THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
NEWSLETTER No. 17
3rd January 2005
In the last Newsletter I paid tribute to Robert Wilson, JMF’s great nephew, who had been of immense help to the Society from its foundation. He agreed to ‘host’ the Newsletters on his own home pages, which already contained some excellent material on JMF. Robert had not enjoyed good health for some while and I am sorry to report that he passed away at the beginning of September. I sent a card, on behalf of the Society, to his widow Betty.
DR. BERNARD JONES
The Society has suffered another sad loss in the passing of Bernard Jones, who died in April. He had been unwell for a long time, as was apparent when he made the effort to join us for the unveiling of the Society plaque at Fleet Old Church in May 2001. He had then recently joined and was very keen to see the Society develop. Bernard was the author of the excellent monograph on JMF, published in 1984 in the Dorset Worthies series (No. 14). I am delighted that his widow, Frances, is remaining a member of the Society and send her our sincere condolences.
MEADE FALKNER AND BEVERLEY
In Newsletter No. 3 (8 May 2000) I made a reference to a letter containing reminiscences from a Mrs. Morley, who, with her husband, had known JMF for over thirty years. The letter was reproduced in full in the last Newsletter No. 16 (22 July 2004). Now Society member Royd Whitlock has kindly furnished me with some more information about JMF’s relationship with the Morleys. He sent me an extract from The Beverley Arms by John Markham [Highgate Publications [Beverley] Limited, 1986].
The Morley family had bought the Beverley Arms in 1852, when it included a billiard room, coach houses, a brewhouse, barns and other outbuildings. Under the Morleys the hotel became recognised as a centre for East Riding society, with many distinguished visitors - in September 1864 Crown Prince Umberto of Italy stayed overnight. When, in 1868, Anthony Trollope, as a Liberal candidate, failed to break through the long tradition of corruption which enabled the borough to return two Tory M.Ps, he wreaked his revenge by satirising the town as Percy Cross in his novel Ralph the Heir. The Beverley Arms, a Tory redoubt, was renamed the Percy Standard.
David Morley, the son of the original owner, was in possession of the business until 1920. His wife expected to be treated as an equal by titled and wealthy guests, but clearly retained a strong liking for JMF. They had two children - Dantie, who had been destined for the law, was killed in the Great War; and Gracie, who was still alive when Markham’s booklet was written and was the source for much of his information. As John Markham relates:
“Regular visitors became family friends of the Morleys. One, still vividly remembered was John Meade Falkner, famous for his popular (and recently televised) children’s classic, Moonfleet. He was a shy tall man and Grace Morley was a shy little girl; the first time they met he picker her up and carried her on his shoulders — and they remained great friends until his death. Mr Falkner was generous with his gifts — on one occasion making a present of twelve pairs of silk stockings — and in his will he even left £500 to the Pope in gratitude for access to historical papers when he was researching the background to one of his books.”
Whether JMF continued to stay at the hotel after the Morleys left in 1920 is not yet known, but he retained fond memories of the town for the rest of his life.
“A SEA THEME ”
Another, more recent, publication makes reference to JMF. Newcastle upon Tyne: A Modern History ed. Robert Colls and Bill Lancaster (Phillimore, 2001) devotes its Chapter 13 to Winged Words: Literature of Newcastle and is written by Alan Myers. He refers to JMF on page 308:
“The sea theme continues in the work of John Meade Falkner, who originally came to Newcastle as tutor to the children of Sir Andrew Noble at Jesmond Dene House. By 1916, he had risen to the top of the Armstrong-Whitworth armaments and shipbuilding colossus — hard though this is to equate with his poetry and his interest in heraldry and architecture. He wrote a number of novels, including The Nebuly Coat, which has been seen as an influence on E. M. Forster, but his great claim to fame is the children’s classic Moonfleet (1898), several times dramatised, filmed and televised. Many consider it to be more enjoyable than Treasure Island.”
John Coulter drew my attention to two books with a JMF interest in Charles Cox’s latest Catalogue (01840 261085 or firstname.lastname@example.org). They were his Handbook for Travellers in Oxfordshire (1894) @ £40 and George Valentine Cox’s Recollections of Oxford (1870, 2nd. ed., revised and enlarged) @ £75. The latter belonged to JMF and has his distinctive autograph signature in full on the end-paper.
John, who wrote the article John Meade Falkner as a Book Collector for Journal Number 5, asks if members or other readers of the Newsletter could inform him of any books owned by JMF that they possess or come across. He could then compile a list of the ones not in the Sale Catalogue. John can either be reached at 28, St. Mary’s Road, London SE25 6UT or by e-mail on email@example.com.
JOURNAL NO. 6
Although publication date is still six months away, I am already beginning to think about the content of the next Journal. I would welcome contributions from any member, or non-member, of the Society.
Malcolm Talbot, has continued to keep the site up to date for me. I do hope those of you with access to the Internet have perused it. It is the most effective way, these days, of reaching a wider audience. If any of you have any suggestions for improvements or additions to the site, please contact me. I have already had some helpful comments. www.johnmeadefalknersociety.co.uk
PAM AYRES (“In my good books...” in the Sunday Express on 21 November) chose Moonfleet as one of her five favourite reads: “I just loved it... a really good story”.
