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William Ernest Henley

Born 23 August 1849
Gloucester, England
Died 11 July 1903 (aged 53)
Occupation Poet, critic, and editor
Nationality English
Education The Crypt School, Gloucester
Writing period c. 1870–1903
Notable work(s) Invictus

William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an English poet, critic and editor.

Contents

Life and career

Henley was born in Gloucester and was the eldest of a family of six children, five sons and a daughter. His father, William, was a bookseller and stationer who died in 1868 and was survived by his young children and creditors. His mother, Mary Morgan, was descended from the poet and critic, Joseph Warton. From 1861-67 Henley was a pupil at the Crypt Grammar School (founded 1539). A Commission had attempted recently to revive the school by securing the brilliant and academically distinguished T. E. Brown (1830-1897) as headmaster. Brown's appointment was relatively brief (c.1857-63) but was a "revelation" for Henley because it introduced him to a poet and "man of genius - the first I'd ever seen". This was the start of a lifelong friendship and Henley wrote an admiring memorial to Brown in the New Review (December, 1897): "He was singularly kind to me at a moment when I needed kindness even more than I needed encouragement".[1]

From the age of 12 Henley suffered from tuberculosis of the bone which resulted in the amputation of his left leg below the knee during either 1865 or 1868-69.[2] Frequent illness often kept him from school, although the misfortunes of his father's business may also have contributed. During 1867, Henley passed the Oxford Local Schools Examination and soon afterwards moved to London where he attempted to establish himself as a journalist.[3] However, his work over the next eight years was interrupted by long periods in hospital because his right foot was also diseased. Henley contested the diagnosis that a second amputation was the only way to save his life by becoming a patient of the pioneering surgeon Joseph Lister (1827-1912) at the The Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. After three years in hospital (1873-75), Henley was discharged. Lister's treatment had not effected a complete cure but enabled Henley to have a relatively active life for nearly 30 years.

His literary acquaintances also resulted in his sickly young daughter, Margaret Emma Henley (b. 4 September 1888), being immortalised by J. M. Barrie in his children's classic Peter Pan.[4][5] Unable to speak clearly, the young Margaret referred to her friend Barrie as her "fwendy-wendy", resulting in the use of the name Wendy, which was coined for the book. Margaret never read the book; she died on 11 February 1894 at the age of 5 and was buried at the country estate of her father's friend, Harry Cockayne Cust, in Cockayne Hatley, Bedfordshire.[5][4]

After his recovery, Henley earned a living in publishing. During 1889 he became editor of the Scots Observer, an Edinburgh journal similar to the old Saturday Review. It was transferred to London during 1891 as the National Observer and remained under Henley's editorship until 1893. Though, as Henley confessed, the paper had almost as many writers as readers, and its fame was confined mainly to the literary class, it was a lively and influential feature of the literary life of its time. Henley had an editor's gift of discerning talent, and the "Men of the Scots Observer", as Henley affectionately and characteristically termed his band of contributors, in most instances justified his insight. The newspaper's context was often sympathetic to the growing imperialism of its time, and among other services to literature it published Rudyard Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads.

Henley died at the age of 53 and was buried in the same churchyard as his daughter in Cockayne Hatley. His wife, Salina Robinson Henley, was later buried at the same site.

Bust of Henley by Rodin

Works

Arguably his best-remembered work is the poem "Invictus", written in 1875. It is said that this was written as a demonstration of his resilience following the amputation of his foot due to tubercular infection. This passionate and defiant poem should be compared with his beautiful and contemplative acceptance of death and dying in the poem "Margaritae Sorori".

In 1890, Henley published Views and Reviews, a volume of notable criticisms, which he described as "less a book than a mosaic of scraps and shreds recovered from the shot rubbish of some fourteen years of journalism". The criticisms, covering a wide range of authors (all English or French save Heinrich Heine and Leo Tolstoy) were remarkable for their insight. During 1892, he published a second volume of poetry, named after the first poem, "The Song of the Sword" but re-titled "London Voluntaries" after another section in the second edition (1893). Robert Louis Stevenson wrote that he had not received the same thrill of poetry so intimate and so deep since George Meredith's "Joy of Earth" and "Love in the Valley". "I did not guess you were so great a magician. These are new tunes; this is an undertone of the true Apollo. These are not verse; they are poetry". During 1892, Henley also published three plays written with Stevenson — Beau Austin, Deacon Brodie and Admiral Guinea. During 1895, Henley's poem, "Macaire", was published in a volume with the other plays. Deacon Brodie was produced in Edinburgh in 1884 and later in London. Herbert Beerbohm Tree produced Beau Austin at the Haymarket on 3 November 1890.

