I grew up a Seventh-Day Adventist. I was taught that our founder, Ellen G. White, was a prophet of God who had visions of divine revelation that the Church was God’s true chosen people and that He was sending Jesus to bring us to Heaven any day now.
As a kid, I had to read about 40-pages of Christian apologetics a day and type a one-page summary. That’s how I learned to touch type.
I grew to know well the writings of Ellen White and other Christian thinkers and to hate them all.
I don’t think I ever had a positive thought or thing to say about Ellen White. She was a thatch of restrictions. She said you should not joke unless it had a moral purpose. She said you should not go to the theater or to movies or read novels or play cards. She gave instructions on how you should make your bed and a thousand other little details.
As a teenager, I learned that Ellen White had been a rampant plagiarizer. I was happy. We were out of the Church by now and I was glad (while I simultaneously missed my friends there).
Upon examination, it turned out that her visions always confirmed the fledgling beliefs of the Church already decided by its leaders.
In 2008, I started taking Alexander Technique lessons (and researching the topic on my own via books, websites and videos). I learned the story of F.M. Alexander, a curious young man whose career as a reciter of Shakespeare and other verse was imperiled when he repeatedly lost his voice. One clue he had to his problem was that friends said they could hear him gasping for breath on stage. Another clue was that he only developed this hoarseness when he was reciting in public.
A doctor told him to completely rest his voice before performance. He did for two weeks. Despite this, halfway through his next performance, he lost his voice again.
He realized the cause of his loss of voice was something he was doing while reciting. So he set up himself up in front of a triptych of mirrors and looked at what he was doing as he tried to project his voice.
He saw that he was pulling his head back on to his, compressing his back, squeezing his shoulders, holding with his ribs, and gripping the ground with his feet.
As he learned to let go of these habits and to think to himself directions of expansion, his problems went away and he began to teach his technique to others.
The problem with this story is that it is not true. F.M. Alexander did not discover his technique so much as to steal it from others (chiefly writers and teachers of elocution and public speaking) and forever refused to credit his sources.
Like Ellen G. White, F.M. Alexander was a master plagiarist and like Ellen G. White, he developed an insecure and frequently paranoid following who would not credit outside sources for his discoveries. The traditional Alexander teacher, particularly some of those trained by Patrick MacDonald and the Barlows (Marjorie — F.M.’s niece who engaged to Patrick and one other major Alexander teacher — and her husband Wilfred), frequently holds to belief in the original genius of F.M. Alexander and denies — in effect — that there’s salvation or wisdom in the use of oneself outside of the fold.
At AlexanderTechnique.com, I found this book summary of the most important work on the history of Alexander Technique:
On October 24th 2005, Dutch Alexander Technique researcher, anthropologist and math teacher Jeroen Staring successfully defended his dissertation on Frederick Matthias Alexander and the history of the Alexander Technique at the Radboud Univer-sity Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
The dissertation, “Frederick Matthias Alexander 1869-1955. The Origins and History of the Alexander Technique. A medical historical analysis of F.M. Alexander’s Life, Work, Technique, and Writings”
(Nijmegen, 2005, ISBN 9050920187)
is available in hardback, DJ, xvi + 672 pp:
• 330 pages main text,
• almost 100 illustrations,
• about 1500 notes,
• about 2700 literature references.
Price, incl. P&P, is UK Pounds 40.00
or US $ 70.00
Chapter 1. “Transportation” of Frederick Matthias Alexander’s grandparents, Alexander’s life in Tasmania and Australia between 1869 and 1904, and his initial elocution and breathing methods.
In 1824, excessive rain ruined grain in the fields surrounding Ramsbury, Wiltshire, England; illnesses decimated the sheep. The next years were even worse. Despair brought on by hunger brought to the fore a strong sense of the Ramsbury village dwellers that even their modest customary rights were fast being eroded. Since the middle of the eighteenth century, there had been an inescapable shift in favour of the large landowners and farmers against those whose poverty forced them to till the lands of the landowners and farmers for subsistence. The eighteenth-century Enclosure Acts removed the last vestiges of the ancient rights of free grazing and fuel collecting of the poor. By 1830, Ramsbury and other English villages had become grim places.
On 1 June 1830, the destruction of a farmer’s property at Orpington, Kent, marked the beginning of the so-called Swing Riots. Throughout the summer of 1830 in Kent, numerous rick-burning fires signaled the spread of a spontaneous uprising against social and economic conditions. Witnesses reported Joseph and Matthias Alexander participated in the rioting of 22 November 1830. Arrested and tried, they were exiled to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) for seven years penal servitude, their sentence euphemistically referred to as “transportation.” After four and a half years, on 1 June 1835, Matthias was granted a Ticket-of-Leave for good behaviour; on 26 August 1835, Joseph received the same. They were released from compulsory labour and able to find work on their own account — but now in a new land. Less than a year later, the brothers were told that they had a free pardon. Joseph and Matthias decided to remain in Tasmania. They moved to Table Cape, near Wynyard, on the bank of the Inglis River. Matthias died in 1865. His property passed to his five sons.
Frederick Matthias Alexander, Matthias Alexander’s first-born grandson, was a sickly child from the moment of his premature birth in 1869. He was plagued with episodes of breathing problems, perhaps asthma. Perhaps it was these problems that led to an arrangement between the schoolmaster and his father to teach the lad during the evenings. Little information about his childhood remains. We must extract an idea of how the land, his community, even family members impacted him from shards of evidence. Nowhere in his writings about his life did F. M. Alexander mention the unique geological fossil rock formations at Fossil Bluff, Wynyard. Nor did he refer to his family’s convict history. Absent, too, is anything other than passing reference to his sisters and brothers, his mother and father, or any of the relatives and friends. This silence is telling. In Alexander, the sublimation of a connection to the land and family history became almost complete. In Alexander’s person, the late nineteenth-century Tasmanian and Australian Zeitgeist of the convicts’ descendants’ notion of an invisible stain had become in corpora.
In 1885, sixteen-year-old Alexander was offered a job as a junior accountant at the Waratah Tin Mining Company. Going to Waratah meant entering the predominantly male community of a harsh frontier-mining township. Violence and drinking were widespread (almost half the state’s revenues came from taxes on alcohol), brutality toward the few women who were there was rampant. Alexander worked for three years at the Tin Mining Company.
Once a wage labourer, he was free to join the large male migration out of Tasmania. In 1888, he moved to Melbourne. Alexander had come to believe that the future lay somewhere other than at home, and that his immediate family would play no direct part in his future. He washed away parts of his past. No family history of convicts stripped of all rights; no invisible stain, and almost no past — except, there was an extended family to care for: his mother, sisters and brothers.
In Melbourne, Australia’s second large city, the “Chicago of the South,” Alexander hoped for career as an actor. Melbourne would further sever his relations with his past. When in his eighties, he had no recollection of Melbourne friends.
He was to enter the second stage in a life of not belonging. He joined an amateur dramatic club, preparing himself for the career that gave him what he really wanted: he decided to become a reciter. He took part in amateur performances in so-called drawing room entertainments. In 1892, he won the preliminary contest of the dialogue division of the Victorian Amateur Competitions Association competition. The prize suggests he had successfully masked all traces of an Australian accent and now spoke with the accent of the upper class English. His repertoire included his own poem entitled The Dream of Matthias the Burgomaster. Its central themes are guilt, self-punishment, death and the power of hypnotic, dream-like states of consciousness. Alexander’s text integrates the Australian Zeitgeist of the Coming Man ideology as reflected in the popular press of Melbourne in the 1890s.
Early in 1894, Alexander returned to Tasmania for a series of performances, which received most favourable reviews. On 9 July 1894, the Hobart Mercury published ‘Elocution as an Accomplishment,’ an advertorial with Alexander’s byline. In it, Alexander stated that he wanted to be known as a “natural elocutionist.” During his Hobart sojourn, Alexander gave several recital evenings reported by the Hobart Mercury. In 1895, he toured New Zealand, beginning in Christchurch; a six months stay in Auckland ended his New Zealand tour. The 20 July 1895 Auckland Star published ‘Speech Culture and Natural Elocution,’ an advertorial, showing Alexander borrowing freely from other elocution texts with scant attribution. Alexander gave recitals and became a full-time teacher of voice production methods. By the end of 1895, Alexander had to leave Auckland because of family commitments.
The remaining down under period until 1904, when Alexander left Australia for London, can be divided into two periods of about four years each for the cities in which he lived. From his arrival in Australia late 1895, he resided in Melbourne, where he really began his career as a teacher of breathing techniques. From early 1900, he resided in Sydney.
In 1896, Alexander managed to secure a living in Melbourne. At times he gave recitals but fairly early in 1898 he briefly took on a career as a theatrical producer. In February 1900, he moved to Sydney, where he continued the routine that he had worked out in Melbourne of promoting, performing and teaching “Natural Elocution Cultivation.” Teaching elocution appealed to the late nineteenth-century Australian Zeitgeist of establishing a cultured voice, demonstrating both the yearning to belong to Great Britain’s upper middle class and the Australian home rule aspirations of independence. Unfortunately, except for fragments and the back cover, a July 1900 pamphlet that Alexander published on his methods remains missing. The back cover advertised that Alexander taught “Full Chest Breathing.” The breathing method reflects the Australian, European and North American turn-of-century’s Zeitgeist notion of breath for life.
In 1901, Alexander, with the help of elocution pupils, staged The Merchant of Venice and Hamlet in Sydney and began a tour of Australian towns. He warmly remembered these public appearances of his pupils. In February 1902, he began teaching the first term at his newly established and ostentatiously named Sydney Dramatic and Operatic Conservatori¬um. The Delsarte System was a main feature in the advertised curriculum. In 1902, Alexander arranged four tours of a company of full course students of the Conservatorium. In 1903, Alexander and a large number of his pupils again went on tour.
Early in December 1903, he launched a well-planned adverti¬sing campaign promising the publication of a book on his methods and placed a newspaper article, implying that his method could be of use in the treatment of tubercu¬losis.
On 13 April 1904, the Afric set sail from Sydney to London; on board was Alexander, carrying with him letters of intro¬duc¬tion to London physicians.
Chapter 2. Alexander’s life in England between 1904 and 1910: further developments of his breathing methods and the establishing of a theoretical basis for these methods.
