Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Brooke, Henry (1703?-1783)

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BROOKE, HENRY (1703?–1783), author, was son of the Rev. William Brooke, a protestant clergyman, by his wife, whose name was Digby. William Brooke, who appears to have been related to the family of Sir Basil Brooke, an 'undertaker' in the plantation of Ulster, possessed lands at Rantavan in Cavan, and was rector of Killinkere and Mullagh in that county. He married Lettice, second daughter of Simon Digby, bishop of Elphin. Henry Brooke, the elder of two sons, was born about 1703, and is said to have been educated by Swift's friend, Sheridan. The register of Trinity College, Dublin, shows that he was entered 7 Feb. 1720, 'in his seventeenth year,' from the school of Dr. Jones. He afterwards entered the Temple, London. On his return to Ireland Brooke married a youthful cousin, Catherine Meares of Meares Court, Westmeath, whose guardianship had been entrusted to him. In 1735 he published at London a poem entitled 'Universal Beauty,' which is stated to have been revised and approved of by Pope. This production was supposed to have furnished the foundation for the 'Botanic Garden' by Darwin. Swift is said to have entertained a favourable opinion of Brooke's talents, but to have counselled him against devoting himself solely to literature. In Brooke was treated with much consideration by Lord Lyttelton, and by Pope, near to whose house at Twickenham he took a temporary residence. A rranslation by Brooke of the first and second books of Tasso's 'Jerusalem Delivered' was issued in 1738. This version was much commended by Hoole, who subsequently translated the entire poem. Brooke received many attentions from Frederick, prince of Wales, to whom he was introduced by Pitt, and with whose political adherents he became identified, in opposition to George II. In 1739 Brooke produced a tragedy founded on a portion of the history of Sweden, and entitled 'Gustavus Vasa, the Deliverer of his Country.' The play was, after five weeks' rehearsal, announced for performance at Drury Lane. Many hundred tickets had been disposed of, when the performance was unexpectedly prohibited by the lord chamberlain. This was ascribed to Sir Robert Walpole, who, it was supposed, was intended to be represented in the character of Trollis, vicegerent of Christiern, king of Denmark and Norway. Nearly one thousand persons subscribed for the publication of 'Gustavus Vasa,' and Brooke, in his prefatory dedication of it to them, stated that patriotism was the single moral which he had in view throughout his play. Under the name of 'The Patriot,' the tragedy was produced with success at Dublin, where some of the sentiments expressed in it relative to Sweden were construed as applicable to Ireland. In connection with the prohibition of the performance at London, Samuel Johnson wrote a satire entitled 'A Complete Vindication of the Licensers of the Stage.' Brooke left London and returned to Ireland owing to the importunities of his wife, who apprehended disastrous results from his imprudent zeal in the cause of the Prince of Wales. To Ogle's modernised version of Chaucer, Brooke in 1741 contributed 'Constantia, or the Man of Law's Tale.' His 'Betrayer of his Country' was successfully acted at Dublin in the same year. Garrick, during his visit to Dublin, recited at the theatre a prologue and epilogue composed for him by Brooke. In 1743 Brooke issued at Dublin a prospectus of a work he described as follows: 'Ogygian Tales; or a curious collection of Irish Fables, Allegories, and Histories, from the relations of Fintane the aged, for the entertainment of Cathal Crove Darg, during that Prince's abode in the island of O Brazil.' Brooke proposed in 1744 to print a history of Ireland from the earliest times, 'interspersed and illustrated with traditionary digressions and the private and affecting histories of the most celebrated of the natives.' The publication was to be comprised in four octavo volumes, each to contain about two hundred pages. To his prospectus he appended a preface addressed 'to the most noble and illustrious descendants of the Milesian line.' These projected publications were abandoned in consequence of misunderstandings as to the ownership of the materials of which Brooke had intended to avail himself. To his studies in this direction may be ascribed the fragment which he named 'Conrade,' the scene of which was laid at Emania, the fortress of ancient kings of Ulster. The style of this production closely resembled that adopted by Macpherson in his 'Ossian.' Brooke contributed some of the best pieces in the 'Fables for the Female Sex' published in 1744 by Edward Moore, author of the 'Gamester.' During the Jacobite movement in 1745 Brooke issued the 'Farmer's Letters to the Protestants of Ireland.' These letters were written in the character of a protestant farmer in Ireland, with the avowed object of rousing his co-religionists there to make preparations against the Jacobite invasion. The peaceable demeanour of the Irish catholics at the time was compared by Brooke to the attitude of the crocodile, which 'seems to sleep when the prey approaches.' The post of barrackmaster, worth about 400l. annually, was conferred at this time on Brooke by Lord Chesterfield, in consideration, it was supposed, of these writings, which were highly commended in verse by Garrick. In 1745 'The Earl of Westmoreland,' a tragedy by Brooke, was produced at Dublin, and in 1748 his operatic satire styled 'Jack the Giant-Queller' was performed there. The dramatis personæ consisted of the giants of Wealth, Power, Violence, and Wrong, and 'the family of the Goods,' comprising John, Dorothy, Grace, and the Princess Justice. The repetition of the performance was prohibited by the government on the ground of political allusions which it was alleged to contain. The songs in it were printed in separate form and had a large circulation. In relation to 'Jack the Giant-Queller,' Brooke composed a piece in scriptural style under the title of 'The Last Speech of John Good, vulgarly called Jack the Giant-Queller, who was condemned on the first of April 1745, and executed on the third of May following,' The 'Earl of Essex,' a tragedy by Brooke, was in 1749 produced at Dublin, and subsequently at London. The tragedy originally contained the passage,

