Wilfrid and Alice Meynell: The Couple at the Heart of Great Britain’s Catholic Revival

Wilfrid Meynell was born into a Quaker family in 1852 (he would live until 1948!) and converted to Catholicism at age eighteen. Although Meynell first considered a career in chemistry, he had a great interest in literary endeavors which he first realized when he contributed verse to Emily Priestman’s Simple Tales (1873). Throughout his life, Meynell wrote and published in a variety of genres, but he never lost his interest in poetry. This is reflected through his close association with Francis Thompson, and perhaps influenced his decision to marry the poet and essayist Alice C. Thompson.

Alice Christiana Meynell (née Thompson), was born in England on September 22, 1847. (She was not related to Francis Thompson.) Alice’s mother, Christiana Weller, was trained as a concert pianist and, after a performance, met her future husband T. J. Thompson.  Thompson, a Cambridge man who had inherited a fortune, was a widower when he met Christiana. Since he did not have to work, Thompson’s primary occupation seems to have been educating his two daughters, who were brought up in the countryside of England and later in Italy. Having read poetry since she was seven years old, Alice eventually became a poet herself and published  Preludes in 1875, which was well-received. However, she chose a family life when she married Wilfrid Meynell in 1877, who was also a great admirer of her work. With Wilfrid, Alice Meynell had eight children, although one died in infancy.

Together the two entered a number of publishing and editing endeavors, often while laboring over their own works. As a writer, Wilfrid was responsible for countless reviews, articles, and poems over the course of his career. The exact number of his works is not known, because many of them were printed without credit or under a pseudonym.  At the same time Alice was a steady contributor to the Pall Mall Gazette, the National Observer, and the Tablet as a reviewer, critic, essayist and columnist. An accomplished art critic, she also wrote for the Magazine of Art and the Art Journal.

Together they began work as editors and  proprietors of Merry England in 1883, and were in contact with Catholic writers during its growing revival. Wilfrid corresponded with Coventry Patmore, Oscar Wilde, Hilaire Belloc, and Edith Sitwell. This circle was ultimately extended by his son, Francis, who was also a publisher (Nonesuch Press), and his daughter, the novelist and biographer Viola Meynell, who befriended D. H Lawrence, among others.

The Cover Page from the first  volume of Merry England (May 1883).

The Cover Page from the first volume of Merry England (May 1883). 10-000003576 MEYNELL, Meynell Collection, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

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.

At the same time, Alice focused on her own work. Besides her seven collections of essays, including The Rhythm of Life, (1893) which went through three editions, Alice was also the author of numerous prefaces to works by some of the greatest modern English writers, including William Blake, Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

It was in these years that the couple enjoyed close contact with Francis Thompson. In 1887, after publishing an anonymous poem, “The Passion of Mary,” with the hopes of finding the author, the Meynells were soon contacted by Francis Thompson. Recognizing his talent, the Meynells sought to help him cultivate his talent and get him off the streets of London. For almost two decades Thompson resided with the Meynells, or at their urging, in a drug rehabilitation clinic and later a monastery. However, they ultimately were unable to help Thompson and in 1907 he died of tuberculosis, while still struggling with addiction.

In later years, the couple resided mainly at the family estate at Greatham, Sussex, which had been purchased in 1911 out of the modest prosperity afforded by the Meynells’ literary endeavors. The fact that they were helped along in securing the estate with revenue generated by new editions of Francis Thompson’s works after the poet’s death seems fitting, given their sustained encouragement and care of the poet over the years.

It was here that Alice would die in 1922 at the age of 75.

Wilfrid continued writing and corresponding, and eventually developed a trans-Atlantic friendship with Father Terrence Connolly S.J., the Francis Thompson enthusiast who was responsible for securing the Seymour Adelman collection of Thompsoniana for Boston College. Father Connolly wrote Meynell for over fifteen years, and credited him for his generosity in filling out the Thompson collection. Connolly was the author of Francis Thompson: In his paths (1944), a travelogue of his pilgrimage to various places Thompson inhabited, as well as a visit to the Meynell estate at Greatham.

Letter Written by Wilfrid Meynell

An original correspondence between Wilfrid Meynell and Fr. Terrence Connolly S.J. Wilfrid Meynell Collection, MS1986-042, Box 3, Folder 2.

