Harold Monro

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Harold Edward Monro

Harold Edward Monro (14 March 1879 – 16 March 1932) was a British poet, the proprietor of the Poetry Bookshop in London which helped many famous poets bring their work before the public.

Life and career[edit]

Monro was born at 137 chaussée de Charleroi, St. Gilles Brussels on 14th March 1879. He was educated at Radley and at Caius College, Cambridge.[1] His first collection of poetry was published in 1906. He edited a poetry magazine, The Poetry Review, which was to be very influential. In 1912, he founded the Poetry Bookshop at 38, Great Russell Street, in Bloomsbury, London, publishing new collections at his own expense and rarely making a profit, as well as providing a welcoming environment for readers and poets alike. Several poets, including Wilfred Owen, actually lodged in the rooms above the bookshop. Monro was also closely involved with Edward Marsh in the publication of the Georgian Poetry series, which the Poetry Bookshop published.

Monro was educated at Radley and at Caius College, Cambridge. His first collection of poetry was published in 1906. He edited a poetry magazine, The Poetry Review, which was to be very influential. Having lost the Poetry Review, another periodical was missing, so he founded a quarterly called “Poetry and Drama”, eight numbers of which appeared in 1913 and 1914. The War put a stop to this as Munro was now in uniform as an officer in an anti-aircraft battery. He was later drafted for duty in the War Office, where he gained a permanent impression of the Civil Service as a whirl of “jackets” (official files) whose one function was to circulate. In 1912, he had founded the “Poetry Bookshop” in Bloomsbury, London, publishing new collections at his own expense and rarely making a profit, as well as providing a welcoming environment for readers and poets alike. The Poetry Bookshop was a success, but not a commercial success. Several poets, including Wilfred Owen, actually lodged in the rooms above the bookshop. Monro was closely involved with Edward Marsh in the publication of the Georgian Poetry series, which the Poetry Bookshop published. Harold Monro never made one penny of profit either from his bookselling or his publishing. On the contrary, he mortgaged a large part of his private fortune in these ventures. The Bookshop nevertheless was a place of call for all those who were interested in poetry; it acquired an international reputation; visitors and students went to it as a matter of course; and imitations of it sprang up in other countries. Harold Monro himself became the unofficial representative of poetry, and was asked to lecture all over the country.

Youth in Arms[edit]

Monro wrote few war poems himself, but his ‘Youth in Arms’ quartet, written in the early months of the war, is one of the earliest attempts to imagine the ‘human psychology’ of soldiering and to understand ‘How ungrudgingly Youth dies’. These poems were inspired by Monro’s fears for his friend, Basil Watt, whom he dearly loved and who was later killed at Loos. Monro’s moving elegy for Watt, ‘Lament in 1915′, is a monologue in unornamented, ‘modern’ language.

Happy boy, happy boy, David the immortal-willed, Youth a thousand thousand times Slain, but not once killed, Swaggering again today In the old contemptuous way; Leaning backward from your thigh Up against the tinselled bar— Dust and ashes! is it you? Laughing, boasting, there you are! First we hardly recognized you In your modern avatar. Soldier, rifle, brown khaki— Is your blood as happy so? Where’s your sling or painted shield, Helmet, pike or bow? Well, you’re going to the wars— That is all you need to know. Graybeards plotted. They were sad. Death was in their wrinkled eyes. At their tables—with their maps, Plans and calculations—wise They all seemed; for well they knew How ungrudgingly Youth dies. At their green official baize They debated all the night Plans for your adventurous days Which you followed with delight, Youth in all your wanderings, David of a thousand slings.

After the War, Monro wrote his somewhat trenchant overview Some Contemporary Poets (1920).[2] (though this was not published by the Poetry Bookshop).

Family[edit]

Monro's father, Edward William Monro, was born at Marylebone in 1848 and died aged 41 on 12th December 1889 when Monro was only nine years old. This loss may have shaped his character as a poet. The Monro family was well established in Bloomsbury but with two Indian-born grandmothers there was surely many a tale to impress and inspire the young Monro.