Henley's poem, "Pro Rege Nostro", became popular during the First World War as a piece of patriotic verse. It contains the following refrain:

What have I done for you, England, my England?
What is there I would not do, England my own?

The poem and its sentiments have since been parodied by many people often unhappy with the jingoism they feel it expresses or the propagandistic use it is put to. "England, My England", a short story by D. H. Lawrence and also England, Their England the novel by A. G. Macdonell both use the phrase.

The poem title "Invictus" was taken for the title of the 2009 film starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon based on South Africa's winning the 1995 rugby world cup. The poem "Invictus" is said to have given Nelson Mandela motivation while he was in prison.

External links

References

  1. ^ John Connell, W. E. Henley, London, 1949, p.31
  2. ^ Connell dates this as 1865, but Ernest Mehew William Ernest Henley, (1849-1903), Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004-08, suggests 1868-69 while Henley was being treated in St Bartholomew's Hospital, London
  3. ^ John Connell, W. E. Henley, London, 1949, p.35
  4. ^ a b "The History of Wendy". http://www.wendy.com/wendyweb/history.html. Retrieved 2009-07-25.  
  5. ^ a b Winn, Christopher. I Never Knew That About England.  

Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley (23 August 184911 July 1903) was an English poet, critic and editor.

Contents

Invictus (1875)

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
  • Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole,
    I thank whatever gods may be
    for my unconquerable soul.
  • In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud.
    Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed.
  • Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
    And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.
  • It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll,
    I am the master of my fate:
    I am the captain of my soul.
    • This may have inspired later lines of "A Challenge" from "Quatrains" by James Benjamin Kenyon, published in An American Anthology, 1787-1900 (1901) edited by Edmund Clarence Stedman:
Arise, O Soul, and gird thee up anew,
Though the black camel Death kneel at thy gate;
No beggar thou that thou for alms shouldst sue:
Be the proud captain still of thine own fate.

Views and Reviews (1889)

  • Plainly Hugo was the greatest man of letters of his day. It has been given to few or none to live a life so full of effort and achievement, so rich in honour and success and fame. Born almost with the century, he was a writer at fifteen, and at his death he was writing still; so that the record of his career embraces a period of more than sixty years. There is hardly a department of art to a foremost place in which he did not prove his right. From first to last; from the time of Chateaubriand to the time of Zola, he was a leader of men; and with his departure from the scene the undivided sovereignty of literature became a thing of the past like Alexander's empire.
    • "Hugo"

Poems (1898)

My songs are now of the sunset:
Their brows are touched with light,
But their feet are lost in the shadows
And wet with the dews of night.
  • My songs were once of the sunrise:
    They shouted it over the bar;
    First-footing the dawns, they flourished,
    And flamed with the morning star.

    My songs are now of the sunset:
    Their brows are touched with light,
    But their feet are lost in the shadows
    And wet with the dews of night.

    • "Envoy"

Rhymes And Rhythms

Marching, building, sailing, pillar of cloud or fire,
Sons of the Will, we fought the fight of the Will, our sire.
  • Those incantations of the Spring
    That made the heart a centre of miracles
    Grow formal, and the wonder-working bours
    Arise no more — no more.

    Something is dead . . .
    'Tis time to creep in close about the fire
    And tell grey tales of what we were, and dream
    Old dreams and faded, and as we may rejoice
    In the young life that round us leaps and laughs,
    A fountain in the sunshine, in the pride
    Of God's best gift that to us twain returns,
    Dear Heart, no more — no more.

    • "Prologue"
  • We are the Choice of the Will: God, when He gave the word
    That called us into line, set in our hand a sword;

    Set us a sword to wield none else could lift and draw,
    And bade us forth to the sound of the trumpet of the Law.

    • II
Who says that we shall pass, or the fame of us fade and die,
While the living stars fulfil their round in the living sky?
  • East and west and north, wherever the battle grew,
    As men to a feast we fared, the work of the Will to do.

