LIBRARY - Reference(s)

Frederick Matthias Alexander

A Family History
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
252 x 188 mm.
ISBN 1860771785 / 978-1860771781
Mouritz Bibliography
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Short Description: 
An reliable and detailed account of F. M. Alexander’s life and family (and family history), but not of the Technique.
Mouritz description: 
Evans, a great-niece of Alexander, has studied the family history for 15 years and had access to many family archives. The result is a very factual and comprehensive history of Alexander and members of his family. Alexander’s family origins are covered in detail (Alexander is not born until page 73), and it contains a great deal of new information about Alexander’s relationships to his nearest family. It does not include an introduction to or a history of the Technique, but it has a postscript by John Gray on the history of the Technique since Alexander’s death. Contains family trees and over 100 pictures. Index.


This is the most detailed account ever likely to be written on the background history of F. M. Alexander. It has taken 15 years to complete and Jackie Evans, an ex-RAF officer and Diplomad Genealogist, must be warmly congratulated on an exhaustively thorough and entertaining narrative of the family of her great-uncle, FM.

Having always had an interest in history and yet knowing next to nothing about the period of time from around 1830-1950 I was captivated from the start as to the origins of the village of Ramsbury, Wiltshire, from where the Alexander brothers – one of whom became FM’s grandfather – were transported to Australia. Evans introduces us to the family, beginning with “an ancestor of Matthias Alexander”, one Stephen Appleford, at a date around 1567! Here, and throughout the book, she gives us graphic insights into the life and times to which she is referring, so that each “character” is given a clear context to enhance our appreciation of them. This is particularly so much later in the book in the distinctive exposition of the events of both World Wars. By describing these war-time events Evans vividly highlights how it must have felt for Alexander to live through these times. In these descriptions, in many instances of his generosity to family members, and in other examples of his actions we can learn much about the character of FM Alexander.

I found the whole book, excellently illustrated with many black and white photographs, a treat. Many readers may despair at the fastidious listing of the names of children and encyclopaedic extensions of the Alexander clan in the 19th century. But since FM’s maternal grandmother, Maria, had 16 children and was still producing them after FM himself was born, and since his own mother, Betsy, “Following the normal pattern of that time, . . . produced a child nearly every two years for over 20 years” we should not be surprised at the vast extensions of the family. As one reads, one is drawn in by the detail and so it is a mild disappointment that the family photograph on page 76 (No.30) has no names ascribed to the faces. (Marjory Barlow has now supplied me with the names.) As for the multi-child production line, it seems to end at FM’s generation, with FM himself only managing one illegitimate child, of whom more later.

The book is littered with charming anecdotes which only go to emphasise what life was like for people of the time. After seeing the extraordinary over-crowdedness of the English Alexander cottage households in rural Wiltshire, we are taken, as were the Australian clan’s founders the two Alexander brothers (and their later wives from London) by convict transport ship to Van Damiens Land (renamed Tasmania in 1855).

There, life out on the frontier of civilization in the North Tasmanian Wynyard and Table Cape district is given to some extent a romantic air. Hardships, of which there were many, are described in a fashion which seems to enhance the heroic nature of these extraordinarily tough and resourceful people. The way Mr. Bell is saved from drowning, having parted company with his rowing boat as it is swept out to sea on a powerful outflow from the river Inglis and a sudden gust of wind, is but one example:

“Mr. Bell, unable to row against the tide and wind, was fast disappearing out to sea. Desperately, he grabbed a marker beacon as he was being swept by, his boat disappeared from under him and carried out to sea while he was left clutching the beacon with, according to an onlooker, a degree of affection seldom, if ever, seen even in a ballroom, his lower half embraced by the surging tide”. Or another river incident where a traveller has to hold on to the tail of his horse in order to get across an overfilled river. Such is frontier life, and detailed descriptions of the Alexander household and activities, including AR [A. R. Alexander, FM’s brother] riding many race winners, are vividly given.

