Last reviewed: June 2018
Irish novelist and poet
October 10, 1783
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.