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Rupert Brooke of Rugby

Biography, Commentary, Poetry,

Prose, and Photographs

By Keith Hale


© 2018 Keith Hale

Watersgreen House

All rights reserved.

6" x 9" (15.24 x 22.86 cm) 
Black & White on White paper
322 pages

ISBN-13: 978-1987485974 
ISBN-10: 1987485971

BISAC: Biography & Autobiography / LGBT

Portions of “The Bowdlerization of Rupert Brooke” first appeared in

ANQ 21.2, Spring 2008.

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Chapter One: “The Bowdlerization of Rupert Brooke”

The Memoir

he Biographies

The Letters of Rupert Brooke

Early Romance

A Welcome War

The Bisexual Brooke

Poems for Boys

Chapter Two: The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke

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Brooke: A Biographical Note by Margaret Lavington

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Introduction by George Edward Woodberry


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Second Best

Day That I Have Loved

Sleeping Out: Full Moon

In Examination

Pine Trees and the Sky: Evening


The Vision of the Archangels


On the Death of Smet-Smet, the Hippopotamus-Goddess

The Song of the Pilgrims

The Song of the Beasts


Ante Aram


The Call

The Wayfarers

The Beginning

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Sonnet: “Oh! Death will find me, long before I tire”

Sonnet: “I said I splendidly love you; it’s not true”





The Fish

Thoughts on the Shape of the Human Body


The Hill

The One Before the Last

The Jolly Company

The Life Beyond

Lines Written in the Belief that the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead was Called Ambarvalia

Dead Men’s Love

Town and Country


Menelaus and Helen



Blue Evening

The Charm



The Voice

Dining-Room Tea

The Goddess in the Wood

A Channel Passage


Day and Night


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I Peace

II Safety

III The Dead

IV The Dead

V The Soldier

The Treasure

The South Seas

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Tiare Tahiti


The Great Lover



There’s Wisdom in Women

He Wonders Whether to Praise or to Blame Her

A Memory (From a sonnet sequence)

One Day



Sonnet (Suggested by Some of the Proceedings of the Society for Physical Research



Other Poems

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The Busy Heart



The Chilterns


The Night Journey


Beauty and Beauty

The Way That Lovers Use

Mary and Gabriel

The Funeral of Youth: Threnody

The Old Vicarage, Grantchester



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The Dance


Sometimes Even Now

Sonnet: In Time of Revolt

A Letter to a Live Poet

Fragment on Painters

The True Beatitude (Bouts-Rimes)

Sonnet Reversed

It’s not Going to Happen Again

The Little Dog’s Day

Chapter Three: Letters from America


Note by Edward Marsh

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“Rupert Brooke” by Henry James

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New York

New York, continued

Boston and Harvard

Montreal and Ottawa

Quebec and the Saguenay


Niagara Falls

To Winnepeg


The Prairie

The Indians

The Rockies

Some Niggers

An Unusual Young Man

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Chapter One: The Bowdlerization of Rupert Brooke

When Rupert Brooke died of blood poisoning on his way to fight the Turkish forces at Gallipoli in 1915, his friends in England were quick to turn him into a national hero--a patriotic symbol of the many young men of England going to war. That Brooke had recently published five sonnets glorifying patriotic sacrifice did much to promote his legend. That his friends included Winston Churchill, Anthony Asquith, and General Ian Hamilton did even more. Churchill capitalized on Brooke’s “most precious” and “most freely proferred” sacrifice, painting a portrait of Brooke as an eager defender of nation and honor “willing to die for the dear England whose beauty and majesty he knew […] with absolute conviction of the rightness of his country’s cause” (qtd. in Lehmann, Strange 151).

Brooke has since been known as a “war poet,” although he saw no action during the war and completed only five poems on the subject. This classification has done his reputation serious injury, for his war sonnets seem trivial and misguided when compared with those of his fellow soldier poets. Although Siegfried Sassoon and others were writing the same type of sentimental verse as Brooke in the early days of the war, they were fortunate to live long enough to provide a more realistic correction to their early verse. Brooke never had that chance.

To maintain the patriotic legend after the war, Brooke’s biography was altered beyond recognition. His mother refused his choice of literary executor, Edward Marsh, selecting instead his boyhood friend Geoffrey Keynes, who spent the rest of his life suppressing unsavory rumors about Brooke. When Keynes edited and published a collection of Brooke’s letters, he deleted much of the evidence that would have proven that Brooke the man was not the same as Brooke the legend. In selecting the letters to be published, Keynes refused to include sensitive letters between Brooke and James Strachey--the brother of Lytton and translator of Freud--saying they would appear in print “over my dead body” (Rogers 6).

Keynes’s refusal to allow the Brooke-Strachey letters into print almost certainly was due to the strong homosexual current running through the correspondence. Even at Rugby, Keynes had tried to moderate that side of Brooke, complaining of Brooke’s “decadent” posing and expressing his disapproval of Brooke’s flirtation with Michael Sadleir. To his credit, Keynes did publish many of Brooke’s letters to him about Brooke’s adolescent romances, with few omissions; however, he was reluctant to print anything the adult Brooke had to say on the subject.

Keynes’s edition of the letters, as it happened, appeared over the dead body of Dudley Ward, a co-trustee of the Brooke estate, who had said Keynes’s selection “completely misrepresented” Brooke and who kept the edition from being published as long as he was alive. Although an avid bibliophile famous for his personal library, Keynes was easily shocked, and--at least in his younger days--had no qualms about destroying literary and historical documents. Following his brother Maynard Keynes’s death, Geoffrey was inclined to destroy the letters between Maynard and Lytton Strachey--letters filled with the details of Maynard’s love affairs with the painter Duncan Grant and other young men of Brooke’s circle. Fortunately, James Strachey and Maynard’s biographer, Roy Harrod, intervened and the letters were preserved.

