Circumspect and right

Mauve, Anton, 1838-1888; Shepherdess
Anton Mauve, The Shepherdess (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff)

Early in Ford Madox Ford’s Some Do Not. . ., the first volume of the Parade’s End tetralogy, Christopher Tietjens and Vincent Macmaster are talking together in a railway carriage (their topics of conversation ranging over many of the novel’s themes).

“I’m thinking,” Tietjens said, “thinking how not to be too rude.”
“You want to be rude,” Macmaster said bitterly, “to people who lead the contemplative. . . the circumspect life.”
“It’s precisely that,” Tietjens said. He quoted:

‘She walks the lady of my delight,
A shepherdess of sheep;
She is so circumspect and right:
She has her thoughts to keep.’”[1]

As the note says, these lines are from ‘The Shepherdess’, one of the best-known lyrics by Alice Meynell. She was born on this day, 22 September, in 1847 and died on 27 November 1922 (within a month or so from the probable start date of Ford’s writing of Some Do Not . . .). ‘The Shepherdess’ had first appeared in Meynell’s 1901 Later Poems, was reissued in a 1914 volume of that title, and was collected several times thereafter, usually in editions  issued by Burns and Oates, the Catholic publishing house of which her husband Wilfrid was manager.

Alice_Meynell

Curiously, the 1939 revision of The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1918, edited by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, includes this poem under the title ‘The Lady of the Lambs’—which somehow makes it worse—and, in the version Tietjens quotes, the third and fourth lines of Meynell’s stanza have been promoted to the first and second lines. Then, too, while Tietjens has ‘thoughts to keep’, Meynell, characteristically, has ‘soul’.

Born Alice Thompson, she spent much of her early life in Italy, where she was educated mainly by her father. After the family returned to England in 1864, Alice converted to Catholicism at the age of twenty-five and, in 1877, married Wilfred Meynell, with whom she co-edited several magazines and had eight children between 1879 and 1891. They were friends with the leading Victorian poets (Tennyson, Meredith, Coventry Patmore) and famously took in the destitute, opium-addicted and—at that stage—suicidal poet Francis Thompson, who lived with them for the best part of twenty years, though he also spent time in a Franciscan monastery in North Wales.

Meynell was highly popular and also critically applauded but her public persona of piety and ‘femininity’ have complicated later reactions to her, not least because of her involvement with the struggle for women’s suffrage: critical of the Women’s Social and Political Union’s methods, she joined the Women Writers Suffrage League, formed in 1908 by the playwright and novelist Cicely Hamilton.

The enduring response to that image of the pure and impeccably virtuous Angel in the House, which prompted Ford’s use of Meynell’s poem at this juncture, also underlies D. H. Lawrence’s letter to his agent, James Pinker, about the decision of Chatto and Windus to omit the poem ‘Song of a Man who is loved’ (and one other poem, plus several lines in others) from the collection Look! We have Come Through! Lawrence remarked of the poem that ‘I’m sure Alice Meynell might print it without reproach.’[2]

Probably not. The poem ends:

So I hope I shall spend eternity
With my face buried between her breasts;
And my still heart full of security,
And my still hands full of her breasts.[3]

Perhaps, then, his publisher’s nervousness was not a complete mystery in wartime England, just two years after the prosecution of The Rainbow.

hyde2
William Hyde, from London Impressions

The Lawrence connection with the Meynell family is probably the one of greatest interest, though their story breaks off in several directions which reward pursuit. Another Ford connection which suggests itself  is through Edward Hyde, an artist and illustrator whom Ford greatly admired and knew well. Hyde provided the illustrations (‘Photogravure plates’) for Ford’s 1900 volume, The Cinque Ports. Ford published an appreciation of the artist in January 1898 and, in December of that year, there was a private view of Hyde’s ‘London Impressions’, to accompany the publication of his book of that title: Hyde’s illustrations accompaned a series of essays by Alice Meynell. The volume was priced at eight guineas—‘equal to a house servant’s wages for a year’—and, at the private view, Arthur Balfour (who would become Prime Minister in the summer of 1902) bought two of Hyde’s pictures on the spot.[4]

One more connection is that to David Garnett, through Francis Meynell, the youngest of the children, who founded the famous Nonesuch Press, which produced its first title in 1923. Garnett was a partner in the Press, together with Francis and his wife Vera. He was also, of course, a friend of Lawrence and the Nonesuch titles would include an edition of Lawrence’s Love Among the Haystacks, in the year of his death—with a memoir by David Garnett.