Few specifics are available regarding Alexander’s life in the years from 1904 to 1910. In 1904, he opened a London breathing lessons studio. He quickly established a reputation in the London circles of theatrical professionals. The 19 October 1904 Daily Express quoted Alexander’s opinion as breathing teacher. Dr Scanes Spicer was the first of several physici¬ans who referred patients to Alexander. Within months of arriving in England, he saw himself develop into a London citizen who was respected as a professional expert in voice producti¬on techni¬ques and treatments of hoarseness and other vocal problems. The 24 March 1906 The Onlooker depicted Alexander as an anthropologist who taught breathing based on his observations of the Maori.
Between 1906 and late 1910, Alexander turned out eleven pamphlets; these appear mainly designed to further public interest in his practice; they shed only a little light on what he actually taught. Additionally, he wrote three letters to editors of a medical journal and a newspa¬per that reached print.
Continuing to re-create and re-invent himself in his pamphlets, Alexander became midwife to his own emotional and professional re-birth. He had crossed the watery deserts connecting the Antipodes’ cities and landscapes of Australia and Tasmania to his new home. The voyage was both actual and metaphorical. In London, he was home, again — a returning hero, cleansed and transfigured by his invented contacts with the Maoris. At the very time when the people in the U.K. were coming to terms with conquered peoples and their cultural ethos, he carried a plausible narrative myth as a guide, washing away unwanted parts of his past.
A 1906 pamphlet is more substantial than the other advertising brochures. In it we can detect influence on Alexander’s development of Harry Campbell, William Shakespeare II, William Aikin, David Ffrangcon-Davies and Reginald Austin. In this period, his “respiratory re-education” method was a circular process that begins with instructing a conception of tuning synchronous optimal breathing and optimal vocalizati¬on; and then attaining consci¬ous control of the crura of the di¬aphragm and the upper part of the musculus rectus abdomi¬nis via means of volition. Alexander proposed that learning to control the releasing and contracting of the head of the musculus rectus abdominis creates a mechanical advantage at the start and at the end of expiration. This, however, is only most advantageously possible when other parts of the body are also used in a way that they are not interfering with the “practi¬cal employ¬ment of the true primary movement in each and every act,” to use Alexander’s grand phrase for the respiratory cycle.
A 1907 pamphlet conveys nostalgia for a lost perfection and shows Alexander’s belief in the inheritance of habits closely corres¬ponding to the evolutio¬nary theory of Samuel Butler, allowing the possibility of very rapid mutati¬ons in a single generation.
Early in 1908, Alexander and suffragette Evelyn Glover wrote A Questi¬on of Time (A Comedy in one Act). The melodramatic drawing room comedy has never been staged. In September 1908, the Pall Mall Gazette published an exchange of letters to the Editor between Arthur Lovell and his follower J. W. Williams and Alexander’s follower Henry G. Davis regarding Lovell and Alexander’s respective approaches to breathing instruction. Also in 1908, Melbourne University Trinity College Warden Dr Alexander Leeper who was commissioned to make a report on various English systems of physical training, made visits to the teaching rooms of Alexander. Leeper’s report, presen¬ted in March 1909, gave “the first place to the system associated with the name of Mr. F. Matthias Alexander.”
A 1909 pamphlet and its 1910 supplement suggest that Alexander was likely influenced by various performing arts pedagogic and functional anatomical texts and by the Bostonian Emmanuel Movement’s 1908 views on psychic and motor re-education as expounded in Religion and Medicine. These influences, however, are difficult to pin down conclusively given the general lack of referencing sources.
A number of 1909 and 1910 texts are directed against Dr Spicer. Alexander stated that there was discord between him and Spicer before 1910. He insinuated that Spicer had plagiarized him in several publications. Alexan¬der believed that Spicer had demonstrated his methods to a medical audience as if they were the inventi¬on of the physician.
Chapter 3. Alexander’s life in England and the U.S.A. between 1910 and 1955,:how Alexander developed his posture methods and established a theoretical basis for the so-called Alexander Technique.
Alexander’s first book was published in 1910. No longer promoting the benefits of elocution lessons, in Man’s Supreme Inheritan¬ce he tied his practice to a greater scale, “the potentiality to counteract the force of evolution itself,” and propagated euge¬nics, albeit inheritance-of-habits eugenics. The core of Alexander’s eugenics consists of his understanding the role of inhibition and conscious control in human evoluti¬on. Alexander believed that, in humans, a power for consci¬ous inhibi¬tion of the “sub-conscious animal powers” is there as “a matter of physical inheritan¬ce,” as it is in some animals, “but with what added possibilities as the accumu¬lated product of experience from the conscious use of this wonderful force.” Alexander implied not only that this physically inherited power could be strengthened and altered but that the newly acquired control of habits would be passed on to progeny.
The March 1911 Man’s Supreme Inheritance (Addenda) is laced throughout with implications that Alexander’s method of conscious control had an impact on medical problems, including appendicitis and cancer. Interestingly, the “primary principle” of any movement in Alexander’s methods, he explained, is to allow “the propelling force of gravitation” begin at the ankle. The 1912 Conscious Control pamphlet abridges Alexander’s Man’s Supreme Inheritance eugenic-tinged stance and his claim that his “principles of conscious control constitute an unfailing remedy for disease.” It depicts an eugenic Utopia, praising his “psycho-therapy.” In the pamphlet’s closing part, Alexander disparaged other methods and described the application of his method in the cases of someone who is shortening his spine, an actor with an injured arm, and a golfer who is practising his swing.
