Hoots from the Archive - Spotlight on Old Mancunians: Manmohan Ghose - Celebrated Indian Poet

Posted by Rachel Kneale on 12 May 2022

Modified by Rachel Kneale on 12 May 2022

Manmohan with Benoy and Drewett

Manmohan Ghose was born in 1869 in Bhagalpur in Bengal. His parents were wealthy upper caste Hindus. His father, Krishna Ghose, was a surgeon and had undertaken his medical training at the University of Calcutta and then later the University of Aberdeen. Back in India, he started what would be a successful career which precipitated frequent moves across the country as he was promoted. Ghose had enjoyed his years in the UK and employed an British governess for his children.

Manmohan was the second son in the family, with an older brother Benoybhusan, younger brothers Auribindo and Barindrakumar and a sister Sarojini. The three older boys were sent to Loreto Convent school in Darjeeling when Manmohan was eight.

                                                                                The Ghose family - Manmohan is first from right

Then, in 1879, the brothers were sent to the UK to gain the British education desired for them by their father. They stayed with a friend of Krishna's, William Drewett, the minister of Stockport Road Congregational Church in Ardwick. Drewett tutored the boys in Classics and English literature. In 1881, Manmohan and Benoybhusan were both admitted to MGS, whilst seven year old Aurobindo was tutored by the Drewetts. The Ghose brothers may have been our first pupils of colour. 

                                                                                Left to right - Benoy, Manmohan and Mr. Drewett

Manmohan did well academically whilst at MGS. He came top of the form in Latin, Divinity and English in his first year at the School, and in subsequent years was always in the top five in the termly form lists. His early talent for poetry is also apparent, with one poem published in Ulula, entitled "The Blindness of Love":

In 1884, William Drewett and his wife emigrated to Australia and the Ghose boys were left in the care of his mother, Elizabeth. She move to London with the boys, and all three successfully took the entrance exam to St. Paul's School in London. William Drewett is listed as the parent in the School's admissions register. During his time at St. Paul's, Ghose became fast friends with Laurence Binyon, later a celebrated poet and dramatist who wrote "For the Fallen" which is recited at Remembrance services every year. He was involved in St. Paul's debating society, named "Union", speaking in favour of home rule for Ireland. Manmohan left St. Paul's in 1887 to go to Christ Church College, Oxford to read Classics and the following year gained an open scholarship. He was forced to abandon his studies due to money problems. His father had been supporting all three boys, but had fallen on hard times. During this period he was introduced to Oscar Wilde by his mutual friend Laurence Binyon. The Dictionary of National Biography states that Wilde was impressed with Ghose and "amused at the three-piece velvet suit in aesthetic brown in which Ghose would visit him, christened him 'the young Indian panther in evening brown'" In 1890 he published "Primavera: Poems by Four Authors" in 1890 with Binyon, Arthur Cripps and Stephen Philips. The collection was a critical success with praise for Ghoses's poetry, some of the first to be written in English by an Indian author.

Continually dogged by financial problems, Ghose returned to India upon the death of his father in 1893. He embarked upon a career teaching and working in academia, becoming Assistant Professor of English Literature at Dacca College (now known as Dhaka College in Bangladesh). He continued to write, and in 1898 contributed to "The Garland of New Poetry" and published his own volume of poetry, "Love-Songs and Elegies". In 1899 he married Malati Banerjee and they had two daughters. After a stint as an inspector of schools, he became Professor of President College in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta).

                                                                                                            Ghose in later life

The later years of Ghose's life were difficult. His beloved wife developed an incurable neurological illness in 1905, and was left unable to move, speak or communicate. Two of his brothers, Aurobindo and Barindra, were heavily involved in the Indian nationalist movement and had moved to Kolkata to coordinate an armed revolt against British rule. These two brothers from this remarkable family would achieve fame, first as high profile proponents of Indian independence, and later, in the case of Aurobindo, as a poet and mystic. Manmohan, who seems to have been essentially apolitical, was unaware of the activities of his brothers, but was nonetheless suspected of involvement and put under surveillance. In 1918, his wife finally died, ending a decade in which Ghose spent long hours as a carer for his wife and daughters in addition to his work responsibilities. In the last few years of his life, Ghose composed some of his most celebrated work. "Songs of Love and Death" was published posthumously in 1926 and was praised by Laurence Binyon and W.B. Yeats.

                                                                                    With his daughters Mrinalini and Lotika

Like his father, Ghose was a committed Anglophile, and had never felt fully happy back in India. He planned to revisit England with his daughters on his retirement in 1924, but died before he could make the trip. His family read him excerpts from Shakespeare and Scott on his deathbed. Subsequent to his death, his daughters discovered and published four volumes of poetry from her father's papers with the help of his old friend Laurence Binyon.

Rachel Kneale

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