A writer who knew the beauty of verse...

His­to­rian DON­ALD STANLEY ex­plores the Bucks con­nec­tions of poet and au­thor Wal­ter de la Mare

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - NOSTALGIA -

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

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