Alice Meynell

English publisher, editor, writer, poet, activist (1847–1922)

Alice Christiana Gertrude Thompson Meynell (11 October 184727 November 1922) was an English writer, editor, critic, and suffragist, now remembered mainly as a poet.

Alice Meynell, 1912


  • Now, in our opinion, no author should be blamed for obscurity; nor should any pains be grudged in the effort to understand him, provided that he has done his best to be intelligible. Difficult thoughts are quite distinct from difficult words. Difficulty of thought is the very heart of poetry.
    • "Robert Browning" (1880), in Alice Meynell, Prose and Poetry: Centenary Volume (London: Jonathan Cape, 1947), pp. 93–94. The essay first appeared in The Pen: A Journal of Literature, co-edited by Meynell and her husband.
  • There is nothing in the world more peaceful than apple-leaves with an early moon.
    • From an untitled essay by Meynell in Gardens Ancient and Modern: An Epitome of the Literature of the Garden-Art, edited by Albert Forbes Sieveking (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1899), p. 297
  • Compassion in the highest degree is the divinest form of religion.
    • "Introductory Note" to The Poetry of Pathos & Delight: From the Works of Coventry Patmore; Passages Selected by Alice Meynell (London: William Heinemann, 1906), p. xi

Preludes (1875)

London: Henry S. King & Co., 1875
  • O Spring, I know thee! Seek for sweet surprise
     In the young children's eyes.
    But I have learnt the years, and know the yet
     Leaf-folded violet.
    • "In Early Spring", p. 1
  • Thou art like silence unperplexed,
     A secret and a mystery
    Between one footfall and the next.
    • "To the Beloved", p. 11
  • [N]o mirror keeps its glances.
    • "Your Own Fair Youth", p. 15
  • My heart shall be thy garden. Come, my own,
     Into thy garden; thine be happy hours
    Among my fairest thoughts, my tallest flowers,
     From root to crowning petal thine alone.
    • "The Garden", p. 39
  • Rich meanings of the prophet-Spring adorn,
    Unseen, this colourless sky of folded showers,
    And folded winds; no blossom in the bowers;
    A poet's face asleep in this grey morn.
    Now in the midst of the old world forlorn
    A mystic child is set in these still hours.
    I keep this time, even before the flowers,
    Sacred to all the young and the unborn.
    • "In February", p. 47
  • For you knew not it was I,
    And I knew not it was you.
    We have learnt, as days went by.
    But a flower struck root and grew
    Underground, and no one knew.
    • "An Unmarked Festival", p. 64
  • Rome in the ages, dimmed with all her towers,
    Floats in the midst, a little cloud at tether.
    • "Spring on the Alban Hills", p. 67
  • Slight as thou art, thou art enough to hide,
    Like all created things, secrets from me,
    And stand a barrier to eternity.
    • "To a Daisy", p. 70
  • O daisy mine, what will it be to look
    From God's side even of such a simple thing?
    • "To a Daisy", p. 70

The Rhythm of Life and Other Essays (1893)

London: John Lane, 1893
  • If life is not always poetical, it is at least metrical. Periodicity rules over the mental experience of man, according to the path of the orbit of his thoughts. Distances are not gauged, ellipses not measured, velocities not ascertained, times not known. Nevertheless, the recurrence is sure. What the mind suffered last week, or last year, it does not suffer now; but it will suffer again next week or next year. Happiness is not a matter of events; it depends upon the tides of the mind.
    • "The Rhythm of Life", p. 1
  • It is principally for the sake of the leg that a change in the dress of man is so much to be desired.[…] The leg is the best part of the figure,[…] and the best leg is the man's.[…] But man should no longer disguise the long lines, the strong forms in those lengths of piping or tubing that are of all garments the most stupid.
    • "Unstable Equilibrium", pp. 26–27
  • In the case of the woman's figure it is the foot, with its extreme proportional smallness, that gives the precious instability, the spring and balance that are so organic.
    • "Unstable Equilibrium", p. 27
  • Hamlet, being a little mad, feigned madness. It is when I am angry that I pretend to be angry, so as to present the truth in an obvious and intelligible form.
    • "By the Railway Side", p. 37
  • The majority can tell ordinary truth, but they should not trust themselves for truth extraordinary.
    • "The Point of Honour", p. 52
  • [R]ight language enlarges the soul as no other power or influence may do.
    • "Domus Angusta", p. 75
  • [T]here is something graver than to be immortal, and that is to be mortal.
    • "Domus Angusta", p. 77
  • This great immorality, centring in the irreproachable days of the Exhibition of 1851 or thereabouts—the pleasure in this particular form of human disgrace—has passed, leaving one trace only: the habit by which some men reproach a silly woman though her sex, whereas a silly man is not reproached through his sex.
    • "Penultimate Caricature", p. 106

