Sir Henry John Newbolt, English poet, novelist and historian was born on June 6, 1862 in Bilston, England. He also had a very powerful role as a government adviser, particularly on Irish issues and with regard to the study of English in England. He is perhaps best remembered for Vitaï Lampada. He was the son of the vicar of St Mary's Church, the Rev. Henry Francis Newbolt, and his second wife, Emily. After his father's death, the family moved to Walshall, where Henry was educated. He was a graduate of Oxford. He married Margaret Edina Duckworth of the prominent publishing family and they had two children. Behind the prim Edwardian exterior of their marriage lay a far more complicated domestic life for Newbolt. His wife had a long running lesbian affair with her childhood love, Ella Coltman, who accompanied the Newbolt’s on their honeymoon.
Newbolt’s first book was a novel Taken from the Enemy (1892), and in 1895 he published a tragedy, Mordred; but it was the publication of his ballads, Admirals All (1897), that created his literary reputation. By far the best-known of these is "Vitaï Lampada". They were followed by other volumes of stirring verse, including The Island Race (1898), The Sailing of the Long-ships (1902), Songs of the Sea (1904) and Songs of the Fleet(1910). In 1914, Newbolt published Aladore, a fantasy novel about a bored but dutiful knight who abruptly abandons his estate and wealth to discover his heart's desire. It is a tale filled with allegories about the nature of youth, service, individuality and tradition. Probably the best known of all Newbolt's poems which was written in 1892, and for which he is now chiefly remembered is Vitaï Lampada (or "Vitaï Lampada"). The title is taken from a quotation by Lucretius and means 'the torch of life'. It refers to how a schoolboy, a future soldier, learns selfless commitment to duty in cricket matches in the famous Close at Clifton College. The poem was both highly regarded and repeatedly satirized by those who experienced World War I.
At the start of the First World War, Newbolt - along with over 20 other leading British writers - was brought into the War Propaganda Bureau which had been formed to promote Britain's interests during the war and maintain public opinion in favour of the war. He subsequently became Controller of Telecommunications at the Foreign Office. Newbolt was knighted in 1915 and was appointed Companion of Honour in 1922. In 1921 he had been the author of a government Report entitled "The Teaching of English in England" which established the foundations for modern English Studies and professionalized the forms of teaching of English Literature. It established a canon, argued that English must become the linguistic and literary standard throughout the British Empire, and even proposed salary rates for lecturers. For many years it was a standard work for English teachers in teacher training Colleges. Newbolt died at his home in Kensington, London, on April 19, 938, aged 75. He is buried in the churchyard of St. Mary’s Church in Somerset.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of the soon to be re-titled Literary Legends of the British Isles (formerly, Great Britain’s Literary Legends). The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following links: