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Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) lived most of his life within the walls of Eton and King's College, Cambridge, as a student, master, museum director, and provost. His impressive body of scholarly work includes studies and translations of biblical apocrypha, hagiography, and Christian art and architecture, as well as several groundbreaking descriptive catalogues of manuscript collections.1 Today, though, James is perhaps most well known for his highly influential "antiquarian" ghost stories, which have been frequently imitated, anthologized, and dramatized on television, film, the stage, and even a recent best-selling video game.2 James's fiction has already received some limited, uneven critical attention, but surprisingly few studies have paid much attention to the strong ties between his fictional works and his professional pursuits.3 An exception is a recent article by A.S.G. Edwards in Notes and Queries, who points out that the name of a character in "Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book" is taken from the real-life compiler of an album of manuscript fragments, James Dennistoun (1803-1855).4 Edwards notes that this small but interesting discovery "provides a surprisingly rare link between his ghost stories and his other career as one who by the mid-1890s 'in knowledge of MSS [was] already third or fourth in Europe.'"5 It is indeed surprising that so few substantial connections have been made between the imaginative and scholarly work of an author of James's stature and influence.

This article works to help fill this gap by carefully examining the antiquarian backdrop of another Jamesian story involving a collector of [End Page 339] manuscripts. "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" is a variation of this familiar theme in James's work, and indeed the story's antiquary protagonist is named, not Dennistoun, but James Denton.6 The similarity of these names (the fictional manuscript enthusiast, Dennistoun, in "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book"; the historical antiquarian scrap-booker, James Dennistoun, noted by Edwards; the fictional bibliophile, James Denton, in "The Diary of Mr. Poynter") is striking for a number of reasons. For one thing, it suggests that James's names tend to be significant in some way or other—often in allusively obscure ways. It is also symptomatic of the extent to which James's tales tend to retread old fictional haunts. That is not to say that James repeats himself, but most of his tales do hew to the conventions of a genre he himself largely invented. The antiquarian ghost story almost invariably involves a doppelgänger of the author in some form: a gentleman-scholar investigates a church, artifact, or book and makes an unsettling discovery. The past as object of study becomes the past as something to fear and loathe. A similar pattern obtains in the tale in question, but the particulars are bizarre even in comparison with the rest of James's weird fiction. As we hope to demonstrate, long-overdue attention to James's sources reveals in the tale an unlooked-for congruence of antiquarian allusion, historical context, and hair-raising imagery.

A brief summary of the story may prove useful. Despite its title, "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" does not directly deal with the private life of someone named Mr. Poynter. Rather, the tale is focused around something James Denton discovers in Poynter's diary after buying it sight unseen from a London book auctioneer. What he finds is a scrap of fabric imprinted with a pattern that "reminds one of hair," and that immediately appeals to the tastes of his enthusiastic aunt.7 Denton and his aunt live together and are in the process of decorating a new country manor; they decide to have the pattern reproduced on new curtains. Once hung, however, these patterned curtains give rise to something horrible, which Denton at first mistakes for his pet spaniel:

Then he thought he was mistaken: for happening to move his hand which hung down over the arm of the chair within a few inches of the floor, he felt on the back of it just the slightest touch of a surface of hair, and stretching it out in that direction he stroked and patted a rounded something. But the feel of it, and still more the fact that instead of a responsive movement, absolute stillness greeted his touch, made him look over the arm. What he had been touching rose to meet him. It was in the attitude of one that had [End Page 340] crept along the floor on its belly, and it was, so far as could be collected, a human figure. But of the face which was now rising to within a few inches of his own no feature was discernible, only hair. Shapeless as it was, there was about it so horrible an air of menace that as he bounded from his chair and rushed from the room he heard himself moaning with fear: and doubtless he did right to fly.8

Fleeing the room and the next day the manor itself, Denton searches the diary only to find two or three pages of it pasted together. Steaming these pages open, he reads Mr. Poynter's account of the origin of the patterned fabric he had had reproduced: we learn from the diary that a certain "personable young gent." named Everard Charlett had the reputation of being a "loose atheistical companion, and a great Lifter, as they then call'd the hard drinkers."9 Guilty of many unnamed "extravangancies" and "debaucheries," Everard was eventually "found in the town ditch, the hair as was said pluck'd clean off his head."10 Years later, his coffin is opened by accident and is found to be full of hair. This hairy fate is fitting, for Everard had been nicknamed "Absalom" on account of his great beauty and his notably long hair, which before his death he had memorialized in a rather strange way: he had the image of his hair reproduced in the form of a printed fabric, which he used as a kind of tapestry in his lodgings.11 Poynter had collected a scrap of this fabric in his diary, and now a disgusted and fearful Denton finds reason to burn it along with all his new curtains.

This diary of Poynter's is closely modelled on Remarks and Collections, the journals of the eighteenth-century antiquary Thomas Hearne (baptised 1678, died 1735), one of the pioneers of M. R. James's academic profession. We know that James had Hearne in mind when dreaming up Poynter's diary, simply because he tells us so: "It was then that he made certain of the fact, which he had before only suspected, that he had indeed acquired the diary of Mr. William Poynter, Squire of Acrington (about four miles from his own parish)—that same Poynter who was for a time a member of the circle of Oxford antiquaries, the centre of which was Thomas Hearne, and with whom Hearne seems ultimately to have quarrelled—a not uncommon episode in the career of that excellent man."12 Despite this strong nudge, most students of James's fiction seem to have looked in the wrong place for insight into Poynter and his diary. In his footnote to this passage, Michael Cox explains that Hearne was a "bibliophile and antiquary ... whose Collectanea, 6 vols. (1715), compiled from the notes of John Leland, Henry VIII's librarian, was a bibliographical event of great importance and formed part of the historical substructure of MRJ's own work."13 While this [End Page 341] is true, James's reference to "Hearne's own collections" clearly points, not to the Collectanea, but rather to Hearne's own antiquarian diaries, running to 145 handwritten octavos in manuscript and published in eleven printed volumes under the title Remarks and Collections by the Oxford Historical Society between 1885 and 1918.14 Hearne's diaries are just as James describes Poynter's: "As is the case with Hearne's own collections, the diary of Poynter contained a good many notes from printed books, descriptions of coins and other antiquities that had been brought to his notice, and drafts of letters on these subjects, besides the chronicle of everyday events."15 Hearne's Remarks and Collections are unquestionably the dominant source for Poynter's diary, and this overlooked fact has important implications.