In his book Fr. Connolly describes his receiving important manuscripts of Francis Thompson:

[In] the library I noticed a large package of Thompson notebooks on the table, placed there, I thought, for my study during the afternoon. When I expressed my regret that I would not be able to examine them, Mr. Meynell said, as he placed them in my hands, But you will, my dear Father, you will. They are for you. This last and greatest gift just when I was almost painfully aware of my indebtedness for the kindness already shown me left me no alternative but silence.

These fragile notebooks are still one of the treasures of the Francis Thompson Collection at Boston College, and represent a significant part of the limited legacy found in Francis Thompson’s tin trunk after his death.  They were fragile when Fr. Connolly received them in 1938 and are now kept in proper conditions. To make the contents available for researchers Fr. Connolly had them all carefully typed. In the 1950’s Boston College acquired an even greater treasure from the trove of Thompson remains: the original manuscript of his poem, “The Hound of Heaven.”

Wilfrid Meynell provided another important source of information about Francis Thompson. Thompson published many articles, reviews, notes, and letters to literary magazines, and, as was customary, they were not signed. Meynell told Fr. Connolly which items in Advocacy, Merry England and other periodicals were by Thompson. In the Thompson Room in the Burns Library, long runs of these and other periodicals contain Fr. Connolly’s careful notes of authorship.

Wilfrid Meynell died in 1948, at 96 years of age.

The Burns Library collection of Wilfrid and Alice Meynell material includes correspondences, books, journals, and a scrapbook containing many articles, reviews, essays, poems, and some correspondences of Alice Meynell. Among the materials are a number of reviews of Alice Meynell’s poetry and a small number of obituaries written at the time of the poet’s death in 1922. We also have three autographed signed letters from Alice Meynell to Mr. Welfore St. Clair Baddley (1856-1945), an English poet, dramatist, world traveler, amateur archeologist and historian. Likewise,  the Wilfrid Meynell Correspondence consists mostly of letters written by Wilfrid Meynell between the years 1921 and 1943. Almost half of the nearly one hundred letters here are addressed to Father Terrence Connolly. The rest of the correspondences, which includes five letters addressed to Wilfrid Meynell, are addressed to various clergy members, publishers, writers, and friends.

David E. Horn, Burns Library, Boston College

Edited and revised by Chad M. Landrum, M.A. student in the History Department & Burns Library Reading Room Assistant

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Do We Really Care?: Early student activism in the 1960s

Some faces of those involved: Jim Dehaven (left) and Charles Hauck (right)

Some faces of those involved: Jim Dehaven (left) and Charles Hauck (right). The Heights, “Reaction sets in Daly’s dismissal,” 18 March 1969.

Have Boston College students truly been men and women for others? Despite the physical changes, the university’s purpose and message have largely remained constant. Beginning in the 1840s, those who envisioned Boston College wanted to improve the lives of Irish immigrants who, according to historian Thomas O’Connor, “suffered the effects of bias and discrimination on account of their Catholic faith as well as their Celtic origins.” The school’s earliest leaders sought to simultaneously further a student’s education and solidify his religious formation, when such an opportunity did not otherwise exist. In this sense, Boston College’s roots were tied to social justice, one reflected in its current, self-defined mission to create a “just society.” President William P. Leahy, S.J., writes that the university’s goal is to “educate…men and women who will be capable of shaping the future with vision, justice, and charity—with a sense of calling, with concern for all of the human family.” Or more simply put, men and women for others. Therefore since its inception, Boston College has sought to foster justice on campus and off.

Over 1500 demonstrators turn out over the dismissal of Mary Daly, prominent member of the Theology Department and nationally-recognized theologian

Over 1500 demonstrators turn out over the dismissal of Mary Daly, prominent member of the Theology Department and nationally-recognized theologian. The Heights, “Student protest calm, upset at response,” 25 March 1969.

Yet, Boston College students have often suffered from navel gazing, which has impacted their ability to affect change beyond Chestnut Hill. For much of the 1960s–a time of tremendous change–reports in The Heights reflect a student body with shared a campus-centric mentality. In 1966, one student wrote how while his classmates selected from several clubs “enamored of American government and society,” the campus did not have “radical” groups. “Until a diversity of opinion finds impression on the Heights, until argument even to the point of rancor,” he continued, “Boston College cannot be an intellectual landmark.” Another correspondent asked, “like, what’s the point of it all” if students just drank coffee all day? A 1967 protest to “show their brotherhood with the suffering Christ and the people of Vietnam” attracted just 40 students. Proximate concerns, however, sparked greater activism. In 1966, students staged a “foot riot” because a new payment plan for student meals. The administration soon changed the plan. In 1969, more than 2,500 students and faculty members signed a petition against the decision to not grant tenure to a theology professor, with 1,500 students arriving at the president’s office to ensure the petition was duly received. The tenure decision was ultimately reversed. Therefore, on the eve of what would be a campus-wide strike against tuition increases in the spring of 1970, Boston College students had developed the capability to recognize pressing on-campus issues and to enact change as a result of their involvement.

