 2. Have a better and more manageable reading voice.’ As late as 1957, while adjudicating at Bournemouth at a Music Competition Festival, Carey spoke warmly of Brooke and again in the 1960s commented, ‘he was a very close friend of mine and a wonderful person in all respects’. He declined to comment on Rupert’s singing ability, but did once persuade him to air his voice among others and take the part of a slave in a Cambridge production of Mozart’sThe Magic Flute.
Despite not being comfortable on stage, Rupert certainly worked hard on any role he had to take. There are two photographs of him reciting Faustus at the Old Vicarage to Jacques Raverat and Dudley Ward, who appear to be testing him on his lines. On another occasion he sat up in one of the chestnut trees reading aloud to Noel Olivier and Sybil Pye. Sybil remembered those moments with fondness.
The peculiar golden quality of his hair. This hair escaping from under the crown, flapped and leapt … Our sitting-room was small and low, with a lamp slung from the ceiling, and a narrow door opening straight on to the dark garden. On quiet nights, when water sounds and scents drifted up from the river, this room half suggested the cabin of a ship. Rupert sat with his book at a table just below the lamp, the open door and the dark sky behind him, and the lamplight falling so directly on his head would vividly mark the outline and proportions of forehead, cheek and chin, so that in trying afterwards to realise just what lent them, apart from all expression, so complete and unusual a dignity and charm, I find it is to this moment my mind turns.
The romance of the house itself was tempered by the presence of an army of woodlice, about which Rupert was once moved to comment:
[T]hey will fall into my bed and get in my hair. The hot weather brings them out. They climb the walls and march along the ceiling. When they’re above me they look down, see with a start – and a slight scream – that there’s another person in the room and fall. And I never could bear woodlice. Mrs Neeves sprinkles yellow dust on my books and clothes, with a pathetic foreboding of failure, and says, ‘They’re ’armless, poor things!’ But my nerve gives.
Brooke’s volume of poems was published in November, although he was in no mood to be excited about the prospect, as the long hours put in revising his dissertation on Webster had worn him out, and left him feeling rundown. His book didn’t set the literary world on fire immediately, but from a humble start it went on to sell almost 100,000 copies in the next twenty years alone.
A reading party was being organised at Lulworth Cove to begin after Christmas 1911 and run into the new year. The circle included Lytton and James Strachey, Ka Cox, Justin Brooke, Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Gwen Raverat and an old Bedalian and King’s man, Ferenc Bekassy, a Hungarian with more than a passing passion for Noel. Henry Lamb was to join the party, but he was staying locally in Corfe Castle.
Before Lulworth, Rupert slept a night at Ka’s flat at 76 Charlotte Street in London, before joining his mother in the Beachy Head Hotel high up on the cliffs looking down on Eastbourne, Sussex. It was here he completed his dissertation on Webster, but his restless mental state, workload and general ill-health were taking their toll. He was jaded and overwrought, and suffered from insomnia while staying at Beachy Head – a strangely wild, windy and remote setting for a December break.
Brooke’s literary mentor Eddie Marsh was now Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, and as such was becoming increasingly influential. So it was good news that he was enamoured with Rupert’s volume of poems: ‘I had always in the trembling hope reposed that I should like the poems … but at my wildest I never looked forward to such magnificence … you have brought back into English poetry the rapturous beautiful grotesque of the seventeenth century.’ Rupert was delighted, writing to Marsh from his mother’s house in Rugby just before Christmas, ‘God! It’s so cheering to find someone who likes themodern stuff, and appreciates what one’s at. You can’t think how your remarks and liking thrilled me.’
Chapter 8Monsters of the Darkest Hell Nibbled My Soul
ON27DECEMBER1911, Rupert and the others descended on Lulworth. Brooke himself stayed with Mrs Carter at Churchfield House, a dwelling that began as a simple cottage and was converted in the early seventeenth century by Lawrence Randall, in whose family it stayed until 1870. In the 1750s it became the Red Lion – the name being taken from the coat of arms of the local Duberville family. George III dined there in 1802 and sang its praises. After 1870 it became Churchfield House.
This was to be Rupert’s most traumatic stay in Lulworth. LyttonStrachey was there, too, while others were at Cove Cottage; Henry Lamb arriving later, from Corfe, allegedly at Lytton’s behest, as there seemed to be a potential dalliance in the air between Lamb and Ka Cox. Rupert was uncommunicative and reclusive, becoming increasingly paranoid as Ka revealed to him her feelings for Henry Lamb. Despite an understanding with Noel Olivier, Brooke’s relationship with her seemed to be standing still, if not becoming cooler. Even so, Ka’s revelations were not designed to provoke any latent jealousy in Rupert. They not only provoked but inflamed him swiftly, to the point of unreasonable paranoia; Brooke suddenly believed himself in love with Ka much in the same way that Lysander seemingly irrationally transferred his affections from Hermia to Helena in Shakespeare’sA Midsummer Night’s Dream.But who was the mischievous Puck at Lulworth? Rupert for a long time, and in retrospect unfairly, blamed Lytton Strachey for plotting the whole Ka Cox/Henry Lamb saga. In reality it was Lamb’s weakness for women and overt flirtatiousness combined with Ka’s susceptibility.
In depressed state he walked with James Strachey from Lulworth over the Purbeck Hills to Corfe Castle, where James caught a train to London and Brooke walked on further to Studland, before returning to Lulworth. His state of mind worsened to such an extent that he had a nervous breakdown of sorts and became temporarily obsessed by Ka. He wrote from Churchfield House to Noel on 6 January:
I have been ill and feeling very tired; and as the days go by I get worse. Also, I can’t get my plans settled even for the nearest future, and I don’t know what I shall be feeling in even two or three days. It isn’t your ‘fault’ this time! In addition to all the other horrors, there’s now a horrible business between me and Ka – we’re hurting each other.
Only the week before he had written to Noel proclaiming, ‘I love you: any how. I love you. I love you. I wish you were here.’
In this run-down state, he was taken to Dr Craig, a Harley Street specialist, who recommended rest, a special diet and a holiday. Dr Craig confirmed his diagnosis to Mrs Brooke – ‘Your son was obviously in a state of severe breakdown when I saw him. He was hypersensitive and introspective.’ He was due to join his mother in Cannes anyway, but first he flew to Noel in Limpsfield, this time to counsel her about Ka. Breaking his journey to the south of France in Paris, he was looked after by his friend Elizabeth Van Rysselbergh, before heading to Cannes and the Hotel du Pavillion to join his mother. Rather than letting things lie, taking his time and regaining his mental equilibrium, he proceeded to bombard Ka with letters padded with declamatory overtures: ‘Love me! Love me! Love me! … I love you so much’; ‘I love you so … I kiss your lips’; ‘I’m all reaching out to you, body and mind.’ He described to her the view from his balcony overlooking the Mediterranean; ‘Outside there are large numbers of tropical palms, a fountain, laden orange trees and roses. There’s an opal sea and jagged hills with amazing sunsets behind.’ He was also very descriptive about a moment some eighteen months earlier when he’d first seen Ka in a different light:
You’d for some reason got on a low dress. I looked at the firm and lovely place where your deep breasts divided and grew out of the chest and went down under your dress … and I was suddenly very giddy, and physically hit with a glimpse of a new sort of beauty that I’d not quite known of.
