The Manuscripts of
M.R. James

by Rosemary Pardoe

(from Ghosts & Scholars 5)

Click here to go to new notes and postscripts below.

It would be interesting to know whether all the original manuscripts of M.R. James' ghost stories still exist, and if so, where. Richard Dalby has sent me the following list of items included in the sale of MRJ's library, which was conducted by Sotheby's on Monday, November 9, 1936 (five months after MRJ's death). The catalogue prefaced them with the note: "The numerous corrections and alterations show the great care used in their composition".


59. "The Mezzotint", original holograph manuscript on 12 leaves foolscap.

60. "The Ash Tree", original holograph manuscript on 17 leaves foolscap.

61. "Count Magnus", original holograph manuscript on 20 leaves foolscap.

62. "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", original holograph manuscript on 22 leaves foolscap.

63. "Oh, Whistle and I'll Come to You", original holograph manuscript on 20 leaves foolscap.

64. "Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance", original holograph manuscript on 30 leaves foolscap.

65. "Martin's Close", original holograph manuscript on 25 leaves foolscap.

66. "The Cat of Death", original holograph manuscript on 21 leaves foolscap (later retitled "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" when published in 1911).

67. "A Warning to the Curious", original holograph manuscript on 22 leaves foolscap, with corrected proof.

68. "The Uncommon Prayer Book", original holograph manuscript on 10 leaves foolscap, with printed proof.

70. "Story of a Disappearance and a Re-appearance" [sic], original holograph manuscript on 18 leaves foolscap (wanting folio 6).

71. "An Episode of Cathedral History", original holograph manuscript on 19 leaves foolscap.

72. "Casting the Runes", original holograph manuscript on 27 leaves foolscap (wanting folio VI).

73. "The Rose Garden", original holograph manuscript on 17 leaves foolscap; and another version of the same story on 12 leaves quarto.

The Daily Telegraph for November 10, 1936, reported that the collection of fourteen manuscripts fetched a total of £140, ranging from £5.10s for "The Mezzotint" to £15.10s for "Oh, Whistle". The entire library, which included a fifteenth-century French Book of Hours (£60), and a Psalter dating from the thirteenth century (£30), reached £794.

I know of the present whereabouts of just three of the holographs: "The Mezzotint" is now in the library at Eton College; while "An Episode of Cathedral History" and "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance" were both bought by Lord Keynes who bequeathed them to King's College, Cambridge, in 1946. But what of the remaining eleven? And what of the other sixteen stories in MRJ's Collected Ghost Stories? King's College, in fact, has five of the latter: "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" (12 leaves foolscap); "Lost Hearts" (4 leaves foolscap); "Number 13" (34 leaves octavo, incomplete); "A School Story" (6 leaves foolscap, 3 leaves quarto); and "The Tractate Middoth" (19 leaves quarto). Also in the King's collection, incidentally, is the holograph of chapters 5,6,7 and 8 of The Five Jars, and a single sheet of an early "Count Magnus" draft.

So, as well as eleven of the manuscripts in the Sotheby's sale, there remain unaccounted for, three tales from A Thin Ghost ("The Residence at Whitminster", "The Diary of Mr Poynter" and "Two Doctors"); four from A Warning to the Curious ("The Haunted Dolls' House", "A Neighbour's Landmark", "A View from a Hill" and "An Evening's Entertainment"); plus "There was a Man...", "Rats", "After Dark in the Playing Fields" and "Wailing Well" from the Collected Ghost Stories. The page proofs of the first three mentioned Warning to the Curious stories were part of the Sotheby's sale (item 69), but not the original manuscripts.

The holographs of the two later tales not in the Collected Ghost Stories, "A Vignette" and "The Experiment", are similarly untraced.

If you can provide the missing information on any of these, do please contact me.

Copyright (c) 1983 Rosemary Pardoe

back to top

New Notes (April 2000)

In the same year that I wrote this article, Michael Cox's M.R. James: An Informal Portrait (OUP) was published. In it, Michael included a postscript (p.234) with some further information on the whereabouts of the manuscripts in the Sotheby's sale. There is also additional material on the subject in his annotations for M.R. James: Casting the Runes and Other Ghost Stories (1987, Oxford World's Classics). Four of the manuscripts - "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", "Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance", "Martin's Close" and "The Uncommon Prayer-book" - were bought by MRJ's friend Owen Hugh Smith, and these are now (with "The Mezzotint") at Eton. "Casting the Runes" is in the British Library (Egerton 3141). The missing folio from this tale later turned up among MRJ's papers at King's and was presented to the British Library in 1948. The BL was, of course, especially keen to acquire this manuscript because part of the story takes place in what used to be the Select Manuscript Room at its old location. Maggs Brothers Limited represented John Maynard (Lord) Keynes at the sale: Keynes had particularly wanted "Oh, Whistle", "Martin's Close", "The Uncommon Prayer-book" and/or "Casting the Runes", being ready to spend about £20 in total. Maggs Brothers were unable to obtain these for him but paid £4.10s for "An Episode of Cathedral History" and "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance".

