Alice Meynell

Alice Christiana Gertrude Meynell (née Thompson; 11 October 1847[2] – 27 November 1922[3]) was a British writer, editor, critic, and suffragist, now remembered mainly as a poet.

Meynell in 1912
Meynell by John Singer Sargent, pencil, 1894[1]
Alice Meynell blue plaque
Meynell, unknown date

Early years and familyEdit

Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson 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,[2] and Meynell suggests in her memoir that Dickens was also romantically interested in her mother, noting that he had said to Thomas Thompson, "Good God, what a madman I should seem if the incredible feeling I have conceived for that girl could be made plain to anyone!"[4]

Alice married Wilfrid Meynell in 1877, had eight children, Sebastian, Monica, Everard (1882–1926), Madeleine, Viola, Vivian (who died at three months), Olivia, and Francis. Viola Meynell (1885–1956) became a writer, known mainly for fiction, and the youngest child Francis Meynell (1891–1975) became a poet and a printer who co-founded The Nonesuch Press.[5]

Career and writingEdit

Preludes (1875) was her first poetry collection, illustrated by her elder sister Elizabeth (the artist Lady Elizabeth Butler (1846–1933) 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 "Renouncement" for its beauty and delicacy.[6]

After Alice converted whilst recuperating from one of her frequent illnesses,[7] and she had written love poetry like 'After a parting'' and 'Renouncement' for the young Jesuit priest who guided her to faith, Father Augustus Dignam, the entire Thompson family converted to the Catholic Church (1868 to 1880),[8] 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, whom she married the next year (1877) and they settled in Kensington. They became the proprietors and editors of such magazines as The Pen, the Weekly Register, and Merry England, among others.[5]

Meynell was one of the early founders of the Catholic women's organisation, Catholic Women's Suffrage Society in support of peaceful means for the achievement of equal suffrage rights for women.[9] Meynell established and wrote in the first edition of its newspaper The Catholic Suffragist, in 1915, that 'a Catholic suffragist woman is a graver suffragist on graver grounds and with weightier reasons than any other suffragist in England (sic)'.... Surely England has endured too long what is not only immodest but profoundly immoral,[10] reports were shared from eleven branches (including a national congress in Wales and two societies in Scotland) and the editorial said 'We dare to say that if the balance of power between men and women had been more equal the world over, we should not still be settling international disputes by swamping a continent in blood and turning Europe into a shambles.[10] Meynell wrote in The Tablet against Father Henry Day who inLiverpool and Manchester preached against votes for women risking 'bringing a revolution of the first magnitude'. Meynell retorted 'I say, most gravely, the vaster the magnitude of the revolution, the better.' Where Day saw 'danger' Meynell saw a 'fortress of safety' for Catholic women, and she saw anti-suffrage rhetoric as 'insolence'.[11]

Meynell 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 (which became the National Observer, both edited by W. E. Henley), The Tablet, The Art Journal, the Pall Mall Gazette, and The Saturday Review. Her poems show her feminist concerns as well as her reactions to the events of World War I.[12]

The poet Francis Thompson, down and out in London and trying to recover from his opium addiction, sent the couple a manuscript. His poems were first published in Wilfrid's Merry 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.[13] She wrote the article on Patmore for the Catholic Encyclopedia.[14]

At the end of the 19th 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, began to question Europe's colonial imperialism. This led the Meynells and others in their circle to speak out for the oppressed. Alice Meynell was a vice-president of the Women Writers' Suffrage League, founded by Cicely Hamilton and active 1908–19.[15]

Death and legacyEdit

Meynell was twice considered for the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, on the 1892 death of Alfred, Lord Tennyson and in 1913 to replace Alfred Austin. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was the only other female potential laureate up to that time. Neither of these women were given the recognition of this status[7] with the first and only female to hold that honorary post, appointed by the monarch, being Carol Ann Duffy in 2009 -19.[16]

After a series of illnesses, including migraine and depression, Meynell died 27 November 1922. A posthumous collection of her Last Poems was published by Burns and Oates, a year later. Meynell is buried at Kensal Green Catholic Cemetery in London. There is a London County Council commemorative blue plaque on the front wall of the property at 47 Palace Court, Bayswater, London, W2, where she and her husband once lived.

