Frederick Matthias Alexander
– October 10
) was an Australian
actor who developed the educational process that is today called the Alexander Technique
—a form of education that is applied to recognize and overcome reactive, habitual limitations in movement and thinking.
Alexander was born on a large, isolated farm in Wynyard
, the oldest of eight children. He was a precocious child, and, suffering from respiratory problems, was taken out of school to be educated privately. As his health began to improve at around age nine, he developed an affinity to horses, eventually becoming adept at training and managing them. He also developed a love for theatre
, particularly Shakespeare
, which would lay the foundations for his future career.
At age sixteen, financial pressures forced Alexander to forsake his rural life, moving him to the mining town of Mount Bischoff. He worked at a variety of jobs in the daytime, and in the evenings entertained himself studying drama and teaching himself the violin.
After three years he moved to Melbourne, continuing his dramatic and musical training under the city's best teachers. During this period he spent his time visiting theatres, concerts, and art galleries, in addition to organizing his own amateur dramatic company in his spare time. After his money ran out, he worked odd jobs to support himself. However, a combination of recurrent illness, distaste for commercial life, and what was then a violent temper ensured that he never held any job for very long.
In his early twenties, he decided to devote himself to a career as an actor and reciter. He soon established an excellent reputation, giving recitals and producing plays. His specialty at the time was a one-man show of dramatic and humorous pieces heavily laced with Shakespeare.
Development of his Technique
He later moved to, and finally settled in London
Alexander developed such concepts as the primary control, verbal visualization, avoiding reaction during speaking, and using modeling in teaching (guiding movement in contact with the student to show quality and direction.)
There are now many books about the Alexander Technique. One of the first was Freedom to Change by Frank Pierce Jones.
Alexander himself was a Shakespearean orator who suffered from the problem of losing his voice on stage. Careful observation of himself with mirrors revealed that he habitually pulled his head slightly backwards and down when about to recite or to a lesser extent before speaking. After long experimentation he discovered the means to prevent what he described as problems in the way he used himself.
Many famous actors, writers, politicians and philosophers were his students.
Items on sale at the auction of the Alexander Estate include signed photographs from artists, actors and actresses:
- cartoonist and illustrator Ronald Searle, an original drawing of F. M. Alexander, signed and with the comment "Ronald Searle 1953. For F. M. from the reconstituted artist, with thanks," Reproduced in F. M. Alexander's The Universal Constant in Living (Mouritz, 2000, London)
- artist Ruth Beardmore, Penhill House, and a Laburnum tree in Penhill gardens, both in cross-stitch tapestry, about 1944
- actress Sarah Brooke, an autographed photo "A thousand thanks dear Mr. Alexander for all your trouble" (about 1905)
- actor H. B. Irving, son of actor Henry Irving, an autographed photo "To F. M. Alexander for his ... ? 1907"
- actress Viola Tree (1885-1938, daughter of Herbert Beerbohm Tree), an autographed full-length photo "To Matthias Alexander with many thanks from Viola Tree 1909"
- actress Lily Brayton, an autographed photo "...yours fully Lily Brayton...", about 1905; and another photo "With many good wishes from Lily Brayton. Desdemona", about 1909.
- Shakespearean actress Nora Kerin (1881-1970), an autographed photo "To my good friend Mr. Alexander with many grateful thanks, Nora Kerin. Juliet", about 1908
The technique was important in the career of educational philosopher John Dewey. The two men met around 1918 in New York City when Dewey had a series of lessons. Dewey felt that Alexander taught him how to stop and think before acting. He said that his study of the Alexander Technique enabled him to hold a philosophical position calmly once he had taken it or to change it if new evidence appeared.
While living and working in South Africa, professor Raymond Dart, along with his two children, had lessons in the Alexander Technique.
The English novelist Aldous Huxley was strongly influenced by F. M. Alexander and included him as a character in the pacifist theme novel Eyeless in Gaza published in 1936.
Gertrude Stein's brother Leo called the Technique: "the method for keeping your eye on the ball applied to life".
George Bernard Shaw was also a student of the Alexander Technique. Sir Charles Sherrington, Nobel Prize winner in physiology a strong supporter and Edward Maisel, Tai chi chuan Past Grandmaster, Director of the American Physical Fitness Research Institute and a member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness wrote an introduction and made the selection from F. M. Alexander's writings published as The Resurrection of the Body.
Politician Sir Stafford Cripps, at the time he was British Chancellor of the Exchequer, consulted Alexander.
Alexander celebrated his 70th birthday in the company of Victor Bulwer-Lytton, 2nd Earl of Lytton, Civil Lord of the Admiralty.
Alexander's first rooms in London, in 1904, were at the Army & Navy Mansions in Victoria Street, London, where he built a thriving practice. In 1920 he moved a short distance to continue practicing at 16 Ashley Place, with the help of two teachers, Ethel Webb and Irene Tasker. From the start of the First World War in 1914, in order to maintain a constant practice, most years until 1924 he spent the Autumn and Winter in the United States.
In 1920 Alexander married Edith Page, an Australian who was the widow of one his best friends, Robert Young, and in 1924 he bought their home 'Penhill', a house with twenty acres of grounds, at Bexley in Kent, where he started the "little school" for children where his method was made fundamental to the school curriculum. It was not a happy marriage and he and Edith had no children. However Alexander had a son with Gladys Johnson, the caretaker of Penhill: Gladys, known as 'Jack' had married Owen Vicary, Edith's nephew, and after Jack and Owen had separated in 1925 and Edith had moved out of Penhill in 1929, Alexander and Jack became close; their son was born in 1931 and passed off as Owen's son, named John Vicary.
