"It is safe to say that few writers, dead or living, have equaled him in this formidable necromancy and perhaps no one has excelled him."
The Weird Works of MR James a 1934 essay by Clark Ashton Smith
Compelling biographical studies detailing the life of M.R. James were carried out by the late Michael Cox (see MR James An Informal Portrait, Oxford University Press, 1983). Michael's insights were by no means restricted to James the author, rather they paint a portrait of James as a challenging, sometimes even rebellious but always deeply considered man.
Montague Rhodes James was born in 1862 in Wingham, Kent. The youngest son of an Evangelical Cleric, he was educated at Eton and then King's College Cambridge where he became one of the foremost scholars within his chosen fields. At Cambridge his academic career progressed rapidly as he became Fellow, Dean, Tutor and eventually Provost. James constructed many of his earlier stories in order to entertain friends at Christmas gatherings.
1895 saw magazine publication of James's first ghost stories; Lost Hearts and Canon Alberic's Scrap-book. In 1904 Ghost Stories of the Antiquary appeared - illustrated by James McBryde then of the Slade School of Art, close friend to Montague. Tragically, McBryde would not to see publication, dying suddenly after an operation. A further four collections of short stories were published over the next thirty years, the last of which Collected Ghost Stories has never been out of print since. James introduced the anthology Ghosts and Marvels in 1924 and edited Madam Crowl's Ghost in 1928. This collection consists of tales by Le Fanu, a gifted author whom James had admired for many years. In 1918 James had became Provost of Eton, he never married and it was here he died peacefully in his lodge in 1936.