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Selected Poetry of James Kenneth Stephen (1859-1892)


from Representative Poetry On-line
Prepared by members of the Department of English at the University of Toronto
from 1912 to the present and published by the University of Toronto Press from 1912 to 1967.
RPO Edited by Ian Lancashire
A UTEL (University of Toronto English Library) Edition
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries
© 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto

Index to poems

Unspeakably obtuse,
Abominably vain,
Of very little use,
And execrably plain.
        (England and America)
  1. 4th July, 1882, Malines. Midnight
  2. After the Golden Wedding (Three Soliloquies)
  3. The Ballade of the Incompetent Ballade-Monger
  4. England and America
  5. The Malefactor's Plea
  6. Men and Women
  7. My Education
  8. Of F. W. H. M.: 1. To One that Smokes
  9. The Old School List
  10. A Parodist's Apology
  11. The Philosopher and the Philanthropist
  12. A Sonnet (Two voices are there)
  13. Steam-launches on the Thames
  14. To R. K.


Notes on Life and Works

The son of Sir James F. Stephen, a criminal court judge, and Mary Richenda Cunningham, James Kenneth Stephen, known as "Jem" to his friends, was educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. He joined the secret, apparently homosexual society known as the Apostles, and became a Fellow of King's College in 1885, two years after being hired as tutor to Prince Albert Victor Edward, heir to the throne, who studied at Trinity College 1883-85. In 1888, by then a barrister and distanced from the royal family, Stephen founded a weekly journal The Reflector, but it lasted only for 17 numbers, although he had many literary friends (one of his cousins was Virginia Woolf) and had quickly acquired a reputation as a satirical poet. Stephen was committed to St. Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, in November 1891, suffering from mental illness, likely manic depression. He had struck his head in an accident at Felixstowe five years before--a point after which friends, Virginia Woolf included, began to interpret his behaviour as madness. After refusing all nourishment, Stephen died early February 1892, a few weeks after the prince he tutored. Arthur C. Benson's The Leaves of the Tree: Studies in Biography (London: Smith, Elder, 1911; CT 782 B3 Robarts Library) discusses Stephen's life; and David Abrahamson's Murder & Madness: the Secret Life of Jack the Ripper (London: Robson Books, 1992; HV 6535 G73 L653 1992 Robarts Library) transcribes Stephen's medical records. The claim that Stephen and the Prince were Jack the Ripper is based on weak circumstantial evidence and a psychoanalytic reading of his mysogynistic poems.

Biographical information

Given name: James Kenneth
Family name: Stephen
Birth date: 1859
Death date: 1892