For instance, the excerpt from Poynter's book at the end of the tale draws on a deep familiarity with Hearne's personal style. James is known for his uncanny ability to mimic archaic English, but nearly everything in this passage has its precise analogue in Hearne's diaries. Poynter's characterization of Everard as, among other things, "a personable young gent., but a loose atheistical companion, and a great Lifter, as they then call'd the hard drinkers" echoes the language Hearne uses to describe scores of other "debauched" young undergraduates in early-eighteenth-century Oxford, youths who—like Everard—often have uneasy relationships with their fathers: "This Son is a very handsome Young Man, & very good natured, but very loose in his Morals, & spends his Estate in Whores & Debauchery, the Father having not provided that he should be well educated."16 Such youths are often under the accusation of atheism and are frequently in danger of death or expulsion from the university. We find in Hearne the tale of an "Atheistical Fellow" and a "merry Companion" who, before he is executed for manslaughter, requests a friend to "put now and then a Bottle of Ale by his Grave."17 Another, like Everard, is "a beautifull, handsome Person, but most miserably debauch'd."18 These "topping Gentlemen's Sons" often "wear their own hair" rather than wigs, and are occasionally found dead in ditches.19 We even hear of "a very great Lifter" who expires with glass in hand.20

The portrait of Everard Charlett, then, seems to be a blend of such debauched young men in Hearne, but James's borrowings extend beyond simply echoing the language of eighteenth-century scandal. For instance, Poynter reports that Everard is "of the same Family as Dr. Arthur Charlett, now master of ye Coll.,"21 and that Everard "no doubt would have been expell'd ye Coll., supposing that no interest had been [End Page 342] imploy'd on his behalf, of which Mr. Casbury had some suspicion."22 We may infer that this "interest" is employed by Arthur Charlett, who is accused in Hearne's diary of doing the same for a certain Mr. George Ward ("commonly called for his loose way of Living Jolly Ward"): "Ward being a Favourite of the Master's, nothing is done against him, tho' he ought to be expelled both the College & University."23 The historical Arthur Charlett (1655-1722) in fact plays a large role in Remarks and Collections, where it is clear (in Hearne's mind at least) that Charlett is the antiquary's chief enemy at the university.24 Charlett is often "lashed" by Hearne, who mocks him as "Dr. Varlett" and characterizes him as an ambitious, petty, "malicious, busy Man."25 Hearne's most common charge is that Charlett has "a strange, unaccountable Vanity," and so the fictional Everard Charlett's foppish vanity (epitomized in erecting a "memoriall" to his own hair) accords well with the intellectual and professional vanity of his historical kinsman.

Perhaps even more important is that the other major villain in Hearne's diary is named Poynter, a fact that no critic of James has hitherto noted. Mr. Poynter the antiquary (John Poynter, 1668-1754; he is rechristened William Poynter in James's tale) is no Jamesian invention, but was in fact another of Thomas Hearne's real-life professional enemies. In Remarks and Collections, Poynter receives the lash of Hearne's pen nearly as often as Charlett. To say that Hearne "seems ultimately to have quarrelled" with Poynter is a wry understatement, for from his very first mention of him on 27 October 1713, Hearne is at odds with this rival antiquary over their differing interpretations of a newly discovered Roman pavement at Oxford.26 Throughout the rest of the diaries, Hearne abuses Poynter in both Latin and English: he is ineruditus and insipiens, "silly," a "Dull Simpleton," a "Cockbrain'd Fellow," and, most frequently, "that Block-head."27 In aggregate, Hearne's serial abuse of Poynter is quite comic and would no doubt catch the eye of James, a careful reader of Remarks and Collections. At any rate, James seems to go out of his way to hint at the identification of these Poynters. For example, Poynter is described as the "Squire of Acrington," a town that does not exist, at least where James locates it in the tale.28 The historical Poynter, however, was from Alkerton, a town in Oxfordshire on the very border with Warwickshire. This fact accounts for a small offhand exchange between Denton and his friend at the book auctioneer's salesroom:

"Why, I thought there might be some Warwickshire collections, but I don't see anything under Warwick in the catalogue." "No, apparently not," said [End Page 343] the friend. "All the same, I believe I noticed something like a Warwickshire diary. What was the name again? Drayton? Potter? Painter—either a P or a D, I feel sure." He turned over the leaves quickly. "Yes, here it is. Poynter. Lot 486. That might interest you."

The passage makes little sense until we understand that "something like a Warwickshire diary" means a diary written by a man living in Acrington/Alkerton, a town just on the border of Warwickshire.29 James is not simply borrowing a name; he is rather writing with the most minute details of Poynter's biography in mind. This fact turns out to be significant, for there is more to Poynter's history in Hearne than antiquarian invective.

We will pick this last thread up again, but before we do so it may be useful to reflect on the wisdom of troubling overmuch with these sources. Such observations may be curious, but do they tell us anything new about James's fiction? For the most part, critics have viewed his characteristic massing of antiquarian detail as nothing more than a convenient device for delivering thrills. Sam Pickering writes: "As a result the machinery of James' stories is rarely apparent, and, swept forward by an accumulation of appropriate detail, the reader suspends criticism; becoming increasingly susceptible to expectation, he enjoys, as Edith Wharton put it, 'the fun of the shudder.'"30 But as the examples of Arthur Charlett and John Poynter indicate, the details James chooses are not merely appropriate, but more often than not are of very precise significance. One of the arguments of this article, in fact, is that James's stories invite us "to read like an antiquary" in making sense of his "ghost stories of an antiquary."31 In his academic work, after all, James was famously and intensely devoted to joining up stray details, to tracing patterns to discover where they ultimately converged. Such activity lay at the heart of his scholarly life, as he himself often noted. In his memoir Eton and King's, James explained: "This work, which may not unfairly be called superficial, or at least preliminary, has been a great solace. It has resulted in the accumulation of a heap of scraps of odd miscellaneous information, scraps which often enough are found to be really threads connecting one book with another, and perhaps in the end helping to link up a whole group, and reveal a whole chapter in the history of a library."32 In The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts—a text dedicated to "rousing curiosity" in younger students and published the same year as A Thin Ghost—James dramatizes this process of drawing together stray antiquarian threads. He imagines himself taking "my stand before the moderate-sized bookcase which contains [End Page 344] the collection of MSS. belonging to the College of Eton."33 He selects a manuscript by the luck of the draw and attempts to trace its source, relying on his vast personal store of knowledge as well as a touch of scholarly serendipity:

Then, more by luck than anything else, I find mention of [this book] in the diary of Thomas Hearne, the Oxford antiquary; his friend Thomas Jett, F.R.S., owned it and told him about it in 1722: he had been offered £100 a volume for it; it was his by purchase from one Mr. Stebbing. It was sold, perhaps to Palmerston, at Jett's auction in 1731. The gap between Henry VIII. and Stebbing remains for the present unfulfilled. So much for the first draw.34

Scenes like this remind us of James's professional belief in bibliography: an "accumulation of appropriate detail" was not likely to be mere decoration, but rather "really threads connecting one book with another."35 In both his scholarship and fiction, such threads might converge in Hearne.36

These metaphors may lead us back to the haunted, hair-patterned fabric Denton discovers in Poynter's diary—surely one of the strangest images in James's weird fiction. "No doubt," Denton observes, "it was suitable enough for a curtain pattern: it ran in vertical bands, and there was some indication that these were intended to converge at the top." Later we learn that in its reproduction for curtains the vertical bands are made to come together: "It had been finished off at the top in accordance with the indication I mentioned, so that the vertical bands joined."37 James further suggests that it is this joining of the bands in particular that allows the rise of the hairy terror. At breakfast on the morning before the terrifying event, Denton expresses unease about bringing these threads together: "There was one thing that I rather regret," he said, "that we allowed them to join up the vertical bands of the pattern at the top. I think it would have been better to leave that alone." Denton explains that he found the completed pattern distracting: "There was an effect as if someone kept peeping out between the curtains in one place or another, where there was no edge, and I think that was due to the joining up of the bands at the top."38

How should we think about these converging strands? The supernatural suggestion seems simple: joining the hairs somehow reanimates the undead threat of Everard Charlett. An important safety tip, then: do not cross the vertical bands. That would be bad. But in a text so threaded with finely drawn parallels, it might be tempting to read into this image something more: a warning—or perhaps an invitation?—to [End Page 345] the curious: a clue that something might emerge if we trace these allusions back to their source, to where they ultimately "converge at the top." Or—to take the opposite view—perhaps these vertical bands, as well as the allusions to the world of Hearne's diary, are mere window dressings in a delicious tale of terror. If so, one should not try to unriddle the tangle of James's sources and allusions; it would be "better to leave that alone." If we choose to leave it alone, though, we would have to acknowledge that James's tale makes very little sense on its surface.

