Brooke, Stopford Augustus (1832–1916), clergyman and author, was born 14 November 1832 at ‘Glendoen’, near Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, eldest of eight children of the Rev. Richard Sinclair Brooke, the local curate, and Anna Brooke (née Stopford). When his maternal grandfather and parish rector, Joseph Stopford, FTCD, died in 1833 the family moved to Abbeyleix, where Richard Brooke took up another curacy. In 1836 they moved to Kingstown (Dún Laoghaire), Co. Dublin, after Richard Brooke's appointment as chaplain to the mariners' church. Educated at Kidderminster (1847–9) and Kingston Grammar School (1849–50), Stopford entered TCD in October 1850, graduating BA (1856) and MA (1862). At Trinity he won the Downes divinity prize and the vice-chancellor's prize for English verse, and contributed verse and prose regularly to the Dublin University Magazine. He was ordained in 1857 and became curate of St Matthew's, Marylebone, London (1857–9), and later of St Mary Abbot's, Kensington (1859–63).
His religious views were latitudinarian, and he soon gained a reputation as a controversial and entertaining preacher. He became chaplain to the British embassy in Berlin in October 1863 but he disliked the stiff formality of the Prussian court and returned to London in April 1865. However, there was much about Prussia he admired and during the Franco–Prussian war he preached a sermon in its defence, for which he was thanked by the Prussian court. In 1865 he published the Life and letters of the late Frederick W. Robertson, which he had worked on since 1857. Robertson (1816–53) was a fiery broad-church preacher, whose humanistic interpretation of Christianity greatly influenced Brooke. It was a controversial work, heavily criticised by evangelicals but much admired by latitudinarians and Christian social reformers.
His appointment as minister of St James chapel, York St., London (1866–76), gave him greater independence and from the 1870s he published several volumes of his sermons. Large crowds came to hear him preach, including many visitors from America, where his writings were widely read. He was appointed principal of the Men and Women's College, Queen's Square, and lectured at University College London. He was also invited to preach at Windsor castle and in 1867 was appointed chaplain-in-ordinary to Queen Victoria. In 1876 the lease of St James expired and, as he was unlikely to secure another appointment because of his independent views, his congregation bought him the lease of Bedford chapel, Bloomsbury. He founded the Bedford Chapel Debating Society, which regularly held discourses and lectures on politics, art, literature, and science; among those who attended were Sidney Webb, G. B. Shaw (qv), and Michael Davitt (qv). In 1880 Brooke seceded from the Church of England, and although he sympathised with unitarianism he never attached himself formally to any religious denomination. He was little concerned with theological niceties and seceded without any great inner turmoil. His theology combined mysticism and practicality, but above all called for an openness to debate and the toleration of a wide spectrum of diverse opinions. There was also a strong social dimension to Brooke's Christianity, and he and his daughter organised holidays for children from London slums.
A connoisseur of art and a lover of nature, he was greatly influenced by Ruskin and was for a time an ardent follower. Strongly interested in geology, he was fascinated by mountains and made frequent visits to the Alps, Wales, and the west of Ireland. He also enjoyed travelling in Italy, and his love for Venice led him to publish The sea charm of Venice (1907). He published his Poems (1887) and was one of the most active literary scholars of his day, publishing several important works including Primer of English literature, a 160-page guide to English literature from its earliest beginnings to the Victorian age, which had sold 500,000 copies by 1917; History of early English literature (2 vols, 1892); and English literature from the beginning to the Norman conquest (1898). He also published several important works on Shakespeare, Milton, the Romantic poets, Browning, and Tennyson.
Strongly interested in Irish politics and culture, he admired Parnell (qv), supported home rule, and published The moral aspect of home rule (1886). He believed that most of Ireland's problems stemmed from the inequities of the land system and he criticised governments for responding to Irish agrarian problems with coercion rather than radical reform. James Bryce (qv) was a close friend from 1873, and they corresponded regularly, often on Irish matters. A founder of the Irish Literary Society in London in 1892, Brooke delivered the society's inaugural lecture in March 1893 on ‘The need and use of getting Irish literature into the English tongue’ (published 1893). He believed that efforts to revive Irish as the spoken language of the majority were impractical, but that the language should be studied seriously by qualified scholars and its great literary works translated into English. He stressed the power of Irish literature to heal the country's political and religious divisions. With his son-in-law T. W. Rolleston (qv) he edited the Treasury of Irish poetry in the English tongue (1900; 2nd impression, 1905), an extensive anthology of nineteenth-century Anglo-Irish verse. It included an introductory essay in which Brooke traced the development and distinctive features of Anglo-Irish poetry and argued for a broad Irish culture that would include the Anglo-Irish tradition, stating that ‘poetry has no national feuds’ (p. xxxiii). He continued preaching at Bedford chapel and to unitarian congregations throughout Britain until forced to retire because of ill-health in 1895. He lived in London until 1914 and then retired to Ewhurst, Surrey, where he died 18 March 1916.
He married (1858) Emma, daughter of Thomas Wentworth Beaumont of Yorkshire, MP for Northumberland; they had two sons and six daughters. His wife died in 1874, having never recovered from the death of their second son Graham in 1869. The lawyer William Graham Brooke (qv) was a younger brother. A full listing of Stopford Brooke's published works is in the BL catalogue.