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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


  • 1868 - 1958
  • 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, Meynell's faith was of central importance to her life and work.

Alice Meynell’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, Meynell continued to write and to assist Wilfrid with the editorial responsibilities of the Weekly Register and Merry England. Subsequent books of her poems included Poems (1893), Later Poems (1902), Collected Poems of Alice Meynell (1913) and the posthumous Last Poems (1923).

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

Alice Meynell died on November 27, 1922.


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-on-Tyne, Yorkshire on November 17, 1852. His family was Quaker, but at the age of eighteen Wilfrid converted to Catholicism and moved to London to pursue a career in journalism. Meynell used the psydonnym John Oldcastle for many of his writings. He also wrote poetry, contriubing verses to Emily Priestman's Simple Tales (1873), and began working in publishing under William Lockhart.

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, Wilfrid was made editor of church-sponsored The Weekly Register (edited 1881-1899). It was also during this period that the couple launched Merry England (1883-1895), the 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. Wilfrid also directed the publishing house Burns & Oates, and authored biographies of Cardinals Manning (c. 1885) and John Hentry Newman (1890) and of Brittish 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 dedicated himself to promoting Thompson’s legacy.

In his later years, Wilfrid resided at the family estate at Greatham, Sussex, continued to promote the works of Alice Meynell and Francis Thompson, and contributed regularly to the Dublin Review and The Tablet. Wilfrid Meynell died in November 1948, at 96 years of age.


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 in 1882 in London, England to Wilfrid and Alice (Thompson) Meynell. Everard wrote biographies, including Corot and His Friends (Methuen & Co., 1908) and The Life of Francis Thompson (Burns & Oats, 1913). He served in the British Army during World War II. Everard Meynell died in 1926, just four years after his mother's death.


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

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 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.

Biographical Note: Viola Meynell

Viola Mary Gertrude Meynell, often called Prue or Prudie by her family, was born on October 15, 1885 to Wilfrid and Alice (Thompson) Meynell. Viola grew up with six brothers and a sister, in the literary environment of the Meynell household. Among the visitors to the Meynell home were George Meredith, Coventry Patmore, and Francis Thompson. Her upbringing was decidedly Catholic, as her parents were converts to Catholicism, and she 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 who enjoyed a considerable amount of fame for her poetry, essays, criticism, and novels.

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 anyway. 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 in 1922, the same year her mother died. Her marriage to John Dallyn, a farmer neither literary nor Catholic, was apparently not happy. 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."

Source: 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

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, the 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
1875-1938, undated
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
617-552-2465 (Fax)