Certain things do add up, of course. Denton's hairy visitor embodies the wicked spirit of young Everard Charlett, whose vanity, drinking, "loose" morals and unstated "debaucheries" lead inevitably to the youth's death and mutilation. Everard's run-of-the mill wickedness, though, is not really much of an explanation for an image of terror of this intensity. Critics, in fact, have tended to ignore Everard when trying to make sense of the hirsute horror. Detaching the beastly specter from its backstory, they have described it as "mysterious, motiveless,"39 a representation of Denton's "isolation,"40 a force of "aggressively violent ignorance," a symbol of "primitive savagery,"41 or a "loathsome living fossil of earlier, less evolved states of humankind."42 But the description of Everard as a "personable young gent.," a college student, a youth vain about his hair and given to "extravangancies"—none of this does much to support such interpretations, nor does the choice of chintz curtains as the medium of his return, nor do the gestures of the hairy haunting itself, which rises up only to make a "soft ineffectual tearing" at Denton's back.43 It has only been this past year that a critic has noted what should probably be obvious: Everard's Absalom-like hair "is an encoded statement of Sir Everard's homosexuality."44 At the very least, the sexual suggestiveness of the rising, hairy "rounded something" (language with all the enigmatically erotic qualities of Anglo-Saxon riddling: ruwes nathwæt "I-know-not-what of a hairy thing") demands greater acknowledgement than it has received in most commentaries on the tale.45 Clearly on some level the image is sexual, but what follows here both confirms and complicates that reading.

One complication is that Poynter's role remains puzzling. When his aunt accidentally drops Poynter's diary (the point in the plot that leads to the discovery of the fabric) Denton stifles a curse and exclaims: "'Poor book! I think you're rather hard on Mr. Poynter.'" As Denton picks up the book, his aunt picks up on this personification: "'Was I, my dear? I beg his pardon....'" "'[B]ut look here,'" she says, "'what you've opened him on.'"46 This discovery, then, is playfully depicted by James as a [End Page 346] moment when something about Poynter has been opened up—and potentially exposed. The antiquarian diary, after all, is a genre in which odds and ends from antiquity are interleaved with the private lives of the writer's world. In fact, James strongly suggests that someone has something to hide, for the diary entry concerning Poynter has been deliberately concealed: "Two or three leaves were pasted together, but written upon, as was patent when they were held up to the light. They yielded easily to steaming, for the paste had lost much of its strength and they contained something relevant to the pattern."47 What follows is the suggestive account of Everard, but the real question is who pasted these pages together and why? The only obvious guess we see is that Poynter himself pasted these pages, and that he did so because he shares somehow in Everard's guilt.

This suggestion points us back to Hearne's diary and what seems to be the tragic conclusion of Poynter's career in 1732:

On Wednesday night Nov. 29 last Mr. John Pointer,48 Chaplain of Merton College, was examined before the Warden of that College, Dr. John Holland, on the point of sodomy, he having been accused of sodomitical practises. Two persons of the College, Postmasters, I hear, of a good reputation, were ready to make their oath, and there were not wanting many other proofs, but their oaths were foreborn, and for quietness Pointer was advised to go off from the College, and forbid reading Prayers as Chaplain there any more. Accordingly he went off on Monday Morning Dec. 4, 'tis supposed into Northamptonshire, where he hath a vicarage. He hath withall a little Estate near Witney in Oxfordshire. He hath been guilty of this abominable vice many years. This is the same Pointer [italics added], who hath been mentioned by me more than once formerly, as a Pretender to Antiquities, which he knows little of. He hath been with the foresaid Dr. Holland, as he hath also with Dr. Potter Bishop of Oxford, to whose son of Christ Church he was a kind of Subtutor.

But this and other Vices are become so common in England, being spread from beyond sea and from a most loose Court at London where there is no Religion, that they are not by many looked upon as sins.49

Hearne's glee at his enemy's disgrace is barely suppressed as he puns on the "point of sodomy" brought against Poynter. It is difficult to doubt that James knew about Poynter's fall, and indeed this passage from Hearne's diary may be echoed in James's tale. As the italicized passage emphasizes, Hearne explains that "This is the same Pointer, who hath been mentioned by me more than once formerly, as a Pretender to Antiquities, which he knows little of." Recall that James introduces his antiquary by explaining he is "that same Poynter who was for a time a member of the circle of Oxford antiquaries." Whether or not this [End Page 347] echo is a direct borrowing, it is clearly the case that James's fictional Poynter is—in some sense, at least—"the same Pointer" sent away for "sodomitical practices" in Hearne's diary.

Nor is this the only reference to Poynter's possible sexual transgressions in Hearne. Four years earlier in 1728, Hearne observes:

The Bp of Oxford, Dr. Potter, hath a son of Xt Ch., a young lad, whom he hath made student. His tutor is Mr. Bateman of that College and that heavy blockhead John Poynter of Merton College is to inspect him & is with him (I hear) all day, if not anights too, and is for that reason by several styled young Potter's nourse. This (were there nothing else, as there are several things besides) shews the Bp to be a man of a shallow understanding, otherwise surely he would never have pitched upon such a dunce as John Poynter. Sometimes another of Merton College performs the same office in Pointer's absence. The lad lyes in the Lodgings of his father at Xt Ch, the father himself living altogether at Cudsdon.50

The implication of Poynter serving as "young Potter's nourse" every day "if not anights too" is fairly clear, and a careful reader of Hearne (as James most certainly was) would find such incidents at least as memorable as the fact that Poynter's hometown was Alkerton, on the border of Warwickshire. It is difficult to deny the connection between Everard Charlett's cryptic vices and the charges that ended the historical Poynter's career.

