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Boston College collection of the Alice and Wilfrid Meynell family

Collection MS-1986-061: Boston College collection of the Alice and Wilfrid Meynell family


  • Creation: 1868 - 1958
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1881 - 1938

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the literary life of British Catholic authors and editors Alice and Wilfrid Meynell, as well as their sponsorship of poet Francis Thompson. It contains materials created or collected by both Alice and Wilfrid, as well as six of their children: Everard, Francis, Madeline, Monica, Sebastian, and Viola. Materials include correspondence, drawings, ephemera, manuscripts, photographs, proofs of publications, and a scrapbook.

Alice Meynell’s materials mostly consist of correspondence she received and drafts of her poems. They also contain a couple of manuscript essays, illustrations for her first book, Preludes, by her sister, Elizabeth Butler (Elizabeth Southerden Thompson), portraits, proofs, an illuminated manuscript of The Poems of Alice Meynell; and a scrapbook of articles, reviews, and correspondence.

The bulk of Wilfrid Meynell's materials comprise correspondence with writers, editors, publishers, friends, and clergy, including: Hilaire Belloc; Wilfrid Scawen Blunt; Terrence Connolly, SJ; John Lane; Shane Leslie; Edith Sitwell; and Wilfrid Ward. Aside from his long-running literary correspondents, many of Wilfrid’s letters pertain to his management of Francis Thompson’s literary estate and legacy. Also included are royalty notices and receipts, primarily those associated with Francis Thompson; proofs of articles and reviews for Merry England; notes on ecclesiastical events in mid-nineteenth century Rome; and photographs, including one of Shane Leslie delivering a lecture and a group of photographs taken of the Francis Thompson Room at the John J. Burns Library at Boston College.

Most of the materials of the Meynell children are correspondence that documents Francis Thompson, but they also touch on the careers of Everard Meynell who was Thompson’s biographer, Francis Meynell as a publisher and graphic designer, and Viola Meynell, a novelist and memoirist.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical Note: Alice Meynell

Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson was born in England on October 11, 1847 to Thomas James and Christiana (Weller) Thompson. Alice and her sister Elizabeth received their education from their father and were brought up primarily in the English countryside and Italy. Alice was encouraged to write poetry by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, to whom she was introduced by family friend Aubrey de Vere. Alice became a poet, and Elizabeth became a painter.

In 1868, Alice was received into the Catholic Church at St. George's, Worcester. Her mother had converted, and her sister and father eventually did as well. A devout Catholic, Alice's faith was of central importance to her life and work.

Alice's first book of poetry, Preludes (1875) featured illustrations by Elizabeth. The work was well-received by such literary figures as Tennyson, de Vere, Christina Rosetti, and John Ruskin. Shortly thereafter, she met and married Wilfrid Meynell, a journalist and admirer of her work. They had eight children, one of whom died infancy. While raising their family, Alice continued to write and to assist Wilfrid with the editorial responsibilities of the Weekly Register. The Meynells edited and publshed two literary magazines together, first The Pen, followed by Merry England (1883-1884). Through the latter publication, the Meynells met and befriended Francis Thompson, publishing his work and acting as his sponsors. Alice's books of poetry published after her marriage included Poems (1893), Later Poems (1902), Collected Poems of Alice Meynell (1913) and the posthumous Last Poems (1923).

In addition to her poetry, Alice Meynell was a reviewer, critic, essayist, and columnist, who contributed to the Pall Mall Gazette, National Observer, Spectator, and the Tablet . An accomplished art critic, she also wrote for the Magazine of Art and the Art Journal. She was the author of seven collections of essays, including The Rhythm of Life (1893), and prefaces to works by poets including William Blake, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and William Wordsworth.

Alice Meynell was a vice-president of the Women Writers' Suffrage League, founded by Cicely Hamilton and active 1908–1919. She was one of the early founders of the Catholic Women's Suffrage Society, which supported peaceful means for the achievement of equal suffrage rights for women. Alice was twice considered for the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom, in 1892 and 1913.

Alice Meynell died on November 27, 1922, at the age of 75.


"Alice (Christina Gertrude Thompson) Meynell." In Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003. Gale In Context: Biography (accessed November 8, 2023).

