Edmund Gosse by John Singer Sargent

Edmund Gosse (1849-1928). Portait by John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), 1886. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Edmund William Gosse CB[1] (21 September 1849 - 16 May 1928) was an English poet and literary critic.[2]

Life Edit


Philip Henry Gosse & Edmund Gosse (1857)

Father and Son: Philip Henry Gosse and Edmund Gosse in 1857. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Gosse was born in London, the son of Philip Henry Gosse, a naturalist, and Emily (Bowes), an illustrator who contributed to a number of books of poetry. Both were deeply committed to a small Protestant sect, the Plymouth Brethren. His childhood was initially happy as they spent their summers in Devon where his father was developing the ideas which gave rise to the craze for the marine aquarium] After his mother died of breast cancer when he was 8 and they moved to Devon, his life with his father became increasingly strained by his father's expectations that he should follow in his religious tradition.

Gosse was sent to a boarding school, where he began to develop his own interests in literature. His father married in 1860 the deeply religious Quaker spinster Eliza Brightwen (1813–1900), whose brother Thomas tried to encourage Edmund to become a banker. Gosse later gave an account of his childhood in the book Father and Son, which has been described as the first psychological biography. At the age of 18 and working in the British Museum in London, he broke away from his father's influence in a dramatic coming of age.

Eliza Gosse's brother George was the husband of Eliza Elder Brightwen (1830–1906), a naturalist and author, whose first book was published in 1871. After Eliza Elder Brightwen's death, Edmund Gosse arranged for the publication of her two posthumous works Last Hours with Nature (1908) and Eliza Brightwen, the Life and Thoughts of a Naturalist (1909), both edited by W.H. Chesson, and the latter book with an introduction and epilogue by Gosse.

Collectedpoems00gossuoft 0008

Gosse, from Collected Poems, 1911. Courtesy Internet Archive.


Gosse started his career as assistant librarian at the British Museum from 1867 alongside songwriter Theo Marzials,[3] a post which Charles Kingsley helped his father obtain for him. An early book of poetry published with a friend John Arthur Blaikie gave him an introduction to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. Trips to Denmark and Norway in 1872-1874, where he visited Hans Christian Anderson and Frederik Paludan-Müller, led to publishing success with reviews of Ibsen and Bjørnson in the Cornhill Magazine.[4] He was soon reviewing Scandinavian literature in a variety of publications. He became acquainted with Alfred Lord Tennyson and friends with Robert Browning, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Thomas Hardy and Henry James.

In the meantime, he published his 1st solo volume of poetry, On Viol and Flute (1873) and a work of criticism, Studies in the Literature of Northern Europe (1879). Gosse and Robert Louis Stevenson first met while teenagers, and after 1879, when Stevenson came to London on occasion, he would stay with Gosse and his family. In 1875 Gosse became a translator at the Board of Trade, a post which he held until 1904 and gave him time for his writing[5] and enabled him to marry and start a family.

From 1884 to 1890, Gosse lectured in English literature at Trinity College, Cambridge, despite his own lack of academic qualifications.Trinity College formally admitted him as a member, 'by order of the Council', in 1889.[6] He made a successful American lecture tour in 1884, and was in much demand as a speaker and on committees as well as publishing a string of critical works as well as poetry and histories.

He became, in the 1880s, one of the most important art critics dealing with sculpture (writing mainly for the Saturday Review) with an interest spurred on by his intimate friendship with the sculptor Hamo Thornycroft. Gosse would eventually write the 1st history of the renaissance of late-Victorian sculpture in 1894 in a 4-part series for the Art Journal, dubbing the movement the New Sculpture.

In 1904, he became the librarian of the House of Lords Library, where he exercised considerable influence till he retired in 1914. He wrote for the Sunday Times, and was an expert on Thomas Gray, William Congreve, John Donne, Jeremy Taylor, and Coventry Patmore. He can also take credit for introducing Ibsen's work to the British public. Gosse and William Archer collaborated in translating Hedda Gabler and The Master Builder; those translations were performed throughout the 20th century. Gosse and Archer, along with Shaw, were perhaps the literary critics most responsible for popularising Ibsen's plays among English-speaking audiences.

His most famous book is the autobiographical Father and Son, about his troubled relationship with his Plymouth Brethren father, Philip, which was dramatised for television by Dennis Potter. Published anonymously in 1907, this followed a biography he had written of his father as naturalist, when he was urged by George Moore among others to write more about his own part. Historians caution, though, that notwithstanding its psychological insight and literary excellence, Gosse's narrative is often at odds with the verifiable facts of his own and his parents' lives.[7] In later life, he became a formative influence on Siegfried Sassoon, the nephew of his lifelong friend, Hamo Thornycroft. Sassoon's mother was a friend of Gosse's wife, Ellen. Gosse was also closely tied to figures such as Algernon Charles Swinburne, John Addington Symonds, and André Gide.

