THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY

Founded 8th May 1999

NEWSLETTER No. 23

3 January 2007

 

Subscription Renewals

Most of you will find the usual subscription renewal form with this Newsletter. Please return as soon as possible. I have held the sub at £5.00 yet again - the eighth year running. Early warning, though - it may have to go up in 2008, purely because of ever increasing postal charges.

JMF and ‘ Vathek '

Trevor Winkfield kindly sent me an extract of the Exhibition catalogue for “William Beckford of Fontill” which was held at Yale University Library in 1960.

No. 25 detailed the “Chavannes” copy of Beckford's famous novel. The catalogue comments, “This unique and celebrated copy of the 1787 Laussane edition of Vathek has contributed much to the mystery surrounding the publication of the book. The penned inscription over the face of the title page states that the writer of the note had been authorised by Beckford to correct the French text for publication in Lausanne. It also accuses Beckford of cheating Hignou, the publisher, of French rights. Originally, a Sotheby's catalogue listed the writing as that of a member of the Chavannes family (to whom Beckford originally entrusted the correction of his MS.); it has now been determined that the inscription is in the hand of Professor Jean-David Lavade”. The volume had been sold in 1889 at Sothebys and purchased by Joannes Genadius, the Greek Ambassador. Subsequently it was in the libraries of George Dunn, of Woolley Hall, and of John Meade Falkner .

I checked the 1932 Sotheby's Catalogue produced for the sale of much of JMF's Library: the volume was sold on the first of the three days' sale, as No. 26. Interestingly, Sotheby's states it was previously sold “in these rooms” 29th March, 1889; 29th March, 1895, Gennadius (sic?) Sale; 9th December, 1915, Dunn Sale. Typical of JMF to be purchasing during the Great War. A note in the 1932 Catalogue argued that the inscription was probably a fake, as “what Frenchman ever wrote ‘mettre dans les papiers' ”!

JMF also owned the first edition of 1786.

Well spotted, Trevor.

The Lost Stradivarius

Meade Falkner continues to be republished - this time it is The Lost Stradivarius that comes out again in paperback (Hesperus £6.99). It was reviewed in a recent Independent on Sunday book column, by Tom Boncza-Tomaszewski, as follows: “Hesperus continue to resurrect some most surprising literary gems. The author of this Victorian novel is hardly a household name; but many readers will have heard of Moonfleet , his most famous work. (A brief synopsis of the story follows). Although this book, with its rather antiquated language and evocative Oxford setting, is perfectly effective as a straightforward ghost story, it offers a good deal of depth to readers inclined to look for more...”

A Nebuly Coat fan

10, Church Hill

Leamington Spa

Jan: 24th 1923

Dear Sir

You will, I trust pardon the temerity of a stranger writing to you, but I am venturing to do so on the subject of your book “The Nebuly Coat” - It has long been a favourite in our house, & the other day taking it up afresh, I wondered whether you had ever thought that this story would make a film/play? I have hesitated before writing to you on the subject as I feared that an author of your standing might think it an impertinence on my part.

The plays that one sees in the average Cinema or Theatre are so badly melodramatic it would be a real benefit to the public if a charming tale such as “The Nebuly Coat” could be set before them.

Faithfully yours,

(Mrs.) Lilian Green

(found by member George Robson)

Moonfleet has been dramatised - by Hollywood, the BBC (on T.V. and radio) - as has The Lost Stradi- varius (on T.V.and radio). The Nebuly Coat has been the subject of a radio production, but never on film.

John Meade Falkner and the Titanic !

As the interment of John Meade Falkner was taking place at Burford, a memorial service was held in the truly magnificent Durham Cathedral. Only a few paces from the cathedral, JMF had lived for thirty-three years at The Divinity House. The Durham Advertiser stated in its obituary that JMF ‘had an intense love for the Cathedral City' and that ‘latterly, especially, all his interests seemed bound up with the Cathedral'.

At the Memorial Service, great and good from all over the north-east filled the forward pews of the Cathedral, with representatives from the many organis ations and companies JMF had been involved in. To commence the service, the choir entered the Cathedral singing the opening section of the Reverend Doctor John Dykes' setting of the Burial Service.

Who was John Dykes?

In his day John Dykes, as JMF was later to become, had been a prominent resident of Durham City. Only half a mile from the Cathedral is St. Oswald's Church, where Dykes had been vicar from 1862-1873. During these eleven years he had been responsible for a very extensive parish, supported a large family, wrote ecclesiastical articles and composed music, which included over three hundred hymn tunes. Amongstthese hymn tunes are some that are much-loved and commonly sung throughout the world to this day. Reference to a hymn book of any denomination will show that within it are many of Dykes' tunes. It is claimed that his most used tune is ‘Nicea', which accompanies the words of ‘Holy, Holy, Holy'. But perhaps Dykes' two most familiar tunes are: ‘Melita' - used for ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save' (The Sailors' Hymn) and ‘Horbury' - for ‘Nearer My God to Thee'.

