A Publication of
THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
NEWSLETTER No. 1
The Feast-day of St. Mary Magdalene
John Meade Falkner died sixty-seven years ago today. He had been physically declining for some years: ‘Bronchitic colds’, ‘an abscess on his head’, ‘bothered with boils. The previous August he had written to his friend, Canon Wordsworth, “Physically, I am old, and very weak; but I am given grace to hold the faith ever more surely...” Over Christmas, as Kenneth Warren remarks, he ‘passed from the state of chronic invalid to that of grave illness’. In late June 1932, Falkner went home to Durham from Weymouth. Bishop Henson was painfully impressed when he visited The Divinity House on 30 June: “He is a complete wreck and has a moribund manner”. The business world, Burford and Oxford and, by and large, the literary world paid little attention to his death.
Thanks to his friends - Arthur Cochrane, Charles Lynam, Canon Wordsworth and others; to later appreciations in print - V. S. Pritchett in his 1946 The Living Novel, Geoffrey Grigson in 1948, G. M. Young and Sir Edmund Craster in the 1954 Oxford World’s Classics volume, and Sir William Haley in his 1977 review of A Midsummer Night’s Marriage; to Kenneth Warren’s thoughtful biography in 1994; to shorter analytical essays by Edward Wilson, Christopher Hawtrey and Peter Davey; but, above all, to Falkner’s own superb gift for story-telling: attention has been paid ever since to his life and works, his novel Moonfleet has never been out of print and there is presently a critical respect for his other writings.
Kenneth Warren sub-titled his biography of Falkner A Paradoxical Life and ended his appraisal with these words: “He was a man of fascinating complexity who managed to keep incompatibles in insulated compartments. To some extent his experience was the epitome of that of his age. He was a classicist, a churchman, a medievalist, but, in that respect at least, John Meade Falkner was a thoroughly modern man”. He is, indeed, worthy of further assessment and of his own Society.
Enclosed with this Newsletter is an article by Christopher Hawtree on, perhaps, a lesser known area of JMF’s activities – sport. For a man well over six feet, JMF could be imagined as a fast bowler, a server of aces or a member of a USA basketball team. Christopher draws attention to his passion – however short-lived – for golf and his prowess at rowing. It is hoped that other members will feel the call to produce short articles – on any aspect of JMF’s life, works and times – so that we can produce an annual Journal or Bulletin, commencing in May 2000 (to coincide with his, and the Society’s, birthdate). I look forward to hearing from you.
A few years ago, I was contacted by a bookdealer friend, who had a copy of Henry James Poole’s The Antiphonal Chant Book (1898) bound in with other offerings of the same ilk. There was also a letter, pasted on the front end-paper and dated November 29, 1911 from ‘The Divinity House, Durham’. JMF’s well-known calligraphy ensured my purchase of the book.
Dear Sir, (to C.W. Pearce, Esq.)
I am writing to ask if you will give me permission to print, in a collection of chants, a chant of yours. It is a chant that I admire exceedingly, and I should be very grateful indeed, if you would let me use it.
The collection is for the Psalter only, with no Venites. I have practically eliminated Single chants, and there are very few minors. If you allow it I propose using your chant for ‘By the waters of Bablylon’. I have tried to only use chants with real melody and power, not musical exercises in invertebrate compositions. I am quite sure that among the great number of ‘chant-books’ there is still ample room for something of this kind. I am publishing with Messrs. Novello – but at my own cost, and not for profit. The book will be well ‘got up’. I will send you a copy; or as many copies, as you care to have. If you permit me to print, I will print with the chant that it is printed by your permission, as I have arranged to do so with all copyright and private chants…
Yours very faithfully
J. Meade Falkner
Perhaps I ought to say that I am a business man, and a director of Sir. W. G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co.
A ‘Paradoxical Life’?! I do not suppose anyone knows of the whereabouts of a copy of JMF’s subsequent collection? The copyright manager of Novello (in 1995) could not trace it, but was willing to grant permission for its reproduction, if it could be found.
Members List so far (in order of joining) UPDATED: 29 July
Kenneth Hillier (Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire)
Christopher Hawtree (Hove, Sussex
Edward Wilson (Worcester College, Oxford)
Victor Brown (Louth, Lincolnshire)
Alan Bell (London)
Peter Davey (Wimborne, Dorset)
John Noble (Ardkinglas, Argyll)
Kenneth Warren (Hexham, Northumberland)
Roger Norris (Crossgate, Peth, Durham)
Nicholas Aldridge (Summer Fields, Oxford)
Hamish Guthrie (Oakville, Ontario, Canada)
Kathleen Falkner (Swanage, Dorset)
Raymond Moody (Burford, Oxfordshire)
Ruth Falkner (Stockbridge, Hampshire)
If each one of us tries to get at least one more member, we will be in to the twenties before we know it. Any ideas for publicity? The Internet; leaflets in Burford Church/Museum, Durham Cathedral, Fleet Old Church? As I understand it, from several of you in correspondence, you want a group which concentrates on the study of JMF and brings to the attention of as many people as possible this remarkable man and his works. Spread the word!