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Alice Meynell - Poet And Friend Of Poets

Alice Meynell was born on 11 October 1847 at Barnes, England. She was the younger daughter of Thomas and Christina Thompson. Her father was a widower with a son and daughter when he married Christina. He was educated privately and at Trinity College, Cambridge but had no need to pursue a career, thanks to an inheritance from his grandfather. The family travelled and lived a great deal in Europe and when Alice was 4 they moved to the Ligurian coast, moving house frequently. This country of vineyards and olive groves, bright sunshine and blue sea was the place where Alice and her sister felt most at home as children.

Alice was an intelligent child, speaking both French and English at an early age. The two sisters were educated at home by their father, who was an enormous influence on Alice in particular. Life was bohemian and free and the children were included in many adult parties and expeditions. Alice read voraciously and at 9 or 10 was engrossed in the works of Dickens, Trollope and Charlotte Bronte and the poetry of Shakespeare, Keats, Tennyson and others.

At this time Alice was drawn to writing poems of romance and did submit one for publication, which was rejected. However she continued writing romances and poems and seemed to recognise the urge within her to pass on her thoughts to others.

When she was 17 the family settled for a time in the Isle of Wight. At this time she was confirmed and became a regular attender at church. She frequently felt a failure in herself of remaining a little apart from the world, even from her own family, though she loved them deeply. She wanted something more from life which religion might supply. She also felt strongly that as a woman she could not employ her intellect as usefully as she might. Fortunately she now started to create more poetry, though the poems of this period were rather morbid and melancholy.

The family meanwhile had been moving house, as they so often did, and for a time Alice lived in London, where Ruskin showed an interest in her poetry. In 1868,while in Malvern with her mother, Alice became a Catholic. She felt the need for discipline and a way to shape and control her nature and this she found in the Catholic church and was from then on the basis for all her thinking and writing. She recognised the strengths and weaknesses of her writing and worked towards the economy of words and focused thought that became the hallmark of her later poetry.

After another period in Italy the Thompson family returned to London. Alice sought criticism and advice from people like Allingham and Aubrey de Vere and in 1875 her first book of poems “Preludes”, was published. A journalist, Wilfred Meynell, was so impressed by these poems that he wrote to Alice, they became close friends and in April 1877 they were married. Although they had 7 children Alice continued her writing and poetry throughout the remainder of her busy life.

Her work was much admired by writers such as de la Mare, Rossetti and Oscar Wilde. She had time, though, for her family and her many friends, including Coventry Patmore and Francis Thompson and was invited to carry out a lecture tour in the United States of America.

Alice Meynell was a sincere and uncompromising writer, eloquent but disciplined and always produced quality rather than quantity. Her strong religious faith underpinned all her work. Although perhaps not as popular nowadays, at one time she was mentioned as a possible Poet Laureate. She died in 1922 and her final work, “Last Poem” was published in 1923.

Submitted by:

Evangeline Auld

Advocate of ethical marketing and amateur poet.Winner of Swift Satire Poetry prize 2006http://www.mizzmouse.com




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