Freeman, John Frederick

Poet and critic, born into a WM family at Dalston, Middx on 29 January 1880. His health was permanently impaired by scarlet fever in early childhood. At 13 he joined the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society as a junior clerk and spent the rest of his life in its employ, rising to become Secretary and Director in 1927 and a leading figure in the insurance world. He was a local preacher. But he was more widely known in the literary world, where he contributed to Edward Marsh's Georgian Poets anthologies and enjoyed the friendship of such figures as Alice Meynell, Walter de la Mare and J.C. Squire. His friend Edward Thomas called him 'a sort of angel' and Eleanor Farjeon described him as a 'quiet poet ... gentle, with a fine sensitive mind, and qualities which made his plain features lovable.' After Thomas's death, she collaborated with Freeman in seeing Thomas's first volume of poems through the press.

His own first book of poems, published in 1909, was followed by several others, marked by his 'grave and quiet rhythms' and including Stone Trees (1916) which gained him recognition. Poems New and Old (1920) won him the Hawthornden Prize for imaginative literature. His Collected Poems appeared in 1928. He wrote on literary matters for the New Statesman, The Bookman, the Quarterly Review,and the London Mercury and his prose works included a Portrait of George Moore (1922), English Portraits (1924), Herman Melville (1926) and a play Prince Absalom (1925). He died on 23 Sept. 1929 and his funeral service at Anerley WM Church was conducted by his fellow poet, Andrew Young, then a minister of the Free Church of Scotland. He was interred at Thursley, Surrey, where a field adjoining the churchyard was given to the National Trust in his memory.


'Meanwhile de la Mare came to know a poet friend of Roger Ingpen's … John Freeman, who like himself was in business - a great deal more successfully than de la Mare. He had begun life as an office boy at thirteen, and became in time the Secretary of his insurance company, the Liverpool Victoria. Like de la Mare, he would come home at the end of an eight- or nine-hour working day in the City, to write verses late into the night. He was also a copious correspondent and very well read. Tall, gangling, ugly, solemn, punctilious, there was in him an endearing quality about these very attributes; Edward Thomas referred to him as "a kind of Angel", and de la Mare, after his death, described even his physical appearance in phrases that suggest beauty - "beautiful brows", and ruminative eyes "of a peculiarly ardent blue".'

Theresa Whistler, Imagination of the Heart: the life of Walter de la Mare (1993), pp.127-8

  • Times, 25 Sept. 1929
  • Observer, 29 Sept. 1929
  • Methodist Recorder, 3 Oct. 1929
  • J.C. Squire in J. Freeman (1930)John Freeman, Letters, edited by Gertrude Freeman and Sir John Squire (1936)
  • Eleanor Farjeon, Edward Thomas: the last four years (1958)
  • Oxford DNB


Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person
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