LIBRARY - Reference(s)

The Philosopher's Stone

Diaries of Lessons with F. Matthias Alexander
Material type: 
AT Focus: 
Alexander Technique
216 x 144 mm.
ISBN 0952557487 / 978-0952557487
Mouritz Bibliography
Cover image: 
Biblio ID: 
Base ID: 
Short Description: 
Five rare descriptions of how Alexander taught, richly illustrated.
Mouritz description: 
These contemporary diaries of lessons with Alexander consist of: ‘The Philosopher’s Stone’ – a review from 1919 of Alexander’s MSI. It introduces Alexander and his technique. ‘Diary of My Lessons in the Alexander Technique’ by Eva Webb describes one lesson with Alexander and several with his assistant teachers in 1947 – she had hers mainly from Irene Stewart. ‘The Diaries of Frank and Grace Hand’ record their lessons with Alexander in 1942 in New York. ‘Recording of a Miracle’ by Mrs Buchanan is from the early 1950s. The first part of ‘The Journal of Sir George Trevelyan’ introduces Alexander and his technique. The second part from 1936-37 records Alexander’s instructions to his teachers. ‘How I came to have Lessons with F. M. Alexander’ by A. Ludovici does not describe actual lessons.
Publisher Description: 

This is a unique collection of diaries and notes recording lessons with F. M. Alexander. These contemporary records capture Alexander's teaching and testify to his exceptional skills. These rare documents provide an important link with the teaching origins of the Alexander Technique. They make the reader part of a most exciting journey: the exploration of the self as a conscious, discriminating being.

"The Philosopher's Stone" is a review from 1919 of F. M. Alexander's Man's Supreme Inheritance by the American historian James Harvey Robinson. This excellent introduction to the Technique contains the earliest existing account of a lesson with Alexander.

Eva Webb's"Diary of My Lessons in the Alexander Technique" from 1947 describes a typical series of lessons with Alexander and his assistant teachers.

"The Diaries of Frank and Grace Hand" reveals the pupils' perspective. The Hands recorded their impressions of lessons with Alexander in 1942 in New York.

"Recording of a Miracle" is the diary of an American, Mrs Buchanen, who was seriously ill before taking up the Alexander Technique. This classic case history from the early 1950s is a record of the remarkable changes in health and well-being which are possible with the Technique.

The first part of"The Journal of Sir George Trevelyan" introduces F. M. Alexander and his technique and explains why Sir George took up Alexander's work, training as a teacher 1931-34. The second part from 1936-37 records Alexander's instructions to his teachers and documents the attention to detail which he paid in the practice of his Technique. This edition is more complete than the one published in the Alexander Journal.

"How I came to have Lessons with F. M. Alexander" is by Anthony Ludovici who wrote in support of the Technique in several of his books. His story is both extraordinary and amusing.

All the 15 b&w photographs on plates show Alexander teaching.

This compilation was first published July 1998 by Mouritz."The Philosopher's Stone" by James Harvey Robinson was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1919. Eva Webb's diary was first published in George Bowden's F. Matthias Alexander and the Creative Advance of the Individual in 1965. The Diaries of Frank and Grace Hand have not previously been published. Mrs Buchanen's diary was first published i Louise Morgan's Inside Yourself in 1954. Parts of Sir George Trevelyan's diary was first published in The Alexander Journal no. 11 (1991) and no. 12 (1992). Anthony Ludovici's piece is an extract from his book Religions for Infidels (1961).

Hardback. 110 pages, 215 x 138 mm, 15 b/w illustrations. Printed on 90 gsm wove paper and bound in buckram.


Page 98, second paragraph from the bottom, 5th line: for Ògentle pull on a chain back", read Ògentle pull on a chair back".

Introduction by Jean M. O. Fischer
List of illustrations (15 b/w photographs showing Alexander teaching)
"The Philosopher's Stone" by James Harvey Robinson, 1919
"Diary of My Lessons in the Alexander Technique" by Eva Webb, 1947
"The Diaries of Frank and Grace Hand", 1942
"Recording of a Miracle" by Mrs Buchanen, 1950s
"The Journal of Sir George Trevelyan - Part One",1931-34
"The Journal of Sir George Trevelyan - Part Two" 1936-37
"How I came to have Lessons with F. M. Alexander" by Anthony Ludovici
Index of names


It becomes increasingly difficult to keep pace with new publications on the Technique. Of several on my shelves, still unread (including Scarano, 1997 and Gorman, 1997) I selected these two books. Both are beautifully produced; one is short and the other gives fascinating details of lessons with Alexander and his assistants.