Would he have had such a sudden physical fixation for her were it not for her interest in Henry Lamb? Probably not, but he convinced her to meet him in Munich where they could be together: sleeptogether. In the meantime, he had to rub along with Mendelssohn, Ravel, Mozart and Saint-Saëns at Cannes concerts.
Suspicious of the increasing correspondence arriving for Rupert, Mrs Brooke soon realised something was afoot. She felt he should spend more time recuperating and that he was not yet fit to travel, but her protestations fell on stony ground. Despite some ‘awful scenes with the Ranee’, it was arranged that Ka would meet him off the train at Verona and they would return a few days later to where she was staying in Munich. In the event they also visited Salzburg and Starnberg. In his agitated condition, which erupted spasmodically during their time there, he was becoming more and more dependent upon her, growing stronger from her supportive presence, while she became increasingly strained. They were clearly not ‘in love’, he desiring her for release from physical pressures and as a cushion, while she was willing to be submissive. Because of Rupert’s delicate mental balance, she had to pick her moment to let him know that she had, in fact, been seeing Henry Lamb while Rupert was recuperating in Cannes.
He was unwittingly the cause of Rupert and Ka being forced together in a way that wasn’t right for either of them. He liked her as a friend, and ended up believing he was in love with her, his protestations of love while his mind was a little unbalanced eventually convincing her. He soon realised that he did notreallywant the security of Ka but it was too late for her – she now believed that Rupert was the man for her and it was only his mental state that would make it sometimes appear otherwise.
Although it wasn’t immediately apparent, Rupert began to cool by degrees towards Ka from the end of their time together in Germany. His manner towards her became more matter of fact and at times off-hand, and, although he wrote to her five times in one weekend during March, from the Mermaid Inn at Rye, Kent, theletters had a different tone from those written in Cannes, and Noel’s name crept into them more than once.
His feelings of guilt towards Ka, that he had used her, were to be with him for the rest of his life, but in the short term he played along with the façade until he was forced to be honest about his feelings later in the year. In May he was to confide to Jacques:
I go about with the woman dutifully. I’ve a sort of dim, reflected affection for something in her … love her? Bless you, no! but I don’t love anybody. The bother is I don’t reallylikeher. There is a feeling of staleness, ugliness, trustlessness about her.
Before Rye, Rupert repaired to Rugby. Ka came to stay with him and great plans were laid to avoid Mrs Brooke’s suspicions of a relationship or that they had met in Germany. Edward Marsh and Geoffrey Keynes also arrived, Rupert impressing on Keynes the importance of not letting his mother know too much about his personal life: ‘Relations between the Ranee and me are very peculiar.’ Then Rupert went to the Mermaid with James Strachey, a friend of Richard Aldington, the owner’s son, who was to become an eminent poet and writer.
The famous inn, which probably dates from 1156, certainly ‘stood on this present site, built of wattle, daub, lath and plaster’ in 1300, when the Mermaid brewed its own ale and charged a penny a night for lodging. It was rebuilt in 1920 using ships’ timbers and baulks of Sussex oak, the fireplaces being carved from French stone ballast rescued from the harbour. Long associated with smugglers, it would now be referred to as a ‘no-go’ area, especially during the eighteenth century, when the 600-strong Hawkhurst gang openly flaunted their illicit activities without fear of reprisals, with consummate ease. By 1912, however, life at the Mermaid was a little more civilised, as Brooke revealed in one of his letters to Ka.
We’re in a Smoking Room. They’re all in evening dress, and they talk – there are these people in the world – about Bridge, Golf and Motoring. They’replayingbridge. But then the most extraordinary thing is about ‘Colonel’ Aldington, May, Anabel and Dick. Because – it turns out –theykeep the Inn. (Very Old place – you see these beams?) She’s written a book of poems andseveralnovels. And Dick – but Dick’s been a flame of James’ for years. One’s almost further from you among the upper classes than elsewhere. Oh Lord! And in the Dining Room … but James, or I’ll, tell you all about it.
The following day (Sunday) he wrote again to Ka. ‘I’m just out a walk to Winchelsea’, obviously so mentally overwrought that he omitted the ‘for’. He ends the letter, ‘You’d better marry me before we leave England, you know. I’ll accept the responsibility. And the fineness to come.’ In yet another epistle written on Mermaid notepaper to Ka on the Sunday evening he complained: ‘Oh God, we’ve been searching for rooms in Winchelsea. No luck,’ but extolled the virtues of Rye’s neighbour: ‘Oh, and Winchelsea’s so lovely. On the road back we met a small lady who was lost, and I was (nervously) kind to her and restored her, practically to her Mother. Ha! I readThe Way of All Flesh,and talk to James and think of you.’ Brooke’s walk to Winchelsea, 2 miles of marshland away from Rye, ran between the road and the railway. Elsie M. Jacobs described it in 1947:
[I]t was much used before people got too lazy to walk; old folk still speak of it as the shortcut. It is so seldom used now that the path is almost obliterated, but the bridges over the dykes are intact, a most important consideration on the marshes … Do not attempt this walk in mist or fog, as even a slight mist will rain the view and cause endless worries about the path … Theland on which you walk was once the bed of the sea and here in August 1350 sailed forty large Spanish ships. Edward III and the Black Prince commanded fifty good ships and pinnaces of the smaller type. A stirring naval battle was fought and fifteen of the enemy were sunk or captured!
Brooke also described to Ka an evening foray to Lamb House, just around the corner from the Mermaid in West Street.
James and I have been out this evening to call on Mr Henry James. At nine. We found, at length, the House. It was immensely rich, and brilliantly lighted at every window on the ground floor. The upper floors were deserted: one black window open. The house is straight on the street. We nearly fainted with fear of a Company. At length I pressed the Bell of the Great Door – there was a smaller door further along, the Servant’s door we were told. No answer. I pressed again. At length a slow dragging step was heard within. It stopped inside the door. We shuffled. Then, very slowly, and very loudly, immense numbers of chains and bolts were drawn within. There was a pause again. Further rattling within. Then the steps seemed to be heard retreating. There was silence. We waited in wild, agonising stupefaction. The House was dead-silent. At length there was a shuffling noise from the Servants’ door. We thought someone was about to emerge from there to greet us. We slid down towards it. Nothing happened. We drew back and observed the house. A low whistle came from it. Then nothing happened for two minutes. Suddenly a shadow passed, quickly, across the light in the window nearest the door. Again nothing happened. James and I, sick with surmise, stole down the street. We thought we heard another whistle, as we departed. We came back here shaking – we didn’t know at what.If the evening paper, as you get this, tells of the murder of Mr Henry James – you’ll know.