Nonesuch-DHL

Just two days ago, it was the anniversary of the launching of Georgian Poetry, 20 September 1912, in Edward Marsh’s rooms in Gray’s Inn. Present were Rupert Brooke, Marsh, Wilfred Gibson, John Drinkwater, Harold Monro and Arundel del Ré. Brooke and Marsh were the prime movers at the earliest stage but both Francis and Alice Meynell have been credited with awakening that interest in contemporary verse in Marsh which led to the production of the anthology and its successors.[5]

But the best-known connection is that with D. H. Lawrence, whose closest contact with the Meynell family occurred from late January to the end of July in 1915. He and Frieda had been invited to stay on the Meynell estate at Greatham, just a few miles from Pulborough in West Sussex (where Ford Madox Ford first lived with Stella Bowen between June 1919 and August 1920). The cottage was lent to the Lawrences by Viola Meynell; and their stay there produced one story, ‘England, My England’, which has provoked a good deal of criticism of Lawrence for his apparent ‘ruthlessness’ in using figures and events ‘from life’.[6]

The cottage was also the venue for a much-disputed visit by Ford and Violet Hunt. They saw—and quarrelled with—Frieda Lawrence; unless Frieda quarrelled with Catherine Wells, wife of H. G. And Lawrence himself was not present. Almost certainly. . .[7]

D_H_Lawrence_1915

(D. H. Lawrence, 1915)

David Garnett visited, in the company of his friend Francis Birrell, and the pair were invited to breakfast with the Meynells. Garnett remembered that ‘Wilfred Meynell, the Patriarch, was rustling the pages of the Observer, the room was full of dark, madonna-like girls and women, the Poetess [Alice] lay stretched upon a couch’.[8]

Viola Meynell, herself the author of more than twenty books, was an early supporter of Lawrence. The typescript of The Rainbow dates from February 1915 to 31 May 1915, and Viola was one of its three, possibly four, typists.[9] It was also to Viola that Lawrence announced that he was ‘going to begin a book about Life.’[10]

‘It is the Meynells’ place’, Lawrence wrote to his friend William Hopkins before he and Frieda set off. ‘You know Alice Meynell, Catholic poetess rescuer of Francis Thompson.’[11] Thompson had died only eight years earlier, his Selected Poems appearing posthumously, though his critical standing was already high, his best-known poem probably ‘The Hound of Heaven’. As late as 1952, Viola would publish Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell: A Memoir.

Alice Meynell’s poems have not lasted well. To modern eyes—certainly to mine—they’re redolent of a kind of Victorian self-parody: very conventional, often sentimental, worthy, rather thin and clunky. Perhaps some of the essays, introductions and reviews have survived in ruder health. There was a centenary volume of her prose and poetry, published in 1947 by Jonathan Cape, with an introduction by Vita Sackville-West. It’s noticeable that, in that 400-page book, the selection of her poems doesn’t begin until page 357. That selection includes a poem entitled ‘The Lady Poverty—‘The Lady Poverty was fair / But she has lost her looks of late’—which, in 1932, George Orwell mentioned when trying to settle on a title for his first book. He thought of calling it ‘The Lady Poverty’ or ‘Lady Poverty’—but settled instead on Down and Out in Paris and London, which finally appeared on 9 January 1933.[12]

On the other hand, Alice Meynell: Prose and Poetry­—circumspectly, perhaps—does not include ‘The Shepherdess.’

References

[1] Ford, Some Do Not. . . (1924; edited by Max Saunders, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010), 26.

[2] To Pinker, 3 August 1917: Letters of D. H. Lawrence III, October 1916–June 1921, edited by James T. Boulton and Andrew Robertson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 145-146 and notes.

[3] D. H. Lawrence, The Complete Poems, edited by Vivian de Sola Pinto and F. Warren Roberts (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1977), 250.

[4] Ford, ‘William Hyde: An Illustrator of London’, The Artist, XXI (January 1898), 1-6; Jerrold Northrop Moore, The Green Fuse: Pastoral Vision in English Art, 1820-2000 (Woodbridge, Suffolk: Antique Collectors’ Club, 2007), 90.

[5] Robert H. Ross, The Georgian Revolt: Rise and Fall of a Poetic Ideal, 1910-1922 (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 120, 103-104.

[6] Mark Kinkead-Weekes, D. H, Lawrence: Triumph to Exile, 1912-1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 252-255.

[7] Max Saunders reviews the evidence—and some related assertions—in Ford Madox Ford: A Dual Life, two volumes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), I, 476-478.

[8] David Garnett, Great Friends (London: Macmillan, 1979), 86.

[9] The Rainbow, edited Mark Kinkead-Weekes, introduction and notes Anne Fernihough (Cambridge, 1989; Penguin edition with new editorial matter, 1995), 1 (‘A Note on the Text’). One of the other typists was Eleanor Farjeon.

[10] Letter of 2 March 1915: Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, June 1913-October 1916, edited by George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 299. This was ‘The Crown’.

[11] Letters of D. H. Lawrence II, 259. Eric Gill was only brought into contact with this prominent Catholic family when he was commissioned by Everard Meynell to carve the tomb for Thompson in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green: Fiona MacCarthy, Eric Gill (London: Faber & Faber, 1990), 112.

[12] George Orwell, A Kind of Compulsion: 1903-1936, edited by Peter Davison, revised and updated edition (London: Secker and Warburg, 2000), 253.

 

 

 

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