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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Patrick Braybrooke

Man of Edwardian Letters

If ever writers might dream that their books will bring them immortality, they might consider the career of Patrick Philip William Braybrooke, whose considerable literary output has fallen into obscurity.

His field was literary criticism, but with a view also to the popular market, so that beside such weighty-sounding titles as Philosophies in Modern Fiction (1931) and Some Victorian and Georgian Catholics (1932) came The Young Folk's Sir Walter Scott (1931) and, an early example of the celebrity biography, The Amazing Mr Noel Coward (1933).

The literati were his subject matter and many of the great names of the day received the Braybrooke treatment: Belloc, Barrie, Gosse, Dickens, Hardy, Wells, Kipling, Shaw (twice), Stevenson (also twice) and Chesterton (four times). The bibliography below reveals his productivity. No doubt with an eye to good sales figures, his book The Life and Work of Lord Alfred Douglas was the first to tackle his subject, as was his book on Noel Coward.

Glance at the list below of his books and you will notice several things. One of these is the strong Catholic theme. Another is the recurring word 'some' - some thoughts, some goddesses, some aspects, some novelists, some Catholics - and also the use of plurals in the titles - oddments, fragments, considerations, celebrities, philosophies, moments. A good number of Braybrooke's books were collections of essays. But what industry. For twelve years from the age of 27 he produced almost three books a year. (However, compare this to his frequent subject and relative, G K Chesterton, who produced some 80 books, 200 short stories and 4000 essays.)

It might be tempting to dismiss Braybrooke as a mere hack, but that would be unfair. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and his books found their way onto the shelves of university libraries, several being reprinted.

However, look at the list again and you will notice that his subjects largely predate the First World War. And that was really his natural world. His style is by turns vaguely aphoristic and unhurriedly discursive, which must have seemed increasingly dated in the tough realities of the Nineteen-thirties. Here is a passage from the chapter on John Ayscough in Some Catholic Novelists.

"Certain novelists seem to divide their novels into two kinds. The one kind includes novels that are interesting and important; the other kind includes those which are interesting but not important. It is a temptation in an essay like this to dwell almost exclusively on the former type of novel. It is a temptation that need not be overcome."

While Britain and the rest of Europe were assaulted by urgent, destructive ideological conflicts and economic crises, the clock for Braybrooke seems to have stood still, and there is indeed still honey for tea; more boater than blackshirt, more post-prandial rumination than proletarian revolution, more Private Godfrey than Corporal Hitler. Lucky him, we might think, except that he must have read the newspapers as did everyone else, as indeed did his readership.

A Social History

There is another, instructive, facet of Patrick Braybrooke's story: the social history of the nineteenth century. It offers a snapshot of a middling sort of family that was geographically mobile, at times quite hard pressed for cash, at times moving within the outer circle of royalty, but always managing to stay within the growing middle class.

The search to trace the men and women that contributed to the procreation of Patrick Braybrooke begins in Italy. Some time in the mid-eighteenth century, a Siennese doctor set off to England. In 1762, he had a son, John Charles Felix Rossi, who was to train as a sculptor and eventually become a Royal Academician, sculptor to the Prince of Wales and later Sculptor in Ordinary to King William IV. His prominence was such that his work still adorns St Paul's and the Royal Opera House. He produced, in addition, sixteen offspring by two wives. One of these, his second daughter, Catherine, was to marry William Braybrooke - Philip's great-grandfather - who rose in the Army to become a Deputy Assistant Commissary General, spending at least part of the Napoleonic War in Barbados.

In 1811, at about the time that William Braybrooke was overseeing the supply of His Majesty's army in the Caribbean, another officer, Captain William Ebhart of the 72nd Regiment of Foot married Elizabeth Knollis, daughter of the Honourable and Reverend Francis Knollis, Vicar of Burford, Gloucestershire. The marriage was conducted by James Knollis, Chaplain to HRH the Duke of Clarence, later to become King William IV. The couple subsequently moved with regiment to the Cape of Good Hope and there on 24 January 1820 they had their second daughter, Rhoda Mary. In 1824, the family moved back to England when Captain, later Major, Ebhart becomes a staff officer. Later, he joins the staff at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, where Rhoda lived until her marriage. He was another of the great-grandfathers of Patrick Braybrooke.
Meanwhile the Braybrooke/Rossi marriage flourished. William and Catherine had a son (also, rather confusingly, called William) who chose to combines the examples of his Siennese grandfather and his own father by qualifying as a doctor and joining the army. In 1853, Assistant Surgeon William Braybrooke was appointed surgeon to the 59th Regiment of Foot. At what point he met Rhoda Ebhart is uncertain, but in early 1854, they married in Chelsea.

