John Mason Neale

John Mason Neale (1818 – 66), was a High Church Anglican best known today as the author of several Christmas carols, such as ‘Good King Wenceslaus’ and hymns like ‘All Glory, Laud and Honour’. A talented classicist at Cambridge, he was nevertheless prevented from taking an honours degree because of his poor performance in mathematics. This must have been dire indeed considering how very few undergraduates of promise were failed because of their ineptness in this particular discipline. Indeed, there could be more sinister reasons for this treatment. It is easy to imagine that someone with his quasi-Romanist leanings, which he probably did not hide, displeasing die hard Anglican dons at the University.

Be that as it may, Neale was appointed Chaplin of Downing College in 1840 and two years later became Vicar of Crawley. However, disagreements with his diocesan bishop, which dogged him for fourteen years, led to his resignation in 1846. Luckily, soon afterwards he was appointed Warden of Sackville College, a large almshouse of seventeenth century origin in East Grinstead. Here he remained until his early death aged 48 in 1866.

The attached document, found among some autograph material, is dated 1850 and is headed by an engraving of the courtyard at Sackville College. Under it Neale has penned a letter, or the draft of it, in Latin, seemingly to a fellow scholar, possibly in Europe, the first few lines of which some Classicists among the growing audience of Jot 101 might wish to translate. Here are the opening few words:

Viro doctissimus ----Brossch, Academiae Petropolensis Socio, Joannes M. Neale S.P.D.

Quantas gratias , Vir Clacissonie, et ago tibi et agere delco, qui literas tuas humanissimas…

At this point we at Jot 101 gave up. Some of the rest can be viewed above. Unafraid of religious controversy, Neale went on to found the Society of St Margaret, an order of Anglican women dedicated to tending the sick. At a time of strong anti-Papal feeling, such High Church activities were regarded with hostility by both the higher clergy and the laity, and Neale was banned from any preferment in the country of his birth. When recognition for his scholarly work eventually came, it was in the form of a doctorate from a college in Connecticut. [RMH]

3 thoughts on “John Mason Neale

  1. Mumpsimus

    "Petropolensis," in the salutation, no doubt means "of St. Petersburg." (A very early manuscript Hebrew Bible, the Codex Petropolensis, is in the National Library there.) Maybe the addressee's name was Bronch or Brosch, first name to be added in the final draft, though I can't find any likely candidates online for either name.

    My Latin is not what it was, and it was never much, but the first paragraph seems to be regretting that they must write each other in Latin, and suggesting that if they continue, they do so in French.

  2. R.M.Healey

    Thanks, Mumpsimus for that information, especially on the meaning of petropolensis.I shall take the letter to a Latinist for a translation. If it turns out to be sensational more may be heard of Dr Neale on Jot 101 in the future.

  3. Stephen

    Sackville College is Still an Almshouse.
    On April 30th 2016 there will be a Concert of Music of John Mason Neale and readings from his letters.
    Please see the web site for further details of visiting Sackville College.
    The Parish Church of St Swithun in East Grinstead has a Stained glass window depicting John Mason Neale and his Tomb is in the Churchyard.


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