It is, however, certainly possible that years earlier, when Keynes took control of much of Brooke’s correspondence, there was no such fortuitous intervention and many of Brooke’s most sensitive letters were destroyed. James Strachey, for one, refused to allow Keynes access to his letters from Brooke, and at least one person who did send letters to Keynes later received a letter from him saying they had been lost. Brooke’s mother is another individual who might have been inclined to destroy certain documents. When her husband Parker Brooke died in 1910, she destroyed all his papers unread.

We know from Brooke’s surviving letters that for several years he wrote long letters to two fellow Rugby boys--Denham Russell-Smith, whom he later seduced, and Michael Sadleir, with whom he had what he termed an “affaire.” Brooke also was in love with a boy named Charles Lascelles. It seems that none of the correspondence to or from any of the three boys, except for a letter written much later by Brooke to Sadleir concerning a literary matter, has survived. Letters from Brooke to Denham’s mother in which he compliments the hammock on which he and Denham liked to lie and kiss each other have survived, but no letters to the boy himself. Keynes acknowledges the letters to Sadleir existed by saying in his collection that Brooke’s early letters to Sadleir were not preserved (Brooke, Letters 35). One of Brooke’s biographers who tried to track them down, Michael Hastings, believes that “The Sadleir trustees got hold of letters, via, presumably, the earlier more cautious Brooke trustees, and they have no doubt been destroyed” (Letter).

The Memoir

As mentioned, before Brooke died, he appointed Edward Marsh as his literary executor; however, Brooke’s mother refused to honor the choice and instead appointed a group of four men, headed by Geoffrey Keynes, who had been a friend of Brooke at Rugby. Brooke and Keynes had maintained a distant friendship since their school days but were not close. Marsh, Churchill’s private secretary, had known Brooke well only during the last years of Brooke’s life and was unacceptable to Mrs. Brooke not only for that reason but also because he was homosexual. With the exception of John Sheppard, whom she named a Brooke Trustee, Mrs. Brooke had an uncanny knack of ferreting out this trait in Rupert’s friends, acquaintances, and aspiring biographers. She apparently did not much like it, for she was critical of all except Sheppard. James Strachey, St. John Lucas-Lucas (the Rugby poet), Edward Marsh, and Brooke biographer Richard Halliburton were but a few of those who came face to face with her scorn. Lucas was so distressed when he learned of her dislike of him and of her insistence that none of his letters from Brooke be placed in Marsh’s Memoir that he wrote to Marsh, “I never had the faintest idea that Mrs. Brooke had any objection to my letters being used by you. Why in the world should she? I did know that she objected to my name appearing in your memoir; […] I am sending you the letters & Rupert’s letters too. Please keep them & tell her that I never want to see them again.”

Marsh had been managing Brooke’s affairs since before Brooke’s death. It was his name on Brooke’s publishing contract with Sidgwick and Jackson, and it was he who had been representing the three poets named as heirs in Brooke’s will. Although Marsh was closeted, it was obvious to everyone that he had been in love with Brooke. Louis Menand maintains that the Georgian Poetry anthologies compiled by Marsh from 1912 through 1922 “began as an effort to promote the work of one poet, Rupert Brooke” (120). In a letter to Mrs. Brooke after Rupert’s death, Marsh admitted that “most things in my life depended on him for a great part of their interest and worth” (qtd. in Ross 92). In any case, one cannot say with certainty that Marsh would have made a better executor than Keynes. It is logical to assume that having publicly concealed his own homosexuality, he might have been just as protective of Brooke’s reputation as was Keynes. In the Brooke Archives at Cambridge is Marsh’s transcription of one of Brooke’s poetry notebooks. Although he has carefully transcribed virtually every poem, he has left out the one with homosexual content, titled “Antinous,” noting that it was not worth bothering with. It is possible, however, that he had intended all along to give his transcriptions to Brooke’s mother, who eventually got them, and that the censorship might have been for her benefit.

Another Brooke biographer, Paul Delany, believes that “Brooke never cared deeply about Marsh or Keynes, nor did they play any major role in his emotional history” (ix). When Brooke speaks of Keynes in later life, it is generally with respect for someone important to him in his childhood and whom he believes to be a decent person. However, it is also clear that Brooke is annoyed with Keynes’ disapproval of anything “beyond the pale.” Brooke seems to have given up on Keynes as best friend material by 1907 when Keynes wrote to him complaining of Brooke’s tone—his “nastiness,” “peevishness,” “sarcastic irony,” and “bad taste,” and accusing Brooke of being “childish.” Brooke replied, “I expect I was too allusive: almost, I fear, flippant. I will try to be simple.” But at the end of the letter, he can’t resist some fun with Keynes: “I have written in lines fairly straight & close; that you may not strain your eyes in trying to read between them” (12 Sept. 1907).

Brooke likely would have been appalled at the thought of Keynes as his literary executor. However, following Rupert’s death, Mrs. Brooke appointed Keynes, Dudley Ward, Walter de la Mare, and Jack Sheppard as Brooke Trustees. This left Marsh in an odd position, as he—acting as Brooke’s appointed executor—had signed the agreements with Brooke’s publishing company and represented the three poets (including de la Mare) named in Brooke’s will as beneficiaries. Frustrated by the lack of cooperation he was getting from Mrs. Brooke and Geoffrey Keynes, both of whom clearly wanted him to relinquish his post, Marsh reluctantly concluded that he had no choice but to resign. His decision did not sit well with Brooke’s publishers, however. Sidgwick and Jackson refused to accept the resignation, insisting that Marsh’s name was on the contracts and they would deal with no one but Marsh. Keynes exchanged several hostile letters with the firm, but in the end was himself forced to call upon Marsh to intervene. Marsh did, and delicately extricated himself from all responsibilities concerning Brooke.