In 1912, Alexander gathered together his old crew of family members to help him, adding as his personal assistant Ethel Webb, a former music teacher. Webb was to be the first of a number of personal followers who dedicated their lives to building what was to become “The Alexander Technique.” Among Webb’s major duties were assisting in the teaching of the students and helping Alexander edit his various texts. It appears to have suited Webb that Alexander’s brother “A.R.” became his second in command and his sister Amy helped out until her marriage in 1914. Webb preferred to remain in the background.
In mid-1914, Great Britain declared war. Immediately the number of clients fell off precipitously. Amy’s husband and Alexander set about to organize and manage family affairs. Alexander married his friend Robert Young’s widow Edith (Page). On 12 September 1914, he boarded the Lusitania and on 17 September, with Webb, he set foot in America. This time Alexander, for the sake of his extended family, had to re-invent himself again in the anonymity of yet another big city, once more finding being a stranger preferable to being a familiar. In New York, education reform leader Margaret Naumburg, who had been introduced to Alexander by Webb, helped him establish a practice at the Essex Hotel. Alexander, between 1914 and 1924 (with the exception of the 1922 winter), would spend winters in New York, earning very well, and spend summers in London, teaching and enjoying family life and friends. Early in 1916, Alexander met John Dewey, who became a client. Soon other New York academics and Columbia University colleagues of Dewey would follow. In that same year, Irene Tasker, who had also been first introduced to Alexander by Webb, joined Alexander as a second assistant with Webb. Tasker had previously been a governess for elementary school children and was a graduate of Cambridge and attended Dewey’s classes at Columbia Teachers College. Like Webb, her main duties were a background role of assisting with the teaching of Alexander’s clients and editing Alexander’s texts.
The enhanced U.S. edition of Man’s Supreme Inheritance was released in February 1918. In December 1918, the U.K. edition of the rewritten Man’s Supreme Inheritance was published. Alexander was away from London when the U.K. edition was published, spending the 1919 winter in New York, earning exceptionally well. The money was invested in the American stock market. In the summer of 1919, Gerald Stanley Lee had lessons with Alexander. Lee was inspired by Alexander’s evolutionism and his inheritance-of-habits eugenics. In his 1920 The Ghost in the White House, Lee praised Alexander, comparing “Alexandering” to “pulling a nation toge¬ther.” In his 1922 Invisible Exercise, Lee described in detail several ‘Alexandering’ drills, like a lie-down drill, a sit-down drill, standing and walking.
In 1922, Alexander taught in London. Among his new English clients was physician Peter Macdonald. In 1923, Macdonald would already propagate Alexander’s methods at the Annual General Meeting of the British Medical Association. Alexander spent the 1923 winter in America, finishing the manuscript of Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual. This new book mainly addresses application of the “means whereby” principle versus “end-gaining.” It explains the procedures for directing the head forward and up; relaxing the neck; widening the back; and lengthening the back in a circumstance of sitting down in a chair, and sitting in a chair while grasping the top rail of the back of a chair placed in front, and his method of stressing the means whereby and inhibition, in the situation of breathing. It also explains how “sensory appreciation” is related to “man’s needs” and “knowing oneself.”
From what we know of the period between 1924 and 1929, Alexander led a good life. He had invested his American earnings in the American stock market. By 1925, this investment and the teaching wages gave him enough income to enable him to buy a farmhouse in Kent, near Sidcup railway station. He continued teaching at his London headquarters at 16 Ashley Place. His wife Edith, his adopted daughter Peggy, and Alexander himself, moved to Penhill, the Kent farmhouse.
In 1924, Alexander’s assistant Irene Tasker asked him to convert a room at Ashley Place into a schoolroom. In 1925, the established small school made it into a ‘real’ primary school, which Tasker dubbed ‘Little School.’ All attending children had been identified as children who needed special attention for their special needs. In fact, the rationale for the Little School in Alexander’s eyes was to test the evolutionary theory or “race culture and the training of children” eugenics as described in his two books.
On 19 February 1925, Alexander gave a lecture at the London Child-Study Society. Since that date, his physician friends Douglas, Macdonald, McDonagh and Yearsley published a large number of articles and letters referring to his methods. These friends formed a citation community in the true sense of the word.
However, dark clouds were approaching. By 1929, Alexander’s marriage was failing. His wife and adopted daughter left Penhill, moving to a flat at Maida Vale, London. In the fall of 1929, the Wall Street Crash hit the world — including Alexander. His stocks reduced in value, the number of clients plunged.
The Use of the Self, his third book, was released in the fall of 1931. It opens with a chapter that tells the story of discovering his “technique.” It offers a detailed history of the steps he purportedly took to overcome breathing difficulties. Students at the Training Course, founded in 1931, would be enabled to examine their own difficulties in the light of this book’s story. Alexander introduced a new concept, “primary control,” although it had been generally outlined in his 1925 lecture. The last chapter offers an advice to the medical training of physicians.
