THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY

Founded 8th May 1999

NEWSLETTER No. 28

22nd July 2008

 

Collected Poems

Many of you will remember that the Collected Poems was produced in an edition limited to three hundred copies, the first ten copies being in ‘fine’ binding (meaning hardback, in burgundy or light blue cloth with gold imprint). I still have four copies left of the latter, which were originally on sale for £30 each (the paperback version being £15). These four are now on special offer at £20 each, incl. postage, to members. First come first served; but please write/email to secure one, before sending any money. They will be collectors’ items before too long!

The Oyster was their World

There was a large, illustrated feature article in The Daily Telegraph for 6th June - on the setting up of Loch Fyne Oysters in 1978. Apparently Johnny Noble and Andrew Lane started the business with assets, “valued at £100, consisting of a larch pleasure boat, a plastic dinghy with a big hole stuffed with sacks and a wetsuit riddled with punctures”. Johnny Noble, a direct descendent of JMF’s great friend, John H. B. Noble, was one of the first to join our Society. He was a very kind host to Christopher Hawtree and myself when we stayed at his lovely, atmospheric home Ardkinglas (built in 1907 by Sir Robert Lorimer, the Scottish Lutyens) in the early 1990s. I remember sorting out scores of JMF’s letters to John Noble - we used the four edges of a large billiard table - which Johnny kindly allowed us to photocopy. He died, far too young, aged 65 in 2002. I was recently in Norfolk and, on rounding a corner in Cromer (or was it Norwich?!), spotted a Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Memories flooded back of a really ‘fyne’ gentleman.

Time - Monday, 13 August 1951

The American magazine ‘Time’ brought out a review of JMF’s Moonfleet, when it was published by Little, Brown in 1951. In fact, it was the first USA edition - fifty three years after the English first, and it cost $3. Under the heading “Smugglers, Ahoy!” The review went as follows:

“I do desire a book of adventure,” Robert Louis Stevenson once complained, “a romance - and no man will get or write me one... A book, I guess, like Treasure Island, alas! Which I have never read, and cannot though I live to ninety. I would God that someone else had written it!” Stevenson died four years too soon. In 1898, a London publisher brought out just the book he was asking for. Moonfleet was its title, and it was the second novel of a tutor-turned-private-secretary named John Meade Falkner. British readers have been buying it ever since at a rate that has never fallen below 10,000 copies a year. Now, thanks to the belated good sense of a U.S. Publisher, Americans can lay their hands on a U.S. Edition of Moonfleet, only 53 years late.

Like Treasure Island, Moonfleet is the story of a half-grown boy, John Trenchard, who gets caught up among desperadoes - smugglers, in this case, on England’s Dorsetshire coast. Like Stevenson’s Jim Hawkins, young Johnnie first learns the true measure of the lawlessness in his vicinity while lying in concealment - not in a sweet-smelling apple barrel, but in the fust of an old crypt, with a corpse grinning at his elbow. When the smugglers have gone, Johnnie starts to skedaddle home, and accidentally tweaks off the corpse’s beard, whereupon he notices a locket slung around the fleshless neck. Inside the locket is a ciphered message that leads, after two murders and a mort of escapes and chases, to a diamond “as big as a pigeon’s egg” that lies hidden in the wall of an ancient well in Carisbrooke Castle. Thence away to a fence for such merchandise in The Hague, who cheats poor Johnnie out of his diamond and lands him aboard a brig bound for Java - until author Falkner manages a nick-of-time escape for him.

Falkner has a style as proper to 18th century adventure as anybody could ask for. His description of the villain, Squire Maskew, is characteristic: “He had a thin face with a sharp nose that looked as if it would peck you, grey eyes that could pierce a millstone if there was a guinea on the far side of it.” At heart, Falkner was an antiquarian. He delighted in local history and prized his job as honorary reader in palaeography at the University of Durham. Five years after Moonfleet, he wrote another adventure story, The Nebuly Coat, which critics liked even better, but which did not sell nearly so well as the story of Johnnie Trenchard. It was Falkner’s last fling as a novelist. Increasingly, like a sensible Englishman, he turned his attention to business. By 1915, he was chairman of the munitions firm of Armstrong, Whitworth & Co. But by 1932, when he died, it was clear that it was Moonfleet, not munitions, that had won him a place in history.

[Not bad; but I thought one wasn’t meant to give away the whole plot in a review!]