  • J. Shane Troy BC 2015, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

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Voodoo Works in the Williams Collection

In the wake of the racially fueled Civil War, a distinct interest in the cultures of the formerly enslaved peoples came to the fore of American interest. As the boundaries of race relations began to shift, a general lack of knowledge and fear drove these investigations into the voodoo culture, as, perhaps, a way to understand the formerly enslaved. This trend helps to explain the wide-scale commercial popularity of the 1899 volume The Conjure Woman, and Other Conjure Tales by Charles W. Chesnutt. This volume, reprinted to this day, presents lively and colorful tales of voodoo magic on plantations in the South. But this collection of works does not stand alone in addressing this subject matter. It would appear that Joseph J. Williams, whose collection is housed at the John J. Burns Library, appears to have had quite a fascination with the concept of voodoo spiritualism and magic. The Williams Collection is full of intriguingly obscure tomes dedicated to subjects ranging from superstitions of various cultures to the culture and political landscape of Jamaica. In addition, the collection houses some books which Williams himself wrote, showcasing the extent to which he took these subjects seriously.

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Voodos and Obeahs by Joseph J. Williams, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

Pertaining to Voodoo, Williams published a book in 1932 titled Voodoos and Obeahs, a testament to his interest in the mounting social discourse. In it, he claims to be writing in an effort to dispel popular misconceptions about the Voodoo religion which had developed in America. His aim is to trace the origins of Voodoo back to Africa and mark how it transitioned from there to the Caribbean via the slave trade. It is his firm belief that in doing so, the true nature of the Voodoo religion can be made clear and the myths surrounding its dark powers could ultimately be dispelled. He marks a clear distinction between Voodoo itself and its derivation of Obeah, which he describes as fraught with dark ritual akin to devil worship. For Williams, Voodoo itself is not the problem, but rather the spiritual form it took after the forced migration of the African peoples via the slave trade.

 

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Old Rabbit, the Voodoo, and Other Sorcerers by Mary Owen, John J. Burns Library, Boston Colleve

By analyzing the books held in his collection, it is clear to see the influences which affected his interest in Voodoo. Of particular note is a collection of Voodoo slave narratives which predate the works of Charles W. Chesnutt. The 1893 collection is entitled Voodoo Tales: As Told Among the Negroes of the Southwest by Mary A. Owen, a folklorist of the time. This illustrated volume relays folk tales of the south during the time of slavery. It reads similarly to Grimm’s fairy tales with regard to its contents, which range from humorous to grotesque. Its clear depiction of the folktales surrounding Voodoo would have proved sufficient fodder for the interests of Williams, particularly when coupled with future publications like that of Chesnutt. Of interest, however, is the publication history of this text. Voodoo Tales is not actually the first publication of this text, but, rather, another version, titled Old Rabbit, The Voodoo, and Other Sorcerers, appeared in London earlier in the same year. The text itself is the same and serves as the true first edition of this text. Both versions of the text can be found in the Burns Archive.

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Voodoo Tales by Mary Owen, John J. Burns Library, Boston College

One final text which may provide some insight into the life and interests of Williams is titled Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery by Ottobah Cugoano. Addressed to the British public and published in 1787, the early work in the fight against slavery passionately argues against the institution of slavery, the same institution which would, in Williams’s view, corrupt Voodoo into the caricature of dark superstition that it would become in the mind of the American public.

Taking into consideration the vast amounts of texts on the subject of superstition, the transatlantic movement of slaves, and the study of Religions in the Williams collection, it becomes far easier to make sense of the complicated works of Williams himself and paints a picture of the man he was.