    Bent upon vast beginnings, bidding anarchy cease —
    (Had we hacked it to the Pit, we had left it a place of peace!) —

    Marching, building, sailing, pillar of cloud or fire,
    Sons of the Will, we fought the fight of the Will, our sire.

    • II
  • Who says that we shall pass, or the fame of us fade and die,
    While the living stars fulfil their round in the living sky?
    • II
Arise! no more a living lie,
And with me quicken and control
Some memory that shall magnify
The universal Soul.
  • Some starlit garden grey with dew,
    Some chamber flushed with wine and fire,
    What matters where, so I and you
    Are worthy our desire?
    • XII
Life is worth Living
Through every grain of it,
From the foundations
To the last edge
Of the cornerstone, death.
  • Think on the shame of dreams for deeds,
    The scandal of unnatural strife,
    The slur upon immortal needs,
    The treason done to life:

    Arise! no more a living lie,
    And with me quicken and control
    Some memory that shall magnify
    The universal Soul.

    • XII
Dear, was it really you and I?
In truth the riddle's ill to read,
So many are the deaths we die
Before we can be dead indeed.
  • Time's right-hand man, the sea
    Laughs as in joy
    From his millions of wrinkles:
    Laughs that his destiny,
    Great with the greatness
    Of triumphing order,
    Shows as a dwarf
    By the strength of his heart
    And the might of his hands.

    Master of masters,
    O maker of heroes,
    Thunder the brave,
    Irresistible message: —
    'Life is worth Living
    Through every grain of it,
    From the foundations
    To the last edge
    Of the cornerstone, death.'

    • XIV
  • You played and sang a snatch of song,
    A song that all-too well we knew;
    But whither had flown the ancient wrong;
    And was it really I and you?
    O, since the end of life's to live
    And pay in pence the common debt,
    What should it cost us to forgive
    Whose daily task is to forget?
    • XV
Life — life — let there be life!
  • Dear, was it really you and I?
    In truth the riddle's ill to read,
    So many are the deaths we die
    Before we can be dead indeed.
    • XV
  • Life — life — let there be life!
    Better a thousand times the roaring hours
    When wave and wind,
    Like the Arch-Murderer in flight
    From the Avenger at his heel,
    Storm through the desolate fastnesses
    And wild waste places of the world!
    • XVI
  • Life — give me life until the end,
    That at the very top of being,
    The battle-spirit shouting in my blood,
    Out of the reddest hell of the fight
    I may be snatched and flung
    Into the everlasting lull,
    The immortal, incommunicable dream.
    • XVI
  • What have I done for you,
    England, my England?
    What is there I would not do,
    England, my own?
    • XXV

Hawthorn and Lavender (1901)

  • Life — life — life! 'Tis the sole great thing
    This side of death,
    Heart on heart in the wonder of Spring!
    • XI
  • Love, which is lust, is the Lamp in the Tomb.
    Love, which is lust, is the Call from the Gloom.
    Love, which is lust, is the Main of Desire.
    Love, which is lust, is the Centric Fire.

    So man and woman will keep their trust,
    Till the very Springs of the Sea run dust.
    Yea, each with the other will lose and win,
    Till the very Sides of the Grave fall in.
    For the strife of Love's the abysmal strife,
    And the word of Love is the Word of Life.
    And they that go with the Word unsaid,
    Though they seem of the living, are damned and dead.
    • XXI
A people, roaring ripe
With victory, rises, menaces, stands renewed,
Sheds its old piddling aims,
Approves its virtue, puts behind itself
The comfortable dream, and goes,
Armoured and militant,
New-pithed, new-souled, new-visioned, up the steeps
To those great altitudes, whereat the weak
Live not. But only the strong
Have leave to strive, and suffer, and achieve.
  • Into a land
    Storm-wrought, a place of quakes, all thunder-scarred,
    Helpless, degraded, desolate,
    Peace, the White Angel, comes.
    Her eyes are as a mother's. Her good hands
    Are comforting, and helping; and her voice
    Falls on the heart, as, after Winter, Spring
    Falls on the World, and there is no more pain.
    • Epilogue
  • All over the world, the nation, in a dream
    Of money and love and sport, hangs at the paps
    Of well-being, and so
    Goes fattening, mellowing, dozing, rotting down
    Into a rich deliquium of decay.
    • Epilogue
  • A people, haggard with defeat,
    Asks if there be a God; yet sets its teeth,
    Faces calamity, and goes into the fire
    Another than it was. And in wild hours
    A people, roaring ripe
    With victory, rises, menaces, stands renewed,
    Sheds its old piddling aims,
    Approves its virtue, puts behind itself
    The comfortable dream, and goes,
    Armoured and militant,
    New-pithed, new-souled, new-visioned, up the steeps
    To those great altitudes, whereat the weak
    Live not. But only the strong
    Have leave to strive, and suffer, and achieve.
    • Epilogue