Of the other holographs sold at Sotheby's, two ("The Rose Garden" and "A Warning to the Curious") went to Elkin Matthews; two ("Oh, Whistle" and "The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral") to 'Bain'; and one ("Count Magnus") to 'Bumpus'. Whether any or all of these still exist remains an unanswered question.

So, to sum up:

"Canon Alberic's Scrap-book", "Lost Hearts", "Number 13", "A School Story", "The Tractate Middoth", "An Episode of Cathedral History", and "The Story of a Disappearance and an Appearance" are at King's College, Cambridge.

"The Mezzotint", "The Treasure of Abbot Thomas", "Martin's Close", "Mr Humphreys and his Inheritance" and "The Uncommon Prayer-book" are at Eton College.

"Casting the Runes" is in the British Library. And the various drafts discussed by me in "The Unfinished Ghost Stories of M.R. James" are at King's College and in the Cambridge University Library.

All of the remaining manuscripts (21 including "Stories I Have Tried to Write") are untraced. Unusually, in Casting the Runes, Michael Cox describes "The Malice of Inanimate Objects" MS as "in private hands", which suggests that he knows where it is, although there is no hint of this in his introduction to the reprint of the tale in G&S 6. Add to these 21 many of the holographs of MRJ's non-fiction writings on ghost stories, and we have a veritable treasure trove, some of which must surely still survive somewhere.

Incidentally, ten years after my Ghosts & Scholars article appeared, two of the King's manuscripts - "Canon Alberic's Scrap-book" and "Lost Hearts" - were published in facsimile in a superb volume from the Ghost Story Press. M.R. James Two Ghost Stories: A Centenary celebrated their reading before the Chitchat Society in October 1893.

Finally, in my article I refer tantalisingly to "a single sheet of an early 'Count Magnus' draft" at King's. This is, perhaps, not quite as exciting as it sounds. Approximately 250 words in length, it begins with Mr Wraxall's surprise as he goes back to the inn after his day's work at the manor-house: "He had expected to find himself in the open field that surrounds the village. Instead of that he was standing by the wall of the church-yard. The evening sunlight was bright on the golden vane and the small paned windows: but of human presence there was not a trace either on the path or in the churchyard. He went on in something of a puzzle." The published version reads: "He had no eyes for his surroundings, no perception of the evening scents of the woods or the evening light on the lake; and when all of a sudden he pulled up short, he was astonished to find himself already at the gate of the church-yard, and within a few minutes of his dinner." At the inn, the landlord introduces him to the deacon who agrees to show him the De la Gardie tombs next day, but without any of the lengthy conversation with the deacon and landlord which is so important in the printed story ("He would he says have liked a little more talk with the landlord on the subject which had occupied them that morning, but being overcome by an intense & almost sudden craving for sleep he betook himself to his bedroom"). From his room, Mr Wraxall hears the customers dispersing below. To the landlord's suggestion that they might stay a little longer, one replies: "No thank you. It's too good a night for exercising dogs; & my way takes me through the wood for a bit". The landlord's answer ends the page: "Well perhaps you're right: I can't afford to lose your custom yet awhile". This exchange does not appear in the published story, but the rest of the page constitutes a very abbreviated version of the relevant section in its printed manifestation. This early draft must have been scarcely one tenth as long as the final text.

Postscript (July 24, 2000): Many thanks to Christopher Roden for pointing out the whereabouts of another of the ghost story manuscripts. According to the Introduction to Morgan Library Ghost Stories (ed. Inge Dupont and Hope Mayo, Fordham University Press 1990, p.15), the MS of "A Warning to the Curious" was bought by J.P. Morgan (Jr) after MRJ's death, and, in 1942, presented to the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York, where it remains. It's an appropriate location - MRJ had a long association with Morgan Sr and Jr (and the Morgan librarian, Belle da Costa Greene) over medieval material in the Morgan collection for which, in 1907, he produced a catalogue. They were also enthusiastic about his fiction. In 1927, Miss Greene wrote to MRJ: "we both hope that in your busy life, you are finding time for another of our favourite ghost stories!"; and in 1933: "Mr. Morgan and I have long been crying 'out of the depths' for a new ghost story from your hand. Won't you give us one soon?" MRJ replied: "I am afraid the vein of ghost stories has run rather dry. If it opens again, you shall know."

Postscript (August 3, 2000): And thanks again to Christopher Roden for discovering the manuscripts of "The Rose Garden" and "Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad" listed in the Location Register of Twentieth-Century English Literary Manuscripts. "The Rose Garden" (2 drafts, 1 incomplete) is owned by the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; and "Oh, Whistle" is owned by The King's School, Canterbury, Kent.

Copyright (c) 2000 Rosemary Pardoe

back to top

back to Ghosts & Scholars Archive
back to Ghosts & Scholars Home Page

Bar by Syruss