Still, Marsh’s troubles with Keynes and Brooke’s mother, were far from over. He was writing a memoir of Brooke to be included as an introduction to Brooke’s Collected Poems, and he soon found both Mrs. Brooke and Keynes acting as tandem obstructionists to his project. Mrs. Brooke insisted that Marsh not include anything about Brooke’s socialism, then after the Memoir was published, she complained that it wasn’t a complete account of Rupert and didn’t even mention his socialism. She also insisted that Marsh ask Keynes to write something for the book, and when Keynes refused, she withdrew her permission to publish. Marsh wrote to her expressing dismay that, after all the trouble he had taken, he should be made to suffer “because someone else, over whom I have no control, refuses to write” (Hassall, Marsh 386). Eleven days later, Marsh sent an announcement to Sidgwick and Jackson of the Memoir’s postponement: “ ‘owing to the wishes of the family’--I should like to insert the word ‘bloody’ before ‘family’, but I won’t insist on this” (391). Eventually, Marsh was allowed to publish, but even though he honored the many limitations placed on him by Mrs. Brooke and Keynes, they still were unhappy. Marsh regarded his relationship with Mrs. Brooke as the most distressing experience of his life; their dispute takes up almost seventy pages of Christopher Hassell’s biography of Marsh.

It must be said, however, that Marsh deserved some of Mrs. Brooke’s criticism concerning his over-the-top prose style. She returned his draft with “applepie, applepie” scribbled in the margin of one section. One biographer claims she changed Marsh’s “Rupert left Rugby in a blaze of glory” to “Rupert left Rugby in July,” but Hassall dismisses this story as apocryphal.

Another Brooke biographer, John Lehmann, says, “Marsh must not be too much blamed for [the Memoir’s] excesses of adulation; he had known Rupert at close quarters in the last years of his life, he had fallen in love with him, and his love irradiates every paragraph” (Strange 155). When the Memoir was finally published, it was prefaced with a brief “introduction” by Mrs. Brooke that read more like a disclaimer. In it she mentions the reasons why she “consented to the Memoir coming out now, although it is of necessity incomplete.”

Keynes in his autobiography calls Marsh’s memoir “an elegantly written trifle (Gates 164) and goes on to complain:

Brooke’s unmanly physical beauty was often taken as an indication that he was probably a homosexual and therefore to be despised. […] It had, of course, been far from Marsh’s intention to produce any such impression. He had been deeply attached to Rupert, as he was to many young men, but lived himself in a sexual no-man’s-land whose equivocal aura pervaded the memoir and contributed to the Brooke “legend”. Mrs. Brooke had probably sensed this even though she might not have been able to put it into words, and was quite right to feel that the pretty sketch should never have been printed. (165)

Marsh was not entirely in a “sexual no-man’s land.” Rupert knew that Marsh was attracted to men; the evidence can be found, among other places, in Brooke’s 13 February 1912 letter to James Strachey in which he writes of a letter from Marsh expressing pleasure at having finally met George Mallory, the handsome young friend of Brooke who became the famous mountain climber. Brooke tells Strachey that Marsh had crossed out “met” and replaced it with “seen.” Then later in the letter he reproduces Marsh’s edit with obvious admiration, telling Strachey he thinks it quite good. Nor was Marsh as prudish on the topic of sex as was Keynes. When, for instance, the Daily Mail wrote an article on syphilis but insisted on calling it “the hidden plague,” an exasperated Marsh wrote to Brooke that he was considering “writing a letter from the small-hidden-plague and chicken hidden plague” (18 Aug. 1913). Marsh could be quite funny, as he indicated by wishing to insert the word bloody before family, and Brooke appreciated his humor.

Still, Marsh’s Memoir was a travesty, and the fault was partially Mrs. Brooke’s but partially Marsh’s own. Brooke’s Bloomsbury friend David Garnett, wrote of it to his mother:

James—who knew him better than anyone else […] is silent—he is mentioned once as having been on a walking tour with him—Noel [Olivier] is of course not mentioned. […] I am amazed at the underlying assumptions of the authors.

That is: We like our boys to wear their hair rather long—to dabble in Socialism, to dabble in ‘decadence’ […] to fancy they really care about ethics—but all the time we know they are sound: sound to the core.

When the time comes they’ll go off heroically and forget their wild oats and die in a Greek island and then we can wallow in sentiment […] but the wild oats of Mr. Marsh are really the important things in life. Rupert even though he did go to the bad some time before his death at one time cared about the important things and was able to understand them. (Brooke, Song 282)

Garnett makes a valid point. But if Brooke’s friends found the Marsh memoir distasteful, they certainly could not have appreciated what was to come.

The Biographies

The first biography of Brooke aside from Marsh’s 1918 memoir was to have been written by twenty-seven-year-old American explorer Richard Halliburton, author of The Royal Road to Romance, who drowned at sea before completing his book. A good-looking man who apparently possessed a great deal of charm as well, Halliburton considered Brooke one of his three heroes along with Richard the Lion-Hearted and Alexander the Great, and he carried a copy of Brooke’s poetry with him almost wherever he went, calling it his bible. While working on his biography of Brooke, he was disappointed to find that Mrs. Brooke and most of Rupert’s friends were reluctant to divulge information about the poet. On first meeting him, Mrs. Brooke had demanded, “Ask your questions, young man, one, two, three, four” (Stringer 16). Only Marsh provided any cooperation (18). Gradually, Halliburton discerned the reason. “I was made aware of a peculiar subterfuge going on round me,” he wrote. “One Trustee of the Brooke Estate made a point of telephoning some of the families I approached to insist I be allowed to see no material they might possess” (Stringer 63). Brooke’s friend Justin Brooke wrote to Halliburton, “I think you may find it hard to get Mrs. Brooke’s permission to print all that you would naturally desire.” St. John Lucas-Lucas, who had sent Halliburton his letters from Brooke before sending them all to Marsh, wrote, “Mrs. Brooke is far from pleased with me for letting you have them. [...] Please don’t think me very dictatorial, but the rule that Rupert’s friends must make is that Mrs. Brooke’s wishes in any matter concerning him are absolute law.” Noel Oliver, in politely refusing close cooperation, said she believed it was not yet possible to write a full account of his life: “The spectators must wait another 50 years or so for anything like a full picture,” she wrote. Dudley Ward refused cooperation for the same reason, writing to Halliburton, “I do not think that the time has come for the publication of a full selection of his letters, and such partial selection by you as would be possible would only give a misleading impression.” The concerns of Ward and Olivier were, of course, accurate. Keynes, who had been collecting Brooke’s letters himself, allowed Halliburton to see only a selected few.

