Arthur Gray

by Rosemary Pardoe

(from Ghosts & Scholars 13: "Writers in the James Tradition Number 10")

This article originally appeared in Ghosts & Scholars 13 (1991), accompanied by the first reprint of Arthur Gray's story "Suggestion". A shorter and slightly amended version formed the Introduction to the Ghost Story Press's reprint of Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye in 1992: thus was I quickly proved wrong when I said in the article that there seemed little hope of a reprint! I couldn't have known then what the future would hold in the way of the explosion in small press book publishing. The Ghost Story Press's edition also contained "Suggestion". Another reprint of the book (without "Suggestion"), under the title The Everlasting Club and Other Tales of Jesus College, was published by Jesus College in 1997. Gray's story, "Brother John's Bequest", was included in the Ghosts & Scholars book.

Around 1910 a series of charming antiquarian stories began appearing in Cambridge periodicals, chiefly the Cambridge Review. The setting for most of them was Jesus College, and the author was given simply as "Ingulphus". The original Ingulphus had been an Abbot of Crowland Abbey in Lincolnshire, in Saxon times. A history of the Abbey in his name is notoriously untrustworthy. Thus the use of the name by this Cambridge writer of strange tales was both amusing and highly appropriate.

The identity of the twentieth-century "Ingulphus" was not at first recognised. The issue of Cambridge Review for 2nd February, 1911, included the following poem entitled "To Ingulphus", by one "B.W.H." (p.309):

Why is it that my dreams are filled with fears?
Why do I nightly hear such tragic wails?
Alas! I've always ringing in my ears thy magic tales.

Before my fearful gaze grim terror looms,
How all the ghosts and goblins royster,
Whenever mice creep through my haunted rooms in Jesus cloister.

In every flickering shadow spirits lurk,
In every creaking sound are ghostly sighs,
Although I know full well thy blessed work is mostly lies.

Who art thou, then, that skulk'st behind that name,
To terrify the luckless student's nerve?
What object does - unheeding praise or blame - thy prudence serve?

Who e'er thou art... ye Gods e'en now I hear
A ghostly foot in every trochee!
I wonder, Jove! I half begin to fear that thou art F.....

Art thou that psychic dabbler M.R.J.
Bashful of being dubb'd a braggart?
Or art - by madd'ning logic led astray, J.E. McT......?

Thus guessing I have racked my brain for days,
I've had enough of it - but stay! see we
Beneath thy nom de guerre another phase of A.C.B.?

I have not been able to place the person referred to in line 15, but "J.E. McT......" (line 18) was the philosopher John Ellis McTaggart (1866-1925), Fellow of Trinity and expert on Hegelian logic, cosmology and ethics. The poet's other suggestions were M.R. James ("M.R.J.") and A.C. Benson ("A.C.B."). Neither were really very likely candidates, for the tales of "Ingulphus" have a flavour very much of their own.

The true writer of the stories was finally revealed in print in 1919, when they were collected together in a volume published by Heffer's as Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye, delightfully and profusely illustrated with drawings of Jesus College by E. Joyce Shillington Scales. Here, "Ingulphus" is followed in parentheses by "Arthur Gray, Master of Jesus College."

Born on September 28th, 1852, Arthur Gray went from Blackheath Proprietary School (London) to Jesus, where he was to remain for most of the rest of his life, first as a student, then a Fellow and then Tutor. When he became Master of the College in 1912 he was the first non-ordained man to hold that post in the College's four-hundred-year existence. He married Alice Honora Gell in 1882 and became the father in due course of six sons. Mrs Gray died in 1927, but Arthur Gray lived on until 1940, when he departed this world on the 12th of April at the venerable age of 87. He was Master of Jesus until the end, and died in the Master's Lodge. Apart from progressive deafness, he'd had hardly a day's illness.

In his long life he wrote a number of books, most of which can be fitted into one of two categories: Cambridge history and Shakespearean studies. To the latter belong such titles as Shakespeare's Son-in-Law (1939) and A Chapter in the Early Life of Shakespeare (1926) (in which he theorised that the playwright may have been a page in the household of a country gentleman). The Cambridge histories include books specifically on Jesus College and on its original foundation, the Priory of St Radegund's; as well as more general works on Cambridge University and town. A particularly interesting example is Cambridge and Its Story (1912), which starts as a fairly straightforward account of the University from its beginnings, but quickly becomes more individual, with chapters looking at life in the times of various famous names: Erasmus, Spencer, Milton, Newton and Bentley, Thomas Gray, Coleridge and Wordsworth, and right up to "Tennyson and the New Age." It is, as Gray modestlv claims, "a History of Episodes", and none the worse for it. The book is also well worth acquiring for its stunning colour illustrations by Maxwell Armfield. (Confusingly, it has a different title, Cambridge Described, on the cover.)

