John Masefield Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

John Edward Masefield was born on June 1, 1878, in the small town of Ledbury in rural Herefordshire, England; he was the son of George Edward and Carol Parker Masefield. Masefield’s father, a fairly successful solicitor, died at the age of forty-nine following a period of mental disorder that may have been caused by the death of Masefield’s mother, who died from complications following childbirth in 1885. Left an orphan when he was only six years old, Masefield was taken in by his aunt and uncle, who reared him in pleasant circumstances in a Victorian country house called The Priory. There, young Masefield learned to love the waters, woods, and flowers of Herefordshire, and from his aunt’s teaching he acquired a love for literature, particularly the narrative poems of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1888, Masefield was sent to the King’s School in Warwick as a boarding student. Homesick and unhappy at Warwick, Masefield ran away from school, and though he was to return, it was obvious that this experience with formal education was not to produce the desired results.

Masefield was allowed to join the merchant navy, leaving home at thirteen and enlisting as a midshipman; he was posted to the HMS Conway, a famous training ship. During his days as apprentice seaman, he took long voyages to South America and around Cape Horn, but the arduous life of a sailor was not to his liking, and he jumped ship in New York, giving up his berth as sixth officer on the White Star liner Adriatic. The young Masefield’s disgraceful behavior caused his uncle to disinherit him, and Masefield was forced to take whatever work he could find. For some time, he lived a nearly vagrant life in Greenwich Village, where he started to write poetry seriously. Masefield remained in New York for two years before returning to London in 1897, where he took a post as a bank clerk, a position he held for three years, during which time he started to publish some of his own verse and to meet some of the London literati, becoming acquainted with William Butler Yeats, Lady Augusta Gregory, and John Millington Synge, along with others whom he came to know during regular gatherings in Bloomsbury. Masefield’s first book of poems, Salt-Water Ballads, was published in 1902 and enjoyed immediate success, becoming popular with the public and critics alike.

Masefield met Constance Crommelin in 1903, and they were married the same year, when he was twenty-five years old and his bride was thirty-five. Despite the difference in their ages, the marriage seems to have been as happy as most. Masefield acquired a job as an editor and settled in Greenwich with his wife and baby daughter. In 1904, Masefield received an offer to write for the Manchester Guardian, but newspaper writing deflected him from his main interest at this period—writing plays. He managed to turn out a series of dramas, despite the demands of producing reviews and articles for the Manchester Guardian seven days a week. Although most of Masefield’s early dramatic writings were left unfinished or destroyed, he completed and produced his first play, The Campden Wonder, in 1907. In addition to writing six more plays in the years before World War I, he produced novels, stories, sketches, his first long verse narratives, and more ballads and poems, although he considered himself to be primarily a playwright. In 1910, about the time of the birth of his son...

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John Masefield Biography

(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

John Edward Masefield was born June 1, 1878, in Ledbury, Herefordshire. His very early years were happy ones, although the children in the family spent their time with their nurse and saw little of their parents; they saw their mother only between teatime and bedtime at six o’clock. She died a few weeks after giving birth to a sixth child when John was six-and-a-half years old. Their grandparents died a year after their mother, and the family, in reduced circumstances, moved into the grandparents’ home. John occasionally visited his godmother, wrote his first poems when he was about ten, and went to boarding school. His father died at age forty-nine after suffering from mental disorders. Taking over as guardians, his aunt and uncle suggested that John be trained to go to sea in the merchant marine. Although he wanted to write or paint, he decided to pursue seafaring because the son of a governess whom he had liked enjoyed being a cadet on the school ship H.M.S. Conway.

Masefield joined that ship when he was thirteen and left it when he was sixteen, having learned a good deal of mathematics and navigation. He became an apprentice on a four-masted cargo barque sailing for Chile, which did not touch land for three months. During the voyage, he had some trouble with seasickness and experienced the fury of Cape Horn storms. He was released from service after he became seriously ill with sunstroke and a possible nervous breakdown. After a hospital stay in Valparaiso, he went home. His aunt nagged him into going to sea again; but he deserted ship in New York, causing his uncle to cut him off financially.

The seventeen-year-old Masefield could not find work in that depression year; thus, he and an acquaintance became vagrants, getting occasional work on farms and sleeping out, an experience that gave him great empathy for the down-and-out. After some months, he returned to New York City,...

(The entire section is 783 words.)

John Masefield Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
ph_0111207652-Masefield.jpg John Masefield in 1935 Published by Salem Press, Inc.

John Masefield was born June 1, 1878, the son of George and Caroline Parker Masefield. His father, a Ledbury solicitor, died when the boy was very young, leaving him in the care of his mother and an uncle. Masefield attended King’s School in Warwick, but he left at the age of thirteen to board the Conway, a training ship in the merchant service. By the time he was sixteen, he had been apprenticed on a windjammer bound for Iquique, Chile; there he became ill and had to return home. When he recovered, he was given a station on the Adriatic; it sailed to New York, and he decided before the return voyage to stay in the United States for a time.

When he returned to London in 1897, Masefield had decided upon a literary career. In 1902 he published Salt-Water Ballads, which contains the well-known “Sea-Fever.” Over the next fifteen years he established a reputation as a poet, playwright, and novelist. In particular, he displayed an unusual ability in narrative verse, combining robust characters and realism in such poems as The Everlasting Mercy. During World War I, Masefield took part in the Red Cross Service in France and on a hospital ship at Gallipoli. In 1916 and 1918 he gave lectures in the United States in support of the Allied cause.

During the war, Masefield published Gallipoli, a vivid account of the horrors he witnessed while serving with the Red Cross. In 1919, he published Reynard...

(The entire section is 419 words.)