Despite Brooke’s intriguing description of the mysterious scenario, the American author Henry James was actually in London at the time – at the Reform Club – so his life was never in danger from the chain-rattling whistler!
The arrival of Henry James at Lamb House in 1896 had seemed to herald the birth of a literary era for Rye, as his visitors included distinguished English contemporary writers Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford and G. K. Chesterton, as well as French anglophile Hilaire Belloc and American literary luminaries Edith Wharton and Stephen Crane. The younger literati, not of his peer group, came too in the shape of Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf (Virginia Stephen had by this time married Leonard Woolf), E. M. Forster and E. F. Benson – the latter eventually taking the property on three years after James’s death in 1916.
Albert Edward Aldington, the owner of the Mermaid, wasn’t actually a colonel; Anabel was Arabella – a nickname only, her real name was Dorothy Yorke – an American girlfriend of Dick’s who lived until her eightieth year. He called her Dolikins. Even Dick was an adopted name, Edward Godfrey Aldington calling himself that from an early age. The mother, Jessie May, to whom Brooke refers, wrote five novels and two books of poems between 1905 and 1917, while the youngest daughter Patricia was only four years old at the time and spent her days in the garden, where the car park is now, climbing the big old tree that used to stand there. Patricia Aldington still lives in Rye, where she used to take an active role in the running of the museum, and still remembers Brooke’s visit.
In 1919 Dick Aldington wrote to a friend:
I am thinking of collecting all my war poems – I have about sixty or seventy – into a book. Do you think the USA would care for them? They are seventy – not popular – I mean they are bitter, anguish-stricken, realistic, not like Brooke or Noyes or anybody like that. They are the stern truth and I have hesitated about publishing them.
The disparaging attitude that he had about Brooke’s war poems was not entirely fair, as Aldington was to see the war out and therefore be in a position to write a more balanced view – a chance not afforded to Rupert.
On 31 March, Rupert wrote to Jacques Raverat; ‘I leave here tomorrow evening. I go to Noel’s then to Ka Wednesday evening? Till Friday? Then I don’t know where: Winchelsea or the New Forest.’
He determined to call at Limpsfield Chart to see Noel, before going on to Ka at Woking. Still uncertain of his feelings, he also wrote to Noel from the Mermaid. ‘There is no doubt you’re the finest person in the world. How dare I see you.’ But Rupert wasn’t Noel’s only suitor. As well as Ferenc Bekassy, Adrian Stephen, Virginia Woolf ’s brother, was now making overtures to Noel and appeared at The Champions. From Ka’s house Rupert wrote to Jacques Raverat: ‘I’m going tomorrow to c/o Mrs Primmer, Beech Shade, Bank, Lyndhurst. I’m going to leave Ka alone till she’s rested and ready for Germany. I found her (I came yesterday) pretty bad.’
This stay at Bank, in April 1912, found him in a totally different mood to the lovestruck 22-year-old who had gone ‘dancing and leaping through the New Forest’ in 1909. His nervous breakdown following the jealousy and paranoia over Ka Cox’s dalliance with Henry Lamb, and his own subsequent affair with her, had left his nerves taut, his behaviour erratic and his state of mind irrational.Their love-making in Germany resulted in Ka becoming pregnant with Brooke’s child, but a subsequent miscarriage circumvented any hurried talk of marriage plans; in any case, he continued to feel disenchanted with the relationship, seeing Ka as a ‘fallen woman’.
Ka was attempting to be philosophical about the situation, while her friends feared for her general well-being. The relationship between Rupert and Ka was to be awkward for some time while before the channels of communication became a little more open. The potential threat of extramarital parenthood with all its implications, although now averted, was clearly pushing him towards a second breakdown, causing him to escape to the solitude and happy memories of Beech Shade with the loyal James Strachey. On 6 April he wrote to Noel:
Isay, being here, you know; and precisely three years – Easter time – Oh Lord! Mrs Primmer is well. The trees are there. The black hut stands. Also the holly-bush. And the room. Oh! Dearest Noel, you were good. It’s incredible – I didn’t know there were such things as you in the world!
The black hut stood, until recent times, on a clearing near the house, and the holly-bush – which grew nearby – remained until it was taken down as late as the 1950s when the track was metalled. To Ka he wrote a more factual, conversational note.
James had to leave me to solitude … I sit and read and write … it is fine but not warm. The beeches are in bloom. Also the junipers and arbutuses and so forth. We went walks and enjoyed the scenery. James pointed to a clump of larches and said ‘Birches! … ah! Birches! Birches are a wonderful tree’ … Mrs Primmer is, of course, the most amazing cook in the world. Four-course dinners, absolutely perfect. One eats a lot. I think of staying here for ever.
Despite his apparent joy at the solitude that was now his, in reality he didn’t want to be left alone, and following James’s departure, his anxious entreaties to Bryn Olivier brought her to Bank – probably more out of concern for his state of mind than any other reason. Whether in a cry for help or a dramatic pose, he talked of suicide and of buying a revolver, apparently searching the shops at Brockenhurst for a suitable firearm, treading the pathway towards insanity one moment and relapsing into a sentimental lassitude the next. Almost as an automaton he wrote to Hugh Dalton:
Friend of my laughing careless youth, where are those golden hours now? Where now the shrill mirth of our burgeoning intellects? And by what doubtful and deleterious ways am I come down to this place of shadows and eyeless pain? In truth I have been for some months in Hell. I have been very ill. I am very ill. In all probability I shall be very ill. It is thought by those who know me best (viz myself) that I shall die … I do nothing. I eat and sleep and rest. My thoughts buzz drearily in a vacuum … I am more than a little gone in my head, since my collapse.
Probably kept sane by the excellent home cooking of Mrs Primmer, he waxed lyrical about her culinary expertise in a letter from Beech Shade to Maynard Keynes: ‘I’m here, under the charge of Brynhild at present. Most charming. And about my intellectual level … Oh! Oh! Mrs Primmer’s five-course dinner is on the table – funny she should be the best cook in England. Brynhild, a little nervously, sends you her love.’ His black mood also came through in a letter to the poet James Elroy Flecker: ‘I galloped downhill for months and then took the abyss with a leap … nine days I lay without sleep or food. Monsters of the darkest Hell nibbled my soul.’