“Alice Meynell.”, March 21, 2023.

Badeni, June. "Meynell [née Thompson], Alice Christiana Gertrude (1847-1922), Poet and Journalist." Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Biographical Note: Wilfrid Meynell

Wilfrid Meynell was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Yorkshire on November 17, 1852. Birth registry and census records indicate that he was probably born Wilfrid Isaac Mennell, to George and Hannah (Tuke) Mennell, but documentation of his name change to "Meynell" is lacking. His family was Quaker, but at the age of eighteen Wilfrid converted to Catholicism and moved to London to pursue a career in journalism. He also wrote poetry, contributing verses to Emily Priestman's Simple Tales (1873), and he began working in publishing under William Lockhart. Wilfrid used the pseudonym John Oldcastle for many of his writings, including later monographs.

Wilfrid Meynell married the Catholic poet Alice C. Thompson in 1877. They had eight children, one of whom died infancy. In 1880, the Meynells undertook their first, short-lived, publishing enterprise, The Pen, to which both contributed. Not long after, Cardinal Manning named Wilfrid editor of the Catholic Weekly Register (edited 1881-1899). In 1883, the couple launched Merry England, a liberal Catholic literary magazine that placed them at the center of a prominent, mainly Catholic, literary circle that included George Meredith, Coventry Patmore, and Francis Thompson. In 1894, the Meynells gave up the publishing of Merry England, and Wilfrid became the manager of the publishing firm Burns & Oates, a commercial company that published a wide variety of Catholic books. Wilfred also authored biographies of Cardinals Manning (circa 1885) and John Henry Newman (1890), and of British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli (1903).

The Meynells sponsored Catholic poet Francis Thompson, offering friendship, financial support, and publishing his works. After Thompson’s death in 1907, Wilfrid managed his literary estate and promoted Thompson’s legacy.

Wilfrid spent the years after Alice's death in 1922 at the family estate at Greatham, Sussex, where he continued to promote his wife's legacy and that of Francis Thompson, and contributed regularly to the Dublin Review and The Tablet. In 1943 King George VI of the United Kingdom honored Wilfrid with the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).

Wilfrid Meynell died in Pullborough, Sussex, on October 22, 1948 at the age of 95.


1861 England Census [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2005

Dudt, Charmazel. “Wilfrid Meynell: Editor, Publisher, & Friend.” Victorian Periodicals Review 16, no. 3/4 (1983): 104–9.

England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

Leslie, Shane. “In Memorium.” The Tablet. London, Saturday, 30 October 1948.

Meynell, Viola. Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell. London: Hollis and Carter, 1925.

Messbarger, P. R. "Meynell, Alice C. and Wilfrid." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Detroit, MI: Gale, 2003. Gale In Context: Biography (accessed September 19, 2023).

"Wilfrid Meynell." In Merriam Webster's Biographical Dictionary. Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, 1995.

Biographical Note: Everard Meynell

Writer, journalist, and book collector. Everard Henry Edward Manning Meynell was born on January 9, 1882 in London, England to Wilfrid and Alice (Thompson) Meynell. Everard was accepted into the Forbes School of Painting in 1900, but subsequently became a biographer. Everard 's published works included Giovanni Bellini (1905), Corot and His Friends (Methuen & Co., 1908) and The Life of Francis Thompson (Burns & Oats, 1913).

In November 1908 Everard married the vocalist Grazia Carbone. Together they had four children: Joan (1909–1983), Alice (1911–2008), Wilfrid (1913–1995), and Vivian (1916–2011). Everard served in the British Royal Air Force during World War I. He died on January 7, 1926 in Genoa Italy.


1911 England Census, Class: RG14; Piece: 38,

"Everard Meynell." Cornwall artists index. Accessed July 26, 2023.

"Meynell, Everard." Who Was Who. Oxford University Press, 2007.

UK, Royal Air Force Airmen Records, 1918-1940 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2017.