With Halliburton’s death, no Brooke biography was published until 1948, when Arthur Stringer, using the materials Halliburton had been able to gather and conducting extensive research on his own, published Red Wine of Youth. However, the most interesting conclusions made by Stringer while writing his book--that Brooke was homosexual and had died from venereal disease--never appear in its pages. Stringer did make his opinions known to Brooke’s Canadian friend, Maurice Brown, who reported them to Keynes. Citing his friendship with Brooke and his medical training in qualifying himself to refute both points, Keynes wrote to Stringer that it was his hope Stringer would “not allow your book to be even remotely coloured by the idea that Rupert was in any way abnormal” (10 June 1947). But the idea of Brooke being homosexual was an increasingly touchy subject for Keynes. Robin Skelton soon added to Keynes’s concern by writing to him that “my generation and all succeeding generations will continue to regard Rupert as a plaster-cast Apollo with homosexual tendencies” (4 Dec. 1955). Keynes, working on his collection of Brooke letters at the time, wrote to Cathleen Nesbitt, “The letters should effectively dispose of the widespread belief (particularly, I believe, in America) that Rupert was ‘queer’” (14 Jan. 1956). Given that hope, Keynes must have been dismayed when Julian Jebb’s review of the collected letters in The Times asked the question outright: “Was he a suppressed homosexual or a narcissist or impotent? Or did he really have a very successful sex life, but no love life? The combination of guilt, affectation, emotional demands and condescension which fills his letters to Katherine and Cathleen only obscure the truth.” Shane Leslie added to Keynes’ frustration by reporting that “At one time Brooke’s false reputation was such that Fellows of Kings were doubtful of making him a Fellow” (8 Aug. 1968), a particularly interesting comment since it suggests that during his years at Kings College, Cambridge, authorities thought of Brooke as excessively homosexual. Mere homosexuality would hardly have raised eyebrows in a college whose fellows seem to have been predominantly homosexual at the time.

But it was Timothy Rogers’ review in English that distressed Keynes the most. Rogers said the publication was an example of “much that has gone amiss in the Brooke story: the evasiveness, the resistance to inquiry, in a word the possessiveness” (80) and faulted Keynes for not including the more controversial letters (83).

The main problem with Keynes’s The Letters of Rupert Brooke and with the biographies written by Christopher Hassall, Robert Brainard Pearsall, John Frayn Turner, William E. Laskowski, and even Timothy Rogers, is censorship. Each writer is very selective in what he presents, apparently not wanting to destroy the Brooke image. Hassall’s biography was meant to be definitive, but it is too much concerned with the trivial and too little concerned with the controversial to be a true accounting. Another biographer, Paul Delany, says “the essential flaw of Hassall’s work was that it had to please Sir Geoffrey [Keynes], which meant that it gave a fundamentally distorted and incomplete view of Rupert” (xv). For his part, Keynes insisted that Hassall’s life of Brooke and his own collection of letters “served to discredit the Rupert Brooke legend and to establish a truer valuation of his wholly masculine character and mind (Gates 169-70), a statement that clearly reveals Keynes’s mission regarding the poet. Many others who have written about Brooke seem to share this mission. Robert Pearsall chose to ignore any homosexual inferences regarding Brooke and wrote that at Rugby School Brooke “developed no crushes of any kind” (16), a statement contradicted even by the Brooke letters published by Keynes. Self-described in his preface as “an old soldier myself” (8), Pearsall dismisses Brooke’s long-standing friendship with James Strachey by saying that James and his brother Lytton “were jealous and fussy men, buzzing homosexuals, whom Brooke could not like and ultimately came to hate” (40). Rogers apparently shares this view of James Strachey. Despite the fact that James was Brooke’s closest friend for many years, Rogers in his biography dismisses him with the line, “That [Strachey] made sexual advances to Brooke is likely, and likely that Brooke repelled them” (6). Nigel Jones, who wrote what is for the most part an even-handed account of Brooke’s life, nevertheless says in his introduction that “the Stracheys and most the Bloomsberries were truly poisonous people” (xvi). Even so innocuous a book as Sandra Martin and Roger Hall’s Rupert Brooke in Canada denigrates Brooke’s male relationships. They write of Brooke’s days at Rugby: “Rupert was amused in a disdainful, superior way by a crush another boy suffered for him” (11), which again is hardly an accurate account even of the Brooke letters published at the time.

That so much of the material written on Brooke has come from the pens of writers who were at best eager to prove him heterosexual and at worst completely homophobic is unfortunate. It is also ironic that in at least ten books the authors felt it necessary to protest that Brooke was not homosexual. No Brooke biography had ever claimed he was. Only recently have Paul Delany’s biography, The Neo-pagans: Rupert Brooke and the Ordeal of Youth, my own edition, Friends and Apostles: The Correspondence of Rupert Brooke and James Strachey, 1905-1914, and Nigel Jones’ Life, Death & Myth presented evidence that Brooke was at least at certain times in his life and at least to some degree bisexual, but none of these books claim he was exclusively homosexual.