NEW EDITION OF THE POEMS
Good news, at last. Not only have all the Poems, including several not printed before, been typed up and prepared for publication, but A. N. Wilson has also written the Introduction. We are working towards an official publication date of 8 May 2005 as a birthday celebration. You will find enclosed with this Newsletter an application form for copies of the Poems - please support this venture by purchasing as many copies as you can. The print run will be for 300 copies and we need to sell a sizeable number to break even. It is only thanks to the late Kathleen Falkner’s generosity that we have been able even to contemplate the necessary financial outlay. Just imagine all the friends who would be so pleased to receive such a thoughtful gift!
RONALD BLYTHE in one of his word from wormingford columns [Church Times, 18 June 2004] dwelt on Trinitarian labour and lassitude. He contrasted the workaholic, young Bishop Heber in Calcutta, toiling way in the broiling heat, with “those like John Meade Falkner who were not (all work), who put in a good word for Anglican lassitude, and this is their season”. Blythe then quoted from JMF’s poem, After Trinity - “We have done with dogma and divinity....”
Society member Royd Whitlock has begun a fascinating and useful task - a Moonfleet Illustrated Companion Reader Project. Although still in the early stages of its development, a possible structure will include an annotated text of the novel; thematic sections on topics such as characters, language usage and quotations used; time lines and historical aspects. Royd has let me see a first draft of an annotated chapter and the result is very promising.
I must admit I missed Christopher Howse’s article in The Daily Telegraph (19 January 2004) first time around, but caught up with it on the paper’s Internet pages. As a rabid book collector, I retained a sense of horror for much of the piece, as he tore into the topic of dismantling books for ease of ‘light’ reading. Apparently, Howse started to buy cheap books with the express purpose of ripping pages out once he had finished reading them. “You can easily tear out 64 or even 128 pages and bend them into a back pocket”. The punch (drunk) line for me was this:
“Vulgar Errors or The Nebuly Coat aren’t better books for being read on the Derbyshire fells or next to a fat, sweating man on the bus to Seville, but, like a drink or a cigarette, they improve the experience”. I am afraid I would be the sweating man next to him, on fell or bus, if I saw him ripping any book up, let alone - the increasingly hard to come by - The Nebuly Coat.
The only comfort is that Howse has not fallen to the level of Helen Gladstone, who, in 1848, had to be reprimanded by her brother W.G.: “I have lately been arranging the books in my father’s library.... I have this morning seen with mine own eyes that which, without seeing, I would never have believed: a number of books upon religious subjects in the two closets attached to your sleeping apartments, some entire, some torn up, the borders or outer coverings of some, remaining – under circumstances which admit of no doubt as to the shameful use to which they were put.” Apage Satanas
I came across a review of Iain Lawrence’s The Smugglers (Delacorte Press/Doubleday Canada), dated May 1999. “Hands up, anyone who read Moonfleet (a swashbuckling adventure novel that was required reading in Canadian schools during the 1950s and 1960s)...This is the real stuff. Iain Lawrence, the B.C. author of The Smugglers, credits Moonfleet as one of the books that inspired him to write nautical adventure...” Good man!
THE NEBULY COAT
First the splendid production of The Lost Stradivarius by the Yorkshire-based Tartarus Press and now an equally delightful edition of The Nebuly Coat * by the Canadian firm, the Ash-Tree Press.
Michael Dirda (the Pulitzer Prize winning critic) in his review of ‘Ghost Stories’ in the Washington Post on 31 October, highlights such small presses who “have been reissuing single-author collections of the established, the forgotten and the modern masters of the quietly scary”. He singles out for praise both Tartarus and Ash-Tree, pointing out that the latter has “been diligent in searching out less well known writers... most recently the press has published a handsome cloth edition of John Meade Falkner’s The Nebuly Coat which, though not technically supernatural, is nonetheless one of the most spooky and mysterious late Victorian novels (even if it first appeared in 1903)”.
Ash-Tree Press have certainly done JMF proud: the cover jacket by Paul Lowe (one of the best artists used by Ash-Tree) is suitably atmospheric; the text is clear and laid on creamy-white thick paper; the binding, colour and texture of the cloth boards are first-class. Moreover, JMF Society member Mark Valentine’sIntroduction throws further light on Falkner’s classic tale. Mark argues that one of the book’s greatest appeals is Falkner’s interest in his characters (quoting Henry Newbolt’s remark that “he enjoys the con- templation of human nature, and especially when it is twisting itself into coils of inconsistency”) and that “Falkner’s greater engagement with the world helped to give his characters that more fully-formed appeal, and also their development in the course of the novel, that is often missing from other works that make use of the macabre”.
Mark also draws attention not only to two major legal cases in the 19th century which pivoted on questions of inheritance - the Titchborne Claimant (1860s) and the fifth Duke of Portland (1890s) - and which may have influenced Falkner; but to Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood as another possible element in the making of The Nebuly Coat.
(* The Nebuly Coat - by J. Meade Falkner with an Introduction by Mark Valentine £28.00 + p & p
Ash-Tree Press P.O. Box 1360, Ashcroft, British Columbia, Canada V0K 1A0 firstname.lastname@example.org )
JMF BOOKS FOR SALE
Enclosed with this Newsletter is a list of books by, or related to, JMF. Celia Grover, his great niece, has kindly donated several signed copies to the Society’s Library, but there are other books which may be of interest to Society members.
JMF ON BBC RADIO FOUR
Finally, fingers crossed that JMF may well be featuring in a BBC programme in the near future. Philip Titcombe, one of a group of independent producers (Soundscape Productions) is working on a half-hour literary ‘discovery’ - Moonfleet and the other novels (including the ‘missing’ fourth one) will figure in an appraisal of JMF’s life. David Almond, the children’s author, has agreed to present the programme. It all sounds very exciting and we will certainly support Philip.
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