Moonfleet in Classic Audio Books

Under the soothing headlines of “Relax, listen and enjoy classic period literature” and "Quality speaks for itself", the novel has been ‘published’ in their series ‘Assembled Stories’ by Classic Audio Books on eight CDs for £22.99. It runs for 8 hours 40 minutes, so you must either be on a very long car journey or an insomniac. http://www.assembledstories.com

 

You and Yesterday

One of my local newspapers - The Derby Mercury - has an internet spin-off entitled You and Yesterday. One section is on Derby’s Literary Heritage, where the reader can find out about how the county has been featured in literature and film. Authors include: Richmal Crompton [Derbyshire schooldays of ‘Just William’ author]; Victor Gollancz [Repton’s loss was publishing’s gain]; C. S. Lewis [Peak was author’s ‘ideal country’]; and John Meade Falkner [’Moonfleet’ author taught at Derby School].

I am not sure whether Peter Seddon, the ‘literary detective’ on the case, read my article on JMF at Derby in a previous Journal, but he does give a positive appraisal, calling JMF ‘a veritable polymath’ and ending his piece - ‘he takes his place among Derby’s Famous Residents with justification. And surely the county must take some small credit for his success - for had he enjoyed his time at Derby School that little bit more, he might have remained there indefinitely.... to enjoy the undeniable delights of Derby, but never to forge his celebrated career in literature and industry!’

Interestingly, a great friend and colleague of Falkner’s is also featured, this time under Ram’s Forgotten Players - i.e. Derby County footballers.

This was Alfred Henry John Cochrane [and I quote] who was born on 26 January 1865 in Moka, Mauritius, but he was brought up in Etwall Derbyshire, where his father was vicar of the parish and Master of Etwall Hospital. Along with three of his brothers, Alfred Cochrane attended Repton School, where he excelled at cricket and football. He later became the author of a History of Repton Cricket, a contributor of numerous sporting articles to The Times, and a Governor of Repton School for over twenty years. On leaving Repton he went up to Oxford University, but failed to distinguish himself academically, gaining only a Third Class degree in Classics.

It was during his time at Oxford that he played occasionally for Derby County, and he features on the earliest known team picture of the Rams which was taken in the club's first ever season around Christmas 1884. He was also a talented cricketer - a right-hand batsman and left-arm medium bowler - playing 28 first-class matches from 1884-88 at a batting average of 10.51. All but six of his games were for Oxford University, but he played four times for Derbyshire in 1884 and 1886. After graduating from Oxford, Alfred Cochrane joined the administrative staff of the Armstrong engineering works at Elswick, Newcastle on Tyne, and eventually became their assistant company secretary. On 25 July 1895 he married Ethel Isobel Virginia Noble at Newcastle Cathedral - she was the daughter of Sir Arthur (sic) Noble, who lived in Jesmond Dene House in Newcastle.

He continued to write for publication - his Early History of Elswick (1909) reflected his interest in antiquity, but he also produced poetry, some of it in light-hearted vein. One stanza to 'a sweetheart' included the lines 'I once admitted to my shame, that football was a brutal game, because she hates it!' His Later Verses were published by Longmans in 1919. He also left some words for posterity to Repton School, penning a school song 'To The Founder' in 1907 to mark the occasion of the school's 350th anniversary. Alfred Cochrane died at the age of 83 on 14 December 1948 at Elmhurst, Batheaston, near Bath, Somerset. Although his name does not figure prominently in the Derby County history books, he was certainly one of the more interesting characters to don a shirt in service of the Rams. [P.S. Derby County could have done with some help last season!)

An August 1972 Visit to Tom Falknerand to Fleet

Nick Aldridge, a long standing member of our Society, kindly sent me copies of photographs he took on a visit to Tom and Kathleen Falkner in their lovely home at Rose Cottage, Stratford-sub-Castle.Tom,a nephew of JMF had inherited some of the family heirlooms and was a firm supporter of his uncle’s place in the literary canon.

A firescreen worked with JMF’s coat of arms

Nick took several photographs at Tom’s home, including the one reproduced above. The following day he travelled to Fleet to see the Old Church and its atmospheric environs.

Another of his photos is this, taken from the west, looking towards the chancel.

Have any other members got photographs of buildings or places associated with JMF? In the past I have been sent some lovely ‘snaps’ by Peter Davey, Giselle Panero and George Robson. I was also very grateful to receive some JMF ephemera from John Cochrane, for the Archive.

 Journal 9

July’s Journal is being posted with this Newsletter. I do hope you find it interesting and stimulating. It would be most encouraging if I could get other contributors. I am very grateful to Christopher Hawtree, Royd Whitlock and George Robson for being mainstays of the last few issues. Please join them.

 

Best wishes

Kenneth Hillier

Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne Derbyshire. DE73 8BX