THE JOHN MEADE FALKNER SOCIETY
Founded 8th May 1999
NEWSLETTER No. 32
3 January 2010
Most of you will find the usual subscription renewal form with this Newsletter. Please return as soon as possible , as I hate sending out reminders. If there is no renewal form enclosed it means you are paid up for at least 2010. I have held the sub at £5.00 yet again - the tenth year running . Early warning, though - it will go up slightly in 2011, purely because of ever increasing postal charges. Thanks to some members also giving small ‘donations', we can celebrate a tenth consecutive “no change”.
We extend a very warm welcome to Raymond Ion , our latest member, from Killingworth, who joined the Society in September. Ray has already been hard at work in various ‘archives' in the Newcastle area supplying us with additional and useful information on JMF related matters.
MOONFLEET FOR SALE
I thought members might like to read an Internet bookseller's ‘blurb' on JMF's most famous - and now most expensive! - work
“First Edition. 8vo.305pp. + 32pp ads. dated November 1898 Publisher's dark red cloth, gilt titles to front board and spine, cloth embossed with silver gilt and black embellishment depicting the Mohune family crest. Silver gilt slightly rubbed as usual, some bumping to extremities, head and tail of spine with the cloth of the spine slightly darkened. Inner rear hinge skin cracked, but unbroken. Edges untrimmed, internally clean, robust and tight. Bookplate of G and N ingleton to front pastedown. Author's annotated presentation copy. A very attractive and distinguished copy of a rare book, the mention of which is guaranteed to elicit a groan from anyone who was at school in the seventies when this particular tale of smuggling, crypts and derring-do was required reading. This particular copy is not only a particularly nice example of a very scarce book, but it is also inscribed by the author. Falkner was never particularly forthcoming with his signature so signed and inscribed copies of his book are scarce, we have only seen two or three and they were copies of The Lost Stradivarius and The Nebuly Coat ; signed or inscribed copies of Moon -fleet are virtually impossible to lay one's hands on. This example is inscribed on the flyleaf to Reginald J. Smith; editor of The Cornhill magazine and head of Smith Elder Publishing from 1894 onwards. Falkner had at least one story published subsequently in the Cornhill and despite his somewhat reclusive nature would have undoubtedly been amongst Smith's literary circle if not his social one. In addition to the inscription (dated December 1898) there are several pencilled marginal corrections to various pieces of text, very much in the style of Mr. Falkner whose attention to detail was legendary, which probably explains in part his ability to head one of the largest arms manufacturers in Britain throughout the frenzied years of the First World War. This copy is labelled as number 11237 in the Ingleton Library Catalogue and can be found in volume 5 of the library catalogue (Swain's Bookshop 1977). “
A truly scarce item; and I daren't repeat the price. Suffice it to say it has been on the market a long time.
A NATIVE RUBY
Another view of Chesil Beach
Whether John Meade Falkner and W.H. Hudson met has not been recorded. Certainly they would have had much to discuss, for Falkner had some familiarity with the Buenos Aires in which Hudson was born in 1841, and they shared an enthusiasm for the English landscape.
Hudson wrote on this in a series of books after coming here in 1869, never returning to the land of his birth. His early studies of Latin America, in particular its bird life, suffused his first books, published from the 1880s onwards. These drew upon his memory while he felt marooned in the London boarding-house life which took him, and his wife, from one rundown quarter to another. Only with the help of Edward Grey (later Lord Grey of Fallodon, and a part of the north-east world which included Falkner) did Hudson gain the annual pension which allowed him to escape the oppressive capital for travel through England in his careful, and observant, way.
More than a century on, such work as Nature in Downland (1900) is all the more evocative for descriptions which include a young mother with a “round Sussex face” and a shepherd's vouchsafeing to him the way in which moles had recourse to licking water from plants when hard put to dig through the chalk of Ditchling Beacon. Hudson - as did Falkner - had an ability to talk with all manner of people, and these supplied him with that store of curious facts which were his very essence. Moles recur in the companionable Afoot in England (1909) which, at one point, finds him in Abbotsbury. “The humble subterraneous mole proves himself on occasions a good colourist when he finds a soil of the proper hue to burrow in, and the hillocks he throws up form numberless irregular splashes of bright red colour on a green sward. The wild animals that strike us as most beautiful, when seen against a green background, are those which bear the reddest fur - fox, squirrel, and red deer.” Hudson also lingers upon the red iron-laden earth whose owner would notmining, and, after stooping for a sample, Hudson vowed to keep “this native ruby by me for as long as the lords of Abbotsbury continue in their present mind”. All this is a prelude to taking that red path up a commanding hill, from whose summit “a noble view presents itself of the Chesil Bank, or of about ten miles of it, running straight as any Roman road, to end beneath the rugged stupendous cliffs of Portland. The ocean itself, and not conquering Rome, raised this artificial-looking wall or rampart to stay its own proud waves”. That compact description of a paradoxical geological formation is typical of the book, which also elaborates upon an aspect of the Bank others have missed. “When the mackerel visit the coast, and come near enough to be taken in a draw-net, every villager who owns a share (usually a tenth) in a fishing-boat throws down his spade or whatever implement he happens to have in his hand at the moment, and hurries away to the beach to take his share in the fascinating task. At four o'clock one morning a youth, who had been down to the sea to watch, came running into the village uttering loud cries which were like excited yells - a sound to rouse the deepest sleeper. The mackerel had come! For the rest of the day there was a pretty kind of straggling procession of those who went and came between the beach and the village... During the latter part of the day the proceedings were particularly interesting to me, a looker-on with no share in any one of the boats, owing to the catches being composed chiefly of jelly-fish. some sympathy was felt for the toilers who strained their muscles again and again only to be mocked in the end; still, a draught of jelly-fish was more to my taste than one of mackerel. The great weight of a catch of this kind when the net was full was almost too much for the ten or twelve men engaged in drawing it up; then (to the sound of deep curses from those of the men who were not religious) the net would be opened and the great crystalline hemispheres, hyaline blue and delicate salmon-pink in colour, would slide back into the water. Such rare and exquisite colours have these great grassy flowers of ocean that to see them was a feast; and every time a net was hauled up my prayer - which I was careful not to repeat aloud - was, Heaven send another big draught of jellyfish!”
Contraband indeed, and a prose worthy of Moonflee t - and of those descriptions by Michael Powell, J. B. Priestley and Harry Patch which, life observed, are so much more engaging than the mere research of Ian McEwan's novella. Christopher Hawtree
THE NATIONAL REVIEW
Sometime in the mid 1980s, I compiled the list of JMF related books I wanted to collect. Over the years since I have managed to find all his novels and non- faction in their first edition. One book - or rather, magazine - continued to elude me. Thus, Saturday 28th November, 2009 was a red letter day: a copy of the National Review for August 1896 was handed over by the postman. It contained A Midsummer Night's Marriage . Up until then, I only had the two - admittedly splendid - later editions, both as a result of present members of our Society's perspicacity. Alan Bell introduced The Tragara Press of Edinburgh's version in July 1977 - now a collectible book in its own right. It was published in an edition limited to 160 copies printed by hand: ten copies on Barcham Green hand-made paper and the remainder printed on Glastonbury Antique Laid paper. Mark Valentine introduced the Tartarus Press edition in 2000; another fine publication limited to 300 numbered copies. If you haven't already read A Midsummer Night's Marriage , you should track it down. As Alan Bell wrote in his Introduction: “[It] is an interesting addition to the exiguous canon of John Meade Falkner's writings, characteristically antiquarian, ecclesiological, heraldic in tone”. In the next JMF Journal - to be published this July - George Robson speculates on a possible link between Falkner's short story and a Northumbrian folk-tale entitled........; but, no, I am not about to steal his thunder!
THE SOCIETY'S NEW PUBLICATION
I am delighted to enclose with this Newsletter a flier for our latest publication. It does not do justice to the quality of the limited edition booklet produced by Michael Daniell at his private press The Atlantis Press . Those of you who have been lucky enough to track down his 1981 “ A Roman Villa: Chedworth ”, another of JMF's poems, will know the production standard achieved by Michael. A limited edition can be a sound investment; but this is more than that. To hold a quality production of JMF's work in one's hand has a feel-good factor! I do hope all members will support this latest venture. It is well worth the £10 and you are also helping to sustain the Society's financial position. Those of you renewing your subscription this year (held again, note!) can just send one cheque to cover sub and booklet. Overseas members will once again have to send a U.K. cheque or cash - we are too small a Society to use PayPal &c., I am afraid.
I LIKE THIS STORY
Puffin Books were very much part of my growing up. A few years ago I bought a second-hand copy of Kaye Webb's “taste of fifty favourites”, entitled I Like This Story (which was published as the 2000th Puffin in 1986) to see what she had enjoyed most. Tucked away, amongst other favourites of mine - such as Cynthia Harnett's The Wool-Pack and Rosemary Sutcliff's The Eagle of the Ninth - is JMF's Moonfleet . The three page extract details John Trenchard's sojourn in the vault. Kaye Webb, who died in 1996, was the editor of Puffin Books between 1961 and 1979. She wrote in her Introduction that the special qualities the books had to show to be selected was that they could be read at least twice and one could find something new in them each time; and they all used words interestingly. Twenty-three years on, in this Winter's Slightly Foxed (The Real Reader's Quarterly No.24), the well-known bookseller, John Saumarez Smith , puts the case for The Nebuly Coat in a three page article entitled Mystery at the Minster . John regards JMF's third novel as his masterpiece. It would be interesting to take a straw poll of our members: The Lost Stradivarius ? Moonfleet ? The Nebuly Coat ? Which do you like best?
Kenneth Hillier Greenmantle, Main Street, Kings Newton, Melbourne Derbyshire. DE73 8BX