On 3 August 1934, Alexander delivered a lecture at the Bedford Physical Training College. He explained the value of “primary control” for young women, demonstrated his technique with several College students.
In June 1940 Alexander decided to flee England to Toronto, Canada. On 5 July 1940, Alexander, the staff of the Little School and the school’s pupils left Glasgow on board of the Monarch of Bermuda. The convoy arrived in Halifax, Canada, on 11 July 1940. In January 1941, the Whitney Homestead in Stow, Massachusetts, was turned over to the Alexander Trust — rent-free. The children and teachers of the Little School stayed at the Whitney Homestead until September 1942.
Alexander spent the 1941 summer in Stow, Massachusetts. Arthur Busch, alias March, who visited Stow, and Alexander planned an integrated advertising campaign for a new book. Busch published an article in the September Who magazine. On 3 October 1941, The Universal Constant in Living, Alexander’s fourth book, was released in tandem with the publication of March’s A New Way of Life, and in chorus with an advertising leaflet. Alexander’s fourth book gives a collection of essays on his methods.
Alexander returned to New York in mid-October 1941. In November he gave a talk at the Dutch Treat Club. This proved to be successful, the lecture brought in clients. In view of the influx of clients, he taught in New York during the 1942 winter. Still, he spent the 1942 summer in Stow, Massachusetts. In the fall of 1942, Alexander left for New York to teach. Wartime prevented an expansion of coordinated advertising. Early in July 1943, he returned to London on the Capetown Castle.
One year earlier, in June 1942, in South Africa, Irene Tasker had given a demonstration lesson to Dr Ernst Jokl. In 1944, the Volkskragte-Manpower published an article by Jokl. The article analyzed Alexander’s concepts used in his books in great scrutinizing detail. In October 1944, Alexander wrote a letter to the South African High Commissioner in London, asking for the withdrawal of the journal’s article. The journal’s Editorial Staff wholly ignored the letter. In August 1945, Alexander issued summons, claiming damages in the Witwatersrand Local Division of the South African Supreme Court. This formed the opening move in a long legal fight that would last until 1949. On 2 July 1947, a London Commission commenced taking evidence from prosecution and defense witnesses, since a large number of persons were not in any position to go to South Africa to give evidence. This Commission lasted six weeks. Both Alexander and Jokl attended all hearings. The hearings had produced great physical and psychological strains for seventy-eight year old Alexander. Nonetheless, he planned to go to South Africa in 1948 and had already booked a passage. After he was told about the death of Lord Lytton in October 1947, Alexander became more distraught; in December he had two strokes. His trip to South Africa was not to be. The court case opened on 16 February 1948 in the Supreme Court in Johannesburg. The trial lasted for twelve days. The verdict was pronounced on 19 April 1948. Alexander was awarded £ 1,000 damages with costs. However, the verdict was a Pyrrhic victory. The 8 May 1948 British Medical Journal reported the Judge’s opinion that “the Alexander system constitutes dangerous quackery.” The 11 December 1948 Leader Magazine included a short biography of Alexander recapping the ‘Evolution of a Technique’ chapter in The Use of the Self, with a media twist.
On 21 January 1949, there was a large dinner party at Brown’s Hotel, London, to celebrate Alexander’s eightieth birthday, which occurred the day before. Sir Stafford Cripps delivered a widely reported speech, praising Alexander as “a great teacher and a great leader in the battle for health and sanity in the world.” Later that year, Alexander published a number of letters to the Editor of the Literary Guide and Rationalist Review. In them, he reverted to the 1910 inheritance-of-habits evolution theory of Man’s Supreme Inheritance, thereby closing a theoretical circle.
Alexander’s main support had been the loyalty of his followers. That was breaking down in 1949. A number of his qualified teachers began to fall out with each other and Alexander. Alexander’s headquarters diminished. To the end, Alexander was unwilling to cede control over what he deemed was his method, even to students whom he had trained. He developed a bad temper; it is possible that this was stroke-related. Together with the stresses caused by the libel case, this might explain his irritations and bad humor. Even though Alexander would not accept it, his strength and health, his control over his teaching and his teaching headquarters, his reputation, his friendships, in fact, his life, his youth, were fading away. He grew old. He had become a true octogenarian. Everybody accepted the fact, apart from Alexander himself.
On 12 November 1949, Alexander held a lecture at St. Dustan’s in Ovingdean. He explained the praxis of inhibiting while giving a demonstration of his methods, stressing his work was “in prevention,” and that he was “not interested in cure.” Cure is “only a specific thing,” he claimed.
The 26 February 1953 News Chronicle published a short interview with Alexander, illustrated by a cartoon by Ronald Searle. The article noticed Alexander’s annoyance whenever he was referred to as a healer. The 8 March 1954 Evening News published ‘Mr. Alexander Has A New Technique For Long Life,’ an interview by David Wainwright. The article tales that Alexander walked “with a firm step;” that there was “no hesitation about him.” The 22 May 1954 New Statesman and Nation reviewed Inside Yourself, Louise Morgan’s book on Alexander. The review drew Alexander’s attention; he immediately dispatched a letter to the Editor. It is his last publication.
1955 marked the selling of the majority of Alexander’s possessions. On 18 March 1955, Alexander sold the Penhill house; its furniture was sold at an auction. On 25 July he signed a new will, benefacting his youngest brother Beaumont. By the end of September 1955, Alexander must have caught a cold, after a visit to horseraces at Alexandra Palace.
