The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke HTML version
Biographical Note by Margaret Lavington
Any biographical account of Rupert Brooke must of necessity be brief; yet it is well to know the
facts of his romantic career, and to see him as far as may be through the eyes of those who
knew him (the writer was unfortunately not of this number) in order the better to appreciate his
He was born at Rugby on August 3, 1887, his father, William Brooke, being an assistant master
at the school. Here Brooke was educated, and in 1905 won a prize for a poem called "The
Bastille", which has been described as "fine, fluent stuff." He took a keen interest in every form
of athletic sport, and played both cricket and football for the school. Though he afterwards
dropped both these games, he developed as a sound tennis player, was a great walker, and
found joy in swimming, like Byron and Swinburne, especially by night. He delighted in the
Russian ballet and went again and again to a good Revue.
In 1906 he went up to King's College, Cambridge, where he made innumerable friends, and was
considered one of the leading intellectuals of his day, among his peers being James Elroy
Flecker, himself a poet of no small achievement, who died at Davos only a few months ago. Mr.
Ivan Lake, the editor of the `Bodleian', a contemporary at Cambridge, tells me that although the
two men moved in different sets, they frequented the same literary circles. Brooke, however,
seldom, if ever, spoke at the Union, but was a member of the Cambridge Fabian Society, and
held the posts of Secretary and President in turn. His socialism was accompanied by a passing
phase of vegetarianism, and with the ferment of youth working headily within him he could
hardly escape the charge of being a crank, but "a crank, if a little thing, makes revolutions," and
Brooke's youthful extravagances were utterly untinged with decadence. He took his classical
tripos in 1909, and after spending some time as a student in Munich, returned to live near
Cambridge at the Old Vicarage in "the lovely hamlet, Grantchester." "It was there," writes Mr.
Raglan H. E. H. Somerset in a letter I am privileged to quote, "that I used to wake him on
Sunday mornings to bathe in the dam above Byron's Pool. His bedroom was always littered
with books, English, French, and German, in wild disorder. About his bathing one thing stands
out; time after time he would try to dive; he always failed and came absolutely flat, but seemed
to like it, although it must have hurt excessively." (This was only when he was learning. Later
he became an accomplished diver.) "Then we used to go back and feed, sometimes in the
Orchard and sometimes in the Old Vicarage Garden, on eggs and that particular brand of honey
referred to in the `Grantchester' poem. In those days he always dressed in the same way:
cricket shirt and trousers and no stockings; in fact, `Rupert's mobile toes' were a subject for the
admiration of his friends."
Brooke occupied himself mainly with writing. Poems, remarkable for a happy spontaneity such
as characterized the work of T. E. Brown, the Manx poet, appeared in the `Gownsman', the
`Cambridge Review', the `Nation', the `English Review', and the `Westminster Gazette'.
Students of the "Problem Page" in the `Saturday Westminster' knew him as a brilliant competitor
who infused the purely academic with the very spirit of youth.
To all who knew him, the man himself was at least as important as his work. "As to his talk" -- I
quote again from Mr. Somerset -- "he was a spendthrift. I mean that he never saved anything
up as those writer fellows so often do. He was quite inconsequent and just rippled on, but was
always ready to attack a careless thinker. On the other hand, he was extremely tolerant of fools,