April also brought the gloomy news that he had failed to obtain his fellowship. Rupert later confided to Bryn, ‘I’d been infinitely wretched and ill, wretcheder than I’d thought possible. And then for a few days it all dropped away and – oh! – how lovely Bank was!’ During those days at Bank, he must have seen her as a lifeline in his hour of need, and felt that closeness that a patient in hospital so often does with their nurse.
‘The best cook in England’ outlived Brooke by thirty years and her husband by twenty, Mrs Primmer passing away in 1945 at Bridport, while Beech Shade and the rest of the hamlet of Gritnam nearly became a victim of the motor age when Royal Blue Coaches attempted to buy the clearing in which the handful of cottages stood, in order to demolish it and create a coach park. Fortunately the Gritnam Trust was formed which put paid to the plan, but Beech Shade and the adjoining cottage were pulled down and rebuilt in the late thirties after falling into the hands of the Forestry Commission. The new house bears the name of its predecessor and, although not dissimilar in style, is different - the best example of how Beech Shade looked during Brooke’s day is its near neighbour Woodbine Cottage.
In a rootless and agitated frame of mind Rupert returned briefly to Limpsfield Chart, before heading to the anonymity of London. Ka was now convinced that Rupert’s feelings for her were cooling. They met in Trafalgar Square, close to where he was staying at the National Liberal Club. She was in tears and he was comforting, but undoubtedly going through the motions of consoling her, as the beginnings of guilt gnawed at him. He escaped to Berlin to stay with Dudley Ward, who was about to marry his girlfriend Anne Marie Von der Planitz, on 11 May in Munich, but he did ask Ka to go and visit. No doubt her pragmatism detected a faint demurring in his suggestion. Nevertheless she agreed to join him at some point.
Near the station in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg, the Café des Westens was where Brooke took to sitting, reading and writing, well away from the wedding preparations, and leaving Dudley space to write his articles forThe Economist.The café proved the unlikely setting for two major trains of thought for Rupert. First, a friend of Dudley’s told him a tale there. The action had allegedly taken place in Lithuania the previous year. A boy who had run away from there at the age of thirteen, returned as a man, unrecognised by his own family. They put him up for the night, and the daughter, encouraged by the parents, killed him for his money. When the truth was revealed, they were overcome with grief and remorse. Whether true or apocryphal, and the story is an old one, it was to sow the seed for his only play,Lithuania, which would be produced three and a half years later in America. The other work that germinated at the Café des Westens was the poem that eventually became ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’. Initially entitled ‘Home’, it then became ‘Fragments of a Poem to be Entitled “The Sentimental Exile”’.
He was homesick not for England in general – after all, he had only just completed the circuitous route of Rugby, Rye, Limpsfield Chart, Bank, Limpsfield Chart, Rugby and London – but for Grantchester. In a letter to Ka on the train to Germany he admitted his unashamed nostalgia for the Old Vicarage, as fragments and ideas for a poem were clearly beginning to form themselves in his mind. ‘I fancy you may be, just now, in Grantchester. I envy you, frightfully. That river and the chestnuts come back to me a lot. Tea on the lawn. Just wire to me and we’ll spend the Summer there.’ At the Café des Westens his ideas became notes, the notes became couplets and the couplets began to form what was to become one of his two most famous and enduring poems. On its completion he dispatched it to the editor of the King’s magazine,Basileon, preceded by a telegram: ‘A masterpiece on its way.’The Old Vicarage, Grantchester
Just now the lilac is in bloom,
All before my little room;
And in my flower-beds, I think,
Smile the carnation and the pink;
And down the borders, well I know,
The poppy and the pansy blow…
Oh! There the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
– Oh, damn! I know it! And I know
How the May fields all golden show,
And when the day is young and sweet,
Gild gloriously the bare feet
That run to bathe…
‘Du lieber Gott!’
Here am I, sweating, sick, and hot,
And there the shadowed waters fresh
Lean up to embrace the naked flesh.
Drink beer around; – andtherethe dews
Are soft between a morn of gold.
Here tulips bloom as they are told;
Unkempt about those hedges blows
An English unofficial rose;
And there the unregulatedsun
Slopes down to rest when day is done,
And wakes a vague unpunctual star,
A slippered Hesper; and there are
Meads towards Haslingfield and Coton
ειθε γενοιμην …would I were
In Grantchester, in Grantchester! –
Some, it may be, can get in touch
With Nature there, or Earth, or such.
And clever modern men have seen
A Faun a-peeping through the green,
And felt the Classics were not dead,
To glimpse a Naiad’s reedy head,
Or hear the Goat-foot piping low…
But these are things I do not know.
I only know that you may lie
Day-long and watch the Cambridge sky,
And, flower-lulled in sleepy grass,
Hear the cool lapse of hours pass,
Until the centuries blend and blur
In Grantchester, in Grantchester…
Still in the dawnlit waters cool
His ghostly Lordship swims his pool,
And tries the strokes, essays the tricks,
Long learnt on Hellespoint, or Styx.
Dan Chaucer hears his river still
Chatter beneath a phantom mill.
Tennyson notes with studious eye,
How Cambridge waters hurry by…
And in that garden, black and white,
Creep whispers through the grass all night;
And spectral dance, before the dawn,
A hundred Vicars down the lawn;
Curates, long dust, will come and go
On lissom, clerical, printless toe;
And oft between the boughs is seen
The sly shade of a Rural Dean…
Till, at a shiver in the skies,
Vanishing with Satanic cries,
The prim ecclesiastic rout
Leaves but a startled sleeper-out,
Grey heavens, the first bird’s drowsy calls,
The falling house that never falls.
God! I will pack, and take a train,
And get me to England once again!
For England’s the one land, I know,
Where men with Splendid Hearts may go;
And Cambridgeshire, of all England,
The shire for Men who Understand;
And ofthatdistrict I prefer
The lovely hamlet Grantchester.
For Cambridgeshire people rarely smile,
Being urban, squat, and packed with guile;
And Royston men in the far South
Are black and fierce and strange of mouth;
At Over they fling oaths at one,
And worse than oaths at Trumpington,
And Ditton girls are mean and dirty,
And there’s none in Harston under thirty,
And folks in Shelford and those parts
Have twisted lips and twisted hearts,
And Barton men make Cockney rhymes,
And Coton’s full of nameless crimes,
And things are done you’d not believe
At Madingley on Christmas Eve.
Strong men have run for miles and miles,
When one from Cherry Hinton smiles;
Strong men have blanched, and shot their wives,
Rather than send them to St Ives;
Strong men have cried like babes, bydam,
To hear what happened at Babraham.
But Grantchester! Ah, Grantchester!
There’s peace and holy quiet there,
Great clouds along pacific skies,
And men and women with straight eyes,
Lithe children lovelier than a dream,
A bosky wood, a slumbrous stream,
And little kindly winds that creep
Round twilight corners, half asleep.