[Here follows a review of Alexander Technique:A Step-by-Step Guide by Ailsa Masterton.]

“The Philosopher’s Stone” (edited by Fischer) contains various contemporary accounts of lessons from c. 1918 to c. 1953. Most (with the exception of the diaries of the Frank and Grace Hand) have been published previously but as all were out of print it is useful to have them presented again under one set of covers.

The first, is James Harvey Robinson’s “The Philosopher’s Stone”, a review of the American edition of Alexander’s first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1918). It contains remarkably vivid and incisive writing, for example:

“Mr Alexander does not simply exhort one to exercise conscious muscular control: he actually remodels the body, as a sculptor models the clay; gives one a fresh and discriminating muscular sense, which not only does away with distortions and expensive strains, but reacts upon one’s habitual moods and intellectual operations.”

As the book’s editor says in his introduction, the piece is “a consummate and enduring introduction to the Technique.”

Eva Webb forewords her diary by explaining it “was not originally intended for publication. . . The diary is for those who would like to know something of the impressions gathered by a raw pupil and busy housewife”. The notes contain lively descriptions of her lessons in 1947 with Alexander and his assistants.

The Hands (mother and son) describe their lessons in New York (1942) and Mrs Buchanan (“Miss G.R.”), an American friend of Louise Morgan, recounts the remarkable improvements in her health (after the medical profession had dismissed her case as beyond hope) during seven weeks of lessons (1952).

There is a short extract from a 1961 work by Anthony Ludovici, who first eulogised Alexander’s work in his characteristic writing style in 1927 (Man: An Indictment) and a fuller version than previously available of George Trevelyan’s reminiscences of lessons and teacher training, written 1936-7.

Whilst descriptions, however vivid, are no substitute for an exposition of Alexander’s technique, this book undoubtedly contains a wealth of personal accounts and insights that cannot help but interest and entertain the reader.

© Malcolm Williamson ( Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Here is the latest in a series of publications and/or re-publications by Mouritz of London concerning the work and writings of F. M. Alexander. As did the previous releases, Articles and Lectures (1995) and < em>Man’s Supreme Inheritance (1996), this book helps us look at the development of Alexander’s work over time, from c. 1918 to c. 1953. Contrasted with the previous releases, which gave us mostly the thoughts and accounts of Alexander himself, this title gives us the written accounts of a variety of individuals coming to the work at different stages in its development. These students differed in their backgrounds, purposes, insights, and ages and so give each of us, differing as we do, a variety of perspectives from which to glimpse our own development in this work.

The chronological order in which the diarists came to the Technique (which is not the order in which their accounts come in the book) is J. H. Robinson (1919), A. M. Ludovici (1925), George Trevelyan (1928-1937), Frank and Grace Hand (1942), Eva Webb (1947), Mrs. Buchanan (1952). Most seem to have had only one series of lessons over a relatively short period of time but Ludovici says his lessons in ëdeportment' went on for four years and Trevelyan, who trained to become an Alexander teacher, had lessons for many years. Some of these accounts were written contemporaneously with lessons and some were written months or years later.

James Harvey Robinson was a well-known teacher, author, and social activist of his time. He was one of the co-founders of the New School for Social Research in New York City. His work with Alexander clearly helped him recover from 'a lifelong personal experience of physical and mental depression'.

A.M. Ludovici, a prolific author and translator, gives a comic account of his own strenuous efforts to avoid having lessons with Alexander. He clearly changed his mind. In this account, written over three decades after his lessons with F. M., he is still exclaiming over 'the benefits both in health and in joie de vivre which I owed, and still owe, to this radical alteration in my physique'.

George Trevelyan’s section is nearly twice as long as any other and is of interest because of its extent and detail. It ranges from his first experiences and thoughts on the Technique to a period after he had trained and was trying to make a go of it as an Alexander teacher.

Grace and Frank Hand, mother and son, had lessons on the recommendation of the leader of their offshoot Christian Science group. Mrs. Hand’s 'it is such a problem not to want to be right' will strike a familiar chord in many readers.

I feel a whimsically special connection with Eva Webb. She had her first lesson, with F. M., on the day I was born. Apart from that, I admire that she, a self-described 'busy housewife', appears to have come to the Technique through extensive and thoughtful reading. She wanted her whole family to have lessons, but when that proved impossible, she didn't let that stop her from going ahead on her own.