Monro’s paternal grandfather, Dr. Henry Munro FRCP MD, was born at Gower Street, Bloomsbury, on 10th January 1817. He came from a long line of surgeons. His father Dr. Thomas Monro (born in 1789) was the fourth in the family line to hold the position of Principal Physician of Bethlem Hospital; he was a grandson of Dr. James Munro FRCP MA, 9th of Fylish. The Munro clan is a very ancient one, being lords of Fyrish in Scotland, descended from the Barons of Foulis. Monro was a direct descendant in the paternal line of O’Cathan, Prince of Fermanagh (born c. 1019), through his great-grandson Hugh Munro, 1st Baron of Foulis (c. 1084-1126).

Monro’s paternal grandmother, Jane Eliza Russell (1824-1904) was born in Calcutta and was a daughter of Sir William Russell, 1st Baronet of Charlton Park, MD (b. 1773 in Edinburgh) and Lady Jane Eliza Prinn, (born 1797), daughter of Major General Doddington Russell (they married on 1st December 1814 when she was just 17 years of age). Sir William Russell was a qualified doctor who emigrated to India and was an authority on treatment of cholera. In the will of William Hunt Prinn, 14th March 1814, Lady Jane Eliza was bequeathed for life the interest in the Manor of Ashley (the estate known as Charlton Kings and Charlton Park mansion) in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. In accordance with the wishes of W.H. Prinn’s will, Lady Jane Eliza now took the surname Prinn by royal licence.

Monro's mother was Arabel Sophia née Margary, born in about 1850 at Dawlish in Devon, the daughter of Peter John Margary, a civil engineer with the Great Western Railways who was born in Kensington and his wife Emma Russell, the widow of Henry's brother Theodore Monro (1819-1843). Emma was a sister of Jane Eliza Russell. Emma brought in to her second marriage, to Peter John Margary, her only child from her first marriage to Theodore Monro, Theodore Russell Monro, who was born on 4th March and became a half-orphan on 12th April 1843.

Monro's parents were therefore first cousins, as their mothers were the Russell sisters. The Russell sisters married the respective Monro brothers at a joint wedding service on 5th April 1842 at Charlton Kings Church in Gloucestershire but Emma was to be widowed one year and a week after the wedding.

The young Monro was raised, together with his sister Mary (d. 1921), by their widowed mother, who only remarried in 1910. Mary married Sir Daniel Fulthorpe Gooch, 3rd Baronet (1829-1926) in 1896. One of her sons, Midshipman on H.M.S. Implacable, Lancelot Daniel Edward Gooch, R.N., died a fortnight after his 18th birthday in Greece, on 4th October 1915.

On 2nd December 1903 in Ireland, Monro married Dorothy Elizabeth Browne. Their son Nigel Monro was born there in 1904 but the marriage was not to last and in 1908, they separated.

In March 1913 he met Alida Klemantaski, seventeen years his junior, an attractive young lady from Hampstead, who also had a passion for poetry and had set herself goals of becoming a doctor or rescuing prostitutes from their predicament. Monro instead persuaded her that by working in the Poetry Bookshop, she would be achieving just as much for society. Monro was divorced from his first wife, Dorothy after eight years of separation, in 1916. They were married in 1920. Alida’s brother Louis Klemantaski was a promising young poet and musical editor; he died at the Somme in 1916. It is said that Alida had a greater influence on the development of Monro’s own poetry than any other. She was blessed with a remarkable memory and knew many poems by heart. She also had an incisive mind and a keen sense of the ridiculous. A change in Monro’s verse certainly became apparent after he met Alida. For the rest of his life, Alida was at his side in the Bookshop, his chief help, assistant and guide. As he himself said, without her, he could not have carried on. After the War ended, Monro founded the “Chapbook”, which was not commercially viable, which contains his best work as an editor. In his last years, Monro reflected on whether the Bookshop had fulfilled its purpose and whether it should be closed but he was too deeply attached to it; in this period he published his best poems. He died on 16th March 1932 aged 53 at the Cliff Combe Nursing Home, Broadstairs, Kent, and was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium on the 19th. He was sadly missed for he had been extraordinarily generous to young writers, and many of those who since became famous were helped by him as their mentor in their early years. He is remembered as being liberal-minded and without literary prejudices. The couple left no children but Monro was survived by his son from his first marriage, Nigel (1904-1951), who followed the long Munro tradition and was in practice as a surgeon.