In Grantchester their skins are white;
They bathe by day, they bathe by night;
The women there do all they ought;
The men observe the Rules of Thought.
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I’m told)…
Ah God! To see the branches stir
Across the moon at Grantchester!
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
Is dawn a secret shy and cold
And sunset still a golden sea
From Haslingfield to Madingley?
And after, ere the night is born,
Do hares come out about the corn?
Oh, is the water sweet and cool,
Gentle and brown, above the pool?
And laughs the immortal river still
Under the mill, under the mill?
Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? And Quiet kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? … oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?
Ka joined Rupert in Berlin, but his physical passion for her was no longer there, as he told Dudley:
I remain dead. I care practically nothing for any person in the world. I’ve anxiety, and a sort of affection, for Ka – But I don’t really care. I’ve no feeling for anybody at all – except the uneasyghosts of the immense reverence and rather steadfast love for Noel, and a knowledge that Noel is the finest thing I’ve ever seen in the world, and Ka – isn’t.
Ka fell ill in Germany, and Rupert’s mental equilibrium was still inharmonious and out of kilter, causing them to put the future on hold. She returned to her sister Hester in London, while Rupert, in a state of torpor, wrote to Jacques Raverat, ‘my love for Ka was pretty well at an end – poisoned, dead – before I discovered she was after all in love with me.’ Despite the finality of his feeling when writing to friends, his communications with Ka still gave her hope: ‘Hadn’t we better fix a date? The end of July? Would that do? It’s madness for me to make up my mind now, isn’t it?’ He also confesses to a ‘mechanical dull drifting through the days’. He felt, though, that he owed her something and was going through the motions of what he imagined to be doing the right thing by her.
James Strachey joined Rupert in Berlin and the two of them journeyed to the Hague. Rupert eagerly devouring Hilaire Belloc’s new bookThe Four Menat the Hotel des Indes where they were staying. The tale – a journey under the downs of Sussex – was to have a profound effect on him, the verses at the end of the work eventually inspiring his most quoted poem, ‘The Soldier’.
Chapter 9Hope Springs Eternal (Alexander Pope)
BACK IN LONDONcame a little occupational therapy for his confused mind: a play with the Cornfords, a gathering of the Apostles and a meet with E. M. Forster, who was also staying at Raymond Buildings with Eddie Marsh. From Gray’s Inn, it was a fleeting visit to see his mother before retiring to his spiritual home, the Old Vicarage. He was glad to discover that God was in his heaven, and indeed all was right with the world – at least this little plot. Mrs Neeve was still there, so was the honey, and his poem had been published inBasileon. Bryn Olivier impressed the familyat The Champions when she read it to them over Sunday breakfast; while Eddie Marsh thought it ‘the most human thing you’ve written, the only one that has brought tears to my fine eyes’, and implored him to ‘never write anything so good again without my knowing’. It was admired not only by friends: eminent poets Edmund Gosse and Austin Dobson were enraptured, as was the writer and fellow of King’s, G. Lowes Dickinson.
Rupert’s general misery was compounded in July by the news of the death of one of his oldest friends, Hugh Russell-Smith’s brother Denham. He had written quite often to Denham, who usually answered his letters by return of post. The family that had made him envious with their obvious good nature were shattered by his early death in July 1912, aged just twenty-three. It was only after Denham’s death that Rupert confessed, in a letter to James Strachey, to an experimental sexual dalliance that he and the younger Russell-Smith had had at the Orchard in the autumn of 1909.
The Autumn of 1909! We hugged and kissed and strained, Denham and I, on and off for years – ever since that quiet evening I rubbed him, in the dark, speechlessly in the smaller of the two dorms. An abortive affair, as I have told you. But in the Summer holidays of 1906 and 1907 at Brockenhurst, he had often taken me out to the hammock after dinner, to lie entwined there.
Of the one-off escapade at the Orchard he wrote, ‘I wanted to have some fun, and, still more, to see what it was like and to do away with the shame (as I thought it was) of being a virgin.’ He was, inevitably, disillusioned by what he believed was going to be a quantum leap from virginity to sexual knowledge. Despite the rushed, unsatisfactory night in his bedroom at the Orchard, the two remained good friends and did not speak of the moment again. As far as can beascertained it was Brooke’s only real homosexual experience, apart from schoolboy experimentation at Rugby.
In spite of being run-down, taking strong sedations to help him sleep and living with the knowledge that sooner rather than later he must address the situation with Ka, he joined a summer reading party at a hostelry situated on the extreme north-east edge of Salisbury Plain. Maynard Keynes attempted to go one better than the previous year’s camp at Clifford Bridge by taking over the Crown at Everleigh for a few weeks and inviting a mixture of Apostles and Brooke’s neo-pagan/old Bedalian circle. Keynes had recently become interested in riding, so maybe he discovered the Crown via Cobbett’sRural Ridesor, less likely, through the knowledge that the 1897 (and 1898) Grand National winner, Manifesto, came from the stables at the Crown Inn! The Crown Inn at Everleigh was originally built as the Dower House, being converted to its present use around 1790. The journalist and reformer William Cobbett stayed at the Crown on 27 August 1826, commenting inRural Rides:
This Inn is one of the nicest, and in Summer one of the pleasantest in England; for I think my experience in this way will justify me in speaking thus positively. The house is large, the stables good, the Landlord a farmer also, and therefore no cribbing your horses in hay or straw, and yourself in eggs and cream. The garden which adjoins the south side of the house is large, of a good shape, consists of well-disposed clumps of shrubs and flowers and of short grass very neatly kept. In the lower part of the garden there are high trees and among these a most populous rookery.
The area was once so open that one could ride from Everleigh to Salisbury, a distance of about 10 miles, without jumping a fence or opening a gate.
Among Maynard’s guests were his brother Geoffrey, Daphne, Bryn and Noel Olivier, Justin Brooke, Rupert, James Strachey, Apostles Gerald Shove and Gordon Luce and Frankie Birrell. The company rode, played croquet and walked, as they wished, and read from Jane Austen in the evenings. Noel’s notes about the occasion reveal that Brooke was no horseman, and took no part in the riding side of the activities. The Crown possessing only some five or six bedrooms, the party took over the whole inn with the exception of the small bar for the locals. Maynard, whose inclinations were then exclusively homosexual, seemed disenchanted with the female contingent, and annoyed by Rupert’s overtures to Bryn, confessing in a letter to Duncan Grant,
I don’t much care for the attitude these women breed and haven’t liked this party nearly so much as my last week’s [guests were coming and going at different times], Noel is very nice and Daphne very innocent, but Bryn is too stupid and I begin to take an active dislike to her. Out of the window [his bedroom overlooked the garden] I see Rupert making love to her – taking her hand, sitting at her feet, gazing into her eyes. Oh these womanisers. How on earth and what for can he do it?
