William Ernest Henley was a journalist, poet and writer. He was the eldest of five children, all sons, of William Henley, a bookseller in Gloucester, and his wife Emma Morgan. From the age of twelve, he suffered from asthma, tuberculosis and osteomyelitis and in 1873 he had one foot amputated. Henley married Anna Boyle in Edinburgh in January 1878. Their daughter, Margaret Emma Henley (1888-1894), died of cerebral meningitis.
Despite his ill-health, Henley was a prolific writer and critic. He was the editor, among other publications, of The Magazine of Art (1882-1886) and advisor to the Art Journal in the 1880s.
Henley was one of the first to put into print an appreciation of JW's work. However, during his editorship of the Scots Observer, after 1891 known as the National Observer (1889-1894), JW was known as 'Malvolio-Macaire' due to his acerbic style of letter-writing. Henley was a close friend of JW's brother-in-law, Charles Whibley. When they finally met, JW and Henley found they shared a love of the Thames and Henley dedicated a poem evoking the Nocturnes to JW (Rhymes and Rhythms, No. XIII).
Heinemann proposed that Henley write JW's biography, but JW objected. In 1891 he sent JW a copy of Henley, William Ernest, Views and Reviews: Essays in Appreciation, London, 1890. JW did a portrait lithograph of him in 1896, Sketch of William E. Henley (C.163).
Henley lived at 21 Bedford Street, Edinburgh, and Covent Garden, London.
Who was who: a companion to Who's who, Vol. 1, 1897/1915, London, 1920-21; John Connell, W.E. Henley, London, 1949.