Montague Rhodes James OM, MA, FBA (1 August 1862 – 12 June 1936), who used the publication name M. R. James, was an English author, medievalist scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–1918), and of Eton College (1918–1936). He is best remembered for his ghost stories, which are regarded as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story for the new century by abandoning many of the formal Gothic clichés of his predecessors and using more realistic contemporary settings. However, James's protagonists and plots tend to reflect his own antiquarian interests. Accordingly, he is known as the originator of the "antiquarian ghost story". James was born in Goodnestone Parsonage, near Dover in Kent, England, although his parents had associations with Aldeburgh in Suffolk. From the age of three (1865) until 1909 his home, if not always his residence, was at the Rectory in Great Livermere, Suffolk. This had also been the childhood home of another eminent Suffolk antiquary, "Honest Tom" Martin (1696–1771) "of Palgrave." Several of his ghost stories are set in Suffolk, including "'Oh, Whistle, and I'll Come to You, My Lad'" (Felixstowe), "A Warning to the Curious" (Aldeburgh), "Rats" and "A Vignette" (Great Livermere). He lived for many years, first as an undergraduate, then as a don and provost, at King's College, Cambridge, where he was also a member of the Pitt Club. The university provides settings for several of his tales. Apart from medieval subjects, James studied the classics and appeared very successfully in a staging of Aristophanes' play The Birds, with music by Hubert Parry. His ability as an actor was also apparent when he read his new ghost stories to friends at Christmas time. In September 1873 he arrived as a boarder at Temple Grove School, one of the leading boys' preparatory schools of the day. James is best known for his ghost stories, but his work as a medievalist scholar was prodigious and remains highly respected in scholarly circles. Indeed, the success of his stories was founded on his antiquarian talents and knowledge. His discovery of a manuscript fragment led to excavations in the ruins of the abbey at Bury St Edmunds, West Suffolk, in 1902, in which the graves of several twelfth-century abbots described by Jocelyn de Brakelond (a contemporary chronicler) were rediscovered, having been lost since the Dissolution. His 1917 edition of the Latin Lives of Saint Aethelberht, king and martyr (English Historical Review 32), remains authoritative. He catalogued many of the manuscript libraries of the Cambridge colleges. Among his other scholarly works, he wrote The Apocalypse in Art, which placed illuminated Apocalypse manuscripts into families. He also translated the New Testament Apocrypha and contributed to the Encyclopaedia Biblica (1903). His ability to wear his learning lightly is apparent in his Suffolk and Norfolk (Dent, 1930), in which a great deal of knowledge is presented in a popular and accessible form, and in Abbeys (Great Western Railway, 1925). James also achieved a great deal during his directorship of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (1893–1908). He managed to secure a large number of important paintings and manuscripts, including notable portraits by Titian. James was Provost of Eton College from 1918 to 1936. He died in 1936 and was buried in Eton town cemetery.
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M.R. James spent 35 years writing and editing material for Bowhunter magazine, which he founded in 1971.
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