No wonder, then, that James redacts his own fictional diary with the following note in brackets: "[Several lines describing his unpleasant habits and reputed delinquencies are omitted]."51 This touch is yet another echo of Hearne's diaries, or rather of the diaries as edited by the Oxford Historical Society, which employs the same format and punctuation to note omissions. But while the society's editors tend to signal omissions of extraneous material ("[Notes of a printed book omitted]"52), James brackets what is unspeakable both in Poynter's fictional diary and in the historical record. How should we connect this fiction with this history, though? One way would be to suggest that something is exposed about the fictional Poynter when his diary drops on the floor ("look what you've opened him on") and a scrap of "patterned stuff" drops out. Is this a lover's memento (period-appropriate for an era fascinated with hair as an object of remembrance and mourning53) or merely an antiquary's curiosity? Is Poynter Everard's "nourse," his lover? Is this then also a story of Poynter's secret life, as the title of the story indirectly suggests? And, if not, how else might we explain the mysterious pasted-together pages of the diary? It would be easy to "join up the vertical bands of the pattern at the top" and see the connection [End Page 348] between James's tale and the source he has explicitly named. "Everard," after all, is an anagram of "revered."

Well, that is to say, it almost is. And despite all these hints and clues, James's story remains resistant to a reading that would allow us to reconstruct a coherent backstory uniting Poynter's diary with Hearne's. Crucially, there is no whiff of personal interest in the diary entry: nothing to suggest that the fictional Poynter is anything but a recorder of local lore and a collector of antiquarian bits and bobs, any more than Mr. James Denton is, or M. R. James himself. We might guess that Poynter had private reasons of sympathy or guilt for his interest in Everard: it would help explain the pasted pages. If so, how far might we extend this chain of interest from Everard to Poynter to Denton, even to James himself? The links between the three bachelor antiquaries are striking. John Alfred Taylor argues that Denton's experiences really have nothing to do with him—are the accidental consequences of an "innocent act": "James Denton does nothing more than have the pattern on an old piece of cloth reproduced for curtains."54 One notes, however, a pair of related points. First: Denton is hounded by the ghost of a man whose hair has been "pluck'd clean off his head" (matching the fate of Absalom, whose demise was often depicted as coming as he dangles from an oak by his hair).55 Second: Denton is the owner of Rendcomb Manor, an invented name with obvious significance ("rend-comb").56 The haunting comes, too, just at the moment when his visiting "bachelor friend" retires for the evening. Such things are suggestive: for Denton the hairy horror seems to hit closer to home than some have assumed. To take the final step and associate both antiquaries with James himself is simply to state a critical commonplace about his fiction: James is notorious for populating his stories with variations of his own antiquarian persona. It is hard to avoid the confessional feel of a tale centered around linked diaries, even if the reading remains forever a matter of conjecture.

What is perhaps even more puzzling, though, is why James chooses to leave these clues in plain sight for any reader to trace. One is reminded of "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas," James's tale of a wicked churchman leaving a bizarre (and ultimately misleading) cryptogram for posterity. If James has set some sort of riddle for his readers—one that tempts us to trace the threads of his very precise allusions to where they "converge at the top"—we can only speculate about his motivations. It is curious to observe, however, that the central comic figure of the tale, Mr. Cattell, is a textile printer and Shakespeare buff who [End Page 349] has had recent contact with a conspiracy theorist violently skeptical of the Bard's authorship.57 Admiring the "lovely medeevial stuff" Denton has brought to have reproduced as curtains, Cattell remarks:

"What is it Shakespeare says—unconsidered trifles. Ah, I often say he 'as a word for us all, sir. I say Shakespeare, but I'm well aware all don't 'old with me there—I 'ad something of an upset the other day when a gentleman came in—a titled man, too, he was, and I think he told me he'd wrote on the topic, and I 'appened to cite out something about 'Ercules and the painted cloth. Dear me, you never see such a pother."58

It is difficult to identify the "titled man" in question (and perhaps absurd to try to do so in this context), because by 1919 scores of theories had been advanced for the alternative authorship of Shakespeare's works—everyone from Francis Bacon to William Stanley, Earl of Derby had their supporters.59 Jamesian annotators have been puzzled by Hercules and the painted cloth,60 but at least the upshot is clear. Mr. Cattell cites a misremembered snippet of Shakespeare that touches upon his profession (he is hired by Denton to reproduce a "painted cloth"), and this provokes from the customer an anti-Stratfordian tirade— perhaps because conspiracists believed classical allusions (such as this garbled one to Hercules) ruled out humble William of Stratford as a plausible author of his plays.61 Regardless of the precise allusion, though, the fact that James introduces this comic figure of conspiracy in a story, as we have seen, riddled with tantalizing allusions to the "real" Mr. Poynter seems very suggestive.

One thing it may suggest is a possible explanation for why James may have planted these clues all pointing back to the "real" Poynter of Alkerton as portrayed in Hearne's diaries. In some sense the joke may be on us—or at least on any conspiracy-minded reader who seeks to discover a coherent backstory for this tale of terror. James's stories, fleshed out with such convincing antiquarian detail, often provoked wide-eyed queries concerning their veracity from the reading public. As one enthusiastic reader wrote: "[A]re these stories real? gathered from antiquarian research, or are they your own manufacture and imagination on antiquarian lines? Please assure me, if it is possible to [sic] you to do so. I have a real reason for asking."62 James, then, may have had a "real reason," or at least an impish one, for leaving a trail of clues linking Poynter's diary with Hearne's: perhaps like Abbot Thomas he mocks the prospect of zealous readers treating his tale—intended only as light entertainment, as he always maintained—as a real-life antiquarian puzzle that will reveal the author's, or Poynter's, true identity. [End Page 350] (Where do all these lines converge? Dear me, you never see such a pother!)

But to acknowledge this irony is not to dismiss the possible importance of these clues for understanding James's fiction. The context, moreover, of the collection in which this story appeared may offer clues into how we might read this reimagining of Poynter's history. In particular, it should be stressed that "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" appears first in A Thin Ghost and Others, James's third collection of ghost stories (1919)—published the year after the Great War ended and the year after James left the provostship at King's College for the same position at Eton. As James's biographers have noted, these two events—the war's conclusion and James's decision to leave King's—seem linked in complex ways, for industrialized war left Cambridge a much changed place.63 In his memoir, Eton and King's, James writes movingly of praying for peace on the eve of the conflict at a country chapel and then returning to Cambridge the next day to witness the university transformed and the campus rapidly emptied of undergraduates. For James, as we might guess, the trauma was profound and immediate: "Typical also the summer days when, having bicycled out a few miles into the country, you lay on the grass by the roadside and listened to the throb of the guns in France."64

A Thin Ghost is a volume explicitly dedicated to suppressing such memories, as James writes in the conclusion of his preface: "So not a great deal is risked, perhaps, and perhaps also some one's Christmas may be the cheerfuller for a story-book which, I think, only once mentions the war."65 This single reference to the war comes at the opening of the volume's final story, where the narrator notes: "it was a practice of mine before the war occasionally to buy old ledgers of which the paper was good, and which possessed a good many blank leaves, and to extract these and use them for my own notes and writings."66 The pleasant practice was presumably disrupted by wartime shortages and the demand for paper salvage, but the larger sense is that the war spoiled everything—even the most innocent of personal economies.67 Elsewhere, James similarly described Christmas ghost stories as a casualty of war. In a section entitled "A Pre-War Christmas at King's," James describes the conclusion of the festivities:

