British Poet and Author
Born 1873 Died 1956

He was born Walter John Delamare on the 25th April 1873 at 83 Maryon Road, Charlton in London, the sixth of the seven children of James Edward Delamare and his second wife, Lucy Sophia Browning. Known as 'Jack' during childhood and later as'WJ', his early work was published under the name of Walter Ramal and it wasn't until he was in his thirties that he adopted the more poetic surname of 'de la Mare'.

His father, whose family were of Huguenot origins, worked in the bank note office of the Bank of England, but died in 1877 when Walter was four. This left his widow struggling to bring up a large family on her own, and although Walter attended St Paul's Cathedral choir school, where he founded its Choristers' Journal, he could not afford to continue his education or attend university and was obliged to leave school before the age of seventeen. He then and went to work for the Anglo-American Oil Company, the British offshoot of Standard Oil, where he spent the next eighteen years employed as a clerk in the department of statistics.

It was while Walter was toiling away at the oil company that he began writing poetry and fiction, and achieved his first success when his poem Kismet was published in The Sketch in 1895. Further works appeared in the press and his first book of collected poetry Songs of Childhood , appearing in 1902 all under the name of Walter Ramal. His first full-length novel was Henry Brocken published in 1904 where the hero encounters various characters from English litertature such as Jane Eyre and Gulliver. Walter had high hopes for the novel which appeared under the name of Walter de la Mere, but dissapointment followed as it only sold about 250 copies, and he was forced to continue his life of drudgery at the statistics department.

Despite the disappointment he continued writing poetry and eventually attracted the support of the poet Henry Newbolt who secured a royal bounty grant of £200 for Walter in 1908. This was sufficient to allow him to quit his job and focus on becoming a full time writer augmented by work as a reviewer for the Saturday Westminster Gazette and the Times Literary Supplement.

One of the results of this decision was the appearance of his second novel, The Return published in 1910, where the contemporary suburban hero becomes possessed by the ghost of a formnr Huguenot suicide, and was awarded both the Polignac Prize and the Royal Society of Literature Prize. Further recognition followed when selections from The Listeners and A Child's Day , were included in the anthology Georgian Poetry 1911-1912 , whilst his anthology of poems for children, Peacock Pie, which appeared in 1913 also made an impression and is today regarded as "one of the great children's books of the century" by The Times newspaper.

Financial security came in 1915 when he was granted a civil-list pension of £100 per annum for life, which led Ezra Pound to comment; "Note in this that England in the midst of war time can stop to pension De la Mare." Although perhaps more importantly he discovered in May 1915 that he was one of three beneficiaries of Rupert Brooke's will. As Brooke's writings grew in popularity over the next few years this proved to be a valuable inheritance and by the 1920's Walter was receiving some £2,000 a year from this source alone. It was also during the inter-war period Walter became one of the best known poets and storytellers often utilising traditional forms adapted from old folk-tales and ballads. He wrote his own versions of traditional fairy tales and Bible stories for children and also a number of ghost stories such as Seaton's Aunt, whilst his third novel Memoirs of a Midget (1921) won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction.

As a member of the literary establishment honours were sent in de la Mare's direction, but he declined the offer of a knighthood in both 1924 and 1931 but was eventually made a Companion of Honour in 1948 and awarded the Order of Merit in 1953, and also received a number of honorary degrees. His Collected Stories for Children was awarded the Carnegie Medal in 1947, and in 1954 he was awarded the Foyle Poetry Prize.

Walter de la Mare died of coronary thrombosis on the 22nd June 1956, his last words were "I'm perfectly all right." He was cremated and his ashes were buried in the crypt of St Paul's Cathedral.

Walter married Constance Elfrida on the 7th August 1899, the eldest child of William Alfred Ingpen. They had two girls named Florence and Jinnie, and two boys, Richard and Colin. The elder son Richard later became chairman of Faber and Faber and published his father's work. Walter also had what has been described as a "passionate friendship" with Naomi Royde-Smith the literary editor of the Saturday Westminster Gazette which lasted from 1911 to 1915. Although many assumed that they were lovers, Naomi Royde-Smith declared that they never had been intimate, though she "had wanted them to be".

Walter de la Mare's literary output was prodigious as he wrote over a thousand poems and a hundred short stories during his life time in addition to a total of four full-length novels. He was also an influential critic writing for the <Times Literary SupplementThe Complete Poems of Walter de la Mare was published in 1969 and runs to an edition of almost 1,000 pages, while for many years the leading selection was A Choice of de la Mare's Verse edited by W.H. Auden in 1963 since superseded by the Matthew Sweeney's Selected Poems of Walter de la Mare (2006). Walter's grandson Giles de la Mare now runs his own publishing company which publishes three volumes of his complete grandather's complete shorter fiction; Short Stories 1895-1926; Short Stories 1927-1956; and Short Stories for Children.

Selected Bibliography

Adult Novels

Adult Short Story Collections

Children's Novel

Republished as The Three Royal Monkeys in 1946

Children's Short Story Collections

Adult Poetry

Children's Poetry

Non-fiction


REFERENCES

Theresa Whistler, ‘Mare, Walter John de la (1873–1956)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Oct 2006
Walter de la Mare Website http://www.bluetree.co.uk/wdlmsociety/contents.htm
Walter de la Mare http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfour/audiointerviews/profilepages/delama rew2.shtml
James Campbell A kind of magic, The Guardian, Saturday June 10, 2006 http://books.guardian.co.uk/review/story/0,,1793847,00.html
Giles de la Mare Publishers Ltd http://www.gilesdelamare.co.uk/