Photo of Arthur Quiller-Couch

Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), from The Bookman, 1898. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Born November 21 1863(1863-Template:MONTHNUMBER-21)
Bodmin, Cornwall, England
Died May 12 1944(1944-Template:MONTHNUMBER-12) (aged 80)
Pen name Q
Occupation Poet, novelist, critic
Nationality British
Education Newton Abbot College, Clifton College
Alma mater Trinity College, Oxford
Notable work(s) Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900
Notable award(s) Knight Bachelor (1910), Bard of Gorseth Kernow (1928)

Sir Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch (21 November 1863 - 12 May 1944) was an English poet and literary critic from Cornwall, who published under the pen name of Q. He is primarily remembered for the monumental Oxford Book Of English Verse, 1250–1900.


Arthur was born at Bodmin in Cornwall to the union of 2 ancient local families, the Quiller family and the Couch family, and was the third in line of intellectuals from the Couch family. His younger sisters, Florence Mabel and Lilian M., were also writers and folklorists.[1] His father, Dr. Thomas Quiller Couch (d. 1884), was a noted physician, folklorist and historian (see The Gentleman's Magazine). His grandfather, Jonathan Couch, was an eminent naturalist, also a physician, historian, classicist, apothecary, and illustrator (particularly of fishes) in the style of the time. His son, Bevil Brian Quiller-Couch, was a war hero and poet, whose romantic letters to his fiancée, the poet May Wedderburn Cannan, were published in the beautiful but tragic Tears of War. He also had a daughter, Foy Felicia, to whom Kenneth Grahame inscribed a first edition of his The Wind in the Willows attributing Quiller-Couch as the inspiration for the character Ratty, auctioned by Bonhams on Tuesday 23 March 2010 for £32,400.[2]

He was educated at Newton Abbot Proprietary 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 Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club from 1911 until his death.

Literary and academic careerEdit

File:Quiller-couch letter to Sassoon.jpg

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). Quiller-Couch is well-known for his story "The Rollcall of the Reef",[1] based on the wreck of the HMS Primrose in 1807.

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 lyricists, The Golden Pomp, followed in 1900 by the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 (1900). (Later editions of this extended the period covered up to 1918 and it remained the leading general anthology of English verse(Citation needed) until Helen Gardner's New Oxford Book of English Verse appeared in 1972.) (Of the original edition nearly half a million copies were issued according to the introduction to the NOBEV, 1972. The extended edition appeared in 1939.)

In 1910 he published The Sleeping Beauty and other Fairy Tales from the Old French. He was the author of a number of popular novels with Cornish settings (collected edition as 'Tales and Romances', 30 vols. 1928–29).

In 1912 he was appointed to the King Edward VII Professorship of English Literature at the University of Cambridge in 1912, and simultaneously elected to a fellowship of Jesus College, Cambridge; both positions which he held until his death. His inaugural Cambridge lectures were turned into the book On the Art of Writing.[3]


Quiller-Couch in old age. Courtesy

His rooms were on C staircase, First Court, and known as the 'Q-bicle'. 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.[3]

Alistair Cooke was a notable student of Quiller-Couch. and he features prominently in Nick Clarke's semi-official biography of Cooke. Clarke also notes that 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 editions of some of Shakespeare's plays (in the New Shakespeare, published by Cambridge University Press, with Dover Wilson) and several critical works (among these are Studies in Literature (1918) and On the Art of Reading (1920)).

He edited a companion volume to his verse anthology: the Oxford Book of English Prosem which was published in 1923. He left his autobiography, Memories and Opinions, unfinished; it was edited and published in 1944.


Quiller-Couch was knighted in 1910.

He was made a Bard of Gorseth Kernow in 1928, taking the Bardic name Marghak Cough ('Red Knight').

In popular cultureEdit

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" [4]

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

He features as a main character, played by Leo McKern, in the 1992 BBC TV feature, The Last Romantics. The story focuses on his relationship with his protégé, F. R. Leavis and the students.

His Cambridge inaugural lecture series, published as On the Art of Writing, is the source of the popular writers' adage "murder your darlings".[5]




Short fictionEdit


  • Adventures in Criticism. London: Cassell, 1896; New York: Scribner, 1896.
  • From a Cornish Window. Bristol, UK: J.W. Arrowsmith / London: Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent, 1906 / New York: Dutton, 1906.
  • On the Art of Reading. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Prsss, 1915; New York & London: Putnam, 1920.
  • On the Art of Writing. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1916.
  • Studies in Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1918; New York: Putnam, 1918.
  • Studies in Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1922; New York: Putnam, 1922.
  • Charles Dickens, and other Victorians. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1925.
  • Memories and Opinions: An unfinished autobiography (edited by Sydney Castle Roberts). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Pres, 1944.


Collected editionsEdit

  • Q Anthology: A selection from the prose and verse (edited by Frederick Brittain). London: Dent, 1948; New York: Macmillan, 1949.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See alsoEdit


  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 
  • Brittain, Frederick, Arthur Quiller-Couch, a Biographical Study of Q (Cambridge: University Press, 1947)
  • Quiller-Couch, A. T., Memories and Opinions (Unfinished; it was nevertheless published in 1945 though only the years up to 1887 are covered.)
  • Rowse, A. L., Quiller-Couch: a Portrait of "Q" (1988)
  • Archer, William Poets of the Younger Generation (New York, 1902)
  • Joshi, S. T., 'A brief essay on Quiller-Couch's ghost stories', in S. T. Joshi (ed.), The Evolution of the Weird Tale (2004)
  • Quiller-Couch, A. T., Quiller-Couch's lectures on the art of writing[7]


  1. The Age
  2. Flood, Alison (24 March 2010). "First edition of The Wind in the Willows sells for £32,400". Retrieved 25 March 2010. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Eagleton, Terry (1983). Literary Theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. ISBN 0 631 132597. ; p. 30. Eagleton contrasts the "patrician dilettantes" and "devotees of Sir Arthur Quiller Couch" [sic, no hyphen], with the "offspring of the provincial bourgeoisie" ... "entering the traditional universities for the first time". The Leavisites, says Eagleton, had not "suffered the crippling disadvantages of a purely literary education of the Quiller Couch kind".
  4. Sunday Telegraph article published as introduction to the 1979 edition
  5. On the Art of Writing, Chapter 12, Paragraph 6
  6. Search results = au:Arthur Quiller-Couch, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 27, 2017.
  7. Quiller-Couch's lectures on the art of writing at

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