Brooke, Stopford Augustus 1832-1916, divine and man of letters, the eldest son of the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke, incumbent of the Mariners' church, Kingstown, Ireland, by his wife, Anna, daughter of the Rev. T. Stopford, Doctor of Divinity, was born at Glendoen, near Letterkenny, co. Donegal, 14 November 1832. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he took prizes in English verse, and graduated in 1856. In 1857 he was ordained, and appointed to a curacy at St. Matthew's, Marylebone. In the following year he married Emma Diana, daughter of Thomas Wentworth Beaumont, M.P., of Bretton Park, Yorkshire; by her he had two sons and six daughters. His wife died in 1874. Shortly after his marriage he resolved to give up his curacy and search for a field of larger opportunity. But though his reputation as a preacher was already considerable, his religious views, judged by the standard of the day, were dangerously broad, and for a short time he was without employment. In the autumn of 1859, however, he was appointed to the curacy of St. Mary Abbots, Kensington, of which Archdeacon John Sinclair [qv.] was then vicar. Here he remained four years, and it was during this period that he began work on his Life of Frederick William Robertson. His power and influence as a preacher grew rapidly; but he chafed under ecclesiastical authority—though at the time he had no idea of secession from the Church of England—and this drove him to look for a position of greater independence.
After the marriage of the Princess Royal to Prince Frederick (afterwards Crown Prince) of Prussia in 1858, it was decided to appoint an Anglican chaplain who should be attached both to their court and to the British embassy in Berlin. Brooke applied for the post, his application was accepted, and he went out to Berlin in 1863. His position there, however, was not what he had been led to expect; there was friction with the English church already established in Berlin; and he did not care for his surroundings. At the end of 1864 he resigned and returned to London to seek further clerical work and arrange for the publication of the Life of Robertson which he had completed while in Berlin. His Life and Letters of the late Frederick W. Robertson, published in 1865, two years after Essays and Reviews, was at once recognized as a work of exceptional power, and of great importance as a broad church document. It was bitterly attacked by the evangelical party.
In 1866 Brooke became minister of the proprietary chapel of St. James, York Street, a position which gave him a greater independence and freedom than he had enjoyed hitherto. The congregation, small at first, within a year filled the place to overflowing. After preaching several times before Queen Victoria, he was appointed a chaplain-in-ordinary in 1867. He remained at St. James's chapel for nine years, during the last of which he wrote his Primer of English Literature (1876), of which Matthew Arnold said to him, You have made a delightful book, and one which may have a wide action—the thing which one ought to desire for a good product almost as much as its production. Half a million copies of this book had been sold by 1917. On the expiration of the lease of St. James's chapel, Brooke's friends presented him (1876) with the lease of Bedford chapel, Bloomsbury, where he remained, drawing large congregations, till 1895. Meanwhile he had found that none of the accepted systems of theology could give him the complete freedom of self-expression which he desired; and in 1880 he seceded from the Church of England. Though sympathizing to a certain extent with the tenets of Unitarians, he never attached himself definitely to any religious denomination.
During this period Brooke produced his Life and Writings of Milton (1879) and a lyrical drama, Riquet of the Tuft (1880), and during the 'eighties he was preparing his History of Early English Literature (1892). He also published at this time selections of sermons and a volume of Poems (1888). For a short time (1881-1884) he was principal of the Men and Women's College in Queen Square. But as he approached the age of sixty, his health failed, and preaching became more and more arduous to him, till in 1895 he was compelled to give up his work at Bedford chapel. In a few years, however, the vitality of youth returned to him, and he continued his literary work with renewed vigour. Between 1893 and 1913 he published seventeen volumes, and from 1900 to 1905 he gave a memorable series of lectures on English poetry at University College, London. For many years he continued occasionally to preach in Unitarian churches both in London and in the provinces. In the later years of his life he took up painting, in which he attained a high degree of excellence. He continued to live in London till 1913, when he retired to Ewhurst, where he died 18 March 1916 in his eighty-fourth year.
Of Brooke's other literary works the most important are: Theology in the English Poets—Cowper, Coleridge, Wordsworth, Burns (1874), Notes on Turner's Liber Studiorum (1885), Tennyson, his Art and Relation to Modern Life (1894), The Poetry of Robert Browning (1902), On Ten Plays of Shakespeare (1905), Studies in Poetry (1907), Ten more Plays of Shakespeare (1913). He also published several volumes of sermons.
L. P. Jacks, Life and Letters of Stopford Brooke, 2 vols., 1917. Portrait, Royal Academy Pictures, 1905.
Contributor: G. V. J. [Graham Vernon Jacks]