Delany, like Stringer, Hastings, and Rogers before him, felt compelled to mention the reticence--and indeed, obstruction--he encountered among some Brooke acquaintances while compiling his biography. He says Keynes “had gathered a mass of documentation on Brooke [...] he controlled it, and he was temperamentally unable, over the years, to allow unhindered use of materials he considered sensitive” (xiv).

One recent Brooke biography, Mike Read’s Forever England, includes the claim that Brooke fathered a child while in Tahiti. Among the many problems with this claim is the fact that the woman Read claims is Brooke’s daughter was born in 1908, long before Brooke visited the island. Another new biography, Paul Delany’s Fatal Glamour, misses no opportunity to assume sexual relationships with women.

Two other Brooke biographies are worth mentioning. Michael Hastings’ Rupert Brooke: The Handsomest Young Man in England (1967) was never intended to be a serious work of scholarship but is notable for its frequent insights. John Lehmann’s The Strange Destiny of Rupert Brooke, although brief and containing no source notes, provides a balanced account of Brooke.

The Letters of Rupert Brooke

One might expect the most accurate view of Brooke’s life to come from his personal letters, the majority of which were written to his mother and a small circle of intimate friends: James Strachey, Jacques Raverat, Katherine Cox, and Noel Olivier. The letters edited and published by Keynes, however, possess a much different tone than the entries in Brooke’s diaries written at corresponding times. In the diaries, he appears always to possess a clear idea of himself and what he is doing. In his letters, he often attempts to define himself as a bored young man too tired of life to be of much interest to anyone. It is worth the wondering to ask why he would want to portray himself as such.

Brooke’s biographers have ascribed the attitude to Rupert’s early love of Wilde, Swinburne, and Dowson and assert this was a phase Brooke soon outgrew. But Brooke’s professed ennui persists long after he turned his literary attention from Swinburne to Donne and in some ways becomes more prevalent as he grows older, until Brooke’s nervous breakdown at the end of 1911 changed everything, including the way he wrote letters. Brooke’s world-weariness is found in his letters at least as often as the effusiveness of the Brooke who celebrated life, youth, and beauty. Brooke experienced extreme mood swings, but he also projected both personas with practiced deliberation. This was certainly the view of Francis Birrell, who told Marsh that Rupert’s public image was “youthful poet” but the reality of the man was a “hard business capacity” (Hassall, Marsh 277)

It is also true that Brooke did not show identical sides of himself to all his correspondents. He admitted in his 8 January 1907 letter to Geoffrey Keynes that “even more than yourself I attempt to be ‘all things to all men’; rather ‘cultured’ among the cultured, faintly athletic among athletes, a little blasphemous among blasphemers, slightly insincere to myself.” His chameleon character even shows up in his writing style, as when he begins sentences in letters to Marsh with the words “I say,” an obvious affectation reflecting the society in which Marsh moved. What is constant in Brooke’s letters is a selfishness to which he freely admits, at least in his correspondence with James Strachey. Arthur Waugh observed, correctly, that “every sensitive letter-writer is apt to reflect in his letters the temperament of the friend to whom he is writing. And since, to Rupert Brooke’s friends, Rupert Brooke himself was clearly the most alluring of topics, it is not unnatural that he should have pursued that topic with all the relish possible to a self-absorbed and concentrated individuality. […] the best of his enthusiasm, so far as his quoted letters reveal it, is quite ingenuously reserved for himself” (146-47).

In any case, when Keynes assembled his collection of Brooke’s letters to be published, he was suddenly confronted with the realization that Brooke’s correspondents all felt that their letters from Brooke represented the “true” Brooke, and since their letters were, by the nature of the project, outweighed by the volume of the whole, they felt that Keynes must have made his selection carelessly, for they could scarcely find in it the Rupert they knew.

Timothy Rogers says the problem with Keynes is that “he belonged to a generation which believed that certain private matters should not be published whatever might be their literary or historical importance. […] [The volume] is hopelessly incomplete; there are three hundred excisions (for various reasons) from the fewer than six hundred published letters, and some of the closest friendships are unchronicled” (5-6). Rogers arrived at the three hundred figure by counting the deletions in the letters that Keynes indicated with ellipses. In fact, there are far more cuts than Rogers realized, for Keynes made many deletions silently. When Keynes finished his collection and sent the manuscript around to the other Brooke trustees and several of Brooke’s friends, he was dismayed to find that the work met with unanimous disapproval. Among the more pointed replies he received was this from Dudley Ward: “It was my own fault to allow myself to be hustled by you into agreeing, however reluctantly, before I had been able to read your proposed selection in typescript, as you originally promised. […] Then too please cut out the few rather hateful references to James [Strachey]. Surely R. himself when he had recovered from his period of bitterness, for which James himself was in no way responsible, would have had no such desire to hurt” (25 Nov. 1955). Other Brooke friends who did not want Keynes’ edition of Brooke’s letters published included Frances Cornford, Noel Olivier, Violet Asquith, James Strachey, and Jack Sheppard. Asquith went as far as to beg Dudley Ward to prevent publication of the letters, which he succeeded in doing while he was alive.

Keynes edited the letters heavily. The correspondence from his editor at Faber and Faber is full of exasperated inquiries of “Why delete?” and “Why bowdlerize this?” The editor cited “bowdlerization” on six pages of the galleys, and other alterations and omissions on many pages more. All of Brooke’s frequent uses of the word “bugger” were changed or deleted except for one. When used as a noun, the word, under Keynes’s editorship, became “beggar.” When used as a verb, the word and the surrounding sentence usually were deleted altogether, often with no indication a change had been made. Keynes also deleted the names of Brooke’s schoolboy crushes, Charles Lascelles and Michael Sadleir, even when the names appeared in completely innocuous passages. He also deleted mentions of homosexuality even when the situations did not involve Brooke, as when Brooke in a letter to Virginia Woolf provides an account of two fourteen-year-olds “buggering” a ten-year-old in a church vestry.