In Hospital (1908)

  • Life is (I think) a blunder and a shame.
    • p. 4.
  • Far in the stillness a cat
    Languishes loudly. A cinder
    Falls, and the shadows
    Lurch to the leap of the flame.
    • p. 11.
  • From the winter’s gray despair,
    From the summer’s golden languor,
    Death, the lover of Life,
    Frees us for ever.
    • p. 20.

External links

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1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY (1849-1903), British poet, critic and editor, was born on the 23rd of August 1849 at Gloucester, and was educated at the Crypt Grammar School in that city. The school was a sort of Cinderella sister to the Cathedral School, and Henley indicated its shortcomings in his article (Pall Mall Magazine, Nov. 1900) on T. E. Brown the poet, who was headmaster there for a brief period. Brown's appointment, uncongenial to himself, was a stroke of luck for Henley, for whom, as he said, it represented a first acquaintance with a man of genius. "He was singularly kind to me at a moment when I needed kindness even more than I needed encouragement." Among other kindnesses Brown did him the essential service of lending him books. To the end Henley was no classical scholar, but his knowledge and love of literature were vital. Afflicted with a physical infirmity, he found himself in 1874, at the age of twenty-five, an inmate of the hospital at Edinburgh. From there he sent to the Cornhill Magazine poems in irregular rhythms, describing with poignant force his experiences in hospital. Leslie Stephen, then editor, being in Edinburgh, visited his contributor in hospital and took Robert Louis Stevenson, another recruit of the Cornhill, with him. The meeting between Stevenson and Henley, and the friendship of which it was the beginning, form one of the best-known episodes in recent literature (see especially Stevenson's letter to Mrs Sitwell, Jan. 1875, and Henley's poems "An Apparition" and "Envoy to Charles Baxter"). In 1877 Henley went to London and began his editorial career by editing London, a journal of a type more usual in Paris than London, written for the sake of its contributors rather than of the public. Among other distinctions it first gave to the world The New Arabian Nights of Stevenson. Henley himself contributed to his journal a series of verses chiefly in old French forms. He had been writing poetry since 1872, but (so he told the world in his "advertisement" to his collected Poems, 1898) he "found himself about 1877 so utterly unmarketable that he had to own himself beaten in art and to addict himself to journalism for the next ten years." After the decease of London, he edited the Magazine of Art from 1882 to 1886. At the end of that period he came before the public as a poet. In 1887 Mr Gleeson White made for the popular series of Canterbury Poets (edited by Mr William Sharp) a selection of poems in old French forms. In his selection Mr Gleeson White included a considerable number of pieces from London, and only after he had completed the selection did he discover that the verses were all by one hand, that of Henley. In the following year, Mr H. B. Donkin in his volume Voluntaries, done for an East End hospital, included Henley's unrhymed rhythms quintessentializing the poet's memories of the old Edinburgh Infirmary. Mr Alfred Nutt read these, and asked for more; and in 1888 his firm published A Book of Verse. Henley was by this time well known in a restricted literary circle, and the publication of this volume determined for them his fame as a poet, which rapidly outgrew these limits, two new editions of this volume being called for within three years. In this same year (1888) Mr Fitzroy Bell started the Scots Observer in Edinburgh, with Henley as literary editor, and early in 1889 Mr Bell left the conduct of the paper to him. It was a weekly review somewhat on the lines of the old Saturday Review, but inspired in every paragraph by the vigorous and combative personality of the editor. It was transferred soon after to London as the National Observer, and remained under Henley's editorship until 1893. Though, as Henley confessed, the paper had almost as many writers as readers, and its fame was mainly confined to the literary class, it was a lively and not uninfluential feature of the literary life of its time. Henley had the editor's great gift of discerning promise, and the "Men of the Scots Observer," as Henley affectionately and characteristically called his band of contributors, in most instances justified his insight. The paper found utterance for the growing imperialism of its day, and among other services to literature gave to the world Mr Kipling's Barrack-Room Ballads. In 1890 Henley published Views and Reviews, a volume of