Rupert’s nerves and emotions, coupled with the heavy medication, contributed to his irrationality and confusion while at Everleigh. He was flirting outrageously with Bryn – inviting her to go boating with him the following month – only to be told, when cornered, that she wanted to take Hugh Popham as well. Rupert’s incredulity forced her to confess to him that she had, in fact, decided to marry Popham. Rupert was distraught, and not only reneged on the boating arrangements but refused to say goodbye to her when she left Everleigh. His feelings seemed to be all over the place as he wrote to Noel from the Crown after her departure.
I had tea, sat a little, walked for miles alone, changed – I don’t know what the time is, or where anybody is. There seems nothing to do but write to you … it’s so damned full of you this place. There are many spots where we walked, the lawn where I saw you in so many attitudes, all you, there’s this room – why shouldn’t you swing round the door now? – You did yesterday, this morning, the day before yesterday … Oh Noel if you knew the sick dread with which I face tonight – that bed and those dragging hours – And the pointlessness of tomorrow, the horror that it might just as well be this evening, or Wednesday, for all the pleasure or relief from pain I get out of it. The procession of hopeless hours – That’s what’s so difficult to face; – that’s why one wants to kill oneself. It’s all swept over me. These last few days; and so much stronger and more certain than before – and rather different too. It seems deeper and better – Oh I can’t explain it all … Remember those days on the river: and the little camp at Penshurst, next year – moments then; and Klosters: and the Beaulieu camp: and our evenings by that great elm clump at Grantchester: and bathing in early morning by Oxford: and the heights above Clifford Bridge camp: and a thousand times when we’ve gone hand in hand – as no two other people could … you must see what we are child – I cannot live without you. But remember, I’m not only in love with you, I’m very fond of you. Goodnight, child – in the name of our love.
Fine words, but to write them to Noel, who had watched Rupert openly flirting and making romantic overtures to her sister Bryn during the previous few days, points to him being close to a relapse following his nervous breakdown earlier in the year. In a further letter to Noel, written at the Crown, he reiterates his emotions and feelings for her: ‘Noel, Noel, there’s love between you and me,and you’ve given me such kindness and such sympathy in your own Noel way – I’m wanting your presence so much – I’m leaning on you at this moment, stretching towards you.’ To complicate the issue even further, in the same letter he discussed his impending meeting with Ka, as she was awaiting a decision from him as to their future together. To Noel he confided: ‘I couldn’t ever live with her, I know from experience even, I should go mad, or kill her, in a few months. And – I love someone else. We’ve got to part. I suppose she really knows that by now. But I’ve got to tell her tomorrow.’ And he did. Justin Brooke drove him away from Everleigh, the Crown, the Keynes’ poker games and the croquet to a meeting place by the roadside at Bibury, where Ka was staying at the Swan. She and Rupert went off for three hours to discuss their relationship while Justin waited in his Opel. It was the end. Ka was inconsolable and Rupert riddled with guilt; it was the sour icing on the stale cake of his stay at Everleigh. His state of mind that weekend, and his being at such an all-time low, led to Frances Cornford suggesting that he go abroad for a while. Although he didn’t eventually take her advice until the following May, with beneficial results, he never sank so low again.
Rupert was, though, overcome himself with his own grief and guilt about ending the relationship. He poured his anguish into a letter to Noel.
You see, child – Noel – there’s been so much between Ka and me. We’ve been so close to one another, naked to each other in our good parts and bad. She knows me better than anyone in the world – better than you let yourself know me – than you care to know me. And we’ve given each other great love and infinite pain – and that’s a terrible, unbreakable bond. And I’ve had her … it’s agony,agony, tearing out part of one’s life like that … Yousee I have an ocean of love and pity for her … I’d give anything to do Ka good. Only – she killed something in me. I can’t love her, or marry her.
The visitors’ book from the Crown, containing not only the signatures and comments of Keynes, Brooke and the rest of the party but also those of many other distinguished guests, including Montgomery of Alamein and General de Gaulle, disappeared some two or three years ago under mysterious circumstances.
During August, Rupert ricocheted from place to place like a pinball; from Witney in Oxfordshire he headed back to Rugby, before heading to the Cornfords’ house at Cambridge and then up to Overstrand on the Norfolk coast, where he stayed at Beckwythe Manor, the home of Gilbert and Rosalind Murray. Frances Cornford had introduced them to Brooke during rehearsals for Comus and they had subsequently become friends. On his first day at Overstrand, he wrote to Noel about his possible plans; ‘I spent most of yesterday talking to Frances. She’s Ka’s only decent real friend: she’s good, and, not being a virgin, she understands things. She wants me to go abroad for a year – to Australia or somewhere, and work manually. It’d be better for Ka she thinks.’ Rupert’s only problem in going abroad for a period was his concern that Noel might succumb sexually to one of her other suitors, which now rather bizarrely included James Strachey. At the end of the month Noel drove the final nail into the coffin when she admitted, ‘It was stupid of me even to have shared the little bit of love I had for you, and wicked of me to let you express your love for me … it was last November that I decided and you found out I didn’t love you.’
Justin Brooke’s home at Wotton in Surrey was also on Rupert’s itinerary that August. From Beckwythe Manor he informed Noel,‘I go on Tuesday to c/o Justin, Leylands, Wotton, Dorking, Surrey, for a few days. You could say if we met what you thought about my retiring to California and how much you’d welcome the respite – yours as you left him, Rupert.’
Long associated with the Evelyn family since the days of the famous seventeenth-century English diarist, Wotton is undoubtedly still as much a piece of Old England as it was then, thanks to the arboricultural efforts of John Evelyn, whose passion for planting trees rapidly spread to the owners of other large country homes. During the Victorian era other eminent men brought their families to settle on the slopes of Leith Hill, with its stunning views across the Weald to the South Downs and its bracing ‘Swiss’ air, where the Evelyns live to this day.
In 1885 Arthur Brooke and his family acquired the expansive Leylands estate, having single-handedly built up his Manchester grocer’s shop until they had become one of the largest tea merchants in Britain – Brooke Bond. Brooke and his wife Alice already had two daughters and five sons by the time they moved in, with a third daughter, Aline, arriving later. Their sixth youngest, Justin, became close friends with Rupert Brooke at Cambridge, initially through the Cambridge Amateur Dramatic Club – both Brookes eventually becoming part of the group of friends that revelled in camping, swimming, walking and reading parties. As a good friend of Justin (who, coincidentally, had an older brother called Rupert), Rupert was always welcome at Leylands, where the walks, woods, views and tennis courts were major attractions.
