Wolfe, Humbert

views updated


WOLFE, HUMBERT (Umberto Wolff ; 1885–1940), English poet and critic. He was born in Milan but was taken as a baby to Bradford, England, where his father was a wool merchant. He was naturalized in 1891. Wolfe was educated at Bradford Grammar School and Oxford and went into the civil service, where he rose to be deputy secretary at the Ministry of Labor (1938–40). During World War i, from 1915 to 1918, he held an important position in the Ministry of Munitions. Wolfe's first published poems, a collection entitled London Sonnets (1920), were characterized by a certain facetiousness and by an attempt to imitate colloquial speech. Other early works included Shylock Reasons with Mr. Chesterton (1920), Circular Saws (1923), Lampoons (1925), Humoresque (1926), and a long verse satire on the popular press, News of the Devil (1926). His first real success was a volume of light verse entitled Cursory Rhymes (1927). Later volumes, notably Requiem (1927), took life more seriously. The Uncelestial City (1930) represented an unsuccessful return to his earlier manner, and volumes in his more usual strain which appeared over the next ten years added little to his reputation. He translated Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac (1937) and wrote an English adaptation of Jenő *Heltai's Hungarian verse comedy, The Silent Knight (1937). His critical writings include studies of Herrick, Shelley, and Tennyson. Wolfe was only mildly interested in Jewish affairs but translated Edmond *Fleg's Wall of Weeping (1929) and some of *Heine's poems. His autobiographical works, Now a Stranger (1933) and The Upward Anguish (1938), reveal his sense of alienation from Jews and Judaism; in 1908 he had become an Anglican. Rather incongruously, Wolfe also wrote excellent accounts of the Ministry of Munitions during World War i which are highly regarded as administrative history.


Leftwich, in: National Jewish Monthly (Jan. 1941); N. Bentwich, in: Menorah Journal, 31 (Jan.–March 1943), 34–45. add. bibliography: odnb online; P. Bagguley, Harlequin in Whitehall (1997).

[Philip D. Hobsbaum]