Biographical Note: Francis Meynell

Francis Meredith Wilfrid Meynell was born on May 12, 1891 in London, England to Wilfrid and Alice (Thompson) Meynell, the youngest of seven surviving children. Francis Thompson was Francis Meynell's godfather. Meynell attended Trinity College, Dublin, from 1908 until 1910 or 1911. He married three times: Hilda Saxe, 1914 (one daughter, Cynthia); Vera Mendel, 1925 (one son, Benedict); and Alix Hester Marie Kilroy, 1946 (no children).

Francis Meynell was a typographer, book designer, and publisher. After leaving Trinity College, he worked for his father at Burns & Oates Ltd. as head of design, 1911-1913. He then founded and designed for Pelican Press, launched sometime between 1914-1916. He became the director and assistant editor of the Daily Herald in 1918, and founded Nonesuch Press, where he was also the designer and director, 1923-1975. While running Nonesuch, Meynell also served as a columnist for News Chronicle (1934); was a director of the Mather & Crowther Ltd. advertising agency (1939-1960); and a director for Bodley Head Ltd. (1960-1975). He published his autobiography, My Lives with Random House in 1971.

Meynell was a conscientious objector during World War One. In 1921 he served as editor of the weekly paper The Communist, and he supported the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War.

Meynell was a member of the Art Workers Guild, the Society of Typographer Designers (president, 1958-1962), the Poetry Society (vice-president), and the Savile Club. He also participated as the British Broadcasting Corporation Brains Trust (London) chair, 1942-1943; H.M. Stationery Office honorary typography advisor, 1945-1966; Cement and Concrete Association, director-general, 1946-1958; Royal Mint (London) member of advisory council, 1954-70; and the Royal College of Art member of council, 1959-1961.

Francis Meynell was named Royal Designer for Industry by the Royal Society of Arts in 1945; knighted in 1946, and honored with a D.Litt. from the University of Reading in 1964.

Francis Meynell died on July 9, 1975 in London.


"Francis (Meredith Wilfrid) Meynell." Contemporary Designers. Detroit, MI: Gale, 1997.

"Francis Meredith Wilfrid Meynell." Gale Literature: Contemporary Authors. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2007.

Meynell, Francis. My Lives. London: The Bodley Head, 1971.

Biographical Note: Viola Meynell

Viola Mary Gertrude Meynell, often called Prue or Prudie by her family, was born on October 15, 1885 in London, Enlgland, to Wilfrid and Alice (Thompson) Meynell. Viola grew up with six brothers and a sister, in the literary environment of the Meynell household whose family friends included authors George Meredith, Coventry Patmore, and Francis Thompson. Viola was given a Catholic education at the Convent of Our Lady of Sion in London. More than the rest of her siblings, Viola aspired to become an author like her mother.

Viola's first novel Martha Vine: A Love Story of Simple Life (1910) was published anonymously, but the novel received strong reviews and compliments from such writers as Wilfrid Scawen Blunt and Alfred Noyes. Over the next 46 years, Viola authored numerous novels and memoirs, including a memoir of her mother, Alice Meynell (1928), and one of the friendship between "The Hound of Heaven" poet and her father, Francis Thompson and Wilfrid Meynell (1952). She served as editor for several collections of letters of various publishing figures, including Sidney Cockerel and J.M. Barrie, and edited theLove Poems of John Donne (1923), published by her brother's publishing company Nonesuch Press. She also wrote introductions for Oxford University Press editions of George Eliot's Romola (1913) and Felix Holt: The Radical (1913) and Melville's Moby Dick (1925).

Viola married John Dallyn in 1922, the same year her mother died. The couple had a son, Jacob, in 1923. Although in her later years Meynell struggled with a debilitating illness, she remained productive as a writer, publishing her last novel Ophelia in 1951. When she died in October 1956, she was remembered for her graciousness, sense of humor, and "the intense moral seriousness of her fiction."


Raymond N. MacKenzie, Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 153: Late-Victorian and Edwardian British Novelists, First Series The Gale Group, 1995. pp. 204-215.