I also admire Mrs. Buchanan for her thoughtfulness under dire stress. She overheard two of her consulting doctors describing her case as hopeless, but was able, in consideration for their feelings, not to reveal what she had heard. This makes the account of her recovery from near death to a renewed life through lessons with F. M. even more heart-warming.
There are some interesting similarities and/or connections between these widely different individuals. Several of them can be described as belonging to the 'intellectual' class of their time. George Trevelyan and Agnes Birrell (A. M. Ludovici’s persistent 'angel') both had family connections to the British Ministry and Board of Education in the early 1900s. Most of them started lessons due to the urging of someone they respected (although Ludovici’s respect for Birrell took time and some strange manifestations before bearing fruit). Most, in their accounts of their lessons and the resulting changes in themselves, give a sense of dramatically 'physical' experiences with renewed enjoyment of themselves and living.

Editor Jean Fischer, in his habitually excellent way, has supplied a wealth of supplementary information in the footnotes and in his Introduction. The Introduction also has a thoughtful exposition on the place that diary accounts such as these might play in our own study of Alexander’s work. In addition the book includes a series of nineteen marvelous and varied photographs of an older F. M. at work, teaching.

© Kevin Ahern. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.
Alexander's eigene vier Bücher - eigentlich müsste man das ausgezeichnete Articles and Lectures als füntes hinzuzählen - stehen wie Monumente da. Spröde und zurückhaltend erschliesst sich ihre faszinierende und vielschichtige Gedankenwelt nur langsam und zögernd dem suchenden Leser. Dabei bleibt jedoch die Person, bleibt der Mensch Alexander, in seinen Büchern merkwürdig diffus im Hintergrund, verborgen von einem Stil auf durchgängig hohem Abstraktionsniveau. Am auffälligsten ist dies sicherlich in dem Kapitel 'Entwicklung einer Technik' in 'Der Gebrauch des Selbst', wo Alexander, gedacht für seine ersten Ausbildungsklassen, seine eigene Vorgehensweise in so kondensierter und abstrahierter Form erzählt, dass der Prozess selbst sich nicht leicht erschliesst, und die Person des Erzählers vollkommen im Hintergrund bleibt.

Aus Alexanders Sicht ist das sicherlich verständlich, denn ihm ging es ja nicht um persönliche Selbstverherrlichung, sondern um Promotion der Sache - 'The Work'. Und für die, die noch das Glück hatten, ihn persönlich zu kennen und von ihm unterrichtet/ausgebildet worden zu sein, stellten die spröden Bücher sicherlich ein interessantes Gegengewicht zu der wohl starken Persönlichkeit FM.s und dem individuellen Erlebniss seines Unterrichts dar. Bücher über die Alexander-Technik gibt es inzwischen reichlich, doch sind persönliche Berichte über Unterricht mit Alexander, abgesehen von G. Binkleys The Expanding Self und Walter Carringtons A Time to Remember die grosse Ausnahme geblieben.

Diese Lücke füllt The Philosopher's Stone, eine bis dato einmalige Sammlung von zeitgenössischen Berichten über Alexander und seinen Unterricht, ergänzt durch wunderbare schwarz/weiss Photos von Alexander bei der Arbeit. Die Verschiedenartigkeit der Beiträge lässt die Vielfältigkeit von Alexanders Klientel erahnen. Von literarischer Essayform bis hin zu spontan geschriebenen privaten Tagebuchnotizen zeichnen die sechs Kapitel ein lebendiges Bild von Alexander und seiner Arbeitsweise, der Atmosphäre des Unterrichts mit ihm und mit seinen verschiedenen Assistenzlehrern.

The Philosopher's Stone ist nicht nur eine wunderbare Sammlung von individuellen, privaten Momentaufnahmen von Alexander und seinem Unterricht, sondern bietet auch interessante Einblicke in die ersten Erfahrungs- und Lernporzesse von Schülern ohne grosse Vorkenntnisse in der Alexander Technik. Alles in allem ein interessantes und empfehlenswertes Buch.

1998 © Jan Pullmann. Reproduced with permission.

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

Jean Fischer has produced a beautiful book of reminiscences of lessons with Alexander. There are in fact four diaries spanning the years 1942-1954; a review of Alexander’s work written by an enthusiastic pupil/ journalist; Sir George Trevelyan’s thoughts on working with Alexander and something of a conversion story by Anthony Ludovici. (Ludovici was a writer who, much against his better judgement, was persuaded by a very persistent fan of his writing to have lessons with Alexander. He was not at all interested at first, but as some of Alexander’s predictions began to come true, he became a changed man.) Fischer has also provided an informative commentary to the collection as well as a fascinating selection of photographs of Alexander at work.

