Henry Newbolt

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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Sir Henry John Newbolt (June 6, 1862 - April 19, 1938) was an English author and poet.


  • 1 Background
  • 2 Publications
  • 3 Vitaï Lampada
  • 4 Monthly review
  • 5 Honours
  • 6 Ella Coltman
  • 7 Works
  • 8 Sources


He was born in Bilston, Wolverhampton, then in Staffordshire, but now in the West Midlands, the son of the vicar of St Mary's Church, Rev. Henry Francis Newbolt, and his second wife, Emily. (In his biography, My World as in My Time, he claims to have been was Jewish.) After his father's death, the family moved to Walsall, where Henry was educated. He 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.


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 "Vitai 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).

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 limited and illustrated edition by Newcastle Publishing Company in 1975, as the new holders of the copyright.

Vitaï Lampada

Clifton College Close
Clifton College Close

Probably the best known of all Newbolt's poems and the one for which he is now chiefly remembered is Vitaï Lampada. It refers to how a future soldier learns stoicism 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 the 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 poem was both highly regarded and repeatedly satirised by those who experienced World War I.

Monthly review

Between 1900 and 1905, Newbolt was the editor of the Monthly Review. He was also a member of the Coefficients dining club of social reformers set up in 1902 by the Fabian campaigners Sidney and Beatrice Webb. During the First World War, he became controller of telecommunications and worked as an official historian. It was at this time that his style of poetry, like that of Rudyard Kipling, began to go out of fashion.


Newbolt was knighted in 1915 and was awarded the '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.

Ella Coltman

Playing the Game: A Biography of Sir Henry Newbolt, by Susan Chitty, claimed that he and his wife each had a sexual relationship with Ella Coltman, who even accompanied them on their honeymoon. Newbolt died in Coltman's house in Kensington. One of Newbolt's later poems is entitled "To E.C." and in it he refers to E.C. as "dearest."


  • Works by Henry Newbolt at Project Gutenberg
    • 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


  • Black Country Bugle
  • This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
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