Poems (1893)

London: John Lane, 1893
  • But, visiting Sea, your love doth press
     And reach in further than you know,
     And fills all these, and when you go,
    There's loneliness in loneliness.
    • "The Visiting Sea", p. 22
    • An earlier version of this poem was included in Preludes (!875)
  • A poet of one mood in all my lays,
     Ranging all life to sing my only love,
     Like a west wind across the world I move,
    Sweeping my harp of floods mine own wild way.
    • "A Poet of One Mood", p. 55
    • An earlier version of this poem was included in Preludes (1875).
  • I make the whole world answer to my art.
    • "A Poet of One Mood", p. 55
  •   I am dark but fair,
    Black but fair.
  • I must not think of thee; and, tired yet strong,
     I shun the thought that lurks in all delight—
     The thought of thee—and in the blind Heaven's height,
    And in the sweetest passage of a song.
    • "Renouncement", p. 71
  • I run, I run, I am gathered to thy heart.
    • "Renouncement", p. 71

The Colour of Life and Other Essays (1896)

The Colour of Life and Other Essays on Things Seen and Heard (London: John Lane, 1896)
  • Red has been praised for its nobility as the colour of life. But the true colour of life is not red. Red is the colour of violence, or of life broken open, edited, and published. Or if red is indeed the colour of life, it is so only on condition that it is not seen. Once fully visible, red is the colour of life violated, and in the act of betrayal and of waste.
    • "The Colour of Life", p. 1
  • The true colour of life is the colour of the body, the colour of the covered red, the implicit and not explicit red of the living heart and the pulses. It is the modest colour of the unpublished blood.
    • "The Colour of Life", p. 1
  • It is easy to replace man, and it will take no great time, where Nature has lapsed, to replace Nature.
    • "The Colour of Life", p. 4
  • In the case of women, it is of the living and unpublished blood that the violent world has professed to be delicate and ashamed. See the curious history of the political rights of women under the Revolution. On the scaffold she enjoyed an ungrudged share in the fortunes of party. Political life might be denied her, but that seems a trifle when you consider how generously she was permitted political death. She was to spin and cook for her citizen in the obscurity of her living hours; but to the hour of her death was granted a part in the largest interests, social, national, international. The blood wherewith she should, according to Robespierre, have blushed to be seen or heard in the tribune, was exposed in the public sight unsheltered by her veins.
    • "The Colour of Life", p. 6
  • Women might be, and were, duly suppressed when, by the mouth of Olympe de Gouges, they claimed a "right to concur in the choice of representatives for the formation of the laws"; but in her person, too, they were liberally allowed to bear political responsibility to the Republic. Olympe de Gouges was guillotined. Robespierre thus made her public and complete amends.
    • "The Colour of Life", pp. 6–7
  • Terrestrial scenery is much, but it is not all. Men go in search of it; but the celestial scenery journeys to them; it goes its way round the world. It has no nation, it costs no weariness, it knows no bonds.
    • "Cloud", p. 16
  • Spring and autumn are inconsiderable events in a landscape compared with the shadows of a cloud.
    • "Cloud", p. 16
  • The cloud controls the light.[...]

    It is the cloud that, holding the sun's rays in a sheaf as a giant holds a handful of spears, strikes the horizon, touches the extreme edge with a delicate revelation of light, or suddenly puts it out and makes the foreground shine.

    • "Cloud", pp. 16–17
  • We talk of sunshine and moonshine, but not of cloud-shine, which is yet one of the illuminations of our skies.
    • "Cloud", p. 21
  • Let a man turn to his own childhood—no further—if he will renew his sense of remoteness, and of the mystery of change.
    • "The Illusion of Historic Time", p. 92
  • A child is beset with long traditions. And his infancy is so old, so old, that the mere adding of years in the life to follow will not seem to throw it back—it is already so far.
    • "The Illusion of Historic Time", p. 95
  • It is not the eye, but the eyelid, that is important, beautiful, eloquent, full of secrets. The eye has nothing but its colour, and all colours are fine within fine eyelids. The eyelid has all the form, all the drawing, all the breadth and length; the square of great eyes irregularly wide; the long corners of narrow eyes; the pathetic outward droop; the delicate contrary suggestion of an upward turn at the outer corner, which Sir Joshua loved.
    • "Eyes", p. 98
  • The eyelids confess, and reject, and refuse to reject. They have expressed all things ever since man was man.

