Edmund William Gosse

Date of birth: 
21 Sep 1849
City of birth: 
Hackney, Middlesex
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
16 May 1928
Location of death: 
Weymouth Street, London

Edmund Gosse was raised by his father, the popular zoologist Philip Gosse, after his mother’s death in 1857. Gosse’s early life is vividly recalled in his famous work, Father and Son, which presents his movement away from his father’s fundamentalist Christian beliefs; both parents were members of the Plymouth Brethren. At the age of 18, Edmund Gosse moved from Devon to London to work as a clerk in the library of the British Museum. In 1875 he married Ellen ('Nellie') Epps, and they remained married for the rest of his life, having two daughters and one son. Gosse’s primary ambition was to become a poet, although his verse was on the whole not well received. As a literary critic and biographer he achieved greater renown. From September 1875, Gosse worked as a translator at the Board of Trade, on account of his knowledge of French, German, Italian and, above all, the less well-known Scandinavian languages. Gosse is often credited with bringing Ibsen to the public’s attention in Britain.

In 1904 Gosse was appointed Librarian of the House of Lords, a position which he held until forced to retire at 65 in September 1914. His presence in Parliament and familiarity with many of the leading figures of the day gave him an extraordinary informal influence. It was during Asquith’s reign as Prime Minister that Gosse was at the height of his influence, being both one of Asquith’s most trusted advisors, and a member of the Anglo-French Society, the Royal Literary Fund and the Royal Society of Literature. From 1922 Gosse was also President of the English Association. Gosse and his wife socialized with Leslie Stephens, the Rider Haggards, Balfour before he became Prime Minister, Lloyd George, and, in later years, Sir Harold Nicolson.
As a reviewer for the Examiner in 1876, Gosse was introduced to the work of the Indian poet Toru Dutt, who was born in 1856 and died aged just 21 in Calcutta. He wrote an admiring 'Introductory Memoir' of Dutt for the 1882 posthumous publication of her final works. He praised her intelligence in picking up French, English and Sanskrit in short order, and admired her poetry, although he was prone to some of the generalizations of his day about 'Orientals'.
Gosse was well acquainted with Sarojini Naidu, the Indian poet and politician (1879-1949), whose work he brought to the attention of Arthur Symons. The 1905 edition of The Golden Threshold is 'Dedicated to Edmund Gosse who first showed me the way to the golden threshold' (in 1896). Gosse had advised Naidu to place her poems more firmly in Indian settings than she had initially, as he recalls in his introduction to The Bird of Time (1912).

Lord Balfour (acquaintance), Lord Crewe (acquaintance), Lord (George Nathaniel) Curzon (acquaintance), Toru Dutt (subject of literary criticism and praise), Lord Haldane (acquaintance), Rudyard Kipling (acquaintance), Lord Morley (acquaintance), Sarojini Naidu (friend).

Published works: 

'The Continuity of Literature', Presidential Address, The English Association 54, November 1922, p. 192

Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments (London: William Heinemann, 1908)

Firdausi in Exile and Other Poems (London: Kegan Paul & Co., 1885)

From Shakespeare to Pope (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1885)

'Introduction', in Sarojini Naidu, The Bird of Time: Songs of Life, Death & the Spring (London: William Heinemann, 1912)

'Introductory Memoir', in Toru Dutt, Ancient Ballads and Legends of Hindustan (London: Kegan Paul, Trench & Co., 1882)

Portraits from Life, ed. and intro. by Ann Thwaite (Aldershot: Scolar, 1991)

Selected Essays, Second Series (London: William Heinemann, 1928)

The Correspondence of André Gide and Edmund Gosse, 1904-1928, ed., with translations, introduction and notes by Linette F. Brugmans (Wesport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1959)

Transatlantic Dialogue: Selected American Correspondence of Edmund Gosse, ed. and with introduction, by Paul F. Mattheisen and Michael Millgate (Austin and London: University of Texas Press, 1965)
Contributions to periodicals: 

Century Magazine

The Examiner

Fortnightly Review

Fraser’s Magazine

Pall Mall Gazette

Saturday Review

St James’ Gazette

Sunday Times

Secondary works: 

Boehmer, Elleke, Stories of Women (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005)

Charteris, Evan Edward, The Life and Letters of Sir Edmund Gosse (London: William Heinemann, 1931)

Moore, Rayburn S (ed.), Selected Letters of Henry James to Edmund Gosse, 1882-1915: A Literary Friendship, (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press, 1988)

Thwaite, Ann, Edmund Gosse: A Literary Landscape, 1849-1928 (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1985)


'Introduction', in Sarojini Naidu, The Bird of Time: Songs of Life, Death & the Spring (London: Heinemann, 1912), p. 5


I implored her to consider that…what we wished to receive was, not a réchauffé of Anglo-Saxon sentiment in an Anglo-Saxon setting, but some revelation of the heart of India, some sincere penetrating analysis of native passion, of the principles of antique religion and of such mysterious intimations as stirred the soul of the East long before the West had begun to dream that it had a soul…in other words, to be a genuine Indian poet of the Deccan, not a clever machine-made imitator of the English classics.

Archive source: 

Correspondence, including: Letters to William Archer, Add. MS 45291; correspondence with Sir Sydney Cockerell, Add. MS 52717; Correspondence with Macmillans, Add. Ms 55012; letters to T. Watts-Dunton Ashley, Ms 822, British Library, St Pancras

Correspondence with Robert Bridges, Gilbert Murray and others, Bodleian Library, Oxford

Diary and correspondence with John St Loe Strachey, Parliamentary Archives of the United Kingdom, Palace of Westminster (Houses of Parliament), London

Correspondence and mss, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge

Correspondence and mss, Brotherton Collection, University of Leeds, Leeds

Correspondence with Austin Dobson, London University Library, London.

Travel journal; correspondence with Sir Graham Balfour; and correspondence with Lord Haldane; National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Correspondence with Edward Dowden, Trinity College, Dublin

Letters as sponsor to Royal Literary Fund, Royal Literary Fund, London

Letters to the Royal Society of Literature, Somerset House, London

Letters to Austin Dobson; letters to A. C. Swinburne; correspondence with Sir Hamo Thornycroft; and letters to Theodore Watts-Dunton; University of Leeds