  • Zach Weinsteiger, BC M.A. ’15, and former Burns Library Reading Room Assistant
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Why Boston College Got Ugly: Explaining postwar construction

Carney Hall groundbreaking (left to right: Classics professor Joseph Maguire, Richard Cardinal Cushing, and Father Walsh)

Carney Hall exterior: groundbreaking with Joseph Maguire, Richard Cushing, and Michael P. Walsh with shovels, 1963 April 16. Box 3, folder 37, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

For more than four decades, the Chestnut Hill grounds of Boston College remained an astoundingly beautiful, Gothic-inspired campus. Critics noted Gasson Hall’s national influence among Gothic revivalism at universities, and, in 1926, Devlin Hall was recognized as “the most beautiful piece of architecture, building, monument, or structure” built in the area in the previous decade. After World War II, though, universities needed to grow to accommodate the thousands of veterans looking to enroll through the G.I. Bill. This time period, too, was a turning point for Jesuit and Catholic universities. Leaders questioned if their institutions could compete academically with secular institutions without sacrificing their core values. More generally, they debated over how to cope with the progression of higher education. (Centennial events in 1963 at Boston College included an academic conference on the consequences of the “knowledge explosion.”) Secular schools were attracting accomplished lay professors by constructing facilities to encourage research and the professors’ comfort. Dormitories, too, attracted the best students from outside the universities’ own territory. Institutions such as Boston College faced the prospect of falling behind if they did not keep pace

Fulton Hall, before its renovation

Pre-renovation Fulton Hall exterior, aerial view, 1948. Box 4, folder 34, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Under the leadership of presidents William Keleher, S.J, Joseph Maxwell, S.J., and Michael Walsh, S.J. (1945-1968), Boston College began a series of major construction projects to provide a similar academic infrastructure found at secular institutions. New buildings were devoted to the sciences, social sciences, and liberal arts as well as for student housing and athletics. The school could no longer dwell on the ornate and magnificent architecture of the campus’s first buildings. Such elaborate architecture took too much time and cost too much money. As a result, especially during the Walsh era, the school built as fast as possible to provide to the growing needs of an elite institution of higher education. Rare were the months that a dormitory or classroom building was not under construction.

Cushing hall main entrance

Cushing Hall exterior: main entrance from road, 1960. Box 3, folder 62, Boston College Building and Campus Images, BC.1987.012, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The clash of aesthetics between the buildings built during this era and the beautiful original buildings represented the conflict between Catholic ideals and keeping up with the secular progression of higher education. Yet, without the leadership of Keleher, Maxwell, and Walsh, Boston College would have struggled to adapt and advance into the high-class institution that it is today. Although their compromise led to an “ugly” side of campus, the pragmatic decisions made by these presidents was necessary for Boston College’s academic successes.

  • John Fee BC 2016, Philosophy & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

 

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

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A Living Memorial: Students react to President Kennedy’s assassination

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Philippe Thibodeau Journal, 1963 November 22-25. BC.1994.117, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The music cut off abruptly in the dining hall. Students and faculty crowded around radios to hear the reports from Dallas. In Bapst Library’s auditorium, President Michael Walsh, S.J., led the campus in the rosary. He announced the news before the third mystery: President Kennedy was dead. R.O.T.C. cadets lowered the flag to half-mast. Professors cancelled classes, and clubs postponed events. Administrators called off the B.C.-B.U. football game, scheduled for the next day, to allow students to mourn the nation’s loss. Such was the campus scene described in the journal of freshman commuter student Philipe Thibodeau.

Kennedy speaks at the Centennial exercises just a few months before his assassination, 20 April 1963

Kennedy speaks at the Centennial exercises just a few months before his assassination. Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald) at Centennial Convocation at Boston College, 20 April 1963, Boston College Special Guests and Events Photographs, MS.1986.032, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The assassination sent shockwaves across the country, but, for Boston College students, the loss was a personal one. Only a few months earlier, the president attended the university’s Centennial exercises. He had stood on stage in Alumni Stadium, unmistakably young and full of life, and spoke about the university’s youth, inspiring history, and bright future. Neither he nor the students he addressed could know that his own future was tragically limited.

Kennedy was a Harvard man, but he had a long history at Boston College. An important center for Boston Irish Catholicism, it was a key political base for Kennedy during his years in Congress. Reports in The Heights show that students ardently supported Kennedy from his earliest days in public office. They elected him by a landslide in every mock election, delighted in his speeches at campus events, and rushed to his defense whenever his policies were questioned. As Time succinctly put it in 1963, “Boston College watered the roots that grew the first Irish-Catholic U.S. President.”