Who rule o'er freemen should themselves be free,

which elicited Johnson's parody,

Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat.

In 1754 Brooke, in a publication entitled 'The Spirit of Party,' wrote once more against the Irish catholics, and was in return severely criticised by Charles O'Conor in a pamphlet styled 'The Cottager.' To aid the project of obtaining parliamentary grants for promoting inland navigation, Brooke in 1759 published a work entitled 'The Interests of Ireland.' This he dedicated to James, viscount Charlemont, whom he panegyrised also in a poem entitled 'The Temple of Hymen.' In 1760 Brooke became secretary to an association of peers and others at Dublin for registering proposals of national utility, with a view to having them presented to parliament. At this period he entered into negotiations with some of the influential Roman catholics in Ireland, and was employed by them to write publicly in advocacy of their claims for a relaxation of the penal laws. Under this arrangement, and with the materials supplied by them to him, Brooke produced a volume published in 1761 at Dublin, with the following title: 'The Tryal of the Cause of the Roman Catholics; on a special Commission directed to Lord Chief Justice Reason, Lord Chief Baron Interest, and Mr. Justice Clemency. Wednesday, August 5th, 1761. Mr. Clodworthy Common-sense, Foreman of the Jury; Mr. Serjeant Statute, Council for the Crown; Constantine Candour, Esq., Council for the Accused.' It advocated an alleviation of the penal laws. Brooke, in connection with this subject, published 'A proposal for the restoration of public wealth and credit by means of a loan from the Roman catholics of Ireland, in consideration of enlarging their privileges.' He also wrote a treatise on the constitutional rights and interests of the people of Ireland, and again contemplated the production of a history of that country. Brooke appears to have been the first conductor of the 'Freeman's Journal,' established at Dublin in 1763. Perpetually 'duped in friendship as well as in charity,' Brooke was necessitated to mortgage his property in Cavan, and became a resident in Kildare, where he rented a house and demesne. In 1766 he commenced the publication of his remarkable novel entitled 'The Fool of Quality; or, the History of Henry, Earl of Moreland.' The first volume was dedicated 'to the right respectable my ancient and well-beloved patron, the public,' with a reply to the question, 'Why don't you dedicate to Mr. Pitt? The 'Fool of Quality' extended to five volumes, and passed through several editions. The main story and its many episodes are distinguished by simplicity of style, close observation of human nature, high sense of humour, and a profoundly religious and philanthropic temper. The idea of the 'Fool of Quality' was said to have been derived by Brooke from a narrative orally communicated to him by his uncle, Robert Brooke, in the course of a journey on horseback from Kildare to Dublin. In 1772 Brooke published a poem entitled 'Redemption.' His last work was 'Juliet Grenville; or, the History of the Human Heart,' a novel in three volumes, issued in 1774. Garrick, who entertained a high esteem for Brooke, pressed him earnestly to write for the stage, ind offered to enter into articles with him for 1s. a line for all he should write during life, provided that he wrote for him alone. This proposal, however, we are told, was reected by Brooke with some degree of haughiness, for which Garrick never forgave him. From Kildare Brooke removed to a residence in Cavan, near his former habitation, and, as expressed in his own words, continued there 'dreaming life away.' A visitor to Brooke in 1775 described him as 'dressed in a long blue cloak, with a wig that fell down his shoulders. He was a little man, neat as wax-work, with an oval face, ruddy complexion, and large eyes full of