Keynes also deleted, without so much as an ellipsis, Brooke’s flippant reference to his own bisexuality in a June 1911 letter to Katherine Cox: “I stayed at the Grange with Gwen & Jacques [Raverat]: and though Gwen’s the only woman in England, & Jacques almost the only man, I’ve never lusted for, I’d a bad touch of that disease you too’ll have known.” Nor would Keynes print Brooke’s October 1911 letter to Cox mentioning a “beautiful, shining workman.” Nor does he use a letter to Cox written in February or March 1912 containing an interesting account of Brooke’s arguing with his mother about Cox: “I felt the red creep slowly up--Damn! It’s just as it always was; even from the time when the holiday mention, at lunch, of the boy of the moment in the House (with apologies, dear!) left me the level red of this blotting-paper, & crying with silent wrath.”

Keynes also deleted the following lines from Brooke’s 30 November 1908, letter to Erica Cotterill: “I can imagine cases where I think a man or woman ought to live with someone he loves very much, and [...] produce children by somebody else. This might happen if the person one loves is sterile, or diseased with some hereditary disease, or of the same sex. Do you understand about loving people of the same sex? It is the question people here discuss most, in all its aspects. And of course most of the sensible people would permit it.”

Keynes published the collection of letters soon after Ward’s death, ignoring most of Ward’s requests but honoring the one to remove the unflattering comments about James Strachey. From Brooke’s deathbed letter instructing Ward to destroy certain sets of his correspondence, Keynes deleted, “Things like James Strachey’s letters are rather a pestilential heap. Indeed, why keep anything? Well, I might turn out to be eminent and biographiable. If so, let them know the poor truths.” Of course, one can understand why Keynes would delete mention of the Strachey letters since he included none of them in his manuscript. Brooke’s letters to Strachey eventually were sold to the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library in November 1967 under condition that no one have access to them for ten years without the permission of Strachey’s widow. Jon Stallworthy, who had joined Keynes as a Brooke Trustee, wrote to the Berg curator two years later that even when the ten-year period passed, it was unlikely the Brooke Trust would grant permission for the letters to be published. However, times changed, and Stallworthy did eventually grant permission. Noel Oliver was correct; it did take a number of years before a true accounting of Brooke was possible. But even she might have been surprised that it took not fifty but eighty years.

Early Romance

As with many boys of his generation, Brooke’s public-school days affected him more profoundly than any period of his life. During his years at Rugby, Rupert was involved in romantic relationships with three boys. In order, Denham Russell-Smith entered Rugby in May 1902, age thirteen. Michael Sadleir followed in May 1903, age fourteen, making him and Denham the same age. Charles Lascelles entered in May 1904 at age fourteen. Thus, two of Brooke’s Rugby loves were two years his junior, and the boy he appears to have loved most, Lascelles, was three years younger.

Edwin Charles Griffith Lascelles was born 10 April 1890, the only son of Edwin John Lascelles. He was almost three years younger than Brooke but was assigned to the house where Brooke’s father, Parker Brooke, was housemaster. Virtually everything we know about this relationship is gleaned from Brooke’s letters to Katherine Cox and James Strachey. In an undated letter to Cox, Brooke wrote that when his friend Denis Browne had asked him to help write a song for Easter in 1906, “I strolled across to Chapel; & tried to understand Denis’ music. […] & the last part was rather drowned by the steady clump of young boots up the aisle. . . And by then, no doubt, I was all eyes, & straining, for Charlie’s brunette radiance among them all--& he’d look up towards me a fraction of a second before he passed.” Brooke also wrote in his 10 July 1912 letter to Strachey describing his seduction of the young Denham Russell-Smith that he and Denham would frequently “lie entwined” in a hammock at the Russell-Smith summer home in Brockenhurst, “But I lay always thinking Charlie.” Paul Delany says Brooke kept Lascelles’ photograph in his room while at Cambridge in 1908 (239 n.9), and Brooke’s letters to Strachey show him still interested in Charles and trying to arrange meetings with him in London until near the end of his life. When Charles did visit, Brooke was oddly protective of him, telling Strachey that he would be allowed to see Charlie but not talk to him. There is also a letter to Keynes written in April 1913 asking Keynes to return a favor by sending him Lascelles’ London address.

Although little is known about Brooke’s relationship with Lascelles, it may well have been the most intense experience of his life. It seems that in Brooke’s mind none of his subsequent loves approached the innocent, pure beauty of this first romantic encounter. In Taking It Like a Man: Suffering, Sexuality, and the War Poets, Adrian Caesar argues that “it is the ‘innocence’ of his love for Charles Lascelles that seems to be the template for all his other relationships” (34).

It was not with Lascelles but with Denham Russell-Smith, the younger brother of a friend his own age, that Rupert had his first sexual experience. Rupert’s graphic, play-by-play description of the event in a letter to James Strachey is in many ways the most fascinating letter he wrote. Denham, who died at twenty-three, had been sixteen and Rupert eighteen when they first began “kissing and hugging” at Rugby and Brockenhurst; Denham was twenty when Brooke seduced him at Grantchester.

More is known of Brooke’s third flirtation with a male friend while at Rugby, Michael Sadleir, thanks to Brooke’s detailing the developments in a series of letters to Geoffrey Keynes, who did not approve but did publish the letters in his collection. Although Brooke’s early tone (perhaps meant for Keynes) implies that he entered the relationship out of a desire for adventure and perhaps a good laugh, the tone soon changes. By the end of the summer term, when he and Sadleir are forced to part, Brooke is in despair. Because it is the only relationship with a male that remains well-chronicled, it is worthwhile to look at the Sadleir romance in some detail.