On 10 October 1955, Alexander died while having a conversation with his nurse.
His earthly remains were cremated.
Chapter 4. Connections between Alexander’s work as a teacher of breathing and theoretical basic principles of the late nineteenth-, early twentieth-century respiratory education movement.
While little in Alexander’s articles in the 9 July 1894 Hobart Mercury and the 20 July 1895 Auckland Star indicates an original method, they demonstrate his familiarity with speaking arts texts. The better part of both articles was taken, often near verbatim, from The Oratorical Trainer, a book by T. P. Hill, his elocution teacher’s father. In the light of the Alexander Technique that was yet to develop, the method outlined in The Oratorical Trainer had an unacknowledged influence on Alexander.
Alexander’s vocation reflected a side of contemporaneous political discussions. When off to work as a clerk at the Waratah Mining Company, he joined a drama club to participate in the staging of Ticket-of-Leave Man. When arriving in Melbourne, there were venues that offered opportunities to try his hand at stagecraft. Melbourne’s culture and political affairs were dominated by an elite whose sentiments were essential provincial, English, middle class — and imperialist. Conservative Australians had formed a number of organizations that encouraged cultural links with ‘Mother’ England. These included the Victorian Society of Fine Arts, the Royal Society, the Melbourne Shakespeare Society, and the Melbourne Elocution Society.
Of course, not all worked out as the conservatives wished. By 1901, when Australia became a Federation, performances of Shakespeare were rare; instead theatre managers mainly staged bush-and-mateship melodramas. Still, in 1890s’ Australia, the ideal of the cultured voice had become an important site in the struggle to establish an Australian Federation and culture. Such advocacy was a common English colonial fare, even in colonized nations that had broken away from English rule itself. In the mid-1800s, intense interest in elocution swelled and ebbed in the Boston area, U.S.A., spurred on by reformist-minded Boston transcendentalists. In particular, this group found expression in the Delsarte method of expression as taught and practiced by the American actor James (Steele) MacKaye and his followers.
In Melbourne, Alexander transformed himself from clerk into elocutionist, poet, and prize-winning stage artist. Alexander’s Methodist roots served him well. Internalized Protestant values for meaning and the spoken word, together with a desire to transcend the cultural inheritance of a convict’s grandchild, became manifest when reciting his 1892 poem The Dream of Matthias the Burgomaster.
In his theatrical ventures, he walked the watershed. He toured Tasmania, New Zealand and Australia, performing popular melodramatic doggerel. As well, he staged and directed performances of Shakespeare plays, led Shakespearean classes, established the Sydney Dramatic and Operatic Conservatorium and toured the Australian outback accompanied by his students, spreading classical English culture. Little by little, he became more English than the English.
Overlapping his career as a Tasmanian envoy of English classical culture, his enthrallment with an English cultured voice matured. He developed the voice and manner of an authority and auditioned (metaphorically) for role of physician. As time progressed, he promoted his practice as management of the breath and breath control. In seriously air-polluted cities like Melbourne and Auckland, prevalence of untreatable respiratory disease was increasingly noticeable to the public. Alexander’s texts reveal influences from students of the Bostonian Natural School of speech and gesture education, claiming inspiration from Delsarte, stressing breathing exercises and body building as antidote to disease and degeneration of the body. Alexan¬der favoured Mandl’s mode of breathing. Like the Delsarteans, he taught the essential items of the Lamperti breathing school. From his pamphlets we can determine that Alexander’s contribution to the Lamperti School breathing method consists of an extra contrac¬tion of the head of the musculus rectus abdomi¬nis at the end of expiration. Alexan¬der, however, was so secretive about it in his writings that his readers never understood or accepted it. In the late 1890s, he re-invented himself as a breathing teacher, informed by the Australian Coming Man ideology of perfection, informed by Henry Drummond and Butler’s Neo-Lamarckism and English late nineteenth-century Zeitgeist notions of Charles Kingsley and Herbert Spencer’s Muscular Christianity ideas.
In 1904, Alexander arrived in Social Darwinist imbued London society. He now portrayed himself as a prophet from the desert. He had re-invented himself as elocutionist, reciter, Shakespearean course teacher, theatre producer, Delsarte teacher, and breathing teacher, and had incorporated all Coming Man ideology sensibilities whilst living in down under Hobart, Auckland, Melbourne and Sydney.
Chapter 5. Connection between Alexander’s work as a teacher of poise and posture and the theoretical basic principles of the late nineteenth-, early twentieth-century postural (re-) education movement.
Alexander’s 1909 and 1910 pamphlets on kinesthetic re-education describe vocal procedures and exercises much as did the standard contemporaneous elocution, singing and breathing literature. However, increasingly Alexander began to advertise that he was able to help his clients remove old and unwanted habits — and at the same time install new and wanted habits. In that sense, he can be seen to move away from teaching voice or breathing to the general process of changing all motor habits. In his view a habit is twofold; it consists of a mental part, and a parallel, coexisting physical part. Alexander’s 1909 inhibition has a great deal in common with Alphonse Loisette’s 1896 pre-cognitive psychology concept that “Attention” has a “Directory” function as well as an “Inhibitory” function. Since his interaction with Loisette in 1895, it appears that Alexander began studying books on Delsarte physical exercises by Steele MacKaye’s followers. Analysis of his texts shows that he seems to have been influenced by Genevieve Stebbins, Moses True Brown, Stebbins’s student Dr Bess Mensendieck, and probably later by Annie Payson Call. What Alexander is soon to add to this mix is Neo-Lamarckian inheritance-of-habits theory.
