Henry Scott Holland was a highly religious figure who delved into poetry, focusing on the themes of sorrow, death, grief, and loss. For the majority of his life, he has held positions close to the church and the study of religion, such as his role as Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. Alongside his commitment to his faith, Scott Holland was a prolific writer known for writing countless essays and the occasional sermon. Most of all, he will be remembered for his poetry, creating works such as ‘Death is Nothing at All,’ a poem centered around dealing with death, how life is just a brief moment in time, and how it is just part of the journey.
About Henry Scott Holland
Henry Scott Holland was born in Ledbury, Herefordshire, England, on January 27th, 1847. His father was George Henry Holland of Dumbleton Hall, and his mother was the Hon. Charlotte Dorothy Gifford, daughter of the 1st Baron Gifford of St. Leonard’s in the County of Devon. Holland’s family was extremely wealthy and very much a part of the upper class of English society and was able to afford the best education for their son.
As a young man, Holland was sent to be educated at Eton, but he was not a great student and, after his time at Eton, failed his initial entrance exam for Oxford University. He was able to apply again and was accepted into Balliol College, Oxford, in 1866. Unfortunately, his academic instincts did not improve, and he continued to struggle with his studies for a time.
Eventually, he was introduced to Thomas Hill Green, a philosophy tutor at Balliol. He was greatly inspired by Green and taken in by his ideas regarding religion. Holland’s eventual degree, that of “First in Greats,” is credited to the influence Green had on Holland’s moral, spiritual, and academic development. His degree is one of the highest honors one can achieve at Oxford.
Following his graduation, Holland was hired as a lecturer of philosophy at Christ Church College. While he was teaching there, he was also spending a significant amount of time writing. He was able to publish a number of articles and books that were often investigations of the moral and social conditions of his surrounding neighborhoods. He had been deeply moved by the life-and-death struggle that could be observed on the streets of London and was one of the first to argue for the creation of Mission Houses or homes for those who have no means to support themselves.
In 1884 Holland became a canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and a few years later published his book, Lux Mundi. The volume was met with an amount of controversy due to the fact that Holland stated his belief that Christianity is something that one participates in rather than just considered irregularly. He did not believe that the church was doing enough to support those in need.
Arguably, Henry Scott Holland’s crowning literary achievement was his poem ‘Death is Nothing at All,’ which explores the idea of death, loss, and grief. The poem reads:
“There is absolute and unbroken continuity. What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?”
In this, he is saying that death is what it is, life goes on, but this should not mean we are forgotten. Although he talks about macabre themes, there is a sense of comfort in his work, helping people change their perspective on loss.
Explore more of Henry Scott Holland’s poems.
A number of years later, in 1910, after a life spent dedicated to the investigation of social injustices, he was made Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University. He held this position until his health began to fail in 1914. He died four years later, in March 1918.
As he spent many years surrounded by elements of theology and religion, he was influenced by theologians before him, such as F.D. Maurice and John Henry Newman.
His experiences as a priest also drew him to discuss certain themes within his work, such as loss, grief, social justice, and giving back to society.
The events of his time also had an impact on his worldview and, thus, his work. He lived through the growth of the labor movement, the rise of imperialism, and, later in his life, the First World War.
Yes, Henry Scott Holland was heavily embedded in the Anglo-Catholic religion. He held positions within the faith, such as being the canon of Christ Church in Oxford and the Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford. He was also a priest throughout his career.
Henry Scott Holland wrote his most famous poem ‘Death is Nothing At All,’ in 1910. The poem is a piece that is dedicated to those who have passed and has been adapted into a funeral poem as a way to comfort the relatives of the lost.
Henry Scott Holland is widely regarded for his religious funeral poetry that focuses on the themes of death, loss, and grief. He was also a priest, becoming the canon of Christ Church in Oxford, then he took the role of Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford University.
Unfortunately, on 17 March 1918, Henry Scott Holland passed away at the age of 71.
Henry Scott Holland had an excellent education, attending Eton, where he excelled under the tutelage of Master William Johnson Cory, then going on to Oxford University, Balliol College, where he secured a first degree, or ‘First in Greats,’ in Lit. Hum.