William Henley

William Ernest Henley (1849 - 1903)

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William Ernest Henley
Born in Gloucester, Englandmap
[sibling(s) unknown]
[spouse(s) unknown]
[children unknown]
Died in Woking, Englandmap
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Profile last modified | Created 14 Aug 2013
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Categories: English Poets | English Authors.


William Ernest Henley (23 August 1849 – 11 July 1903) was an English poet, critic and editor, best remembered for his 1875 poem "Invictus".

Henley was born in Gloucester and was the oldest of a family of six children, five sons and a daughter. His father, William, a bookseller and stationer, died in 1868 and was survived by young children and creditors. His mother, Mary Morgan, was descended from the poet and critic Joseph Wharton. Between 1861 and 1867, Henley was a pupil at the Crypt Grammar School (founded 1539).[1]


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.

'William was Long John Silver. 'When Robert Louis Stevenson began work on his epic novel Treasure Island, he looked at his best friend, William, and saw the face and form of his hero-villain, the peg-legged, crutch-holding pirate king. William battled tuberculosis from early childhood. The disease went into the bone and when he was twelve, his left leg was amputated to save his life. He grew up to be a giant of a man, in form and spirit. Stevenson's stepson described William as glowing, jovial, filled with fire and vitality. And Stevenson wrote that the idea of a maimed man, ruling and dreaded, masterful, had to be put on pages for the ages.

Educated at Oxford, William worked as a journalist, writer and editor in London until 1873. The tuberculosis took into the bone of his right leg and for three years, he was the patient of pioneering surgeon Joseph Lister. The suffering and pain William went through beggars the imagination but he submitted to the experimental treatments in hopes of saving the leg and in helping Lister find treatments that would benefit others. He wrote in his hospital bed, producing among other worksInvictus , so clearly stating his main philosophy about his life and his troubles.

He returned to work in 1875 and in 1878 married Hannah Boyle. Their only child Margaret died when she was five years old. William remained defiant of what fate threw at him, an attitude reflected in much of his touching and poignant poetry. He encouraged the young talent around him and is responsible for bringing to the literary world Barrack-Room Ballads by the future legend Rudyard Kipling.

The tuberculosis, dormant for many years, blossomed again. William's poem Crosses and Troubles is his statement about facing death, now soon to come.


Crosses and troubles a-many have proved me.
One or two women (God bless them) have loved me.
I have worked and dreamed, and I've talked at will
Of art and drink I have had my fill.
I've comforted here, and I've succored there.
I've faced my foes, and I've backed my friends.
I've blundered, and sometimes made amends.
I've prayed for light, and I've known despair.
Now I look before, as I look behind,
Come storm, come shine, whatever befall,
With a grateful heart and a constant mind,
For the end I know is the best of all.

William died when he was fifty-three. The world needs more men like William. Men who don't lose faith. Men who don't quit. Men who stand tall through it all.


  1. See page 5 of The Big Henley Book.


See also the Changes page for the details of edits by others.

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William Ernest Henley
William Ernest Henley


On 14 Aug 2013 at 17:14 GMT C (Evans) E wrote:


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