Arthur Quiller-Couch

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (21 November 1863 - 12 May 1944) was a Cornish writer, who published under the pen name of Q. He is primarily remembered for the monumental "Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900" (later extended to 1918), and for his literary criticism. He guided the taste of many who never met him, including American writer Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road, its sequel, Q's Legacy, and the putatively fictional Horace Rumpole via John Mortimer, his literary amanuensis.


Born at Bodmin in Cornwall to the union of two ancient Cornish families, the Quiller family and the Couch family. He forms one generation in a dynasty of prominent intellectuals in his line. His sisters Florence and Lilian were also writers and folklorists (The Age). His father, Dr. Thomas Quiller-Couch, was a noted physician, folklorist and historian (see The Gentleman's Magazine). His grandfather, Dr. Jonathan Couch, was a very prominent figure, also a physician, historian, classicist, apothecary, and an important naturist and illustrator in the style of the time. His son, Bevil, was a war hero and poet, whose romantic letters to his fiance were published in the beautiful but tragic Tears of War He also had a daughter, Foy.

He was educated at Newton Abbot College, at Clifton College, and Trinity College, Oxford and later became a lecturer there.

On taking his degree in 1886 he was for a short time classical lecturer at Trinity. After some journalistic experience in London, mainly as a contributor to the Speaker, in 1891 he settled at Fowey in Cornwall.

In Cornwall he was an active worker in politics for the Liberal Party. He was knighted in 1910.

Quiller-Couch was made a Bard of Gorseth Kernow in 1928, taking the Bardic name Marghak Cough ('Red Knight'). He was Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club from 1911 until his death.

Literary and academic career

While he was at Oxford he published (1887) his Dead Man's Rock (a romance in the vein of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island), and he followed this up with Troy Town (1888) and The Splendid Spur (1889).

He published in 1896 a series of critical articles, Adventures in Criticism, and in 1898 he completed Robert Louis Stevenson’s unfinished novel, St. Ives.

From his Oxford days he was known as a writer of excellent verse. With the exception of the parodies entitled Green Bays (1893), his poetical work is contained in Poems and Ballads (1896). In 1895 he published an anthology from the 16th and 17th-century English lyrists, The Golden Pomp, followed in 1900 by the evergreen Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (1900), which remains to this day the quintessential anthology of English poetry. (Later editions of this extended the period covered up to 1918.)

In 1910 he published The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales from the Old French.

He received a professorship of English at the University of Cambridge in 1912, which he retained for the rest of his life, later holding a Chair (or Professorship) of English. He oversaw the beginnings of the English Faculty there, an academic diplomat in a fractious community. He is sometimes regarded as the epitome of the school of English literary criticism later overthrown by F. R. Leavis.

Alistair Cooke was a notable student of Quiller-Couch and he features prominently in Nick Clarkes Semi Official Biography of Cooke. He also notes Quiller-Couch was regarded by the Cambridge Establishment as "rather eccentric" even by the University's Standards.

Quiller-Couch was a noted literary critic, publishing several volumes; among these are Studies in Literature (1918) and On the Art of Reading (1920). He edited a successor Oxford Book of English Prose which was published in 1923, and published the 30-volume work of fiction, Tales and Romances, in 1928-9. He also edited a number of volumes of the New Shakespeare, published by Cambridge University Press, with Dover Wilson.

He left his autobiography, Memories and Opinions, unfinished; it was nevertheless published in 1945.


His Book of English Verse is oft-quoted by John Mortimer's fictional character Horace Rumpole.

Castle Dor, a retelling of the Tristan and Iseult myth in modern circumstances, was left unfinished at Quiller-Couch's death and was completed many years later by Daphne du Maurier. As she wrote in the Sunday Telegraph on April 1962, she took up the job with considerable trepidation, at the request of Quiller-Couch's daughter and "in memory of happy evenings long ago when 'Q' was host at Sunday supper"

He features as a main character, played by Leo McKern, in the 1991 BBC TV feature, The Last Romantics The story focuses on his relationship with his protege, F. R. Leavis and the students.


His later novels include:

  • The Blue Pavilions (1891)
  • The Ship of Stars (1899)
  • Hetty Wesley (1903)
  • The Adventures of Harry Revel (1903)
  • Fort Amity (1904)
  • The Shining Ferry (1905)
  • Sir John Constantine (1906)

Further reading

  • Poets of the Younger Generation (New York, 1902) William Archer
  • A brief essay on his numerous ghost stories, a form to which he returned at intervals throughout his long career, may be found in S. T. Joshi's The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004).

External links


  • Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Biographical Study of Q by Frederick Brittain (1947)
  • Quiller Couch: A Portrait of "Q" by A. L. Rowse (1988)


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