Not 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.