The marriage of William and Rhoda Braybrooke was to produce three children: Mary Francis in 1856, William Alfred Rossi in 1857 and Philip Lansdowne Barry in 1862. However, the marriage was cut short by the death of Rhoda's husband in 1863, and from then on, Rhoda and her three children moved to Wokingham. Two of Rhoda's children died young, Philip in 1893 and Mary in 1898, but William survived.
William initially followed his father by studying medicine but by the 1891 census he was a curate in Mansfield. He married Alice Charlotte Chase at St George's Hanover Square in 1889, and they were to have two children, Patrick Philip William in 1894 and Arthur Rossi in 1902. Arthur, in the family tradition, went into the army, being commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the King's Shropshire Light Infantry in 1923. However, as his own father had done, he subsequently abandoned his first career for the Anglican priesthood, being appointed Curate of Stroud and later Rector of Newington Bagpath. He was an RAF chaplain during the Second World War.

The Life of Patrick Philip William Braybrooke

Patrick Braybrooke attended King's College, London. With the outbreak of the First World War he joined up and became a Second Lieutenant in the Royal Fusiliers. He was gassed and wounded in the early part of the war, and in April 1915 he was invalided out of the army.
In the Author's Note to perhaps his best known and most frequently reprinted book, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Braybrooke states that Chesterton was a kinsman of his and that he had spent a great deal of time in his company. In chapter 11, he says that when they first met, Chesterton was still living in Battersea, from where he moved in 1909. At this time, Braybrooke would have been 15 years old. It is clear that Chesterton had a marked influence on him, and it may have been Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism, also in 1922, that provoked Braybrooke to move away from the Anglicanism of his family towards Rome. The year 1922 also saw the beginning of Braybrooke's career as a published author.

Patrick Braybrooke was to marry three times. His first marriage, in 1921, was to Lettice Bellairs, born in 1888 the daughter of Alban Bellairs, a stock broker, and granddaughter of the Vicar of Nuneaton. Lettice Braybrooke was also to convert to Catholicism. In May 1923 had a son, Neville, who was to become a writer himself. Obituaries of Neville Braybrooke in the Guardian and the Independent describe a devout Catholic and respected man-of-letters who was both otherworldly and greatly loved. However, his parents' marriage did not last. Patrick Braybrooke abandoned his wife and son when the boy was three years old. They divorced in 1927.

He was married again in 1929 to Ida Cooper at St George's Hanover Square, but again the marriage ended in divorce, in 1934.

His third wife, born Rita Ellen Constance Hatherell in 1890, was the daughter of a Warwickshire JP and great-granddaughter of Sir Robert Hamilton of Silverston, Baronet. Rita Braybrooke, like her husband, was much married: firstly in 1909 to a member of an old Recusant family, Edmund Neville Trappes-Lomax, an Oxford graduate and solicitor; secondly in 1915 to Robert Buntine, an army officer who was to die in France of gangrene in March 1918; thirdly later in 1918 to Henry Theodore Rivers Cripps; and finally to Philip Braybrooke in January 1937.

By the time of this final marriage, Braybrooke was living at Rose Hill, Dorking. In the marriage notice, he is described as an author and lecturer, but in fact his career as a published writer was almost over. There was to be only one more book, another account of Chesterton written in the year after his death.
Some years later, so his obituary in the Guardian reveals, Neville, after delivering a lecture and having not seen Patrick since childhood, was handed a note which read, "I am your father. Can we meet?"

Patrick Braybrooke died in 1956.

The books of Patrick Braybrooke

Oddments (1921)
Suggestive Fragments (1922)
Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1922)
Some Thoughts on Hilaire Belloc: ten studies (1923)
Lord Morley (1924)
J M Barrie: a study in fairies and mortals (1924)
Considerations on Edmund Gosse (1925)
The Genius of Bernard Shaw (1925)
Kipling and His Soldiers (1926)
Novelists: We Are Seven (1926; reprinted 1977)
Cruelty: being the story of a peculiar young man (1926)
The Short Story: how to write it (1927)
Peeps at the Mighty (1927; reprinted 1966)
Some Goddesses of the Pen: studies of eight women authors (1927)
The Man Who Arrived (1927)
Thomas Hardy and His Philosophy (1928)
Some Aspects of H G Wells (1928)
A Chesterton Catholic Anthology (1929)
A Child's R L Stevenson (1929)
The Wisdom of G K Chesterton (1929)
Great Children in Literature (1929)
The Subtlety of George Bernard Shaw (1930)
A Child's Charles Dickens (1930)
Celebrities in Verse (1930)
Oscar Wilde: a Study (1930)
Some Catholic Novelists (1931; reprinted 1966 and 1969)
Philosophies in Modern Fiction (1931; reprinted 1965)
The Life and Work of Lord Alfred Douglas (1931)
The Young Folk's Sir Walter Scott (1931)
The Robert Louis Stevenson Book (1932)
Some Victorian and Georgian Catholics: their art and outlook (1932; reprinted 1966 and 1969)
The Amazing Mr Noel Coward (1933)
Moments with Burns, Scott and Stevenson: selected quotations (1933)
I Remember G K Chesterton (1938)

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