Biography of Alice Meynell
Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson Meynell was an English writer, editor, critic, and suffragist, now remembered mainly as a poet.
Meynell was born in Barnes, London, to Thomas James and Christiana (née Weller) Thompson. The family moved around England, Switzerland, and France, but she was brought up mostly in Italy, where a daughter of Thomas from his first marriage had settled. Her father was a friend of Charles Dickens.
Preludes (1875) was her first poetry collection, illustrated by her elder sister Elizabeth (the artist Lady Elizabeth Butler, 1850–1933, whose husband was Sir William Francis Butler). The work was warmly praised by Ruskin, although it received little public notice. Ruskin especially singled out the sonnet Renunciation for its beauty and delicacy.
After Alice, the entire Thompson family converted to the Roman Catholic Church (1868 to 1880), and her writings migrated to subjects of religious matters. This eventually led her to the Catholic newspaper publisher and editor Wilfrid Meynell (1852–1948) in 1876. A year later (1877) she married Meynell, and they settled in Kensington. They became proprietor and editor of The Pen, the Weekly Register, Merry England, and other magazines. Alice and Wilfrid had a family of eight children, Sebastian, Monica, Everard, Madeleine, Viola, Vivian (who died at three months), Olivia, and Francis. Viola Meynell (1885–1956) became an author in her own right, and the youngest child Francis Meynell (1891–1975) was the poet and printer at the Nonesuch Press.
Alice was much involved in editorial work on publications with her husband, and in her own writing, poetry and prose. She wrote regularly for The World, The Spectator, The Magazine of Art, The Scots Observer, The Tablet, The Art Journal, the National Observer, edited by W. E. Henley the Pall Mall Gazette, and The Saturday Review.
The British poet Francis Thompson, down and out in London and trying to recover from the opium addiction that had overtaken him, sent the couple a manuscript. His poems were first published in Wilfred's Merrie England, and the Meynells became a supporter of Thompson. His 1893 book Poems was a Meynell production and initiative. Another supporter of Thompson was the poet Coventry Patmore. Alice had a deep friendship with Patmore, lasting several years, which led to his becoming obsessed with her, forcing her to break with him.
At the end of the nineteenth century, in conjunction with uprisings against the British (among them the Indians', the Zulus', the Boxer Rebellion, and the Muslim revolt led by Muhammad Ahmed in the Sudan), many European scholars, writers, and artists, especially Catholics, began to question Europe’s colonial imperialism, and its attempt to rule the world. This led Alice, Wilfrid, Elizabeth, and others in their circle to speak out for the oppressed. Alice became a leading figure in the Women Writers' Suffrage League, which was founded by Cicely Hamilton and active 1908 to 1919.
Her prose essays were remarkable for fineness of culture and peculiar restraint of style. After a series of illnesses, including migraine and depression, she died 27 November 1922. She is buried at Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery, London, England.
Alice Meynell's Works:
The Rhythm of Life (1893)
Poems by Francis Thompson (1893)
Holman Hunt (1893)
Selected Poems of Thomas Gordon Hake (1894)
The Color of Life and other Essays (1896)
Poetry of Pathos and Delight by Coventry Patmore (1896)
The Flower of the Mind (1897)
The Children (1897)
The Spirit of Place (1898)
London Impressions (1898)
Later Poems (1901)
The Work of John S. Sargent (1903)
The Second Person Singular (1921)
The Poems of Alice Meynell, Complete Edition (1940)
Prose and Poetry (1947)
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- A Letter from a Girl to Her Own Old Age
- In Early Spring
- My heart shall be thy garden
- Summer in England, 1914
- In Autumn
- The Shepherdess
- The Lady of the Lambs
- After Parting
- Builders of Ruins
- The Return to Nature.
- At Night
The leaves are many under my feet,
And drift one way.
Their scent of death is weary and sweet.
A flight of them is in the grey
Where sky and forest meet.
The low winds moan for sad sweet years;
The birds sing all for pain,
Of a common thing, to weary ears,--