I had had several misconceptions about Alexander’s life which this book thankfully corrects. Alexander’s father was not so much a farmer as a blacksmith with a gift for training horses, particularly race horses for local races, who was also respected for his skill as a self-taught vet. It also appears that Alexander always valued his father’s opinions, and the implied message in this book as to why FM never invited his father to join him in either Australia or London is that his father was perfectly happy to remain in Tasmania even though, eventually, the immediate family had all departed. There is no mention here of John Alexander suffering from a drink problem. The later years of FM’s father’s life spent with his friend Ben McKenna appear to be impecunious but happy. “Johnny” Alexander died in 1936 aged 93 – so if he had a drink problem it certainly did not shorten his life.

Other points of re-evaluation included who the mother was of Alexander’s son (an Observer newspaper article – 3rd March 1985 – claimed she worked in a London theatre box office), and also what happened to Edith, Alexander’s wife who apparently did not remain a recluse at Penhill until she died, as I had thought. Points such as how important a help Lord Lytton was to FM and how FM had been much more in contact with Prof. Dart regarding the libel case in South Africa than I had realised, and many other points of interest have now been sorted out for me, and no doubt other readers will find similar welcome revisions to their own misconceptions. Curiously, however, for a book so full of detail, we are not given very much background to “Jack” Vicary, the woman who bore Alexander his son John, nor a photograph of her. Nor are we told what happened to John after his disappearance to Lundy Island in October 1951, someway through his training to become an Alexander teacher. He had to give up training because “he could not stand for long periods”. It must have been a bitter blow to FM. The Observer newspaper “discovered” John Vicary in March 1985 (then aged 54) describing him as “a burly recluse with two front teeth missing and a lame leg”. There is a photograp h of him on one of his barges on the River Torridge at Bideford, Devon (where he deals in scrap metal) looking very much like his father.

This family history omits to mention one or two matters that either the author was unaware of or which she felt might tarnish a generally positive account. Although, to be fair, she does mention FM’s troubles with Charles Neil et al., the affliction that disfigured Alexander’s wife Edith, and which, I am told, led her to despair and to leave Penhill in 1929, is not mentioned. Nor is anything said about Alexander’s decision to become a bankrupt to avoid paying for a faulty car. Nor is there anything of the initial difficulties in setting up the Alexander Society. And John Gray omits to mention the six International Congresses which have demonstrated a huge expansion of the work. But these and other such points are relatively minor matters. Anyone interested to discover where the Alexander Technique “came from”, or in any way interested in the history of families transported to the Antipodes in the 19th century, what might have happened to them, and how they prospered (even as in this case to produce in FM “one of the 200 people who made Australia great”!), could do no better than read this fascinating account. For teachers and students of the Alexander Technique wanting to find out as much as they can about the Technique’s originator it is essential and very enjoyable reading.

© Robin Simmons. Reproduced with permission.

Robin Simmons ( This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Frederick Matthias Alexander – A Family History is a must read for Alexander Technique teachers. Author, J. A. Evans, does an admirable job of placing FM within the context of his time, and she has provided us with answers to questions regarding his family, his relationships, and his son. In purchasing the book, we obtain a contextual timeline of events beginning with the Alexander family of Ramsbury, England, and ending with FM’s death in London on October 10, 1955. Through the text, Evans provides us with an encyclopedic equivalent of characters in FM’s life. Names we recognize, yet are unsure of their place and time in FM’s life, Evans identifies and describes, therefore clearing up the mysteries and the myths.

Jacqueline Evans is the great, great grandchild of Matthias Alexander who was deported, along with his brother Joseph, to Van Diemen’s Land in 1831. Part One (approx. 60 pp.) covers the history of the Alexander ancestors who lived in a village in southern England for over 300 years, to the events which resulted in the Alexanders of Table Cape, Tasmania. “Fortunately, the Alexander brothers were resilient; they accepted life as it came. Perhaps more importantly, they were enterprising men.” Following their pardons, the brothers pursued independent lifestyles with Matthias purchasing the property which eventually became Alexandria.