Timeline of Alice and Wilfrid Meynell's children

1878 Sebastian (“Bastian”) Henry Tuke Meynell born 19 October.

1880 Monica (“Monnie”) Mary Eve Meynell born 24 March.

1882 Everard Henry Edward Manning Meynell (“Cuckoo”) born 4 February.

1884 Madeline (“Dimpling”) Mary Eve born 22 May.

1885 Viola (“Prue”/“Prudie”) Mary Gertrude Meynell born 15 October.

1887 Vivian Meredith Meynell born 3 March but dies on 13 August.

1890 Olivia (“Lobbie”/ “Beelie”) Mary K. Meynell born 9 March.

1891 Francis Meredith Wilfrid Meynell born 12 May.

Dates taken from "A Chronology of Alice Meynell 1847-1922" The Selected Letters of Alice Meynell: Poet and Essayist. Edited by Damian Atkinson. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 12 Back Chapman Street, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE6 2XX, UK.


6.5 Linear Feet (9 containers)

Language of Materials



This collection documents the literary life of British Catholic authors, editors, and publishers Alice and Wilfrid Meynell, as well as their sponsorship of poet Francis Thompson. It contains materials created or collected by both Alice and Wilfrid, as well as six of their children: Everard, Francis, Madeline, Monica, Sebastian, and Viola. Materials include correspondence, drawings, ephemera, manuscripts, photographs, proofs of publications, and a scrapbook. The focus of the collection is on the poetry of Alice Meynell, and the relationship of the family to Francis Thompson and the legacy of his works.


The collection is arranged into nine series: I. Alice, II. Wilfrid, III. Everard, IV. Francis, V. Madeline, VI. Monica, VII. Sebastian, VIII. Viola, and IX. Vivian. When correspondence is between two family members, it has been placed in the series based on the sender.

Series I, Alice is further divided into seven subseries: A. Correspondence; B. Writings; C. Ephemera; D. Illuminated manuscript of The Poems of Alice Meynell; E. Illustrations for Preludes; F. Portraits; and G. Scrapbook.

Series II, Wilfrid is further divided into six subseries: A. Clipping, B. Correspondence, C. Financials, D. Photographs, E. Proofs for Merry England, and F. Writings.


Because the current accessioning system was not used until January 1986, it is not possible to know exactly the dates of acquisition of materials received before that time. It is likely that many of the materials were acquired by Boston College librarian Terrence Connolly, SJ directly from Wilfrid Meynell, with whom he had a long-running friendship, and who was the source of many of the materials in the Boston College collection of Francis Thompson.

Additionally, a note with Alice Meynell's scrapbook indicates that it was a gift of Bernard Bergonzi, a professor in Warwick, England, in 1985. Further of Alice Meynell’s materials were purchased from David J. Holmes in 1989, as well as from Kelmscott Bookshop in November 2015 and July 2016. Of Wilfrid Meynell’s materials, research in the Special Collections Accession Register (1948-1962) indicates that several letters were acquired as part of the Seymour Adelman Collection of Thompson materials (purchased 1937), and other letters were gifts from donors including: Joseph Auslander, John J. Burns, Friends of the Boston College Library, Shane Leslie, M. Paraclita, the Francis Thompson Foundation, Mrs. Edward C. Donnelly, Ruth Eliot, George Goodspeed, F.S. Kysela, Viola Meynell (Dallyn), Olivia Meynell (Sowerby), John Power, Richard Montgomery Tobin, and Anne Kimball Tuell.

Related Materials

Annie and Elizabeth O'Brien Christitch papers, MS.1994.039, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Boston College collection of Francis Thompson, MS.2006.023, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Coventry Patmore collection, MS.1986.062, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

J. Randolph Sasnett papers, MS.1989.017, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Shane Leslie papers, MS.1996.030, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Processing Information

In 2010, two collections previously known as Wilfrid Meynell collection and Wilfrid Meynell correspondence were combined into the Wilfrid Meynell collection. In 2023, the former Wilfrid Meynell collection (MS.1986.042), Viola Meynell letters (MS.1986.035), Boston College collection of Alice Meynell (MS.1986.061) and the Meynell portion of the former Meynell family-Francis Thompson collection (MS.2006.028) were brought together into this single family collection.

Boston College Collection of the Alice and Wilfrid Meynell Family
Under Revision
Stephanie Hall, 2019; updated by Lynn Moulton
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States