Sadleir, who became a book collector and author, was at that time still Michael Sadler; he later added the “i” to his surname to distinguish himself from his well-known father. His involvement with Brooke began in early 1906 when he asked the school photographer for Rupert’s photo. On 23 February, Brooke sent Keynes, who was spending the term with family in Germany, his first letter describing the situation: “It began by Dean catching me one day & informing me that ‘a gentleman’ in another House, had been trying to buy a photo of me: Dean was willing but my leave was necessary. […] I secretly made inquiries 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 . . . Sadler. It appears that the madman worships me at a pale distance.” Keynes printed the letter fairly intact, though he did remove Sadler’s name.

Brooke began calling his new love “Antinous,” referencing the young lover of Hadrian known throughout antiquity for his beauty. Brooke biographer Christopher Hassall, insists that Brooke merely adopted the name from a figure in one of Simeon Solomon’s paintings (Hassall, Rupert 83), but the fact that Brooke knew much about Hadrian’s lover is evident in his referring to “Antinous, the fair Bithynian,” which Hassall himself quotes (131). Bithynia is indeed where Antinous was born and where Hadrian met the young man. The motif of dangerously beautiful boys was popular among many poets of the Decadent movement, and the name of Antinous was commonly invoked. John Addington Symonds, for example, wrote “The Lotos-Garland of Antinous” and Montague Summers published Antinous and Other Poems in 1907. It is worth mentioning too that Brooke’s poetry from this period shows a marked similarity to that of Summers. What is clear is that Brooke knew very well who Antinous was when he decided to give Sadleir the nickname. Indeed, Brooke was a disciple, telling Keynes in a later letter that he had in his room “a framed picture of the Roman Antinous (the prototype, of course. The reincarnation’s likeness is within a cupboard)” (4 June 1906).

Soon after the initial letter to Keynes, Brooke was corresponding with Sadleir and writing all about it to Keynes in Germany. “As you surmised I gave the permission. What else could my soul have let me do under the circumstances? Very little further has happened outwardly. I catch his eye occasionally in Chapel: it is rather difficult to avoid it!” (7 March). On 23 March Brooke reports that Antinous is ill. “This will allay your fear of my ‘doing something rash’ during this term. But next term you must be prepared for the worst. An English summer (and my last term) really invites one to all that is ‘rash’.” This letter is followed eight days later with: “I have obtained Antinous’s—I mean Sadler’s—photograph from him; and I employ my spare time in sending & receiving letters. […] It is all rather sweet and rather unusual: and he really looks very nice.”

Keynes, who again printed the letter but deleted Sadleir’s name without indication of an omission, must have written back questioning either the verity or the sincerity of Brooke’s reports. Brooke replied, “You wonder how much of my affaire is true. So do I. (So, no doubt, does he!) It does not do to inquire too closely. It is now very pleasant. Some day perhaps we shall grow old and ‘wise’, and forget. But now we are young, and he is very beautiful” (15 April).

Brooke wrote to Keynes on 10 May that Sadler had the mumps and he himself had stopped writing, “not even a Hymn to Antinous.” Brooke went on to say, “I know now whither the Greek Gods have vanished now-a-days. They are to be found in public schools. Always, in the sunshine, and the Spring, I see them, thinly disguised, rushing over the grass, supple of limb & keen-eyed, young and beautiful.” In the same letter, he says although Sadleir is beautiful and he loves to look at him, “he is something of a tertium quid” suggesting that Brooke remained more infatuated with Lascelles.

Still, Brooke was distraught when the end of term came and Sadleir left Rugby to go home to Waybridge. Brooke was going to Cambridge, and he knew that Sadler and Lascelles, after finishing their time at Rugby, eventually would go to Oxford. It unnerved him to the point that he wrote to James Strachey “I am for Oxford.” As Hassall points out, “It is curious that the fitness of his father’s college at Cambridge should ever have been in question” (Rupert 67). Clearly, the only reason he briefly considered Oxford is because he missed Charlie and Michael now that the term had ended, and he knew they both would be heading to Oxford eventually. He wrote again to Keynes, “Rugby is full of dreary ghosts of dead hopes and remembered joys” (22 June).

Near the end of summer, his letter to Keynes expresses annoyance with his friend. “I am a little grieved that my conduct at the end of last term was strange. […] You realize that I considered myself in profundis; that, to my puerile imagination, my heart was being slightly fractured […] in future, my Scheme of Things will never be quite as real and home-like as in recent, dead days when I, with one other, imagined heaven, and found it real, for a time. . . . But my self-pity must be as nauseous to you as it is to me. It is not fashionable to feel these things deeply. But this deserted Rugby is Hell, and I am a pale ghost who has lived, and can now only dream” (5 August 1906).

By saying it is not fashionable to feel these things deeply, Brooke appears to indicate that he does. Exactly one month later, when Keynes, back in England, was planning a trip to Waybridge, Brooke wrote again, “In or about an house in that town, named Eastwood, you may happen upon a beautiful youth named Michael Sadler. Smile on him for I loved him—once.”

A Welcome War

Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy has written a book on each of the two major influences on the youth of Brooke’s generation: nannies and public schools (The Rise and Fall of the British Nanny and The Public School Phenomenon). The 1914 generation was raised by persons other than their parents. Their early years were spent with nannies; they were the last generation “to be brought up in sailor suits” (Pound 13). Their later youth was spent in boarding schools, and the gender segregation of this school system extended through their university years. Women were admitted to Oxford and Cambridge, but they had colleges of their own, usually on the outskirts of campus, and were not often encountered.

Brooke moved from a circle of schoolboy homosexual romances to a circle of open homosexuals at Cambridge (especially in the secret society he was invited to join, the Apostles) and Bloomsbury, and finally to a circle of semi-closeted homosexuals. This sequence was in many ways the story of his age among men of his class. In Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory, a chapter titled “Soldier Boys” outlines the dominant homosexual thread in English culture at the outbreak of the war. Fussell could just as easily be explaining the psychology of Rupert Brooke, the lover of Housman, decadence, and youth. Fussell maintains that it was because the soldier boys found other soldiers objects of attraction and affection that they at first considered war a heroic pursuit. Blond soldiers like Brooke were especially popular.