Gray's only fiction was that which he wrote as "Ingulphus". Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye begins with a poem, "To Two Cambridge Magicians" (from Cambridge Review 5/5/1915), the two being Christopher Marlowe and Robert Greene. Of the nine stories which follow, six are ghost or supernatural tales, and all but one are set in Jesus College or the earlier St Radegund's Priory.

"The Everlasting Club" (Cambridge Review 27/10/1910) is a club (in the reign of George II) whose rules mean that membership does not lapse with death, much to the discomfiture of the living members. "The Treasure of John Badcoke" (Chanticlere, the Jesus College Magazine, No. 54, October Term 1910) goes back further to the time of Henry VIII, and the murder of the ex-prior of Barnwell by a rogue (vainly) seeking his treasure. There is no supernatural element in this tale, but the clues hidden in a Vulgate Bible are quite a Jamesian touch. "The True History of Anthony Ffryar" (Cambridge Review 16/2/1911: Supplement) also takes place in the sixteenth century. Anthony Ffryar is an alchemist, looking for the magisterium, the "master-cure for all human ailments." Alas! on the point of success, a pre-cognitive fever dream and then death prevent the completion of his efforts.

"The Necromancer" (Cambridge Review 17/10/1912) is Thomas Allen, a Fellow of Jesus in 1643. Able to wander the town at night in the form of a cat, his evil adventures are eventually ended by another Fellow, Adoniram Byfield. Or is this the whole truth? Allen may merely be a mathematician, while Byfield is certainly a fundamentalist of the most fanatical kind.

Like John Badcoke, Brother John Baldwin, of "Brother John's Bequest" (Cambridge Review 28/11/1912) has hidden wealth. A hedonistic and humorous character in life, he makes a mirthful ghost. The two bequests he leaves, one to the college and one to a friend, only give the whereabouts of his treasure if joined together, as his friend finally realises.

"The Burden of Dead Books" (original appearance not traced), set in 1604, deals with Commagenus, a man who has discovered the secret of perpetual youth, which he achieves by occupying a new body when the old one begins to wear out. Matthew Makepeace learns the technique, but comes to regret it. Hardly an original plot, but possibly the best version of it ever to see print. "Thankfull Thomas" (Cambridge Review 22/1/1914) died in 1652, his greed being his undoing. He foolishly goes seeking college plate, secretly buried during the Civil War, in the Chapel on the one day of the year when the "old dead folk" are said to attend service.

The two remaining stories are not supernatural. "The Palladium" (Cambridge Review 27/1/1915) embroiders on the authentic account of the translation of St Felix's relics in 1026 from Soham to Ramsey. "The Sacrist of St Radegund" (Chanticlere, the Jesus College Magazine, No. 56, May Term 1911; and Cambridge Review 4/6/1919) has a terrible secret, for when she returns to the Priory from an illicit visit to a former lover in the plague-ridden town, she brings the pestilence in with her.

Without fail these stories create an authentic period atmosphere (even if some are set rather farther back in time than M.R. James would have approved of). References to college records and other old sources (real and fictional) add a wonderfully spurious verisimilitude, and Gray's wry sense of humour is seldom long away, even in the most serious of the tales.

There is one more story by "Ingulphus", "Suggestion", which appeared in the Cambridge Review for October 23rd and 30th, 1925; too late for inclusion in Tedious Brief Tales. Set in the imaginary Bishop's College instead of Jesus, it is rather different to the others.

In Arthur Gray's Times obituary, Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye received the praise it deserves: "These tales are known by heart in a small circle of faithful readers." With the recent anthologisation of some of the stories, that circle has become wider, though there seems little hope of a complete reprint of this very rare book in the foreseeable future.

(My thanks to Mrs Jacqueline Richardson, assistant librarian at Jesus College, for her help with information on Chanticlere.)

Copyright (c) 1991 Rosemary Pardoe.

Illustration below (A Corner of Jesus College Library) by E. Joyce Shillington Scales
from Tedious Brief Tales of Granta and Gramarye.

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