Authors: Henry Brooke

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Last reviewed: June 2018

Irish novelist and poet

c. 1703

Rantavan, Ireland

October 10, 1783

Dublin, Ireland


Henry Brooke was born into the family of a Protestant clergyman in County Cavan, Ireland, about 1703. Little is known of his early life until he entered Trinity College, Dublin, at the age of seventeen. He left Dublin for London, where he studied law. For many years he divided his time between London and Dublin. He married a cousin, Catherine Meares, who had been his ward.

Brooke's first publication of note was a long philosophical poem, Universal Beauty, which led to his friendships with many English men of letters, including Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope. Indeed, Pope may have helped Brooke revise Universal Beauty. Brooke also became involved in English politics, becoming an adherent of Frederick, prince of Wales, in his opposition to the policies of George II. Brooke’s play Gustavus Vasa, which is based on Swedish history, was barred from the London stage by the censor because of political overtones, although it was successful in printed form. It was also popular in what later became the United States, where patriots responded to its perceived anti-British status and the parallels between the titular hero and George Washington.

Because of his political activities and the difficulties in which they embroiled him, Brooke returned to Ireland early in the 1740s. During his years of residence there, he wrote several additional plays, an opera libretto, and numerous political pamphlets, and also founded The Freeman's Journal in 1763. However, his literary fame rests almost entirely on his work The Fool of Quality. This five-volume novel, picaresque in construction, was influenced by the author’s interest in Methodism. In 1781, a revised and abridged edition was produced especially for Methodists by John Wesley, and in 1859 Charles Kingsley edited a version for Victorian readers.

Late in life, Brooke suffered from mental illness. In his old age, he was cared for by his daughter Charlotte, the only survivor of a family of twenty-two children, who wrote a memoir of her father as part of the preface to her 1789 Reliques of Irish Poetry. Henry Brooke died in Dublin on October 10, 1783.

Author Works Long Fiction: The Fool of Quality: Or, The History of Henry, Earl of Moreland, 1765–1770 Juliet Grenville, 1774 Works, 1778 (four volumes) Drama: Gustavus Vasa, pb. 1739 (also known as The Patriot) Poetry: Universal Beauty, 1735 Bibliography Brooke, Henry. The Fool of Quality. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1906. Contains "a biographical preface by Charles Kingsley, and a new life of the author by E. A. Baker." Provides insight into the shifting tastes and reception of this novel. Davis, Leith. "Birth of the Nation: Gender in Writing in the Work of Henry and Charlotte Brooke." Eighteenth-Century Life 18, no. 1 (February, 1994). Discusses the father-daughter approach to nationalism in Irish writing. Deane, Seamus, et al., eds. The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing. 3 vols. New York: W. W. Norton, 1991. Volume 1 includes excerpts from Brooke’s political pamphlets, The Fool of Quality, and Universal Beauty. Leighton, C. D. A. Catholicism in a Protestant Kingdom: A Study of the Irish Ancien Régime. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Describes the importance of Brooke’s political pamphlets, especially his 1761 The Trial and Cause of the Roman Catholics. Moody, T. W., and W. E. Vaughan, eds. Eighteenth-Century Ireland, 1691-1800. Vol. 4 in A New History of Ireland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. Incorporate a general discussion of Brooke’s writing. Tompkins, J. M. S. The Popular Novel in England, 1770-1800. 1961. Reprint. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1976. Provides insight into the shifting tastes and reception of Brooke’s novels. Walsh, Paul. "Henry Brooke’s Gustavus Vasa: The Ancient Constitution and the Example of Sweden." Studia Neophilologica 64, no. 1 (1992). Gustavus Vasa is the subject of this historical study of realism.

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