notable criticisms, described by himself as "less a book than a mosiac of scraps and shreds recovered from the shot rubbish of some fourteen years of journalism." The criticisms, covering a wide range of authors (except Heine and Tolstoy, all English and French), though wilful and often one-sided were terse, trenchant and picturesque, and remarkable for insight and gusto. In 1892 he published a second volume of poetry, named after the first poem, The Song of the Sword, but on the issue of the second edition (1893) re-christened London Voluntaries after another section. Stevenson wrote that he had not received the same thrill of poetry since Mr Meredith's "Joy of Earth" and "Love in the Valley," and he did not know that that was so intimate and so deep. "I did not guess you were so great a magician. These are new tunes; this is an undertone of the true Apollo. These are not verse; they are poetry." In 1892 Henley published also three plays written with Stevenson - Beau Austin, Deacon Brodie and Admiral Guinea. In 1895 followed Macaire, afterwards published in a volume with the other plays. Deacon Brodie was produced in Edinburgh in 1884 and later in London. Beerbohm Tree produced Beau Austin at the Haymarket on the 3rd of November 1890 and Mzcaire at His Majesty's on the 2nd of May 1901. Admiral Guinea also achieved stage performance. In the meantime Henley was active in the magazines and did notable editorial work for the publishers: the Lyra Heroica, 1891; A Book of English Prose (with Mr Charles Whibley), 1894; the centenary Burns (with Mr T.F. Henderson) in 1896-1897, in which Henley's Essay (published separately 1898) roused considerable controversy. In 1892 he undertook for Mr Nutt the general editorship of the Tudor Translations; and in 1897 began for Mr Heinemann an edition of Byron, which did not proceed beyond one volume of letters. In 1898 he published a collection of his Poems in one volume, with the autobiographical "advertisement" above quoted; in 1899 London Types, Quatorzains to accompany Mr William Nicolson's designs; and in 1900 during the Boer War, a patriotic poetical brochure, For England's Sake. In 1901 he published a second volume of collected poetry with the title Hawthorn and Lavender, uniform with the volume of 1898. In 1902 he collected his various articles on painters and artists and published them as a companion volume of Views and Reviews: Art. These with "A Song of Speed" printed in May 1903 within two months of his death make up his tale of work. At the close of his life he was engaged upon his edition of the Authorized Version of the Bible for his series of Tudor Translations. There remained uncollected some of his scattered articles in periodicals and reviews, especially the series of literary articles contributed to the Pall Mall Magazine from 1899 until his death. These contain the most outspoken utterances of a critic never mealy-mouthed, and include the splenetic attack on the memory of his dead friend R. L. Stevenson, which aroused deep regret and resentment. In 1894 Henley lost his little sixyear-old daughter Margaret; he had borne the "bludgeonings of chance" with "the unconquerable soul" of which he boasted, not unjustifiably, in a well-known poem; but this blow broke his heart. With the knowledge of this fact, some of these outbursts may be better understood; yet we have the evidence of a clear-eyed critic who knew Henley well, that he found him more generous, more sympathetic at the close of his life than he had been before. He died on the nth of July 1903. In spite of his too boisterous mannerism and prejudices, he exercised by his originality, independence and fearlessness an inspiring and inspiriting influence on the higher class of journalism. This influence he exercised by word of mouth as well as by his pen, for he was a famous talker, and figures as "Burly" in Stevenson's essay on Talk and Talkers. As critic he was a good hater and a good fighter. His virtue lay in his vital and vitalizing love of good literature, and the vivid and pictorial phrases he found to give it expression. But his fame must rest on his poetry. He excelled alike in his delicate experiments in complicated metres, and the strong impressionism of Hospital Sketches and London Voluntaries. The influence of Heine may be discerned in these "unrhymed rhythms"; but he was perhaps a truer and more successful disciple of Heine in his snatches of passionate song, the best of which should retain their place in English literature.

See also references in Stevenson's Letters; Cornhill Magazine (1903) (Sidney Low); Fortnightly Review (August 1892) (Arthur Symons); and for bibliography, English Illustrated Magazine, vol. xxix. p. 548.

(W. P. J.)


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