A writer who knew the beauty of verse...
Historian DONALD STANLEY explores the Bucks connections of poet and author Walter de la Mare
THE works and characters of the many writers who have lived in Buckinghamshire range from D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’, through Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ to Enid Blyton’s ‘Noddy’. However, Walter De la Mare’s writings ranged over poetry, novels and children’s stories.
Born Walter John Delamare he preferred to be known as Jack, but later changed to Walter De la Mare. His father worked in the Bank of England to which he rode on horseback each day.
Although his parents were of modest means De la Mare was educated at St Paul’ Cathedral School whose later alumni were as diverse in their subsequent careers as the comedy actor Jimmy Edwards and Nicholas Parsons.
He got poor school reports and, according to his biographer, had little interest in poetry until what had been the chore of translating from Classical Greek the epic poem ‘Iliad’ introduced him to the beauty of verse. Upon leaving school he compiled statistics at John D. Rockefeller’s Anglo American Oil Company for 18 years using paper from its litter-bins to write after work.
He was discovered by Sir Henry Newbolt. Newbolt was not only a poet and novelist but a government adviser who persuaded Asquith, the Prime Minister, to approve a civil pension which enabled De la Mare to leave employment and concentrate on writing.
He also became a reader at Heinemann’s the publishers.
In the mid-1920s his finances, which includ
ed a legacy from the estate of Rupert Brooke the war poet, enabled De la Mare to move with his wife, their two sons and two daughters from London to Hill House, Taplow on the estate of Lord Desborough a kinsman of Field Marshal Lord Grenfell of Butler’s Court, Beaconsfield.
Following his wife’s death he returned to London until, to escape the wartime bombing, he lived from 1941 until his death three years later at Old Park, Hammersley Lane, Tylers Green.
Critics referred to his gothic whimsy and goblin language. His poetry and novels which featured mysterious old haunted houses, churchyards, ghostly forests, and other unworldly characters were said to have been influenced by such writers as Edgar Allan Poe.
Twice he refused a knighthood but accepted the Order of Merit and in due course was made a Companion of Honour. The number of both are limited, the latter being considered the more prestigious being in the gift of the Sovereign.
Unveiling: Former Hill House resident Gavin Gordan (left) with Giles de la Mare. Picture: www.walterdelamare.co.uk