The first in-depth, full-length biography of Walter John de la Mare was not published until 1993. He was, by the few published accounts of those who knew him, a quiet and unremarkable man. One can reasonably infer from the absence of autobiographical material from an otherwise prolific writer that he was a private man. He seems to have lived his adventures through his writing, and his primary interests seem to have been of the intellect and the spirit.
He was born in 1873 to James Edward de la Mare and Lucy Sophia Browning de la Mare, a Scot. He attended St. Paul’s Cathedral Choir School. While in school he founded and edited The Choiristers’ Journal, a school magazine. In 1890, Walter de la Mare entered the employ of the Anglo-American Oil Company, where he served as bookkeeper until 1908. During these years, he wrote essays, stories, and poetry, which appeared in various magazines, including Black and White and The Sketch. In 1902, Songs of Childhood, his first book—and one of his most lastingly popular—was published. There he used the pseudonym Walter Ramal. Then, after using it also for his novel Henry Brocken in 1904, he dropped it. He married Constance Elfrida Igpen in 1899, with whom he had two sons and two daughters. She died in 1943.
De la Mare’s employment at the Anglo-American Oil Company ended in 1908, when he was granted a Civil List pension of one hundred pounds a year. Thus encouraged, he embarked on a life of letters during which he produced poetry, short stories, essays, and one play, and edited volumes of poetry and essays. These many works reveal something of de la Mare’s intellect, if not of his character. They reveal a preoccupation with inspiration and dreams, an irritation with Freudians and psychologists in general (they were too simplistic in their analyses, he believed), a love of romance, and a love for the child in people. The works reveal a complex mind that, curiously, preferred appreciation to analysis and observation to explanation.