Alexander had incorporated the all-pervading British Zeitgeist notion of Empire. However, this notion was rapidly shrinking after the Boer War; nation states were emerging. The aristocracy lost power. Social evolutionists spread democratic beliefs of the ‘succession through blood’ idea of inheritance. These convictions were taken over from aristocratic traditions. Evolutionism became tied up with emerging notions of the nation state. From Alexander’s inheritance-of-habits evolution logic, it follows that “If you can change individuals, why not societies?”
Rather than inventing new exercises, Alexander adopted various physical procedures from other disciplines to serve his new purpose of creating an eugenic Utopia by habit re-education. Although Alexander may have developed what has become the characteristic method of guiding a client from a sitting to standing position, it is more likely that he incorporated Heinrich Sebastian Frenkel’s “systematic” exercises for re-education of movement coordination. The Frenkel procedures were based upon “analysis of the relationship between protagonists and antagonists [yielding] the laws of coordination.” Frenkel’s system became the imperative method of treating effects of tabes dorsalis on using, moving and bearing the body. Frenkel had experimented with exercises for re-education of coordination in standing, bending, walking, mounting and descending stairs, and getting up and sitting down. Patients should learn the right movements, prepare them mentally, before executing them, always following their body-movements with their eyes.
Information regarding this treatment of tabetic ataxia may have reached Alexander through a variety of sources. One of the physicians whose advice he cultivated may have informed him about either the Emmanuel Movement or Frenkel. Otherwise, he could have learned of the methods simply via reading the Bostonian Emmanuel Movement’s 1908 book Religion and Medicine or Dr Bennett’s 1907 The Re-education of Co-ordination Movements: with special reference to Locomotor Ataxy, or Frenkel’s 1902 book. Bennett’s constructs and the Emmanuel Movement psychic and motor re-education were founded on Frenkel’s principles.
Steps in Alexander’s 1931 The Use of the Self narrative of the evolution of his technique are closely parallel to Frenkel’s steps for teaching patients with a tabetic ataxia condition a cognitive strategy to prepare a movement mentally before executing it. The Alexander and Frenkel instructions both employ performing the carefully thought-out movements with deliberate visual control.
Alexander taught himself to the very last years of his life the auto-suggestive way, solely by applying the cognitive strategy approach to somatic motor habits. However, after 1911, he less and less taught his clients via the cognitive instructions of “giving directions and orders,” that is, via auto-suggestive-like instructions of “giving directions and orders” but progressively via instructing clients by providing experiential, largely mute, hands-on communications. Between 1911 and 1931, he had somehow discovered how to use his hands as instruments to convey the instructions. Only after 1931, when he was teaching his Training Course students hands-on while these students were themselves teaching other students via hands-on means, explaining the auto-suggestive-like instructions of “giving directions and orders,” did Alexander transform and revolutionize his hands-on teaching. This was the true birth of Alexander’s Technique.
Chapter 6. Alexander’s legacy and Alexander Technique effect studies.
Three months before he died, Alexander had signed a new will, naming his brother Beaumont as the primary benefactor. This led to the inadvertent 1960 court case Beaumont Alexander, I. Johnson, John Vicary and Practitioners of the F. M. Alexander Technique Ltd. versus Irene Stewart, Walter Carrington, John Skinner and Margaret Goldie and The Use of the Self Ltd. The outcome was that Beaumont Alexander et al. had to give up claims to a monopoly in using F. Matthias Alexander as a business name, or in the right to train and certify Alexander Technique teachers. This ruling freed the way for all Alexander Technique teachers to join the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT), founded in 1958, even though differing schools of practice of the Alexander Technique were born at the same time as each of the two dozens Alexander Technique teachers brought in his or her own particular teaching experience, and his or her individual understanding and interpretation of Alexander’s methods — still not yet standardized. In the early 1960s, Alexander’s books had been out of print since the mid-1950s. So, even if Alexander Technique training course instructors would ritually refer to them, aspirant teachers would not know their contents
After 1963, awareness of the Alexander Technique slowly spread. Several books on the Alexander Technique helped to reach a larger public but the slowly spreading popularity seems mainly by word-of-mouth process associated with new clients’ reports of their hands-on experiences. Niko Tinbergen’s 1973 Nobel Prize acceptance speech helped establish awareness and acceptance of the Alexander Technique. Publication of Tinbergen’s speech, however, led to disputes in two popular scientific journals. Later, Tinbergen’s interest in the Alexander Technique shrank to zero. His 1985 autobiography does not even mention Alexander.
Since the mid-1970s, the Alexander Technique has been referred to as one of the so-called complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies. In the mid-1980s, Alexander’s four books have been re-issued; they remain in print. New training courses were established in England, other European countries, Australia and the U.S.A. Currently, two thousand Alexander Technique teachers have been certified by STAT and affiliated Alexander Technique teacher societies worldwide; some sixty training courses exist worldwide.