... and a ghost story composed at fever heat, but not always able to ward off sleep from some listener's eye (this rankles a little still): and so to bed with what appetites we might. [End Page 351]

All very pedestrian and Anglican and Victorian and everything else that it ought not to be: but I should like well enough to have it over again.68

The tales of A Thin Ghost, then, are framed as a return to a prewar genre—and also one that deliberately ignores war. Cheerful chills to soften recent horrors: it is curious how many critics take James at his word.69

"The Diary of Mr. Poynter" is among those tales that seem willfully to ignore unpleasant realities, yet James does go out of his way to make it clear—if obliquely—that the episode takes place during the war, beginning "on a certain spring day not many years since."70 James Denton, however, is not concerned at all about events abroad: his attention is focused on book collecting and on household arrangements with "his aunt who constituted his whole ménage."71 It is difficult to say how old "Mr. James Denton, M.A., F.S.A., etc., etc., some time of Trinity Hall, now, or lately, of Rendcomb Manor" is: to be a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries could imply an older man, but M. R. James was a candidate for the organization in his late twenties.72 If he is a young man, his residence at home and not on the battlefield might raise an eyebrow. Either way, Denton occupies both an effeminized and infantilized position in his own house, compelled as he is to account for his personal expenses to an overbearing aunt: "'Who did you say wrote them? Old Mr. Poynter, of Acrington? Well, of course, there is some interest in getting together old papers about this neighborhood. But Ten Pounds!'"73 As noted above, James renames Alkerton (the historical Poynter's Oxfordshire hometown) "Acrington," and this choice hauntingly and inevitably recalls Accrington—a real town in Lancashire whose claim to fame in 1919 was (as it still is today) the tragic fate of her "Accrington Pals."74 The smallest town in the country to raise its own battalion, Accrington suffered one of the worst days in British military history when 585 of 700 "Pals" were killed or wounded on 1 July 1916.75 This James surely knew. Few men from the real wartime Accrington remained or returned home, and one is tempted to see a parallel between James Denton at Rendcomb and M. R. James at Cambridge and Eton: both are men of letters left at home with women, pursuing antiquarian enthusiasms and attending to trivial domestic duties.76

Even in these responsibilities, though, Denton falls short, forgetting to carry out his aunt's errands: "he was naturally somewhat dashed by the consciousness of duty unfulfilled, but more so by the prospect of a lawn-tennis party."77 Duty unfulfilled, in this context, seems to implicate Denton in a nexus of associations: uselessness, domesticity, [End Page 352] effeminacy, bookishness, perhaps also a certain academic pettiness so exemplified by those eighteenth-century antiquaries such as Poynter, Charlett and Hearne, to whose antiquarian ambitions and sensibilities James was an ambivalent heir. But the actual haunting of Denton is a mixed specter of such men and the youths they loved, for while it may appear to be simply the vain, debauched Everard who is resurrected horribly from his ancient death in a town ditch, it is more precise to say that it is a memory of Everard that drops out of Poynter's ambiguous diary—a memory recorded by an antiquary who may or may not have a personal stake in the story. Everard of course is an Absalom, not simply a molly but a bad son—a traitor to his land, and indeed James's likely source of comely Sir Everard's name is also a famous traitor: Sir Everard Digby, a conspirator in the Gunpowder Plot and the "handsomest gentleman in England."78 He was executed for treason in 1604. Though war is never mentioned, then, the question of duty to country haunts the tale, so that even Mr. Cattell's anti-Stratfordian gentleman might be read as a cultural quisling of sorts.79 But at the same time, as an Oxford undergraduate Everard strangely also embodies the lost generation mourned by James. His death comes suddenly for no obvious reason; the ditch in which his body is found recalls a battlefield trench. Undoubtedly Everard's rise involves strands of both loss and guilt, so that when the hairy thing makes "a soft ineffectual tearing at [Denton's] back," it is not same-sex desire alone that drives the menace. It is something more tangled up with the academic self and its commitment and duty to matters beyond a private world of reading and collecting. It is, in short, "A Warning to the Curious," to borrow the title of one of James's most famous postwar stories.

In that tale, published six years after "Mr. Poynter," there is a similar tension between duty and the antiquarian itch. It is hard to miss the implications of a youth who, in his curiosity, removes an Anglo-Saxon crown set in a burial mound to protect England from invasion:

"Well, then," he said, "for all you're a scholard, I can tell you something you don't know. Them's the three 'oly crowns what was buried in the ground near by the coast to keep the Germans from landing—ah, I can see you don't believe that. But I tell you, if it hadn't been for one of them 'oly crowns bein' there still, them Germans would a landed here time and again, they would. Landed with their ships, and killed man, woman and child in their beds...."80

The young Paxton, eminently likeable, suffers for this violation one of the most gruesome fates in James's fiction: "His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits."81 His death [End Page 353] comes when he mistakes a vengeful spirit for his friends, and pursues the skeletal thing along a strand of shingle towards an old defensive tower. Nothing like the pompous, ignorant professor of "O Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" (James's most famous tale of supernatural comeuppance), Paxton displays, as he puts it, "an intelligent interest" in antiquities and pursues that interest with a winning enthusiasm for discovery.82 When he recognizes his error, he faces the consequences bravely. Despite all this, he comes to a very bad end, his face a portrait of accelerated decay—the promising young antiquary reduced to a half-buried artifact. One way to read this would be etymologically, the "warning" exposing the razor-thin edge between a modern sense of curiosity and its roots in a more pejorative Latin curiositas "excessive eagerness for knowledge." That reading would be incomplete, though (and certainly out of keeping with James's academic sensibilities). The proper cura, or care and attention, devoted to these crowns is something the youthful "scholard" may not grasp, yet there is also something more simply elegiac in the image of his body in the sand, his broken face discovered by two older, sympathetic men at the foot of the martello tower. Like many of his generation, he was pursuing something he did not fully comprehend, while his elders could only watch in horror from a distance.

"The Diary of Mr. Poynter," with its eighteenth-century antiquarian allusions and receding hair-lined curtains, may seem an unlikely tale to be read alongside "A Warning to the Curious" in this way. Around the time he wrote it, James was centrally involved in the planning of several war memorials at Eton, including one at the gatehouse with inscriptions he wrote in Latin and in English.83 He also drafted plans for a commemorative painted window in the Lower Chapel, the war dead to be represented by "the armies of Heaven on white horses as set forth in Rev. XIX."84 This plan at some point changed, so that instead were hung a set of four tapestries depicting the legend of St. George, whose face was modeled on the likenesses of Eton pupils.85 These tapestries (bearing the arms of James) were not finally commissioned from Morris & Company until at least 1921, two years after A Thin Ghost was published.86 Still, the parallel between these memorial tapestries and the "hangings" Everard "had design'd expressly for a memorial of his Hair" is uncanny.87 If war memorials like those at Eton "served to trigger memory in the absence of bodies" (in general Britain did not repatriate the dead after the Great War),88 the resurrection of Everard through his own commissioned memorial appears in a new light. In [End Page 354] effect, his body disappears into the memorial he has made, so that the treacherous and effeminate Everard emerges as a twisted, inverted image of England's loyal, lost sons: "his coffin, breaking by mischance, proved quite full of Hair." Indeed, James was acutely conscious that the bodies of the war dead would not be returning home to England, as he notes at a memorial service in 1916: "and some lie in foreign earth and some in the deep waters: and, if they have helped to keep homes for others, they have none for themselves."89 In that context, James's tale of domestic horror and antiquarian pettiness rises unexpectedly as a highly ambivalent and oblique monument to the traumas of that time. It is also, arguably, a more honest memorial than a painted cloth of an Etonian dragon slayer, reflecting less the glory of the dead than the anxieties of those left alive and restless at home. It was written, as James said of all his fiction, "but to amuse" and was only published on the request and encouragement of his very dearest friends.