    And they express so much by seeming to hide or to reveal that which indeed expresses nothing. For there is no message from the eye. It has direction, it moves, in the service of the sense of sight; it receives the messages of the world. But expression is outward, and the eye has it not. There are no windows of the soul, there are only curtains.

    • "Eyes", pp. 98–99

The Children (1897)

London: John Lane, 1897
  • There is something very cheerful and courageous in the setting out of a child on a journey of speech with so small baggage and with so much confidence.
    • "Fellow Travellers with a Bird. II.", p. 17
  • Childhood is but change made gay and visible.
    • "That Pretty Person", p. 31
  • Our fathers valued change for the sake of its results; we value it in the act.
    • "That Pretty Person", p. 31
  • Play is not for every hour of the day, or for any hour taken at random. There is a tide in the affairs of children. Civilization is cruel in sending them to bed at the most stimulating time of dusk.
    • "Under the Early Stars", p. 44

London Impressions (1898)

Westminster: Archibald Constable and Co., 1898
  • The worst of all reasons for continuing anything is that it is easily continuable.
    • "Chelsea Reach", p. 16
  • The roads […] fly from the city of confusion.[…] No other road looks so resolute in flight as the rail.
    • "The Roads", p. 27
  • London visibly works at nothing but transformation.
    • "The Smouldering City", p. 31

The Spirit of Place and Other Essays (1899)

London: John Lane, 1899
  • With mimicry, with praises, with echoes, or with answers, the poets have all but outsung the bells. The inarticulate bell has found too much interpretation, too many rhymes professing to close with her inaccessible utterance, and to agree with her remote tongue. The bell, like the bird, is a musician pestered with literature.
    • "The Spirit of Place", p. 1
  • I have known some grim bells, with not a single joyous note in the whole peal, so forced to hurry for a human festival, with their harshness made light of, as though the Bishop of Hereford had again been forced to dance in his boots by a merry highwayman.
    • "The Spirit of Place", p. 1
  • Spirit of place! It is for this we travel, to surprise its subtlety; and where it is a strong and dominant angel, that place, seen once, abides entire in the memory with all its own accidents, its habits, its breath, its name.
    • "The Spirit of Place", p. 3
  • Solitude is separate experience.
    • "Solitude", p. 17
  • There is no innocent sleep so innocent as sleep shared between a woman and a child, the little breath hurrying beside the longer, as a child's foot runs.
    • "Solitude", p. 20
  • If there is a look of human eyes that tells of perpetual loneliness, so there is also the familiar look that is the sign of perpetual crowds.
    • "Solitude", p. 22
  • In childhood we all have a more exalted sense of dawn and summer sunrise than we ever fully retain or quite recover; and also a far higher sensibility for April and April evenings—a heartache for them, which in riper years is gradually and irretrievably consoled.
    • "July", pp. 31–32
  • [T]he foot should have more of the acquaintance of earth, and know more of flowers, freshness, cool brooks, wild thyme, and salt sand than does anything else about us.[…] It is only the entirely unshod that have lively feet.
    • "The Foot", pp. 43–44
  • [F]or man, woman, and child the tender, irregular, sensitive, living foot, which does not even stand with all its little surface on the ground, and which makes no base to satisfy an architectural eye, is, as it were, the unexpected thing.[…] How weak it is may be seen from a footprint: for nothing makes a more helpless and unsymmetrical sign than does a naked foot.
    • "The Foot", p. 46
  • Tender, too, is the silence of human feet. You have but to pass a season amongst the barefooted to find that man, who, shod, makes so much ado, is naturally as silent as snow. Woman, who not only makes her armed heel heard, but also goes rustling like a shower, is naturally silent as snow.
    • "The Foot", p. 46
  • To mount a hill is to lift with you something lighter and brighter than yourself or than any meaner burden. You lift the world, you raise the horizon; you give a signal for the distance to stand up.
    • "The Horizon", p. 92

John Ruskin (1900)

Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons, 1900
  • [T]here is nothing so exacting, so difficult, so various, as the consistency of a complete theory, nothing so overwhelming to a slothful student.
    • Ch. III. "'Modern Painters.' The Second Volume", P. 43
  • [I]t is doubtful whether we may name any weak thing as typically spiritual.
    • Ch. V. "'Modern Painters.' The Fifth Volume", p. 78
  • Surely there is but one assumption […] wherewith nearly all thinkers […] have done their work—that is, the confession of the moral law: that there is a good, and that pure cruelty, mere hatred, and ingratitude, for example, are contrary thereto.
    • Ch. XXI. "'Ariadne Florentina"', pp. 227–228

Later Poems (1902)

London: John Lane, 1902
  • She walks—the lady of my delight—
     A shepherdess of sheep.
    Her flocks are thoughts. She keeps them white;
     She guards them from the steep;
    She feeds them on the fragrant height,
     And folds them in for sleep.
  • From the shaken tower
    A flock of bells take flight
    And go with the hour.
    • "Chimes", p. 28
  • Flocks of the memories of the day draw near
    The dovecote doors of sleep.
    • "At Night", p. 37

Children of the Old Masters (Italian School) (1903)

London: Duckworth and Co., 1903
  • Children appeal to us by a variant of the quality of pathos.
    • "Introductory Note", p. 5
  • It is not extravagance, it is not excitement, it is not excess, or dizziness, or delirium, that chastises habitual pleasure in art, but only dullness.[…] One of the Latin races, having the dullness and keeping wit enough to name it, has the word for it—banalité.
    • "Raphael and After", p. 71
  • [A]n English wit has well said that affectation displeases us because it has not too much, but too little, art.
    • "The Venetians", p. 75
    • The "English wit" Meynell refers to has not been identified. The sentence as she reports it may be her paraphrase or may have been uttered in conversation by someone in her literary circle.

Ceres' Runaway and Other Essays (1909)

London: Burns & Oates, 1909
  • [I]t would be a pity if laughter should ever become, like rhetoric and the arts, a habit.
    • "Laughter", pp. 30–31
  • [T]he sense of humour has other things to do than to make itself conspicuous in the act of laughter.
    • "Laughter", p. 33
  • A wall is the safeguard of simplicity.
    • "The Sea Wall", p. 53
  • The smoke of a cigarette, more sensitive in motion than breath or blood, has its waves so multitudinously inflected and reinflected, with such flights and such delays, it flows and bends upon currents of so subtle influence and impulse as to include the most active, impetuous, and lingering curls ever drawn by the finest Oriental hand—and that is not a Hindu hand, nor any hand of Aryan race. The Japanese has captured the curve of the section of a sea-wave—its flow, relaxation, and fall; but this is a single moment, whereas the line of cigarette-smoke in a still room fluctuates in twenty delicate directions.
    • "The Plaid", p. 111
    • 'A sibyl smoking a cigarette' is how one of Meynell's contemporaries characterized her.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus: An Essay (1912)

Westminster: The Medici Society, 1912
  • A sense of art mixes with our modern piety. We are apt to admire the evangelical reticence for its dignity,[…] we are apt to respect the Scripture narratives with their few intense details, their close events and their great omissions alike, for their simplicity, and—it is to be feared that our literature leads us so far—for their "effect."
    • Ch. II. "Mary in the Scriptures", pp. 18, 21
  • The mothers of all ages are those who have suffered because others suffered; for each of them, self is less sensitive than the sense of her child. Self is not locked up in the maternal heart, there to be cherished, as it is by the egoist, or to be crushed and silenced, as it is by the Saint. In the mother, self is not lost, but loses all its evil by the passionate personal love that distributes it among sons and daughters. Perfect self-less love would perhaps be distributed through the multitude, but a mother is not perfect: nature has so much use for her—separate, family use—that she cannot let her go free from irrational, indispensable partialities and limitings, even injustices, all serving the turn of the race.
    • Ch. IV. "The Mother", p. 40
  • [W]hat is now and then attempted is perhaps "for art's sake." He that saveth his art shall lose it.
    • Ch. X. "In Churches", p. 134
    • Meynell alludes to the saying of Jesus: "He that saveth his life shall lose it" (Mark 8:35).