Part Two (approx. 70 pp.) covers the history of FM’s family in Tasmania and Australia. Matthias’ son, and FM’s father, John, “was a man endowed with considerable common sense, innate practical ability and expertise with horses.” FM’s mother, Betsy, “was a most creative and artistic woman who designed and made all the clothes required by her family and everything else that was needed in the home.” FM was the oldest of eight out of ten children, who lived to adulthood. The picture that Evans paints of her great grandparents, her grandmother (FM’s sister Amy), and her grand uncles and aunts, particularly FM and AR, within this still rather desolate area of Tasmania during the late 1800’s, is winsome. We begin to understand the combination of events and talents, schooling and experiences, which provide FM with the qualities of observation and fortitude necessary for his unique discoveries and insights.

It is also in this section of the book that we are introduced to two themes that run throughout FM’s life – his love of horse racing and his family financial responsibilities. “All of the family rode horses,…” , “. .  . AR was an excellent horseman who rode races regularly for his father, . . ” , and we learn that Amy “had a serious accident” while riding her pony, “. . . her leg was so damaged that she could not walk properly.”By now, FM was convinced “of the value of his methods and this encouraged him to continue teaching instead of pursuing a career as a reciter.” He realized that Amy would need “the very best medical advice” and concludes “that he must give recitals, prepare a printed brief on his teaching methods and advertise his work.” Eventually, AR joined FM in Melbourne, and shortly after, Amy also moved there. Since her problems were never fully corrected by the medical profession, FM began teaching Amy his “methods”, which resulted in correcting her leg problems, and her beginning to teach, too. As a closing note to this chapter, we learn that due to circumstances at home in Wynyard, FM’s mother, two other sisters and youngest brother come to live in Melbourne.

The final chapter of Part II provides us with more exacting information on FM’s development of his “methods”, the expansion of his teaching to Sydney, and the introduction of his first serious writing. He joins with other performers to stage “entertainments”, and establishes the friends and contacts which eventually support his move to London. We hear more about AR and Amy’s pursuits with teaching, the overall close familial ties, and their view of what they referred to as “the Work”. It is in this atmosphere of success, coupled with heavy financial responsibilities, that “luck” enters, sending FM to London.

Part Three (approx. 100 pp.) covers the years of 1904 to 1955. Divided fairly evenly into seven chapters, the author covers FM’s career and personal life with respect and tact. The story of how FM established himself in London, bringing first Amy, and then AR, to London to help teach, is fascinating. The logistics and complexities of family and career increase as World War I begins, affecting further decisions and creating greater financial responsibilities. The introduction of Ethel Webb, Irene Tasker and Margaret Naumburg to “the Work” is good reading. The initiation of annual teaching trips to the United States provides the sequence of events which led to the development of teaching in this country. FM marries and adopts a daughter. Dewey enters the picture, and the publication of FM’s books begins. All of these events are portrayed against the horrifying background of WWI, and yet life continues.

The second two chapters of Part Three cover the 1920’s and the1930’s. The trips to the United States ceased for the time being, the “little school” was created, and FM and AR buy homes outside London in Sidcup. The information relayed about the “little school” was particularly enjoyable Evans wisely gives us a taste of the school in a teenage girl’s submission for “Mr. FM’s Competition – Means Whereby”. The title of her piece, “Means Whereby of Grooming a Pony”, opens with “Inhibit the desire to groom a pony” , and closes with, “If you can’t control yourself, you can’t control your horse.” As we read on, we learn more about FM’s personal life, which I won’t spoil by giving too much away. The advent of the training course is covered with gracious descriptions of those attending. The next two books are described as “well received” although in general “the Work” was both criticized and acclaimed. AR , “whose great sense of humour often defused a tense situation” on the training course, responded to the market in the United States and “by early 1935 he was well established teaching in Boston”. These chapters close with verbal snapshots of FM’s work and leisure.