Private lifeEdit

Gosse married Ellen Epps (23 Mar 1850-29 Aug 1929), a young painter in the Pre-Raphaelite circle, who was the daughter of George Napoleon Epps, one of the Epps family of homeopaths. Though she was initially determined to pursue her art, she succumbed to his determined courting and they married in August 1875, with a reception at the house of Lawrence Alma-Tadema whose pupil she had been, visiting his parents, who did not attend the registry office wedding, at the end of their honeymoon in Devon and Cornwall. She continued to paint and wrote stories and reviews for various publications. In 1907, she inherited a sizeable fortune from her uncle, James Epps, the cocoa manufacturer.[4]

Theirs was a happy marriage lasting more than 50 years, and they had 3 children: Emily Teresa (born 1877), Phillip Henry George (1879–1959) and Laura Sylvia, who became a well-known painter. Philip Gosse became a physician, but is best known as the author of The Pirates' Who's Who, 1924.[8][9]

Recognition Edit

The University of Cambridge gave Gosse an honorary M.A. in 1886.

His poem "Revelation" was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[10]

He was knighted and made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1925 New Year Honours.[11] [12]

In popular cultureEdit

  • His book Father and Son partially inspired Oscar and Lucinda, a novel by Peter Carey, which won the 1988 Booker Prize and the 1989 Miles Franklin Award.
  • Father and Son was also the basis for Dennis Potter's television play Where Adam Stood.


Inrussetsilver00gossuoft 0001









  • John Donne. The Life and Letters of John Donne, Dean of St Paul's: Now for the first time revised and collected. (2 volumes)m London: William Heinemann, 1899. Volume I, Volume II.
  • English Literature: An illustrated record (edited with Richard Garnett). (4 volumes), London: William Heinemann, 1903; New York: Macmillan, 1903-1904.[13]Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV
  • Oxford Book of Scandinavian Verse, XVIIth century - XXth century. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1925.


  • Evan Charteris, The Life and Letters of Sir Edmunc Gosse. New York & London: Harper, 1931.
  • The Correspondence of Andre Gide and Edmund Gosse, 1904-1928. New York: New York University Press, 1959.
  • Sir Edmund Gosse's Correspondence with Scandinavian writers (edited by Elias Bredsdorff). Copenhagen: Gyldendal / London, Melbourne, & Toronto: William Heinemann, 1960.
  • Transatlantic Dialogue: Selected American correspondence (edited by Paul F. Mattheisen & Michael Millgate). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1965.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[14]

February in Rome by Edmund Gosse 1849 1928

February in Rome by Edmund Gosse 1849 1928

See alsoEdit




  1. "The New Year Honours. Three Peerages., Rewards For Public Service., Two O.M.'S.". London: The Times. Thursday, 1 January 1925; Issue 43848. p. 13; col G. 
  2. Sir Edmund Gosse
  3. John Betjeman, Trains and Buttered Toast, John Murray 2007, ISBN 0719561272, page 170
  4. 4.0 4.1 [citation needed]
  5. "GOSSE, Edmund". Who's Who, 59: p. 706. 1907. 
  6. Gosse, Edmund William in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  7. Ann Thwaite, Glimpses of the Wonderful: The Life of Philip Henry Gosse, 1810-1888 (London: Faber & Faber, 2002), xvi-xvii.
  8. "Obituary: Philip Gosse". Br Med J 2: 761-762, 763-754. 1959. doi:10.1136/bmj.2.5154.761-c. 
  9. Capt. Philip Henry George Gosse, M.D., Doctor, Naturalist, Author
  10. "Revelation". Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 5, 2012.
  11. "Sir Edmund Gosse (1886)," John Singer Sergeant Gallery,, Web, Oct. 10, 2011.
  12. "The New Year Honours. Three Peerages., Rewards For Public Service., Two O.M.'S.". London: The Times. Thursday, 1 January 1925; Issue 43848. p. 13; col G. 
  13. Search results = au:Richard Garnett, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 17, 2013.
  14. Search results = au:Edmund Gosse, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Aug. 18, 2013.

External linksEdit

Audio / video

PD-icon.svg This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Original article is at "Edmund Gosse"

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia. (view article). (view authors).
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.