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Rupert Brooke papers online

ScreenshotNot only does today mark the anniversary of Rupert Brooke’s death, it also marks the launch of a new online resource which offers unprecedented access to his archives.

Exactly three years ago, on the centenary of Brooke’s death, King’s College acquired the Schroder Collection. This had been the largest private collection of Rupert Brooke papers, so by adding them to our already extensive collection of his papers, we provided scholars who were able to visit our reading room with access to papers which might only have been seen by Brooke’s biographers before.

The Schroder Collection had cost £500,000 and the purchase was only possible because of generous grants from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Friends of the National Libraries, along with other private donations.

In 2017 King’s College received a further grant from the Friends of the National Libraries, enabling us to digitise approximately half of the Schroder papers. Archivists selected the letters between Rupert Brooke, Edward (‘Eddie’) Marsh and William Denis Browne as a large body of papers that offered in-depth insight into the friendships, from all three sides because they each wrote to each other about the third party. It is rare in archives to have both sides of a correspondence, let alone all three sides of a triangle of correspondents.

If you are reading this blog, it is likely that you will have heard of Rupert Brooke, one of the College’s most famous and possibly even controversial alumni. He is best known as the poet who wrote ‘The Old Vicarage, Grantchester’ and ‘The Soldier’ (these can be read on the Rupert Brooke Society’s website), but perceptions of him are constantly evolving. At the time of his death, there was a ‘myth’ surrounding him, with an obituary by Winston Churchill in The Times, a controversial  Memoir by Edward Marsh and  Brooke being called a ‘young Apollo’ (Frances Cornford) and ‘the most handsome man in England’ (W.B. Yeats). Later biographies have focussed on Brooke’s complicated relationships. The jury is still out, so to speak, and these papers may help fuel that debate, allowing people to form their own opinions.

While Brooke is relatively well known, Marsh and Denis Browne have not received the same attention. It is hoped that this new online resource will change that.

Denis Browne had attended Rugby School, in the year below Brooke, then followed him to Cambridge, although Denis Browne matriculated at Clare College. Both were involved in dramatic productions at Cambridge and during World War 1 both joined the Hood Battalion. Denis Browne was among those who buried Brooke on the Greek island of Skyros. He gave an account of Brooke’s death and burial in a letter to Marsh.  In another letter, Denis Browne pre-empted his own tragic death. On 4 June 1915, Denis Browne died at Gallipoli and his body was never found.

On 11th March 1913, Brooke introduced Denis Browne to Marsh at a dinner after Pétrouchka at Covent Garden. Marsh and Denis Browne quickly became close friends.

Marsh was Private Secretary for Churchill, as well as publisher of the Georgian Poetry anthologies (with Brooke) and a patron of the arts. After Brooke’s death, Marsh acted as his literary executor until 1934.

The new online resource can be seen on the Cambridge University Digital Library.

The Archivists would like to thank the volunteers Mandy Marvin, Harriet Alder, Maddie McDonagh, and Thelma May for their assistance in the creation of metadata for this project. They were the first to respond to our original project announcement and call for volunteers on this blog – we were sorry that we couldn’t accommodate everybody who offered their time for this project. We are also very grateful to the Friends of the National Libraries for enabling the creation of this resource.

 

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“Only connect”: Laura Mary Forster and Charles Darwin

Amongst our fascinating collection of books from the personal library of E.M. Forster (1879-1970) are some which were passed down to him by relations. These include a number of volumes which once belonged to his aunt, Laura Mary Forster (1839-1924):

Laura Mary Forster's bookplate

The bookplate of Laura Mary Forster (1839-1924)

In his biography of Marianne Thornton, Laura’s aunt, E.M. Forster provides a brief outline of Laura’s character:

“Miss Forster never married … she followed the Thornton pattern of intellectual and philanthropic activity, but she could be censorious of her elders, and is constantly taking them up and dusting them before she replaces them, with a word of c0mmendation, on their shelf. In her later life she changed – became gentler, wiser, greater.”

Some of the volumes formerly owned by Laura are especially interesting, since they feature bindings with blind-tooled and stamped leatherwork of her own design. These include a volume by John Ruskin on the medieval Italian artist Giotto, which has a design based around circles, making reference to Giotto’s reputed ability to draw a perfect circle freehand without the aid of a compass.

Binding of Ruskin's work on Giotto

Front cover of: John Ruskin “Giotto and his works in Padua …” (London: Arundel Society, 1854. Forster.RUS.Gio.1854)

It is possible that Laura’s designs were influenced by her association with the arts and crafts designer William Morris (1834-1896), with whom she is known to have corresponded and sent samples of her work. The Arts and Crafts Exhibitions Society exhibit for 1889 featured several of Laura’s book-bindings and also embossed leather chair seats produced by Morris and Co. from her designs.

Another work, a three volume set of “The life and letters of Charles Darwin”, which was given to Laura by the editor, Darwin’s son Francis, features a floral design based on poppies.

Binding of volume 2 of "Life and letters of Charles Darwin"

Front cover of volume two of: Francis Darwin (ed.) “The life and letters of Charles Darwin…” (London: John Murray, 1887. Forster.DARW.Lif/2.1887)

This set is one of the jewels of the Forster collection, since attached inside the front cover of the first volume is an autograph letter from Charles Darwin himself, addressed to Laura and thanking her for allowing him to stay at her house in Surrey in 1879. A transcript of the letter appears in a footnote on page 224 of the third volume.

Darwin letter page 1

First page of a letter to Laura Mary Forster from Charles Darwin, written in 1879

Forster.DARW.Lif1.1887 letter page 02

Second page of Darwin’s letter to Laura

Transcript of Darwin letter

Transcript of Darwin’s letter, from volume three of “The life and letters of Charles Darwin”

Laura was a lifelong friend of Darwin’s eldest daughter Henrietta, with whom she conducted a lively correspondence. Many of these letters survive, including some which convey Laura’s leaning towards Darwinism. Whilst stating that: “it is against one’s taste to come from furry animals, tidal or otherwise”, and remaining steadfast in her Christian faith, she nevertheless believed that: “it is of practical use to get a just estimate of one’s place in creation”. Other relations regarded Darwinism with horror, and Laura relates wryly that one family acquaintance: “…expects every time he comes down to see me hung up on one of the large oaks opposite our house…”

Bibliography:

Forster, E.M. Marianne Thornton (André Deutsch, 2000)

Kelvin, N. (ed.) The collected letters of William Morris, Volume II, Part B: 1885-1888 (Princeton University Press, 1987)

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