Humbert Wolfe

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Humbert Wolfe

Humbert Wolfe CB CBE (5 January 1885 – 5 January 1940) was an Italian-born British poet, man of letters and civil servant.


Humbert Wolfe was born in Milan, Italy, and came from a Jewish family background,[1] his father, Martin Wolff, being of German descent and his mother, Consuela, née Terraccini, Italian. He was brought up in Bradford, West Riding of Yorkshire and was a pupil at Bradford Grammar School.[2] Wolfe attended Wadham College at the University of Oxford.

He was one of the most popular British authors of the 1920s.[1] He was also a translator of Heinrich Heine, Edmond Fleg (1874–1963) and Eugene Heltai (Heltai Jenő). A Christian convert, he remained very aware of his Jewish heritage.[citation needed]

His career was in the Civil Service, beginning in the Board of Trade and then in the Ministry of Labour. By 1940 he had a position of high responsibility. His work was recognised with a CBE and then a CB.

Wolfe said, in an interview with Twentieth Century Authors, that he was "of no political creed, except that his general view is that money and its possessors should be abolished."[1]

Wolfe's verses have been set to music by a number of composers, including Gustav Holst in his 12 Humbert Wolfe Songs, Op. 48 (1929).[3]

He had a long-term affair with the novelist Pamela Frankau, while remaining married.

He died on his 55th birthday.

Though his works are little read today, the following epigram from The Uncelestial City continues to be widely known and quoted:

You cannot hope
to bribe or twist,
thank God! the
British journalist.
But, seeing what
the man will do
unbribed, there's
no occasion to.[4]

File:5 Heads Humbert Wolfe + Padgett.JPG
The 5 Heads of Humbert Wolfe by Anthony Padgett

In 2014–2015, five busts of the poet were created and sited by sculptor Anthony Padgett to mark the 75th anniversary of Wolfe's death. The sculptures have been sited where Wolfe died in London – 75 Eccleston Square,[5] where he studied – Wadham College Oxford,[6] where there is a collection of his manuscripts – New York Public Library and where he grew up – Bradford Library and Bradford Grammar School.[7]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 "Wolfe, Humbert" in Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, Twentieth Century Authors, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, (Third Edition). New York, The H.W. Wilson Company, 1950, (pp. 1540-1)
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  3. Holst, Gustav (1930). 12 Humbert Wolfe Songs, Op. 48. London: Augener. Full score at imslp
  4. Mick Temple, The British Press. McGraw-Hill International, 2008 ISBN 0335222978, (p. 127)
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Other sources

  • Bagguley, Philip (1997). Harlequin in Whitehall: a Life of Humbert Wolfe, Poet and Civil Servant 1885-1940. London: Nyala Publications, ISBN 9780952937609
  • Helen Ferris, Favorite Poems Old and New (1957).