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In January 1964, The Heights announced donations to build a "Human Relations Library" in Kennedy's memory

The Heights announced donations to construct a “Human Relations Library” in Kennedy’s memory, though it was never built. The Heights, “Human Relations Library to be Kennedy Memorial,” 7 January 1964.

The President could thank his family for the fruitful relationship he enjoyed with students at Boston College. Since his grandfather, John “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald had attended the school for a month in 1879, the paths of the family and the university often intersected. In many ways, they walked the same path from local to national prestige. Therefore, one can certainly understand the feelings of “hurt, almost tearful sadness, indignation and disgust,” that came over the campus on November 22, 1963.

Immediately after the assassination, students began fundraising to establish a fitting on-campus tribute to the late president. A memorial committee decided that donations would support the construction of a new “Human Relations Library,” serving as a “living memorial” to Kennedy’s legacy.

The goal proved too ambitious, and students quietly set it aside by 1965. Still, the brief moment of spontaneous, collective student action reveals that the campus community experienced the nation’s loss deeply and personally.

  • Violet Caswell BC 2017, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

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William Morris and the Kelmscott Press

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Title page of Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair, 04-13988 Fine Print, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

“The question…is this, whether we are to have books which are beautiful as books; books in which type, paper, woodcuts, and the due arrangement of all these are to be considered, and which are so treated as to produce a harmonious whole, something which will give a person with a sense of beauty real pleasure whenever and wherever the book is opened, even before he begins to look closely into the illustrations; or whether the beautiful and inventive illustrations are to be looked on as separate pictures embedded in a piece of utilitarianism, which they cannot decorate because it cannot help them to do so.” (William Morris qtd. in Kelmscott Centennial 1)

Excerpt from Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair.

Excerpt from Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair.

William Morris was a nineteenth century author, designer, printer, and socialist/social reformer. He was a member of the Pre-Raphaelites, known for his friendships with D. G. Rossetti and Edward Burne-Jones. Morris is perhaps best known for the design firm he started with friends but later bought out and re-named Morris & Co. Designing everything from furniture to wallpaper, Morris was immersed in all aspects of design and production. Jack Lindsay in William Morris: Dreamer of Dreams describes essential concepts of Morris’s work as “his respect for materials, for true functionality, for relation of form and function, the integrity and simplicity of design vis-à-vis purpose” (14). The Kelmscott Press was Morris’s last endeavor—a fine print press that he started in 1890 with its first book, Morris’s own The Story of the Glittering Plain, being printed in 1891. Kelsmcott was a fine print press focused on developing exquisite typography and balanced book designs all while using the best possible materials. It was the initiative that sparked the growth of private and fine print presses throughout Europe and America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

William Morris designed three typefaces for the press “Golden, based on Nicholas Jenson’s 15th century Roman type, Troy, a gothic type, and Chaucer, which was a smaller version of Troy” (The Arts and Crafts Museum). Burns Library holds a few volumes from the Kelmscott Press in its Fine Print Collections. The books are beautifully printed on heavy, handmade linen paper in black and red ink. Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair was written by Morris and printed in 1895. The title comes in two volumes, both smaller, hard-bound books with half-linen binding and what appear to be hand-sewn fabric dustjackets that were added by a later owner. The margins are wide, allowing the text block to figure prominently on the page accompanied by decorated capitals and the occasional border. The first page of Chapter 1 in Vol. 1 of the text highlights Morris’s use of foliage and borders.

Title page from The History of Reynard the Foxe, PT5584 .C3 1892 Fine Print, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Title page from The History of Reynard the Foxe, PT5584 .C3 1892 Fine Print, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

The second Kelmscott book in the Burns collection is The History of Reynard the Fox. Translated by William Caxton, the father of English printing, it seems only appropriate that the Kelmscott Press, as a central element in the history of fine print press history, should put out a fine print version of the tale. The Burns Library copy is beautiful: the book has soft vellum covers and linen ties that hold it shut. The book itself is protected with a fabric covered sleeve held in place by more linen ties. The paper is heavy and handmade and the text is printed in red and black ink with ornate capital letters and foliate borders.

Excerpt from The History of Reynard the Foxe.

Excerpt from The History of Reynard the Foxe.