Selected worksEdit

  • Preludes (1875) – poems
  • The Rhythm of Life and Other Essays (1893)
  • Poems by Francis Thompson (1893) – editor and producer
  • Holman Hunt (1893)
  • Selected Poems of Thomas Gordon Hake (1894) – editor
  • The Colour of Life and Other Essays on Things Seen or Heard. London and Chicago: John Lane and Way and Williams. 1896. Retrieved 23 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  • The Poetry of Pathos & Delight by Coventry Patmore (1896) – editor
  • The Flower of the Mind (1897) – anthology of English verse, editor, critic
  • The Children. London and New York: John Lane. 1897. Retrieved 23 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  • The Spirit of Place and Other Essays. London and New York: John Lane. 1898. Retrieved 24 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  • London Impressions (1898)
  • John Ruskin (1900)
  • Later Poems (1902)
  • The Work of John S. Sargent (1903)
  • Ceres' Runaway and Other Essays (1909)
  • Childhood (1913)
  • Essays (1914)
  • Hearts of Controversy (1917)
  • The Second Person Singular and Other Essays (1921)
  • The Poems of Alice Meynell: Complete Edition (Oxford University Press, 1940)
  • The Poems of Alice Meynell: Centenary Edition (London: Hollis and Carter, 1947)
  • Prose and Poetry (Jonathan Cape, 1947) – multiple editors, centenary publication with a biography and critical introduction by Vita Sackville-West

The latter publication is catalogued by one WorldCat library as Prose and Poetry of A. Meynell, 1847–1922 (OCLC 219753450) and by one as Alice Meynell: Prose and Poetry. Centenary Volume (OCLC 57050918), while another reports a 2007 facsimile edition Prose and Poetry, 1847–1922. There may be the title of a 1970 issue as Prose and Poetry, OCLC 630445893.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Alice Meynell (née Thompson)". National Portrait Gallery, London (
  2. ^ a b Badeni 1981, p. 1.
  3. ^ Badeni 1981, p. 250.
  4. ^ "Alice Meynell, a Memoir". C. Scribner's Sons. 1929. Retrieved 26 February 2016 – via Questia.
  5. ^ a b Badeni 1981, pp. 50–116.
  6. ^ Badeni 1981, pp. 52–55.
  7. ^ a b Poets, Academy of American. "About Alice Meynell | Academy of American Poets". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  8. ^ Badeni 1981, p. 35.
  9. ^ "Votes for Women! The Catholic Contribution - Diocese of Westminster". Retrieved 1 March 2020.
  10. ^ a b Meynell, Alice (15 January 1915). "The Catholic Suffragist". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  11. ^ "Catholics and the campaign for women's suffrage in England. - Free Online Library". Retrieved 7 March 2020.
  12. ^ "Alice Meynell", Poetry Foundation
  13. ^ Badeni 1981, pp. 115–129.
  14. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia and its makers. New York: The Encyclopedia Press. 1917. pp. 116.  This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  15. ^ Crawford, Elizabeth (2000). The Women's Suffrage Movement: A Reference Guide 1866–1929. London: Routledge, p. 712. ISBN 978-0415239264
  16. ^ "The Poetry Society (Search for the Laureate 2009)". Retrieved 7 March 2020.


  • Badeni, June (1981). The slender tree : a life of Alice Meynell. Padstow, Cornwall: Tabb House. ISBN 0-907018-01-7.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  • "MEYNELL, ALICE CHRISTIANA (1850- )". The Encyclopaedia Britannica; A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. XVIII (MEDAL to MUMPS) (11th ed.). Cambridge, England: At the University Press. 1911. p. 350. Retrieved 23 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.
  • Archer, William (1902). "MRS. MEYNELL". Poets of the Younger Generation; with Thirty-Three Full-Page Portraits from Woodcuts by Robert Bryden. London and New York: John Lane. pp. 264-270. Retrieved 23 January 2019 – via Internet Archive.

External linksEdit