A keen walker and lover of the English countryside, Rupert would surely have walked the short distance from the house, on the south-west corner of Leith Hill, to the tower – at 965 feet the highest point in south-east England with its views to the South Downs and English Channel to the south and the entire Londonskyline and the Dunstable hills to the north. Built in 1765, the folly was erected by the altruistic Hull for his own pleasure, and for that of everyone else who wanted to take in the wonderful views. It is hard to believe that Brooke resisted the lure of the patchwork-quilt panorama, or the short walk to the secluded lake at Friday Street. Another draw in the area would have been Polesden Lacey, the playwright Sheridan’s sometime home and then owned by the Hon. Ronald and Mrs Greville, she being one of the legendary Edwardian hostesses. Again commanding fine southerly views, the late classic house built in 1824 on the North Downs was sufficiently close to writer George Meredith’s old home on Box Hill for Brooke to take them both in during his visits to Leylands. Although Meredith had died in 1909, just as Brooke came to know the area, he may still have gone, as he was one of the young poet’s influences and he had a high regard for his writing, except for his later work. Meredith had immortalised the forest near Wotton in ‘The Woods of Westermain’.
… Enter these enchanted woods,
You who dare.
Nothing harms beneath the leaves
More than waves a swimmer cleaves.
Toss your heart up with the lark,
Foot at peace with mouse and worm,
Fair you fare.
Only at dread of dark
Quaver, and they quit their form:
Thousand eyeballs under hoods
Have you by the hair.
Enter these enchanted woods,
You who dare.
The tennis lawn at Leylands where Rupert, a keen player, would have spent many hours, is still there, only now the hard court close to it is used in preference; and the chimney stack on the north-east corner of the house, on the left of the photograph, has been demolished, but otherwise the house is much the same at it was, apart from occasional additions, and a fire damage which affected a section of the building in 1907–8. The ha-ha which still faces the house across what was the tennis lawn no longer has the floral display that greeted the house’s occupants each morning with Alexander Pope’s words from ‘An Essay on Man’: ‘Hope springs eternal.’ There was obviously neither the space, nor a patient enough gardener, to continue with the rest of the quotation: ‘in the human breast; Man never is, but always to be blest.’ The house went out of the hands of Justin Brooke’s family after the First World War, when his father Arthur retired, and it was bought by people called Hicks before being purchased by a Commander Whitworth. Whitworth eventually sold it to Justin’s younger sister Aline (by then Arrowsmith-Brown) who moved back into her childhood home in her old age with her memories of the young poet Rupert Brooke and the days before the estate was split up in the 1930s.
Brooke’s second cousin, Winifred Kinsman, whose grandmother Lucy Hoare was his mother’s sister, also has a vivid recollection of Rupert, from the summer of 1912, even though she was not yet four years old:
He came to my home in Rugby, with his mother, where my parents were having a party. There were some steps up to the drawing-room, with a French window, and the party was going on inside. I was standing outside on the steps, and suddenly Rupert came out of the French windows and said ‘I’ll catch you’, and I flew down the steps and into the garden, with Rupertchasing me. I remember quite clearly the excitement and the terror which I felt, and the real enjoyment as I was swept up into his arms and held above his head.
Another port of call was the house of the poet and novelist John Masefield and his wife Constance, which they took jointly with their friend Isabel Fry. Rectory Farm at Great Hampden in the Chilterns was described by Masefield in 1909 as ‘a lovely little farm in Buckinghamshire, high up on a chalk hill surrounded by beechwoods and common land, a very fresh, pretty, but rather bare and cold country like most chalk hills’. Writing to Ka from there during a visit, Rupert wrote, ‘I sit in front of the cottage writing … Mr Masefield is inside, singing sea shanties to the baby [their son Lewis].’ Heaven knows what a two-year-old made of the ‘sea shanties’, as most of his nautical writings, like those in his 1902 collection,Salt Water Ballads, dealt with suffering and death, as in the last lines of ‘The Turn of the Tide’: ‘An’ the ship can have my blessing and the Lord can have my life / For it’s time I quit the deck and went aloft.’
The conversation between the two poets would probably have touched upon a problem with Masefield’s newly published tragedy,The Widow in the Bye Street, a lengthy work of almost 500 verses. A strike had resulted in 2,000 of the 3,000 copies printed being held up for several weeks at London docks, having arrived by sea from Edinburgh. The publishers were Sidgwick and Jackson, who had also published Brooke’s poems. It would appear that Rupert was initially slightly jealous of Masefield’s success, although the latter was his senior by almost a decade. Masefield, however, was never less than generous in his advice to Brooke and was happy to be counselled. Rupert asked him about a photographer called Murchisan, who wanted to take some photographs of him. Masefieldduly gave him his advice, which ended with the telling words, ‘Remember that if you become as famous as we all expect of you, he will be able to make a lot of money out of your portrait.’ He was certainly right in terms of fame and longevity, as Brooke’s likeness is still admired eighty-five years on.
At the end of August, Rupert was once again fraught with tension and in a state of collapse, when a fellow Apostle from Cambridge, Harry Norton, whisked him off to relax on a tour in Scotland. Among the places they stayed were the Annandale Arms Hotel at Moffat, near Galloway, and Sanquhar, in Dumfries, from where he wrote to Noel declaring his intentions once again of visiting Justin Brooke at Leylands and taking her to task over her admission to not loving him: ‘You lie, Noel. You may have persuaded yourself you don’t love me, or engineered yourself into not loving me, now. But you lie when you say you never did – Penshurst and Grantchester and a thousand times. I know you did and you know it. And you could.’ Noel replied:
Wouldn’t the best thing be for you to come to Limpsfield for two days, or three (as long as we needed to clear things up)? Inconveniently, there is no room in The Champions now – but perhaps you wouldn’t have liked to be surrounded by the family. I’ve been thinking that you mightn’t mind living in ‘The Grasshopper’ at Moorhouse Bank, about a mile and a half from here – thro’ the woods and on the way to Westerham? If you thought that too remote there is the ‘Carpenter’s Arms’ across the common, but it has no recommendations, or again you might just get a room and come here for meals.
Forever optimistic, Rupert agreed, but on meeting her at The Champions he realised it was all to no avail.
Avoiding Rugby, he visited Leonard and Virginia Woolf in London, and stayed at the National Liberal Club and then with Eddie Marsh at Raymond Buildings, where they hatched the idea of an anthology of verse, with contributions from contemporary poets. The seeds of the idea were sown on 12 September. While in bed there, Brooke hit upon a scheme of publishing a book of poetry that would include a selection of work from twelve different writers – six men and six women; he would write all the poems under pseudonyms. This led to Marsh and Brooke deciding they might just as well use the work of existing poets, and, fired by the idea, they invited Wilfred Gibson, John Drinkwater, Harold Monro and Arundel de Re (the latter two being editor and sub-editor of thePoetry Review) to 5 Raymond Buildings to discuss the plan, the following day, the consequence of which was to be the publication ofGeorgian Poetry 1911–12.