The chapter devoted to World War II was particularly disturbing in light of current events. Evans’ portrayal of how the war affected everyday life, the eventual need for FM and the school children to flee to the United States, and the effects of the London bombings, were descriptions that made me feel both pain and admiration for those who endured that period of history. FM is described as “the incorrigible optimist”. There are several quotations from his letters to those who remained in England. “But it is little use to grumble. We have just to see it through to the bitter end now.” On the brighter side, I found the pages given to Coghill very satisfying to read, and the descriptions and photos of life at Stow, Massachusetts, a pleasure. At the end of the chapter, we see FM returning to London in 1943, the War not yet ended.

“The South African Case” chapter is full of traumatic experiences ranging from further bombings near home and work, to the trial in Johannesburg, to the death of AR. “The loss of his dearest brother, the man who had supported him so loyally all his life was devastating.” The care Evans gives to relaying the details leading up to the trial, the trial itself, and its outcome, are helpful. The extent to which FM supporters extended themselves speaks highly of their dedication to FM and his Technique. Also in this chapter is one of my favorite passages, too lengthy for this review, but you can find it on p. 229, pertaining to John Skinner. It’s a wonderful account of one person’s sacrifices to train as a teacher.

The final chapter, “Final Years”, touches on the sensitive “problems associated with teachers wishing to secure the future of the Technique”, thus providing insight as to how the factions within the profession originated. FM outlived most of his family members and close friends. Evans’ history of FM relays both his humanity and his humaneness.

Additional material in this book consists of a Foreword by Jackie Evans’ aunt, Marjory Barlow, which I found disappointing in its brevity, and a “Legacy” chapter by John Gray which includes details about the Technique following FM’s death. The maps and photographs throughout the book convey more than words as we view the locations, scenery and portraits – the beauty of Amy and the handsome AR as examples. In her Introduction, Jackie Evans states: “It was felt by the Alexander family and a number of senior teachers that an accurate record of the background, family and life of Alexander was required. At the time many inaccurate articles, letters and books were circulating and producing a very biased view of Alexander and his family. I hope that this book will set the record straight and will interest a wider audience than already committed Alexanderians.” In my opinion, I think Ms. Evans can consider the record set straight.

© Rose Bronec. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
This is an indispensable source for anyone interested in the history of F. M. Alexander’s life.

Jackie Evans is a great-niece of F. M. Alexander (she is the daughter of Joan, Marjory Barlow’s sister). She has researched F. M.’s life story for more than fifteen years and has taken degrees in genealogy and family community history for the single purpose of writing this biography. The book is handsomely produced and illustrated with 102 pictures, most of which are new to the Alexander community.

The biography is a thoroughly researched account of F. M.’s life and the story of his immediate family. The family origins are documented in depth (F. M. is not born until page 70). This emphasis on the family is the book’s strength as well as its weakness.

Given the fees F. M. charged (in the beginning 4 guineas a lesson) one might have thought he led a life of luxury and easy living, but lack of money was often a difficulty because throughout his adult life F. M. supported several family members. Although F. M. was awarded £1,000 in damages in the South African libel case his expenses far outweighed this sum. His life was as difficult romantically as it was financially. One of his best friends, Robert Young, died in 1910, and his widow, Edith Page, moved to London as she wanted to make her career on the stage. In this she was not successful and the reader is rather left with the impression that FM married her simply to support her. The only real romantic interest in FM’s life seems to have been Gladys Johnson, known as Jack, who became a caretaker at the Penhill estate in 1925. (To add to the twist, Jack was married to Owen Vicary who was a nephew of Edith.) Jack and Owen had separated in 1925 and when Edith moved out of Penhill in 1929, F. M. and Jack became close. In 1931 they had a son who was passed as Owen’s son, and named John Vicary. It was a hard blow for F. M. when Jack died of cancer in January 1955.

Evans’ account is thoroughly factual and does not indulge in any idle speculation. This makes for a reliable but somewhat dry exposition; all articles and letters and books by F. M. are mentioned, all important pupils and their contributions are listed, notable dates and events are all there, everything is present and correct, but somehow the story does not come to life. Missing are the many small snap-shot stories which reveal how F. M. was as a man and as a teacher. There is no mention let alone quotation from Goddard Binkley’s diary of his lessons with F. M. or any of Barlow’s or Carrington’s stories about F. M.

