Henry Newbolt

Henry Newbolt
Sir Henry John Newbolt

"Henry Newbolt, from a drawing by Sir William Rothenstein, 1920, reproduced by kind permission of the artist".
This was the frontispiece for the book "A perpetual Memory and other poems", a book of poetry by Newbolt.
Born 6 June 1862(1862-06-06)
Bilston, Staffordshire, Great Britain
Died 19 April 1938(1938-04-19) (aged 75)
Kensington, London, England, UK
Occupation British poet
Nationality British
Notable work(s) Vitaï Lampada

Sir Henry John Newbolt, CH (6 June 1862 – 19 April 1938) was an English poet. He is best remembered for Vitaï Lampada, a lyrical piece used for propaganda purposes during the First World War.



Henry John Newbolt was born in Bilston, Wolverhampton (then located in Staffordshire, but now in the West Midlands), 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 Walsall, where Henry was educated.


Newbolt attended Queen Mary's Grammar School, Walsall, and Caistor Grammar School, from where he gained a scholarship to Clifton College, where he was head of the school (1881) and edited the school magazine. His contemporaries there included Douglas Haig. Graduating from Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Newbolt was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn in 1887 and practised until 1899.


Henry Newbolt in an etching by William Strang, 1898

He married Margaret Edina Duckworth of the prominent publishing family; they had two children; a boy, Francis and a daughter, Celia. In 1914 Celia Newbolt married Lt. Col. Sir Ralph Dolignon Furse (1887–1973), the Head of Recruitment at HM Colonial Service from 1931–48; they had four children. Lady Furse died in 1975.

Subsequently it became apparent that behind the prim Edwardian exterior lay a far more complicated domestic life for Newbolt: a ménage à trois. His wife had a long running lesbian affair with her childhood love, Ella Coltman, who accompanied the Newbolts on their honeymoon. Newbolt died in Coltman's home in Kensington. One of his poems, in which he refers to someone as "dearest", is entitled "To E.C." He was also Coltman's lover.


His 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 "Vitae 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 and woo a half-fae enchantress. It is a tale filled with allegories about the nature of youth, service, individuality and tradition. It was reissued in a new edition by Newcastle Publishing Company in 1975.

Vitae Lampada

Probably the best known of all Newbolt's poems which was written in 1892, and for which he is now chiefly remembered is Vitae 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:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote:
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"
The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke;
The Gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"
This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The engagement mentioned in verse two is the Battle of Abu Klea in Sudan in January 1885 during the unsuccessful expedition to rescue General Gordon. The poem was both highly regarded and repeatedly satirised by those who experienced World War I.[citation needed]

Drake's Drum

According to legend a drum owned by Sir Francis Drake will beat in times of national crisis and the spirit of Drake will return to aid his country. Sir Henry reinforced the myth, with his 1897 poem Drake's Drum, which has been put to both classical and folk tunes. 'Drakes Drum' is the first of five poetic settings by the composer Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford has two song cycles, both using the poetry of Newbolt, the Songs of the Sea and also Songs of the Fleet.

Monthly Review

Between 1900 and 1905, Newbolt was the editor of the Monthly Review. He was also a member of the Athenaeum and the Coefficients dining club.


Newbolt was knighted in 1915 and was appointed Companion of Honour in 1922.


In his home town of Bilston, a public house was named after him, and a blue plaque is displayed on a modern building in the street where he was born.

Recordings were made of Newbolt reading some of his own poems. They were on four 78rpm sides in the Columbia Records 'International Educational Society' Lecture series, Lecture 92 (D40181/2).[1]


Henry Newbolt died at his home in Campden Hill, Kensington, London, on 19 April 1938, aged 75. A blue plaque there commemorates his residency. He is buried in the churchyard of St Mary's church on an island in the lake on the Orchardleigh estate of the Duckworth family in Somerset.


  • Admirals All (1897) including Drake's Drum
  • The Old Country (1906)
  • The New June (1909)
  • The Naval History of the Great War (1920)
  • A Ballad of Sir Pertab Singh
  • He Fell among Thieves
  • Admirals All

See also Works by Henry Newbolt at Project Gutenberg.

Sources and references

  1. ^ Catalogue of Columbia Records, Up to and including Supplement no. 252 (Columbia Graphophone Company, London September 1933), p. 375.
  • Black Country Bugle
  • A Perpetual Memory and other Poems, an anthology by Sr Henry Newbolt, published in 1939 by John Murray.
  • Chitty, Susan (1997). Playing the Game: Biography of Sir Henry Newbolt. Quartet Books. ISBN 978-0704371071. 
  • David Gervais (article ‘Newbolt, Sir Henry John (1862–1938)’) (2004). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 

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