From his base at Raymond Buildings, Marsh introduced him to London society, Brooke becoming friendly with Asquith, the then Prime Minister, and his family, as well as meeting fellow writers Walter de la Mare, Drinkwater, Gibson and W. H. Davies, among others whose acquaintance he had already made including Henry James, John Masefield and W. B. Yeats.
Two days after conceiving theGeorgian Poetsscheme Brooke went to the first night of Shakespeare’sThe Winter’s Tale, where he became rather taken with actress Cathleen Nesbitt, who was playing the part of Perdita; maybe it was possible to love again.
A week later actor/manager Henry Ainley took her to a supper party given by Eddie Marsh at Raymond Buildings, where she was eager to meet the writer Gilbert Cannan, for whom she had great admiration. She found Cannan uncommunicative, but did strike up conversation with Rupert.
I saw a very good looking, very shy young man, sitting in a corner and I do remember being struck by his extremely blue eyes, and I sat beside him and he said ‘Do you know anybody here?’ and I said ‘No’. He said ‘Neither do I’ and then we vaguely started talking, and then we talked aboutGeorgian Poetry, which was an anthology that Eddie Marsh had just brought out … I said there was an extraordinary poem called ‘The Fish’ in it, and I quoted quite a bit of it and he blushed very scarlet and said: ‘You have very good taste – I wrote that.’
The meeting culminated in Brooke asking her to lunch, and the two of them becoming closer, although gradually, as they had both recently emerged from unhappy love affairs – Rupert with Ka, and Cathleen with Henry Ainley. She understood from Brooke that he was feeling ‘neurotic, depressed and against love altogether’.
During September, Rupert was back seeking sanctuary under the chestnuts at Grantchester. ‘Working for ten days alone at this beastly poetry. Working at poetry isn’t like reading hard, it doesn’t just tire and exhaust you. The only effect is that your nerves and your brain go. I was almost a mouthing idiot.’ Rupert was to leave his beloved Old Vicarage later in 1912, and the days of the Grantchester summers would be over for ever.
The first book ofGeorgian Poetrywas printed and ready to be published in December, with contributions from Brooke, Lascelles, Abercrombie, G. K. Chesterton, John Masefield and Wilfred Gibson. It would sell for 3s 6d.
The initial edition ofGeorgian Poetryincluded five of Brooke’s poems: ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’, ‘Dust’, ‘The Fish’, ‘Dining-Room Tea’ and ‘Town and Country’.Town and Country
Here, where love’s stuff is body, arm and side
Are stabbing-sweet ’gainst chair and lamp and wall.
In every touch more intimate meanings hide;
And flaming brains are the white heart of all.
Here, million pulses to one centre beat:
Closed in by men’s vast friendliness, alone,
Two can be drank with solitude, and meet
On the sheer point where sense with knowing’s one.
Here the green-purple clanging royal night,
And the straight lines and silent walls of town,
And roar, and glare, and dust, and myriad white
Undying passers, pinnacle and crown.
Intensest heavens between close-lying faces
By the lamp’s airless fierce ecstatic fire;
And we’ve found love in little hidden places,
Under great shades, between the mist and mire.
Stay! though the woods are quiet, and you’ve heard
Night creep along the hedges. Never go
Where tangled foliage shrouds the crying bird,
And the remote winds sigh, and waters flow!
Lest – as our words fall dumb on windless noons,
Or hearts grow hushed and solitary, beneath
Unheeding stars and unfamiliar moons,
Or boughs bend over, close and quiet as death –
Unconscious and unpassionate and still,
Cloud-like we lean and stare as bright leaves stare,
And gradually along the stranger hill
Our unwalled loves thin out on vacuous air,
And suddenly there’s no meaning in our kiss,
And your lit upward face grows, where we lie,
Lonelier and dreadfuller than sunlight is,
And dumb and mad and eyeless like the sky.
The year 1912 also saw Brooke’s first poem being published in the United States, when ‘Second Best’ was included in Thomas Bird Mosher’sAmphoria, A Collection of Prose and Verse Chosen by the Editor of Bibelot.
Early in October, Rupert was discussing more poetry, this time near Chichester. Between September and November 1912, 23-year-old John Middleton Murry, the editor ofRhythm, an avant-garde magazine of art literature and music, and his girlfriend of nine months, the 24-year-old New Zealand-born writer Katherine Mansfield, rented Runcton Cottage at Runcton, West Sussex. A Queen Anne house, the dwelling was situated in the heart of a small hamlet that centred around the Manor and the Mill House, the latter being worked by the waters of Pagham Rife, which flowed from Vinnetrow, one of the dozen or so lakes to the north-east of the cluster of houses and past Runcton Cottage before emptying into the English Channel at Little Welbourne in Pagham harbour, 2 miles to the south. Brooke and Murry would walk for miles across the marshes, talking, discussing poetry and singing songs.
Rupert came to know Murry, a classical Oxford scholar, throughRhythm, which had first been mooted at Christmas 1910 by Murry and the painter J. D. Ferguson. The first issue appeared in June 1911. Murry’s Oxford chum Frederick Goodyear wrote the manifesto and the publication attracted many illustrious contributors. During its two-year existence, before transmogrifying into theBlue Review, its pages were graced by the works of Wilfred Gibson, W. H. Davies, Frank Swinnerton, Frank Harris, John Drinkwater, Duncan Grant, Brooke and dozens of others from the world of art, literature and music. Brooke visited Murry and Katherine Mansfield on more than one occasion while they were living at Runcton Cottage, once arriving with Eddie Marsh, having affected the initial introduction between Marsh and Murry and Frederick Goodyear.
Brooke was certainly at Runcton in early October 1912, writing a letter to Marsh on 4 October: ‘I’m going to Runcton Cottage tomorrow for the weekend … I suppose the Tigers [as he called them] won’t want me longer than till Monday.’ Rupert stayed for several days with Murry and Katherine Mansfield at the house that could barely be described as a cottage, considering its size. Here they talked and discussed the future ofRhythm, blissfully unaware of the fact that ‘Stephen Swift’, the publisher of the organ, was about to abscond, leaving a debt of £400, which Murry and Mansfield had to shoulder. During his stay at Runcton, Rupert shocked his host and hostess with a tale of an old woman who had sat motionless by her open window for so long that neighbours decided to force an entry, whereupon they discovered that all her lower half had been eaten by her cats! When Brooke left Runcton on Tuesday 8 October, he sent his love to ‘the Tigers when you see them’ in a letter to Eddie Marsh from Berlin the following month.