There has been a plethora of books written about the prevalence of homoeroticism in British culture at the turn of the century. Indeed, A.L. Rowse not only devoted a chapter of his Homosexuals in History to the Cambridge Apostles, he devoted another chapter to “Edwardians and Georgians,” and yet another to “The Great War,” mentioning several of Brooke’s friends and acquaintances. The common thread linking all the books on this subject is the British public- school system. Jonathan Gathorne-Hardy, in The Old School Tie, estimates that one-fourth of all public-school boys had sex with each other regularly (164) and that “where twenty-five per cent had lust affairs, at the same time, and quite distinct from these, ninety per cent, in fact or fantasy, had love affairs (166). The response to Michael Campbell’s classic public-school novel Lord, Dismiss Us certainly gives credence to Gathorne-Hardy’s estimates (see pages 171-72 of The Old School Tie for a thorough discussion of the response to Campbell’s book). Both Eby and Fussell mention that public-school boys were, as Eby puts it, “saturated with classical texts lauding homophilic relationships.” The boys were also largely taught by bachelor masters and found it “natural to turn their sexual energies inward upon each other” (90). Eby also believes that “Contributing to the problem were unheated rooms so that boys crept like puppies into others’ beds for warmth. Because of Victorian reticence about sexual subjects, boys sometimes engaged in love affairs without even knowing their behavior was improper” (90). Headmasters and housemasters, too, often tried to pretend that nothing was amiss, differentiating romantic friendships from homosexual activity. But as Peter Parker points out, “To anyone but the most blinkered pedagogue it would be clear that the two were closely entwined, as indeed all too often were the participants” (107).

Parker also remarks that during the Edwardian period, boyhood’s charms were elevated into a cult: “Perhaps the surfeit of publicity for the gilded youth of the public school was responsible for this. Books, newspapers and magazines all extolled these young gods, leaving one with the impression that for the Edwardians beauty was youth, youth beauty” (91).

Brooke wrote to Frances Cornford, “I have been happier at Rugby than I can find words to say. As I look back at five years there, I seem 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 or even imagine such happiness elsewhere” (qtd. in Hastings 71).

As Parker notes, “This sort of dwelling upon the glories of school was so commonplace that one sometimes feels that death was regarded as the only possible climax to such a ‘career’” (93). It was the happiness of their school days that Brooke and many others hoped to find again among their comrades in the war. For a time, Brooke may have succeeded. His letters after his enlistment reflect a happiness not evident since his Rugby school days. His enthusiasm to join up and his stated reasons for doing so are reminiscent of some of the poetry of Hilaire Belloc, whom Brooke greatly admired, as well as Baden-Powell’s scouting propaganda and the patriotic articles of the popular Boy’s Own Paper. As Eby says, “it required but few switches of emotional gears to exchange unquestioning loyalty to one’s school for a blind enthusiasm for England’s war” (107).

Adrian Caesar writes of Brooke’s enlistment, “After all, joining the Royal Naval Division allowed Brooke to re-enter an all-male society populated by ex-public-schoolboys like himself. It was a world wherein physical expression of homoerotic feeling would be discouraged, but homoerotic solidarity encouraged. It was the world which represented in its clearest form the idealism of public-school life. We are back to David and Jonathan” (53).

Parker and others have mentioned the association many young English soldiers of Brooke’s class made with the biblical warrior friends David and Jonathan. As it happens, as a schoolboy Brooke chose the story of their friendship for his first Bible reading in Rugby Chapel (Hassall, Rupert 47).

Eby notes that “the hierarchy of a public school resembled that of a military organization with prefects as noncommissioned officers administering discipline” (94) and he quotes Leslie Stephen’s observation that the public schools were closer to the hearts of upper-class Englishmen than any other institution, including the Church. If Stephen is correct, Eby argues, then “it can be argued that the English sensibility was shifting from the values traditionally regarded as adult to those of adolescence” (97).

Some soldiers’ dying words were about their schools (Parker 211). Then there is the example of Henry Newbolt’s “He Fell Among Thieves,” which gives us Lieutenant George Hayward, facing execution at dawn by the Afghans, awake all night thinking about—not “his impending death or of loved ones at home”—his days as a public-schoolboy (Eby 102). It is not too surprising, then, that it was Newbolt who understood exactly what Brooke had died for: “In the last poems of this soldier, England is not a world power nor even a vision of unbuilt hopes, but a land of kindly life and kindly memories. […] how truly Rupert Brooke spoke for his generation when he offered his life for the beauty and the fellowship from which he knew he had received it” (“Brooke” 630-31).

Many young Englishmen so confused the world of the public school with the world of battle that they carried their enthusiasm for sports from one institution to the other, viewing warfare as another game to be won. Peter Parker relates the festive atmosphere of a battalion from Easy Surrey as they launched their first attack of the war: “The first sign of the British advance against the German front line before Montauban was a football sailing through the air, kicked by Captain W.P. Neville” (213). Neville reportedly offered a prize to the “first platoon to dribble a ball as far as the German trenches” (214), and back home the Evening News proclaimed in its headline: “GLORIOUS EAST SURREYS: A Football Match with Death in Picardy” (11 July 1916). Neville and his men went over the top with a wild roar, and many, including Neville, were killed instantly. E.B. Osborn commented that “The Germans, and even our Allies, cannot understand why this stout old nation persists in thinking of war as a sport” (qtd. in Parker 215). J.M. Barrie also noticed the connection between war and the games boys played at school. In a letter dated 7 September 1920, he wrote, “I feel sure that when my English public school boy shot a Boche he called out ‘Sorry.’ If he was hit himself he cried, ‘Oh, well shot’” (qtd. in Birkin 286).

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