Open main menu

MUNBY, ARTHUR JOSEPH (1828–1910), poet and civil servant, born in 1828 was eldest of six sons and one daughter of Joseph Munby of Clifton Holme Yorkshire, solicitor, a member of an old Yorkshire family, by his wife Caroline Eleanor Forth (see Memorial of Joseph Munby, by A. J. Munby, 1876). He was educated at St. Peter's School, York, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1851, proceeding M.A. in 1856. He entered Lincoln's Inn on 11 June 1851, and was called to the bar on 17 Nov. 1855. From 1858 to 1888 he held a post in the ecclesiastical commissioners' office, retiring at the age of sixty. A competent and conscientious official, he was known to his friends as an accomplished poet and man of letters. His first volume, entitled ‘Benoni,’ was issued in 1852. Seven years later he was a competitor for the fifty-guinea prize offered by the Crystal Palace Company for a poem on the Burns centenary of 1859, when he was one of six competitors whose excellence was held to be not far short of that of the winner, Miss Isa Craig [q. v. Suppl. II], afterwards Mrs. Craig-Knox. Others of the six were Gerald Massey [q. v. Suppl. II] and Frederic William Henry Myers [q. v. Suppl. I]. To ‘Benoni’ succeeded, in 1865, ‘Verses New and Old,’ a collection of contributions to ‘Fraser,’ ‘Macmillan,’ ‘Temple Bar,’ ‘Once a Week,’ and other magazines. In 1880 came ‘Dorothy,’ a ‘country story,’ in the elegiac verse which its writer had employed for his Burns poem. Published anonymously, and dedicated to a lifelong friend, the novelist, Richard Doddridge Blackmore [q. v. Suppl. I], its idyllic grace and vivid pictures of country scenes and life obtained for it a recognition which had not been accorded to its acknowledged predecessors. Robert Browning, to whom a copy had been forwarded through the publisher, received it with the warmest admiration, praising especially its signal ‘exquisitenesses of observation’ and consummate craftsmanship; and it was speedily reprinted in America, going into three editions in 1882. ‘Vestigia Retrorsum’ (Rosslyn series of poets) followed in 1891. This included a sonnet which in the previous year had received the diploma of the committee of the Beatrice Exposition at Florence. ‘Vulgar Verses’ (that is, ‘verses of common life’) ‘in dialect and out of it,’ written under the pseudonym of ‘Jones Brown’ (1891); ‘Susan, a Poem of Degrees’ (1893); ‘Ann Morgan's Love, a Pedestrian Poem’ (1896); ‘Poems, chiefly Lyric and Elegiac’ (1901); and a final volume, ‘Relicta’ (1909), make up the sum of Munby's metrical output. To this last collection he prefixed the following Landor-like quatrain:

‘There was a morning when I follow'd Fame:
There was a noonday when I caught her eye:
There is an evening when I hold my name
Calmly aloof from all her hue and cry.’

He also produced a few magazine articles and a compilation entitled ‘Faithful Servants: Epitaphs and Obituaries’ (based on an earlier anthology of 1826), which included ‘A Historical Preface and a Prefatory Sonnet.’

Munby's poetry is characterised by its absolute sincerity, its scholarship, its technical skill, its descriptive power, and its keen feeling for and close observation of nature and rural life. Outside this, his dominant note may be said to have been what has been called ‘the glorification of the working woman,’ with especial insistence on the dignity of manual labour.

Munby travelled widely, was a clever raconteur, and an F.S.A. with a genuine love of antiquity. For many years he was a regular contributor to ‘Notes and Queries’; and he was a warm supporter of the Working Men's College, then in Great Ormond Street, where, between 1860 and 1870, he taught a Latin class. He was a member of the Pen and Pencil Club which assembled, circa 1864–74, at Aubrey House, Notting Hill, under the auspices of Mrs. Peter Taylor. A selection from its proceedings, entitled ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ was printed privately in 1877, and includes verses by Munby.

Munby died at his little cottage at Pyrford, near Ripley in Surrey, on 29 Jan. 1910, and was buried at Pyrford. The publication of his will in the following July disclosed the fact that on 14 January 1873 he had married his servant, Hannah Cullwick, who had died in July 1909. Owing to the refusal of his wife to quit her station, the marriage (ran the will), though known to her relations and to three of her husband's friends, had never been made known to his own family. The circumstances supply an explanation of many passages in Munby's poems which must otherwise remain obscure to his readers; and several of the pieces contained in his last volume, ‘Relicta,’ issued after his wife's death, read in this light, have great beauty and pathos. He left no issue.

He bequeathed many of his books to Trinity College, Cambridge; and to the British Museum two deed-boxes containing photographs, MSS., diaries, &c., on condition that they were not to be opened or examined before 1 Jan. 1950.

[Personal knowledge; The Times, 6 Feb. 1910; Daily Telegraph, and Daily Mail, 4 July 1910; art. in Gent. Mag. ccxcvii. 503–514, by Thomas Bayne; Working Men's College Journal, March 1910, and works.]

A. D.