It was ‘Horbury' (a village near Wakefield, where Dykes enjoyed Retreat) that the brave band played as the Titanic slid under the waves. And it is this and the commencement of the JMF memorial service that gives the JMF/ Titanic link ! A section of St. Oswald's graveyard has been cleared of gravestones (placed against the perimeter wall) and turned into an amenity area for neighbouring residents. But in the very centre one stone has been retained - that marking the resting place of John Dykes. The inscription includes ‘Composer of many hymn tunes'.

JMF and Dykes' lives overlapped by eighteen years. They never met - but if circumstances had allowed it to happen, I suspect they would have much appreciated each other. There are many delights in Durham City, but I am confident a Society meeting would include a visit to St. Oswald's.

George Robson

JMF and Thomas Hardy

The recent publication of another biography of Thomas Hardy - one by Claire Tomalin, subtitled “the time-torn man” - continues an unfortunate tradition.

There is no mention in it of John Meade Falkner, who was at least described at the beginning of Martin Seymour-Smith's hefty, 1994 volume as being somebody “whom Hardy knew well” - and then did not make another appearance. Such chroniclers as Robert Gittings and Michael Millgate (who has recently revised his volume) make nothing of Falkner's friendship with him, and he is not deemed worth an entry in Norman Page's substantial Oxford Reader's Companion to Hardy (2000).

The two novelists cannot escape some censure themselves for this situation. Both of them created great bonfires in the Twenties, letters galore made smoke skyward. And yet there is enough surviving which shows their kindred spirits - and a certain difference which was highlighted by Geoffrey Grigson, when he wrote in an issue of Country Life : “I wish I had had the luck to read Moonfleet when I was a child. If I had, I should have gone to Dorset earlier. Thomas Hardy's novels I did read. They are full of place, they are even equipped with maps in some editions; but they never made me want to go to Dorset. That may be a tribute to Hardy. His people may have been too important, his grotesquely improbable and involved narratives, or plots at least, may have been too captivating. Or perhaps other men's chatter about ‘the Wessex of Thomas Hardy' was too sickening”.

For some readers all of Hardy's novels could be happily exchanged for Falkner's The Nebuly Coat which Hardy described as an “interesting romance of the old fashioned sort”; that is something of a restrained remark for a work whose characters and turns to events could quite easily have brought to his mind such things as his early career as an architectural apprentice as part of a Dorchester practice run by John Hicks, and, after a crucial London interlude, with Hick's successor, Crickmay who deputed him to undertake various church restorations. What's more, along the way, Hardy was besotted by a girl - Tryphena Sparks - somewhat younger than him and, in Falkner's depiction of Sharnall, there is an echo of their friend Horace Moule who, beset by drink, killed himself at Cambridge in 1873 a few months after Hardy's last visit to him. The poor fellow was a son of Henry Moule (whose school young Falkner attended) and brother of Handley, later Bishop of Durham.

Where Hardy has characters at the mercy of a sledgehammer Fate, Falkner took a different approach: as Henry Newbolt put it, “he accuses neither the indifference of the gods nor the class-feelings of men - he enjoys the contemplation of human nature, and especially when it is twisting itself into coils of inconsistency”.

As such, Falkner was one of those who came to prefer Hardy's poetry, and it is the theme of Claire Tomalin's book that he reached a peak with the poetry after the death of his first wife in 1912. Earlier than this, however, Falkner was in Rome and - in a surviving fragment - told Hardy that he had borrowed a copy of Time's Laughingstocks (1909) from a fellow guest at the hotel, one Miss Mary Holden (“no longer alas in her première jeunesse”) and that, as always, beset by insomnia, he woke between two and three. In the middle of the night the volume had occupied him again. He could not explain to Hardy the force “with which it appeals to me”. For Falkner, “the vanity of life is borne in upon me strongly and strangely”, and - as he once told John Noble - he thought the view of life by rote, as depicted in “New Year's Eve” (1906) was Hardy at his finest, his “weightiest expression”; that said, he recognised that the poet was not fatalistic, he had the diligence to produce The Dynasts . “You may be labelled a pessimist, but you cannot be a pessimist; because for a real pessimist, the weight of the cui bono crushes all the desire for literary activity.”

A decade later, in 1919, Falkner again told him that his was “second to no poetry that is written”. All the while, for them both, work was salvation: for Hardy in writing, for Falkner in business. In their earlier exchange, Falkner had apologised for going on, but the poems compelled him to write, and in reply Hardy reflected that “indeed all my doings have been tendencioes merely - just what I could not help doing even if they had brought poverty and ruin”; indeed there were “no motors, no palatial hotels, no valuable collection of curios and objects d'art for the scribble of the sort that I write” (Falkner's business life had brought him some of these), and it was indeed with a resilient spirit that he upbraided Falkner for wearying of the vanity of life: “I am really surprised that such an active man as you should have been conscious of it yet”. He suggested that Falkner visit Weymouth, there be idle, and that they meet,. There can be no reader of either man who does not wish that somebody had been present to record what was said on at least one of many such occasions. Christopher Hawtree


Journal No. 8

I am now looking for articles for the next Journal . If possible, it would be helpful to have them on disc or as an attachment to an e-mail.

Best wishes

Kenneth Hillier

Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne

Derbyshire. DE73 8BX