James Kenneth Stephen
– February 3
), was an English poet and tutor to Prince Albert
, son of Albert Edward, Prince of Wales
Stephen was the second son of James Fitzjames Stephen
a barrister-at-law who became a baronet, and his wife Mary Richenda Cunningham. James Kenneth Stephen was known as 'Jem' among his family and close friends and he was a cousin of Virginia Woolf
(née Stephen). He was a King's Scholar
and then went to King's College, Cambridge
, again as a King's Scholar. In 1883 he was tutor to Prince Albert Victor
, Duke of Clarence and Avondale
, and was a Fellow of King's College between 1885 and 1892. He was also a renowned intellectual who spoke in a pedantic but highly articulate and entertaining manner.
Stephen became a published poet, his work being identified by the initials J. K. S. He wrote collections of poems in Lapsus Calami
and Quo Musa Tendis
both published in 1891. One of his poems from Lapsus Calami and other verse
concludes with a famous quote:
To R. K.
Will there never come a season
Which shall rid us from the curse
Of a prose which knows no reason
And an unmelodious verse:
When the world shall cease to wonder
At the genius of an Ass,
And a boy's eccentric blunder
Shall not bring success to pass:
When mankind shall be delivered
From the clash of magazines,
And the inkstand shall be shivered
Into countless smithereens:
When there stands a muzzled stripling,
Mute, beside a muzzled bore:
When the Rudyards cease from kipling
And the Haggards ride no more.
J. K Stephen was at Cambridge at the same time as the distinguished antiquarian and ghost-story writer M. R. James and mentioned him at the end of a curious Latin celebration of current worthies of 'Coll. Regale' (King's College):
Vivat J.K. Stephanus,
Vivat Monty Jamesius,
Vivant A, B, C, D, E
Et totus Alphabeta!
Stephen wrote a satirical pastiche of Thomas Gray's Ode to the Distant Prospect of Eton College pillorying Eton for being Tory.
A poem which gave him a reputation as a misogynist is In the Backs (The Backs is a riverside area of Cambridge) where he describes a woman he does not know but to whom he takes a violent dislike:
...I do not want to see that girl again:
I did not like her: and I should not mind
If she were done away with, killed, or ploughed.
She did not seem to serve a useful end :
And certainly she was not beautiful.
Stephen suffered a serious head injury in an accident in the winter of 1886/1887 and as a result suffered from serious mental problems. He was eventually committed to St Andrew's Hospital, a mental asylum. There he refused all food and died aged only 33 of mania according to his death certificate.
Stephen was noted for his prodigious size and physical strength. At Eton, he was a legendary player of the Wall Game
. He played for College on St Andrew's Day
four times, as a wall, in 1874, 1875, 1876 and 1877. In the last two years he was keeper, or captain, of College Wall. College beat the Oppidans by 4 shies to nil in his first year as keeper and by 10 shies to nil the next year. Ever after, the King's Scholars have honoured J K Stephen's memory with a toast at the Christmas Soc Supper - In Piam Memoriam J.K.S. ("In pious memory of J.K.S.").
Stephen was recalled in less pious memory at Eton in a play by an Old Etonian and former Eton housemaster Angus Graham-Campbell entitled Sympathy for the Devil which premiered at the Eton Drama festival in 1993. This was based on the idea that he was one of the Jack the Ripper suspects, although this theory has been dismissed on the grounds that he would have been unable to return to Cambridge in time for lectures on the morning following these murders.
- Select Poems 1926 Augustan Books of Modern Poetry
- Lapsus Calami JKS Cambridge 1891
- Quo Musa Tendis Cambridge 1891
- Lapsus Calami and other verses 1896
- Miles A H Stephen. In miles 9(10)
- JKS Acad 19 Aug 1905
- Benson A C In his leaves of the tree studies in biography 1911
- Evans B I In his English poetry in the later 19th century 1933-1966
- Master of Light Verse - In memory of JKS; Times Literary Supplement 31 Jan 1941