To what God shall we chant our songs of battle?[edit]

On Monday 4th August 2014, commencing at 10am, a service was held at Westminster Abbey, “A Solemn Commemoration on the Centenary of the Outbreak of the First World War”. H.R.H. Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall GCVO, represented H.M. The Queen. After a reading from St .John's Gospel, the choir gave the premiére performance of a new composition by David Matthews, a pupil of Benjamin Britten.

Entitled "To what God shall we chant our songs of battle?” Matthews’ work took a bitter, disillusioned poem written in 1914 by Harold Monro and set the verse alongside passages from the Book of Lamentations and Saint Luke's gospel. James O'Donnell, abbey organist and master of the choristers, commented that the work "leaves you standing on the edge of an abyss". It was delivered by young men whose voices blasted the stone walls of the Abbey like a rebuke.

To what God shall we chant our songs of battle?

To what God Shall we chant Our songs of Battle? Oh, to whom shall a song of battle be chanted? Not to our lord of the hosts on his ancient throne, Drowsing the ages out in Heaven alone. The celestial choirs are mute, the angels have fled: Word is gone forth abroad that our lord is dead. Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.

To what God Shall we chant Our songs of Battle? Oh, to whom shall a song of battle be chanted? If you had only recognised on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Oh, to whom shall a song of battle be chanted?

Poets in Twentieth Century Poetry, an Anthology chosen by Harold Monro, 1933 edition[edit]

Lascelles Abercrombie - Richard Aldington - John Alford - A. C. Benson - Laurence Binyon - Edmund Blunden - W. S. Blunt - Gordon Bottomley - Robert Bridges - Rupert Brooke - Samuel "Erewhon" Butler - Roy Campbell - G. K. Chesterton - Richard Church - Padraic Colum - A. E. Coppard - Frances Cornford - John Davidson - W. H. Davies - Jeffery Day - Walter de la Mare - Lord Alfred Douglas - John Drinkwater - Helen Parry Eden - T. S. Eliot - Vivian Locke Ellis - Michael Field - J. E. Flecker - F. S. Flint - John Freeman - Stella Gibbons - Wilfrid Gibson - Robert Graves - Thomas Hardy - H. D. - Philip Henderson - Maurice Hewlett - Ralph Hodgson - Gerard Manley Hopkins - A. E. Housman - Ford Madox Hueffer - T. E. Hulme - Aldous Huxley - James Joyce - Rudyard Kipling - D. H. Lawrence - Cecil Day-Lewis - John Masefield - R. A. K. Mason - Charlotte Mew - Alice Meynell - Viola Meynell - Harold Monro - T. Sturge Moore - Edwin Muir - Henry Newbolt - Robert Nichols - Alfred Noyes - Wilfred Owen - J. D. C. Pellow - H. D. C. Pepler - Eden Phillpotts - Ezra Pound - Peter Quennell - Herbert Read - Isaac Rosenberg - Siegfried Sassoon - Geoffrey Scott - Edward Shanks - Fredegond Shove - Edith Sitwell - Osbert Sitwell - Sacheverell Sitwell - Stephen Spender - J. C. Squire - James Stephens - Edward Thomas - W. J. Turner - Sylvia Townsend Warner - Max Weber - Anna Wickham - Humbert Wolfe - William Butler Yeats

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Monro, Harold Edward (MNR898HE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  2. ^ Monro, H., 1920."Some Contemporary Poets (1920)", London: Leonard Parsons.

Further reading[edit]

  • Geni War Poets Project [1]

External links[edit]