During Alexander’s lifetime, less than a handful effect studies were published. Since his death in 1955 until the 1970s, Wilfred Barlow and Frank Pierce Jones published clinical trials, showing practicing the Alexander Technique could produce positive health effects. Their studies, however, do not satisfy controlled randomized clinical trial standards.
In 2003, Drs E. Ernst and P. H. Canter performed computerized literature searches in the Medline, Embase, Amed, CISCOM and Cochrane Library databases in order to identify randomized clinical trials of the Alexander Technique. The search located sixty-eight articles, of which only four fulfilled the reviewers’ inclusion/exclusion criteria. A poor bounty. It is now clearly up to the Alexander Technique community to prove, evidence-based, via controlled trials, that the Alexander Technique is not “either of unknown value or ineffective,” and should therefore be considered in medical therapy.
In a 2004 study, Drs Sanjiv Jain, Kristy Janssen and Sharon DeCelle list four possible mechanisms, observing that Alexander Technique literature theorizes that movement is both a function of the body and the mind, suggesting cognitive-behavioural processes are involved. Since there are no studies solely exploring cognitive-behavioural aspects of the Alexander Technique, I advice the cognitive-behavioural processes experience line of inquiry should be investigated first and foremost.
Postscript. A hypothesis regarding human jaw development and poise in Western societies.
The dissertation challenges Alexander’s myths. Although the identified myths were important to himself and his followers to understand primacy of practice above theory, they hindered building a body of scientific knowledge during and after Alexander’s life-time. I suggest that the usefulness of the Alexander Technique should initially be enquired via an over-all sociological and anthropological theory in order to free Alexander Technique from its founder’s inheritance-of-habits biological evolutionism and eugenics, and put the Alexander Technique in its rightful historical context of social evolution.
Combining data extracted from the studies of Norbert Elias, Loring Brace, and J. Mew, the following hypothesis arises. A ‘civilized’ way of eating in the ‘Western’ world or in China does not occupy incisors. Our mandibles are not ‘stretched out’ at each meal. We do not tear off small parts of food from bigger parts. We do not use our incisors to clamp; we do not use our incisors as a kind of third hand in handling tools or other arte¬facts; we almost never use our incisors. Therefore these teeth do not wear. Nor do our molars. Our molars do not wear because we do not eat hard food, or raw and unprepared food. We do not have to grind our food substantially, and our molars are not used as a kind of third hand as well. Accordingly our incisors do not attain an edge-to-edge position, and our molars develop and keep the intercuspal, centric, occlusion — in fact a malocclusi¬on seen in evoluti¬onary perspec¬tive.
This is a cultural evoluti¬on that took place in Western societies in the course of the last centuries. Cultural evolution does not cover genetic changes; it encompasses physiologi¬cal changes. During the gradual process of becoming a ‘civilized’ person we learn to use our mouth, teeth and molars in certain ways. This has implicati¬ons for the occlusion of teeth and molars, for the dentition process and for the growing face. It also affects muscle tone and length of many muscles invol¬ved in the processes of swallowing, eating, biting and spea¬king. It affects length and muscle tone of muscles between mandible and hyoid bone, between mandi¬ble and skull, between skull and hyoid bone, and between other parts of the neck — for instance muscles be¬tween shoulder bone and hyoid bone, or between sternum and hyoid bone. During the long process of attaining final ‘modern’ occlu¬sion, which is in fact a maloc¬clu¬sion, many of these muscles will adapt to the position of intercuspal, cen¬tric, occlusion of teeth and molars. These muscles will, as a rule, be kept in a more or less contracted state. Consequently, breat¬hing proces¬ses will be obstructed to a more or lesser amount, due to the praxis of narro¬wing the pharyn¬geal space. A number of these adapted mus¬cles are responsible since the mandible grows and is kept in a retracted way relative to the maxilla.
Gradually we develop uncon¬scious habits of counter¬acting ef¬fects on our breat¬hing. We unconsciously reposi¬tion our hyoid bone forward and upward, and unconsci¬ously til¬t our head back and down. Mus¬cles between head and cervical and thoracic verte¬brae and between head and shoulder-blades tilt the head back. In a way, several of the muscles mentio¬ned above habitually, more or less firmly, atta¬ch the head on the atlas. This, in turn and simul¬taneously, has reper¬cussi¬ons. It will influence our posture and every move¬ment of our body as a whole. Raymond Dart was correct in stating that “less sedentary and less civilized human beings enjoy, for the most part, better poise than do dwellers in cities.” Elias, Brace and Mew’s theories support Dart’s analysis.
Once adult facial development has been reached, practicing the Alexander Techni¬que, or any other therapy, will never completely adjust the mandi¬ble into an ‘evoluti¬o¬narily right’ position relative to the maxilla. Centric occlusion or worse forms of malocclusi¬on will not disappe¬ar once we have failed to attain the edge-to-edge position of our incisors. Our mandible stays retracted; our teeth and molars do not wear. Habits of using teeth, mouth and molars in civilized manners prevent this. Hence, our habits of using, bearing and moving our bodies can never be completely changed in the ways Alexander and his followers envisaged.