Poems (1913)

London: Burns & Oates, 1913
  •  The travelling heart went free
    With endless streams; that strife was stopped;
    And down a thousand vales I dropped,
     I flowed to Italy.
    • "The Watershed", p. 74
  •  Thou inmost, ultimate
    Council of judgment, palace of decrees
    Where the high senses hold their spiritual state,
     Sued by earth's embassies,
    And sign, approve, accept, conceive, create.
    • "To the Body", p. 111
  •  With this ambiguous earth
    His dealings have been told us. These abide:
    The signal to a maid, the human birth,
    The lesson, and the young Man crucified.
    • "Christ in the Universe", p. 114
  •  But in the eternities,
    Doubtless we shall compare together, hear
    A million alien Gospels, in what guise
    He trod the Pleiades, the Lyre, the Bear.
    • "Christ in the Universe", p. 115

Childhood (1913)

London: B. T. Batsford, 1913
  • It is for fear of the grown-up, or at least out of respect towards them, that a chapter must be given to fairies. If the children do not care very much for fairies, they must be made to care. "Who is to care if they do not? Who is to be properly childlike if they are not?"
    • "V. Fairies", pp. 26–27
  • It may well be doubted whether children are generally credulous.[…] For children do not believe in fairies a jot. I have just asked my youngest daughter whether she believed in them, and she said "Of course not—only I liked the stories." Fiction to children is fiction and not fact.
    • "V. Fairies", p. 30
  • The pretty game of calling on the children of the audience of "Peter Pan" to declare their faith in fairies seemed to me disastrous—a game of men and women at the expense of children, a cumbersome frolic at best and an artificial, a tyrannous use of the adult sense of sentimental humour against the helpless. I could with better conscience use my superior physical strength upon them than exploit them for love of my own condescension. (And yet Sir J. Barrie has written the most adorable "pretending" story ever written about a child.)

    No, children love a fairy story not because they think it true, but because they think it untrue, and because it makes no fraudulent appeal to their excellent good sense. That sense they are delighted to put aside while they "pretend." That is their own word.[…] "Let's pretend," not "Let's believe." Their mother does not put "Let's pretend" into the child's mouth; she finds it there. Without it there is no play. But the pretending is always drama and never deception or self-deception.

    • "V. Fairies", pp. 32–33
  • What else, indeed, should mediocrity be but widespread, anywhere?
    • "VIII. International", pp. 44–45
  • Children have a fastidiousness that time is slow to cure. It is to be wondered, for example, whether if the elderly were half as hungry as children are they would yet find so many things at table to be detestable.
    • "IX. Injustice", p. 48

Hearts of Controversy (1917)

London: Burns & Oates, 1917
  • [E]xaggeration establishes no good understanding between the reader and the author. It is a solemn appeal to our credulity, and we are right to resent it. It is the violence of a weakling hand—the worst manner of violence.
  • I wish it were not customary to write of one art in the terms of another, and I use the words "music" and "musical" under protest, because the world has been so delighted to call any verse pleasant to the ear "musical," that it has not supplied us with another and more specialised and appropriate word.
  • Men in cities look upward not much more than animals, and these—except the dog when he bays the moon—look skyward not at all.

The Second Person Singular and Other Essays (1921)

Oxford University Press, 1921
  • [S]he used her intellect, and that action is the vitality of all poetry that is not song only, but poetry and song.
  • [S]ome things must needs gain in mystery before we can at all undertake to think upon them. Without mystery they are all obscure. Who can think, for instance, of the infinity of space without adding inconceivable things to his meditation?
    • "A Hundred Years Ago", p. 69
  • Life, light, and distance—in poetry—seem to leave on the mind's eye the impression of red, yellow, and blue, radiant less or more according as the life is less or more impassioned, the light celestial, and the space remote.
  • The quality of poetry is not strained. It has not to abide our repeated questions. It tests and is not tested. Every true lover of poetry knows that when he cites great lines it is not the poetry but the hearer that is to be judged.
  • The most beautiful of all gardens is assuredly not that which is rather forest or field than garden, the 'landscape garden' of false taste; nor, on the other hand, the shaven and trimmed and weeded parterre with an unstarred lawn; but rather the garden long ago strictly planned, rigidly ordered, architecturally piled, smooth and delicate, but later set free, given over to time and the sun; not a wilderness, but having an enclosed wilderness, a directed liberty, a designed magnificence and excess.
    • "Coventry Patmore", p. 107

Poems (1923)

New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1923
  •  My day-mind can endure
    Upright, in hope, all it must undergo.
     But O, afraid, unsure,
    My night-mind waking lies too low, too low.
    • "To Sleep", p. 121
  • Round the blue sea I love the best
     The argent foam played, slender, fleet;
    I saw—past Wordsworth and the rest—
     Her natural, Greek, and silver feet.
    • "'The Return to Nature' (II) Thetis", p. 131
  • This moment's Tiber with his shining eyes
     Never saw Rome before.
    • "'Rivers Unknown to Song'", p. 134