The first training course was started at Ashley Place in September 1930. and continued alongside his own practice until 1940. When the war came he lived and worked in the United States from 1940 until 1943, which was a difficult time as his teachers were disappearing into the services. Fearing that the technique would be lost, he returned to London in 1943 and successfully restarted the training course. In 1945 his work was attacked in an article in South African newspaper, but this resulted in his winning large damages in a subsequent libel action - he was too ill to attend but some of his students, Bill and Marjory Barlow, Dick and Elisabeth Walker, and Dr. Dorothy Morrison travelled to Johannesburg to give evidence. In late 1947, when he was seventy-nine years old, he had a bad fall and a week later he suffered a stroke which resulted in the paralysis of his left hand, leg and face. Doctors had little hope for him, but through the use of his own technique he recovered and in the Spring of the next year was teaching again.
Alexander continued to work until his sudden death in 1955, when the practice at 16 Ashley Place was taken over by one of his assistants, Patrick Macdonald.
List of Alexander's Students
First-generation teachers, those who were taught by Alexander himself, giving the year when they commenced training. The first (three-year) training course was started in his rooms at 16 Ashley Place, Victoria, London, in 1931., and the courses ran until his death in 1955.
Alexander was always known as 'FM' to his students.
- Alexander, Albert Redden. FM's brother, known as AR. The first of FM's students and his assistant, staying in the USA to teach.
- Alexander, Max. AR's son.
- Barlow, Marjory (née Mechin) (1915-2006), 1933. Daughter of FM's sister Amy, and wife of Bill Barlow.
- Barlow, Dr. Wilfred 'Bill' (1915-1991), 1945. Founder of STAT in 1958.
- Barstow, Marjorie 'Marj' (1899-1995), 1931. Taught the technique in the USA.
- Binkley, Goddard (1920-1987), 1953. Taught the technique in the USA.
- Carrington, Dilys (née Jones) (1915- ), 1955. Wife of Walter Carrington.
- Carrington, Walter H. M. (1915-2005), 1936.
- Cavling, Vera, 1948.
- Goldie, Ellen Avery Margaret 'Margaret' (1905-1997).
- Gummere, Richard M. 'Buzz', Jr. (1912- ), 1944.
- Jones, Dr. Frank Pierce, (1904-1975), 1943. Taught the technique in the USA.
- Macdonald, Patrick J. 'Pat' (1908-1992), 1931. Principal, The Alexander Foundation.
- MacInnes, Gurney, 1931.
- Morrison, Dr. Dorothy Stella Radcliffe (née Drew) (1908-1988), 1946.
- Price-Williams, Douglas R.
- Scott, Peter.
- Spawforth, Anthony (1919-2003), 1951.
- Stewart, Irene.
- Tasker, Irene. Montessori School teacher. First teacher of the technique (in 1917) after FM and AR.
- Trevelyan, Sir George (1906-1996), 1931.
- Walker, Richard 'Dick' (1911-1992).
- Walker, Elisabeth (née Clarke) (1914- ). Wife of Dick Walker.
- Webb, Ethel. Montessori School teacher, at the same time (1913) as Irene Tasker.
- Westfeldt, Lulie, 1931.
- Wielopolska, Catherine Merrick 'Kitty' (1900-1988), 1931.
- Williams, Peggy (1916-2003).
- Whittaker, Erika (1911-2004), 1931.
The four books of F. Matthias Alexander. Exist in many editions, being reprinted and revised, published in the UK and USA. Not all of which are shown. See Lists below for more information.
- Man's Supreme Inheritance, Methuen (London, 1910), revised and enlarged 1918, later editions 1941, 1946, 1957, Mouritz (UK, 1996), reprinted 2002. ISBN 0-9525574-0-1
- Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual, Centerline Press (USA,1923), revised 1946, Mouritz (UK, 2004) ISBN 0-9543522-6-2, ISBN 978-9543522-6-4
- The Use of the Self, E. P. Dutton (New York, 1932), republished by Orion Publishing, 2001, ISBN 0-7528-4391, ISBN 978-0752843919
- The Universal Constant In Living, Dutton (New York, 1941), Chaterson (London, 1942), later editions 1943, 1946, Centerline Press (USA, 1941, 1986), Mouritz (UK, 2000) ISBN 091311118X, ISBN 978-0913111185, ISBN 0-9525574-4-4
- Evans, Jackie, Frederick Matthias Alexander - A Family History, Phillimore & Co (UK, 2001) ISBN 1-860-77178-5
Selection of publications
- STAT (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique), The Alexander Journal, Mouritz (Issues 1-21 published at irregular intervals in the years 1962-2006)
- Westfeldt, Lulie, F. Matthias Alexander: The Man and his Work, George Allen & Unwin (London, 1964)
- Bowden, George C, F. Matthias Alexander and The Creative Advance of the Individual, L. N. Fowler & Co. Ltd. (London, 1965)
- Barker, Sarah, The Alexander Technique, Bantam Books (New York, 1978) ISBN 0-553-14976-8
- Barlow, Wilfred, The Alexander Principle, Victor Gollancz Ltd. (London, 1990) ISBN 0-575-04749-6
- The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique Christopher Stevens The Development of the Alexander Technique and Evidence for its Effects, (STAT, 1997). An article summarising early investigations into the Alexander Technique and attempts to identify methods to measure its effects.
Applications of the Alexander Technique