Patrick J. Murphy
Miami University
Fred Porcheddu
Denison University


1. James's academic work is the subject of Lynda Dennison, The Legacy of M. R. James: Papers from the 1995 Cambridge Symposium (Donington, Lincolnshire: Shaun Tyas, 2001). Accounts of James's life and professional career include S. G. Lubbock, A Memoir of Montague Rhodes James (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1939); Richard William Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James (London: Scolar Press, 1980); and Michael Cox, M. R. James: An Informal Portrait (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983).

2. It is hard to overstate James's influence on the genre or to find an anthology of modern ghost stories without a contribution from him. Jack Sullivan, Lost Souls: A Collection of English Ghost Stories (Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 1983), credits James with inventing the "antiquarian ghost story," a subgenre to which Sullivan devotes nearly half of his anthology (64). Ramsey Campbell's Meddling with Ghosts (Boston Spa: British Library, 2001) is a collection exclusively dedicated to "stories in the tradition of M. R. James." Several annotated editions of James's collected tales have appeared recently, along with a series anthologizing all the supernatural fiction known to have been "endorsed by the master of the genre." Notable adaptations of his fiction include Night of the Demon (1957, directed by Jacques Tourneur), based on "Casting the Runes"; numerous BBC television and radio dramatizations; and a stage version of "O Whistle and I'll Come To You, My Lad" performed during the summer of 2011. The video game The Lost Crown (Got Game, 2008) is a retelling of "A Warning to the Curious."

3. S. T. Joshi and Rosemary Pardoe, eds., Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James (New York: Hippocampus Press, 2007), collects some of the more notable essays on the subject. Several of these originally appeared in the occasional journal Ghosts & Scholars (edited by Rosemary Pardoe), which from 1979 to 2001 published numerous notes, essays, and original fiction inspired by James. Unfortunately, much of this material is now out of print and difficult to access. Also rather difficult to find are copies of A Pleasing Terror: The Complete Supernatural Writings of M. R. James, Christopher Roden and Barbara Roden, eds. (Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, 2001), which was published in a limited run and has become something of a collector's item.

4. A.S.G. Edwards, "M. R. James, 'Canon Alberic's Scrap-book,' and 'Dennistoun,' Notes and Queries, n.s. 58.1 (March 2011), 104-105. [End Page 355]

5. Ibid., 105.

6. "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" with Dennistoun first appeared in James's collection, Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary (London: Edward Arnold, 1904), while "The Diary of Mr. Poynter" with James Denton was published in A Thin Ghost and Others (London: Edward Arnold, 1919). Citations of the latter story below are made from this edition.

7. James, A Thin Ghost, 60.

8. Ibid., 67-68. Later editions correct "collected" to "recollected."

9. Ibid., 69-70.

10. Ibid., 70.

11. Ibid., 70. The parallels between the biblical Absalom and Everard are multiple and obvious. Both are long-haired, beautiful, vain, and rebellious against indulgent parents. Both may be interpreted as effeminate (as Chaucer in The Miller's Tale portrays his fastidious Absolon, who sodomizes a rival with a hot poker). Both end up dead in ditches (2 Samuel 18:17): et tulerunt Absalom et proiecerunt eum in saltu in foveam grandem ("and they carried Absalom and threw him into a great pit in the woods"). Note also that in 2 Samuel 14:25-26, Absalom, like Everard, creates a memorial for himself: porro Absalom erexerat sibi cum adhuc viveret titulum qui est in valle Regis dixerat enim non habeo filium et hoc erit monumentum nominis mei ("Now Absalom erected for himself, while he lived, a pillar which is in the Valley of the Kings, for he said, 'I have no son and this will be a memorial of my name.'").

12. James, A Thin Ghost, 58.

13. Michael Cox, ed., "Casting the Runes" and Other Ghost Stories (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 237, n. 202. Cox's footnote is borrowed into Roden and Roden, eds., A Pleasing Terror, 243. In making this reference, Cox seems to have relied on Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 172-73, but the note is misleading insofar as it points us away from the clear analogue to Poynter's diary. A more recent edition, S. T. Joshi, ed., The Haunted Dolls' House and Other Ghost Stories (New York: Penguin, 2006), 273, does mention the Remarks and Collections, but Joshi does not seem to have pursued the source.

14. Thomas Hearne, Remarks and Collections, C. E. Doble, D. W. Rannie, and H. E. Salter, eds., 11 vols., Oxford Historical Society Publications, First Series (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1885-1918). There is some uncertainty concerning the actual publication date of the last volume in this edition, which we discuss below in note 49.

15. James, A Thin Ghost, 58. Compare Poynter's diary with the description of Hearne's Remarks and Collections in David C. Douglas, English Scholars (London: Jonathan Cape, 1939), 233: "From day to day he proceeds at his task, now the weighty commentator, now the astute critic, now the sprightly anecdotist, and now the picker up of unconsidered scraps."

16. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 4:353.

17. Ibid., 6:265.

18. Ibid., 7:215.

19. Ibid., 9:28; 10:21; 5:259; 9:246.

20. Ibid., 8:185.

21. Language echoed in Remarks and Collections, 2:332.

22. James, A Thin Ghost, 69-70.

23. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 5:228. Note James's use of the parallel idiom "expelled the college" (without the preposition), which is not attested in the OED beyond the early nineteenth century.

24. For more on Hearne's relationship with Arthur Charlett, see Theodor Harmsen, "Bodleian Imbroglios, Politics and Personalities, 1701-1716: Thomas Hearne, Arthur Charlett and John Hudson," Neophilologus, 82 (1998), 149-68.

25. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 6:27; 6:48; 7:120.

26. Ibid., 4:253-54. An account of this quarrel is given in Theodor Harmsen, Antiquarianism in the Augustan Age: Thomas Hearne, 1678-1735 (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2000), 177-79. Harmsen notes the influence on both scholars of the antiquary Robert Plot (baptised 1640, died 1696), whose authority is [End Page 356] also mentioned in James's fictional diary entry: "it was said the coffin, breaking by mischance, proved quite full of Hair: which sounds fabulous, but yet I believe precedents are upon record, as in Dr. Plot's History of Staffordshire" (A Thin Ghost, 71). Once again, James's wry allusion is spot-on. Plot's History of Staffordshire (1686) is filled with numerous accounts of similar curiosities, as a sampling of the book's index indicates: "Toads, found alive in solid stones"; "Men, hanged 13 times, yet lived"; "Bones, found in graves of extraordinary size." This last entry notwithstanding, however, James's Poynter seems to be mistaken when it comes to precedents of hair-filled coffins in Plot.

27. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 4:212; 8:217; 5:281; 4:401; 4:254; 5:86; 6:206-207; 8:65; 9:36.

28. Darryl Jones, ed., Collected Ghost Stories, by M. R. James (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), notes that Acrington is "fictitious" (449). However, there is an Accrington in Lancashire (much further north of where this fictional Acrington is located in the tale), and James's choice of borrowed name here may have further significance, as we discuss below.

29. Rendcomb, the Warwickshire home of Denton, must lie near this border, for his aunt remarks, "Who did you say wrote them? Old Mr. Poynter, of Acrington? Well, of course, there is some interest in getting together old papers about this neighborhood" (A Thin Ghost, 59).

30. "Ghostly Occasions," review of The Ghost Stories of M. R. James, Michael Cox, ed., The Sewanee Review, 96.1 (1988), xiii.

31. The title of James's first collection of ghost stories, published in 1904.

32. M. R. James, Eton and King's: Recollections, Mostly Trivial, 1875-1925 (London: Williams & Norgate, 1926), 200-201.

33. M. R. James, The Wanderings and Homes of Manuscripts (London: The Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1919), 3-4.

34. Ibid., 4.

35. Cox, ed., "Casting the Runes," notes that James's "reputation as a scholar had been achieved by an enormous capacity for industry and a rare skill in making sense of disparate fragments of information" (xv).

36. Yet another "appropriate detail" in James's story is the burial of Everard in St. Peter's in the East. As it happens, this is the final resting place of Thomas Hearne.

37. James, A Thin Ghost, 61, 63.

38. Ibid., 66.

39. S. T. Joshi, The Weird Tale (Austin: The University of Texas Press, 1990), 54.

40. Simon MacCulloch, "The Toad in the Study: M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft, and Forbidden Knowledge," in Warnings to the Curious: A Sheaf of Criticism on M. R. James, 100.

41. Glen Cavaliero, The Supernatural and English Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 135.

42. Brian Cowlishaw, "'A Warning to the Curious': Victorian Science and the Awful Unconscious in M. R. James's Ghost Stories," in Warnings to the Curious, 170.

43. James, A Thin Ghost, 68.

44. Jones, ed., Collected Ghost Stories, xxviii.

45. See Riddle 59, line 9a, in Craig Williamson, The Old English Riddles of the Exeter Book (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1977), 104.

46. James, A Thin Ghost, 59. Italics added.

47. Ibid., 69.

48. Hearne varies in his spelling of Poynter's name with an i or with a y, as this passage and the next cited below illustrate.

49. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 11.133. It is worth noting here that this striking passage appears in the last volume, number xi, of the Oxford Historical Society's edition of Hearne's diaries. On the original spine of the copy of this volume we consulted, the publication date is given as 1918, the year before A Thin Ghost was published. This date is confirmed by the listings published online by the Oxford Historical Society, which lists the publication date as 1918 (http://www.oxhistsoc.org.uk/publications/first_series.htm, accessed 12/5/11). However, the title page of the book lists 1921. It [End Page 357] is hard to say which date should be trusted. If the later date is the actual year of publication, and if in that case James did not have advanced access to this book, he most certainly may have consulted the later volumes of Hearne's diaries in their original manuscripts (his scholarly pursuits would have made this very likely, perhaps even professionally unavoidable). Moreover, the second quotation given below, which also alludes to Poynter's possible sexual transgressions, was published in volume x of the series, which unambiguously appeared in 1915. At any rate, it seems very likely James knew how Poynter's career ended.

50. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 10:70. Graham Midgley, University Life in Eighteenth-Century Oxford (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), discusses Poynter's case, noting that another diarist of the time, Thomas Wilson, also writes of Poynter's disgrace, reporting that he was accused "by one of the Commoners of the House whom he had got into his chamber, and after urging him to drink, would have offered some very indecent things to him" (88-89). Everard Charlett, we recall, was a "Commoner of University College" much given to drink (A Thin Ghost, 69-70).

51. James, A Thin Ghost, 70.

52. Hearne, Remarks and Collections, 7:151, et passim.

53. See Christiane Holm, "Sentimental Cuts: Eighteenth-Century Mourning Jewelry with Hair," Eighteenth-Century Studies, 38.1 (2004), 139-43; and Marcia Pointon, "Materializing Mourning: Hair, Jewellery and the Body," in Material Memories, Marius Kwint, Christopher Breward and Jeremy Aynsley, eds. (Oxford: Berg, 1999), 39-57.

54. "'If I'm Not Careful': Innocents and Not-So-Innocents in the Stories of M. R. James," in Warnings to the Curious, 199.

55. Although in 2 Samuel 18:9 Absalom is caught by his head in an oak tree (adhesit caput eius quercui), visual depictions often show him snagged by his hair (following later exegetical traditions). For instance, see "Joab Killing Absalom" by Giovanni Battista Viola (1576-1622) in Régis Debray, The Old Testament Through 100 Masterpieces of Art (London: Merrell, 2004), 156-57.

56. Rendcomb, like Acrington, is another borrowed place name transplanted to a new location by James (to Warwickshire from Gloucestershire). James's playful punning in this hairy ghost story is also evident in the "earwig" that drops out of the diary.

57. Mr. Cattell seems to be yet another obscure allusion dropped by James, for it turns out a certain Charles Cockbill Cattell was an enthusiastic participant in the Shakespeare authorship debate. W. H. Wyman, Bibliography of the Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thompson, 1884), lists no fewer than four pamphlets written by Cattell with titles such as Shakespeare: Was He A Myth? and Shakespeare: Did He Write the Works Attributed to Him? Appropriately for James's Mr. Cattell, Charles Cockbill Cattell was firmly on the pro-Shakespeare side. Given that Denton is particularly interested in local history, it is ironic that Cattell has recently encountered a denier of Warwickshire's most famous son.

58. James, A Thin Ghost, 62.

59. James Shapiro, Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (London: Simon & Schuster, 2010), notes that "by 1919 Derby's candidacy had attracted an international and even academic following" (189).

60. Rosemary Pardoe, "Hercules and the Painted Cloth," Ghosts and Scholars, 31 (2000), suggests this is a reference to a passage from Love's Labor's Lost (49-50). Cox, ed., "Casting the Runes," cites Henry IV, Part I, 4.2: "slaves as ragged as Lazarus in the painted cloth," but perhaps another strong candidate is Much Ado About Nothing, 3.3.119-21: "sometime like the shaven Hercules in the smirched, worm-eaten tapestry, where his codpiece seems as massy as his club?" (327). H. C. Hart, ed., The Works of Shakespeare, Volume 20: Love's Labour's Lost (Indianopolis: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1906), notes that "Hercules with his club was another favourite in the painted cloth, or 'worm-eaten tapestry,' the tailors' libraries of the day" (163). That the Hercules of the painted cloth in Much Ado About Nothing is, somewhat unexpectedly, described as "shaven" is curious given the subject matter of James's tale, and in fact this issue of Hercules's lack of hair has drawn considerable commentary. Some read the shaven head as possibly a reference to Hercules's effeminizing forced servitude to Omphale, who "dressed [him] like a woman and set [him] to work on the distaff." See A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing, Horace Howard Furness, ed. (London: J. B. Lippincott, 1899), 170-71.