The strength of the book lies in witnessing other people’s struggles, victories, confusions and breakthroughs while they are coming to grips with Alexander’s technique. One theme shines through in all these writings, and that is the admiration, trust and faith that all the writers had in Alexander – the goodness and the benign nature’of his presence is evident throughout.

“I am certain he will never hurt me, so I have no fear of him. He makes me feel calm and happy and interested.” (Miss G.R.) “He sure is a very nice man.” (Grace Hand)

This is clearly not an “introduction” or a “workbook”. The sophisticated title, with its suggestion of alchemy, makes it sound as if it is intended for those already “in the know”; for teachers and trainee teachers. Anything with ‘”philosopher” in the title may sound too esoteric for the beginner. And indeed, there is plenty to interest a teacher. It is certainly useful for us as teachers to be reminded of what it is like to be on the other side of the equation, to be the pupil having the lesson. And it is always stimulating to make contact with Alexander through the personal experience of others: How did he teach, what did he say, what did it look like? For example, he seems to scold his pupils. Sometimes he is blunt, to the point of rudeness: “My dear lady you are quite the worst case of harmful use of yourself that I’ve seen in fifty-six years of teaching.” But he also inspired confidence: “Mr A. tells the truth. I like him better each time . . .”

In many ways, however, the book may be most valuable for pupils: those about to start lessons, or for those in the thick of them. Why? Because there is enough variety of experience recorded here to trigger empathy in almost anyone. It can be very reassuring to realise that someone else has been through the same bafflement and confusion as oneself, or has started with troubles similar to one’s own. Stories like these with such impressive and highly credible results should be sung from the rooftops!

But a word of warning is perhaps needed here. These pieces, set in the past as they are, are rather dated in attitudes and singular in class. For some this might prove irritating or, worse still, it might suggest the Technique is somehow exclusive.

As you can tell, we have found this book fun and it has stimulated a lot of thought. And it is a light and easy read. But even a well-produced book like this provokes a minor complaint or two.

Fischer’s excellent introduction contains helpful notes on the texts included in the book, giving descriptions of the background and circumstances of the writings. But these might have been more usefully placed at the beginning of each relevant chapter – so saving a lot of page turning, which rather breaks up the flow.

There is one paragraph in the introduction, however, that really grates on the ear.

“Some of Frank and Grace’s wording is unfortunate insofar as it indicates a forceful manipulation which is not part of the Technique. For example, in the case of ‘push” or ‘thrust’ teachers would use ‘direct’,. or ‘guide’; for ‘twist’ teachers would use ‘rotate’ or ‘turn’, etc. Their spontaneous impressions, however, provide examples of how pupils with little previous knowledge apprehend the Technique.” (p. XII)

One of the enjoyable features of this book is precisely this use of those words that teachers shy away from. The diaries are full of expressions such as “manipulation”, “sculpting”, “positioning”, “straightening”, “putting right” and “force” to describe what happened in a lesson. For ordinary people these words hold no terror and are quite accurate descriptions of what pupils, and even we pupils who are now teachers, certainly experience during lessons. We don’t need to apologise for having had these experiences. Nor do we need to insist that they are merely symptoms of a debauched kinaesthesia.

For Fischer to call the wording “unfortunate” is to step into the realm of defensiveness or political correctness. The power of this book comes from the lively truth of what the writers record – the truth of their own experience of having lessons and the impact of those lessons on their lives.

We will finish by indulging ourselves in our favourite anecdote from the book. A diarist noticed a bruise on Alexander’s forehead. . . .

“I fell down the cellar steps last evening with a bottle of 1938 burgundy in one hand and half-bottle of champagne in the other. . . . In that split second of time I was able to plan my fall in such a way that I would take the impact on my shoulder on one of the steps and get only a few bruises. And so it happened.”

To be able to apply the Technique in such a moment is surely what the work is all about. But Alexander’s dinner guest could only grumble about the loss of the burgundy which Alexander jettisoned on the way down. “I thought that rather hard, especially in view of the fact that I saved the champagne.”

© John Carpmael and Alison Crawford. Reproduced with permission.
This edition © Mouritz 2005-2014. All rights reserved.