Even given this factual approach there are odd omissions. For example, we learn that various teachers broke away from F. M., but not about the pain it caused him (or them). And why is Magnus’ research and its relevance to the Technique not explained when Coghill’s work gets three pages? This biography is first and foremost a family history and the Technique is sidelined. One might regret that the crucial turning point in Alexander’s life, the evolution and discovery of the Technique – the reason why there is a technique and a biography – is passed over in a mere five lines. Nor are there any attempts at summarising or giving even the barest outlines of any of Alexander’s books. A long report on the horrendous casualties of WW1 appears to have the objective of throwing Alexander’s scathing denouncements of the Germans in Man’s Supreme Inheritance into relief.

However, this does not detract from the fact that this book is a solid, accurate and detailed account of F. M. Alexander’s life and family. Even people who knew Alexander or studied his life would find a great deal of new information. For the sheer volume of facts it is hard to believe that anything could replace this biography, and the Alexander community is indebted to Evans for her achievement.

© Jean M. O. Fischer. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Es fing alles mit einer Vorlesung an, die Jackie Evans 1988 auf dem Internationalen Alexander-Technik Kongress in Brighton gab. Sie sprach über FMs Geschichte und Familienhintergrund. 13 Jahre später liegt nun eine Biographie der Alexanders vor, wie sie an Umfang und Detailfülle wohl nicht mehr übertroffen werden wird. Als Familienmitglied - FM war ihr Grossonkel - hatte Jackie Evans nicht nur Zugang zu den öffentlichen Archiven, €mtern, Büchereien und Museen, sondern ihr stand auch ein grosser Schatz an privaten Kollektionen, Familienbüchern, Aufzeichnungen, Briefen, Fotografien und Geschichten zur Verfügung.

Der erste Eindruck beim Lesen ist eine überwältigende Flut von Namen und Familienverzweigungen. Nicht verwunderlich, wenn man bedenkt, dass zu der damaligen Zeit 10 Kinder in einer Familie keine Seltenheit waren. Lässt man sich jedoch davon nicht abschrecken - im Anhang findet man 8 Seiten mit Familienstammbäumen - entsteht ein lebendiges Bild der damaligen Lebensbedingungen und -wege, erst der Vorfahren in England und dann der weitverzweigten Familie der Alexanders in Tasmanien. FM selbst taucht erst auf Seite 73 auf.

Mit Liebe zum Detail und vielen Anekdoten zeichnet Jackie Evans ein lebendiges Bild der Familienmitglieder und zeigt viel über ihren Charakter und ihr Verhältnis zu einander. Sie räumt mit vielen Gerüchten, Missverständnissen und Halbwahrheiten über FMs Familie auf. Zum Beispiel weist sie nach, dass FMs Vater John eher ein Schmied als ein Farmer war, der erfolgreich Rennpferde für die lokalen Rennbahnen trainierte. Jackie Evans erwähnt nichts von einem angeblichen Alkoholproblem, was er gehabt haben soll.

Auf über 160 Seiten wird FMs Leben mit einer Fülle an Informationen beschrieben. Jackie Evans schreibt nichts über die Entwicklung der Alexander-Technik an sich, "the Work " wie sie im Buch genannt wird, sondern verweist dazu nur auf Der Gebrauch des Selbst. Sie stellt ganz den Menschen FM in den Vordergrund und ihr gelingt es, mit einer Fülle an Hintergrundsinformationen ein lebendiges und unterhaltsames Bild der einzelnen Stationen von Alexanders Weg zu zeichnen. Von den frühen Jahren in Tasmanien, Melbourne und Sydney, über London, die beiden Weltkriege, Amerika, die ersten Ausbildungsklassen, bis hin zu dem berühmten Rechtsstreit in Südafrika und den späten Jahren in London.

Dieses Buch ist für alle, die mehr wissen wollen über den Begründer der Alexander-Technik eine wahre Fundgrube und ein spannendes Lesevergnügen.

2001 © Jan Pullmann. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2008-2014. All rights reserved.