William Ernest Henley's father was a struggling bookseller and stationer who died when William was still in his teens. Upon his death, the Henley family was immediately plunged into serious financial difficulties on account of the huge debts that Mr. Henley's failing businesses had racked up. Nevertheless, his father's death seems to have made William more determined to take charge of his destiny and make something of his life, to become the captain of his soul, in the words of his most famous poem, "Invictus."
Already severely disabled by the loss of one leg, William had yet more obstacles to overcome in the wake of his father's death. However, the large void caused by the death of his father was soon filled by his headmaster, T.E. Brown, a noted poet and scholar. Brown exerted a profound influence on Henley's life, lending him books and inspiring him to study literature. It was largely through Brown's encouragement and support—not to mention his acting as a kind of surrogate father—that Henley was set on the way to a long, illustrious career in the world of English letters.