61. H. N. Gibson, The Shakespeare Claimants (Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge, 1962), discusses this common anti-Stratfordian argument (175-76). Excerpts found in Wyman, Bibliography of the [End Page 358] Bacon-Shakespeare Controversy, reveal that Charles Cockbill Cattell countered this exact line of reasoning in a pamphlet published circa 1881: "How such a man [as Shakespeare], living in such a time, and at such a place, could acquire the necessary classic knowledge, no longer remains a mystery" (70). Cattell addresses the same point in Lord Bacon: Did He Write Shakespeare's Plays? (Birmingham: G. & J. H. Shipway, 1879), 9-10.

62. Cited in Cox, An Informal Portrait, 142.

63. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 331-32.

64. James, Eton and King's, 264.

65. James, A Thin Ghost, front matter.

66. Ibid., 137.

67. Joseph McAleer, Popular Reading and Publishing in Britain, 1914-1950 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992), notes that "Paper rationing during the First World War was not as severe or as extensive as it was during the Second," but that paper shortages were felt and that "Additional edicts further restricted supply, authorized the collection of waste paper, and encouraged the manufacture of paper from home-produced materials" (52). Robert Livingston Schuyler, "War and Historiography," Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society (1944), remarks of this paper salvaging: "In the First World War the urgent need for waste paper led to the indiscriminate destruction of records in private possession, and at the beginning of the present war a similar demand was foreseen" (87).

68. James, Eton and King's, 240.

69. Representative of this oddly common attitude towards James's fiction is the opinion of Richard W. Pfaff, "James, Montague Rhodes (1862-1936)," in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, H. C. G. Matthew and Brian Harrison, eds., Volume 29 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004): "There seems to be no evidence that [the ghost stories] also reflect conflicts and ambivalences deep inside their author" (725).

70. James also tells us that the events of the story were "detailed to me not many months ago." James's reference (later on the same page) to Denton being "now, or lately, of Rendcomb Manor" foreshadows Denton's flight from Rendcomb on the day following his encounter with the ghost. The clear implication is that the haunting takes place "lately," a few years ago and so during wartime, though (as James assures us) no direct mention of the war is made.

71. James Denton exhibits a notable lack of male companionship in the tale, dodging not only his aunt's tennis parties but the invitations of an "intelligent" but distracting friend who interrupts his browsing at the book sale: "In due time, the friend bethought himself that Mr. Denton was there for a purpose." On the night of the apparition, Denton hosts a "bachelor friend" as a guest in his home, but their unrecorded conversation breaks up before bedtime. It is curious that the rise of Everard, that "loose atheistical companion," corresponds with Denton's rejection of camaraderie.

72. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 128.

73. James, A Thin Ghost, 59.

74. Martin Middlebrook, The First Day on the Somme (New York: W. W. Norton, 1972), stresses the national trauma of this event: "Soon, the whole of the country was seething with rumour. The ordeal of the relatives of men serving at the front was pitiful. The local character of many of the New Army battalions meant that some towns and cities soon found that their menfolk had suffered heavy losses, but accurate information was very hard to get. Crowds besieged council and newspaper offices and local drill halls demanding news. In Accrington it was rumoured that only seven men had survived from their Pals' attack!" (241).

75. William Turner, The Accrington Pals (Lancashire County Books, 2000); Adrian Gregory, The Last Great War: British Society and the First World War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), discusses the "uneven toll" the war took on some local communities, exemplified by Accrington (127).

76. At the close of the war James wrote to a friend: "We who have not been out to fight or do anything have no right to be noble and forgiving [to the Germans]: it is a miserable state, troublesome and corrosive. Let us not think about it...." Quoted in Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 335. Such "corrosive" feelings of rage and impotency were surely common enough, but it is hard not to see James Denton's situation as echoing M. R. James's personal circumstances in even more particular ways. For instance, like Denton, James had very recently left university and had taken up new lodgings in his old home. Also like Denton, he was much preoccupied by domestic arrangements. Pfaff, Montague [End Page 359] Rhodes James, 334-35, describes the distracting business of furnishing and staffing the provost's extensive new quarters at Eton in 1918.

77. James, A Thin Ghost, 57.

78. According to John Aubrey, Letters Written by Eminent Persons in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries: To which are added, Hearne's Journeys to Reading, and to Whaddon Hall and Lives of Eminent Men by John Aubrey, esq. (London: Longman, Hurst, et al., 1813), 324. In Biographia Britannica, volume 3 (London: W. Innys et al., 1747), 1697, it is noted of Everard Digby: "In his person he was remarkably handsome." Everard Charlett, of course, is "a very beautiful person" (A Thin Ghost, 70). James may have taken an interest in Everard Digby in connection with his famous son Kenelm Digby (1603-1665), whose collection of manuscripts forms part of the core of the Bodleian Library. In this way, the fictional Everard is further entwined with the antiquarian tradition of Hearne, Poynter, Charlett, and of course M. R. James himself.

79. As Lynne Walhout Hinojosa, The Renaissance, English Cultural Nationalism, and Modernism, 1860-1920 (New York: Palgrave, 2009), argues, "during the war Shakespeare as the icon of Englishness was used repeatedly in attempts to unify society against Germany" (141). Hinojosa further notes that some mistrusted the authorship controversy as a German attempt to undermine or appropriate "ownership" of Shakespeare: "As part of this reclamation of Shakespeare for England, literary historians dismiss the Baconians and their scientific, German influenced philological methods" (190-91). James certainly seems to have viewed Shakespeare in a patriotic light during the war, once asking at a memorial service how fallen soldiers should be understood: "How then shall we think of them? The greatest Englishman, perhaps the greatest man who ever wrote of the lives of men and women—I mean Shakespeare—has shown us one way." M. R. James, Address at the Unveiling of the Roll of Honour of the Cambridge Tipperary Club, July 12, 1916 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1918).

80. M. R. James, A Warning to the Curious and other Ghost Stories (London: Edward Arnold & Co., 1925), 144.

81. James, A Warning, 173.

82. Ibid., 146.

83. Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, 336-38.

84. M. R. James, Letters to a Friend, Gwendolen McBryde, ed. (London: Edward Arnold, 1956), 70.

85. Stefan Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory: War, Remembrance and Medievalism in Britain and Germany, 1914-1940 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 56. Goebel provides images of one of these tapestries (57-58).

86. Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory, cites Henry Luxmoore (James's mentor, friend, and an original audience member of many of the famous Christmas Eve ghost story readings) discussing plans for the tapestries in January 1921 (90). Pfaff, Montague Rhodes James, notes that the tapestries were completed and hung by 1923 (337).

87. James, A Thin Ghost, 71.

88. Goebel, The Great War and Medieval Memory, 3.

89. James, Address at the Unveiling, 2. [End Page 360]