Alice and her convert husband Wilfrid were very involved in the journalistic world as she was a contributor to the Scots / National Observer, Dublin Review, Tablet, Athenaeum, Speaker, Spectator, and the Magazine of Art. Alice was also an important unsigned contributor to the Pall Mall Gazette ‘Wares of Autolycus’ column for many years. Together Wilfrid and Alice edited and wrote for their own illustrated monthly Merry England from 1883–95. Contributors included Alice’s close friend Katharine Tynan, Coventry Patmore, Andrew Lang, and Francis Thompson, whose “The Hound of Heaven” was first published by them. They also managed the Weekly Register from 1881–98. The two journals kept Alice very busy as did her large family.
Alice’s letters show her literary work, both poetry and essays, and her relationship with John Lane, who published many of her books, an arrangement not always easy. She discusses her work with poets such as John Freeman and John Drinkwater, and her admiration for Coventry Patmore with the writer Frederick Page. She was obviously considered important for aspiring and established poets who sought her approbation.
She visited America in late 1901 for a short lecture tour which was fairly successful but also gave her some lifelong friends. She supported women’s suffrage and marched, although she was against its militancy. Alice was ambivalent about the First World War and her final years were spent writing and editing anthologies.
Her background was rural Ireland, her father being a prosperous land-owning farmer. Educated locally and at a convent, she left aged fourteen and spent much time reading and enjoying the countryside, which became a foundation for her poetry and storytelling.
She was aware of the politics of Ireland through her politically active father, and she joined the short-lived Ladies’ Land League in 1881 and was a fervent admirer of Charles Stewart Parnell.
Her first major literary friendship was with her mentor, the Jesuit Father Matthew Russell, editor of the Irish Monthly, who published much of her work. He introduced Katharine to the Catholic literary couple Wilfrid and Alice Meynell in London in 1884, a visit which formed a deep love and admiration for Alice. The Meynells published much of her poetry in the Weekly Register and Merry England.
Katharine made many visits to England and settled in England in 1893 after her marriage to Harry Hinkson, making it her home until returning to Ireland in 1912. After the Great War, she moved between England and Ireland, finally settling in London where she died.
Katharine’s life spanned Anglo-Irish politics, the suffrage movement, the Easter Rising of 1916, the Great War (her two sons served in the British Army) and its aftermath. Her letters cover these events and the friendships and correspondence with many literary persons, including George William Russell (A.E.), G. K. Chesterton, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Clement King Shorter, the writer Frank James Mathew and the novelist May Sinclair. An early friend of W. B. Yeats, she was seen as part of the Irish literary revival, although in a minor role. Throughout her life she suffered from very poor eyesight.
She published five autobiographies, which, together with the letters, provide us with valuable insight into her life and times.