The Kelmscott Press books are beautiful to look at and function as an invitation to the reader to slow down and enjoy the components of the book itself from the carefully designed type to the intricate decorations to the surprisingly heavy paper. The Kelmscott press, as the herald of the fine print movement, is an excellent place to start exploring the products of fine print presses, many of which are available in the Burns Library Fine Print Collection. If you are interested in viewing these books, please call or email the Burns Library Reading Room at (617)-552-4861 or burnsref@bc.edu.

Excerpt from The History of Reynard the Foxe.

Excerpt from The History of Reynard the Foxe.

  • Rachel A. Ernst, John J. Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant and PhD candidate in the BC English department

Bibliography:

Caxton, William. The History of Reynard the Foxe. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1892.

Hammer, Victor et. al William Morris and His Heirs: A Kelmscott Centennial. Minneapolis: Minnesota Center for Book Arts, 1991.

Lindsay, Jack. William Morris: Dreamer of Dreams. London: The Nine Elms Press, 1991.

Morris, William. Child Christopher and Goldilind the Fair. Hammersmith: Kelmscott Press, 1895.

Robinson, Duncan. William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and the Kelmscott Chaucer. London: Gordon Fraser, 1982.

Posted in Featured Collections & Books, Fine Press, Rare books, Student Posts, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Rededication to the Sacred Things we Call the Humanities.”: The Success of the First Five Years of Father Sweeney’s Humanities Series

Father Francis Sweeney, S.J.

Father Francis Sweeney, S.J., undated. Box 64, folder 11, Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. Humanities Series Director’s Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

When critically acclaimed poet T.S. Eliot left his second lecture at Boston College, he declared, “I want to be invited back. Even when I am unable to go elsewhere, I shall return to Boston College.” And invited back he was, again and again, on account of the Boston College Humanities Series and its first and longtime director, Fr. Francis Sweeney, S.J.

Ever since its official inauguration in 1958, the Humanities Series continues to bring world-renowned literary figures to the towers of the heights. Yet, the first five years of this lecture series set the tone for an unexpected and extraordinary future of literary genius at Boston College.

A letter to Sweeney from E. E. Cummings

A letter to Sweeney from E. E. Cummings, 19 October 1961. Box 18, folder 78, Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. Humanities Series Director’s Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Sweeney’s persistence, benevolence, and passionate personality brought forth distinguished poets like Robert Frost, E.E. Cummings, and T.S Eliot.  Through a consistent exchange of letters, Sweeney transformed five years of lectures into durable friendships that helped define Boston College’s academic tradition and categorized Sweeney as a true visionary and champion of the humanities.

T. S. Eliot at Boston College, 1958

T. S. Eliot at Boston College, 1958. Box 61, folder 2, Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. Humanities Series Director’s Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

 

 

As a result of constant communication, Sweeney came to regard Frost, cummings, and Eliot as friends. His letters revealed an admiration for the poets, and, in return, the poets saw Sweeney as a genuine and trustworthy equal. T.S. Eliot invited Sweeney to his London home and asked for Sweeney’s support in times of need. Cummings’s assistant spoke honestly with Sweeney and revealed delicate quirks about E.E. Cummings. The beginning success of the series can best be attributed to such personal touches by Sweeney. Frost, Cummings, and Eliot all engaged in small conversations with students following the readings and lectures–a unique tradition that lasted for the duration of Sweeney’s time as director. This special environment truly helped define the series for the participating students.

Announcement of Frost's appearance

Announcement of Frost’s appearance, 1959. Box 24, folder 22, Francis W. Sweeney, S.J. Humanities Series Director’s Records, MS.2002.037, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

And the relationship between Sweeney and Frost— one based upon a mutual respect and appreciation—was what started it all. A sold-out crowd flooded the Campion Hall’s Kennedy Theatre to hear the last of Frost’s six consecutive lectures, the end of what Frost considered a “regular thing between me and Boston College.”

With the Humanities Series, never before had an academic event in Boston College’s history began with such unprecedented momentum. The popularity of the event among the student body was unrivaled, and the speakers found safety in the admiration of the crowd and the familiarity of Father Francis Sweeney.

 

  • Racquel MacDonald BC 2016, History & Spring 2015 Making History Public Student

The images and content in this blog post are from the exhibit#WeWereBC, which is now on display in the History Department, Stokes 3rd Floor South.    This exhibit was curated and organized byProfessor Seth Meehan’s Spring 2015 Making History Public class, in collaboration with the Boston College University Libraries.

Posted in B. C. History, Exhibits & Events, HS600 Posts, Student Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment