Christopher John Brennan was an Australian scholar and poet whose writing was said to be independent of influence but which went on to influence many poets who came after him.
He was born in Sydney, Australia on November 1st 1870, the eldest son of Irish Catholic parents Christopher and Mary Ann Brennan. His father previously worked at the Brewery owned by Guinness in Dublin and ran a public house in Australia.
Christopher was a sickly child – the result of developing typhoid at the age of 6 and it was probably the enforced rest and confinement he had to endure which encouraged a love of learning and academia. In 1880, at the age of 10, he was enrolled at school attached to a convent – The Good Samaritan. and from such an early age it was said that he was guided towards the a saintly life, with many believing he would become a priest. When Christopher was 11 years old he travelled to Jesuit St. Aloysius’ College then, armed with a scholarship offered to him by Cardinal Moran, he went to St Ignatius’ College as a boarder. Brennan developed rapidly under the tutelage of the College and his knowledge and love of reading expanded greatly. However, at some point he abandoned his priestly vocation and, when attending the University of Sydney he became more unsettled and, it was said, a little wayward although his intellect continued to shine. Despite his lack of effort when it came to his studies he still graduated in 1891 with a B.A. and first class honours, plus the University Gold Medal in logic and mental philosophy.
Brennan had lost his faith but still looked for something to give meaning to his life and which would stimulate his fierce intellect. While studying at the University of Berlin from 1892-1894 he discovered the poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé and he seized upon the idea of becoming a poet. His first major work Poems: 1913 was not produced until 1914 although he had started to produce work through the 1890s. His style was all his own; he affiliated with no particular group and much of his writing was concerned with his life, the women he loved and mythology. An example of his quest for love and meaning can be found in his poem My Heart Was Wandering in the Sands. Here are the first two verses:
Brennan fell in love whilst at Berlin University with Anna Elisabeth Werth, a beauty who loved music and singing. They married in 1897 and went on to have four children. The marriage became unhappy, not helped by Brennan’s increased drinking. Despite his search for spirituality, as defined in his poem The Wanderer, his writing decreased while his drinking and carousing increased. His marriage to Anna failed in 1922 and he then went to live with Violet Singer who inspired some of his best poetry. Violet was killed by a tram in 1925 and it was this which finally broke Christopher Brennan.
Despite some small income from teaching work and help from friends Brennan died in virtual poverty on October 5th 1932, in Sydney.