fire.' Brooke sank into a state of mental depression on the deaths of his wife and of his children, of whom the sole survivor (out of a family of twenty-two) was his daughter Charlotte [q. v.], who devoted herself entirely to him. Disease and grief rendered him at times incapable of mental or physical exertion. With a view to his pecuniary advantage, some friends undertook, with his assent, to publish a collection of his poetical and dramatic works. Four volumes of these were issued at London in 1778, but in them, through mismanagement, some of the pieces were printed from unrevised copies, others were omitted, and productions of which Brooke was not the author were included in the collection. John Wesley, who had some relations with Brooke's friends, published in 1780 an abridged edition of the 'Fool of Quality.' In his prefatory observations Wesley recommended the work as the most excellent, in its kind, of any that he had seen either in English or in any other language. Charlotte, Brooke's daughter, considered that the failure of her father's mental powers was apparent in the latter portions of the 'Fool of Quality,' and that three volumes would amply contain all that ought to remain in the five. As to his other and last work, 'Juliet Grenville,' 'it is,' she wrote, 'I fear, scarcely worthy of revision, and should be finally consigned to oblivion.' Brooke died in a state of mental debility at Dublin on 10 Oct. 1783. Several portraits of Brooke have been engraved. The earliest of these appears to be that executed at Dublin in 1756 by Miller, from a painting by Lewis. In the plate, which is inscribed 'The Farmer.' Brooke is represented as seated, with a pen in his hand. This portrait was reproduced in 1884, on a reduced scale, among the illustrations to the work by J. C. Smith on British mezzotinto portraits. A revised edition of Brooke's works was projected by his daughter Charlotte, with the co-operation of friends, but while it was in progress the defective collection already noticed was, without her knowledge, reprinted by a London bookseller. She, however, succeeded in purchasing the copies, and, with such emendations and revisions as she could effect, they were issued by her in four volumes in 1792 as a new edition. To the first volume was prefixed a panegyrical but unsatisfactory notice of Brooke, the writer of which was described by his daughter as an 'old contemporary and relation.' He, however, avowed that he knew little with certainty concerning Brooke's career and the many busy and interesting scenes through which he had passed. On this subject Miss Brooke stated that, in her attempts to procure materials for a memoir of her father, she had encountered great difficulties, and as he had outlived most of his contemporaries, she, his last surviving child, remembered nothing of them before the period of his retirement from the outer world. Some papers connected with Brooke, including a letter from Pope to him, were collected by C. H. Wilson of the Middle Temple, London, who in 1804 issued a compilation in two small volumes entitled 'Brookiana.' The 'Fool of Quality' was republished in two volumes in 1859 by the Rev. Charles Kingsley, who expressed an opinion that, notwithstanding the defects of the work, readers would learn from it more of that which is pure, sacred, and eternal, than from any book published since Spenser's 'Faerie Queene.'

[Dublin journals, 1744; unpublished letters of Henry Brooke; letters by Benjamin Victor, 1776; Anthologia Hibernica, 1794; Memoirs of C. O'Conor (1797); Manuscripts of C. O'Conor; D'Olier's Memoirs of Henry Brooke, 1816; Seymour's Memoirs of Miss Brooke, 1816; Private Correspondence of David Garrick, 1831; Hist. of Dublin, 1856; Reports of Hist. MSS. Commission, 1884; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. ii. 215-6; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. iv. 131.]

J. T. G.