F. Matthias Alexander
Frederick Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor and author who developed the Alexander Technique, an educational process that recognizes and overcomes reactive, habitual limitations in movement and thinking.
Alexander was born on 20 January 1869, in Australia on the northern bank of the Inglis River, near the present-day town of Wynyard, Tasmania. He was the eldest of ten children born to John Alexander, a blacksmith, and Betsy Brown. His parents were the offspring of convicts transported to what was then called Van Diemen's Land for offences such as theft and destroying agricultural machinery as part of the 1830 Swing Riots in England. Throughout his life Alexander was evasive about his ancestry, claiming Scottish descent and upgrading the status of his forebears. The Alexander family had, in fact, for generations prior to the Swing Riots, lived at Ramsbury in Wiltshire. In Tudor and Stuart times they were agricultural labourers, but by the eighteenth century had established themselves as carpenters and wheelwrights, some moderately wealthy, owning cottages and fields. Alexander was born prematurely, and his survival was due to his mother's determination and care. As a result, he was her favourite child, and they remained close throughout his life. His relationship with his religious, hard-working father was less strong, and Alexander, with other family members, later became estranged from him. However, he later credited his father with teaching him to be alert and observant.
The family moved to Wynyard town in 1870, and Alexander, though not strong physically, enjoyed rural activities such as fishing and shooting, and learned a love of horses, riding and horse racing. He grew up in an evangelical Protestant household; the Sabbath was strictly observed, and his father, apparently a heavy drinker, seems to have taken a pledge of temperance in 1879. Alexander described himself as an agnostic, but was profoundly influenced by his Christian upbringing: his speech as an adult was peppered with biblical quotes, and he had been imbued a strong sense of right and wrong, self-discipline and personal responsibility. Education was not a priority for many local parents, but Betsy Alexander was determined that her children should be educated. Alexander first attended a Sunday school, and later the government school. Alexander was precocious, sensitive and attention-seeking, and as such made a difficult pupil. However, his teacher, a Scotsman named Robert Robertson, proved sympathetic, and acted as something of a father figure; he excused Alexander from daily school attendance and instead gave him lessons in the evening. As well as a basic education, Robertson gave Alexander a lifelong love of Shakespeare, theatre and poetry. Alexander was physically not suited to manual labour: he would later state that an otherwise idyllic boyhood had been marred by the severe internal pains that he experienced, generally after physical exertion. At 15, Alexander became a pupil-teacher assistant to Robertson, with the goal of a career as a schoolmaster.
At age sixteen, he visited an aunt and uncle in Waratah, a town serving the tin-mine at Mount Bischoff. While there, he was offered a well-paying job by the mining company. On the advice of his parents, he accepted the job, despite the disappointment it caused Robertson. According to Alexander's later account, his work at the mining company was appreciated by his employers; he took on additional jobs as a life insurance agent and a collector of rates, and was able to save £500, a considerable sum at the time. In his spare time, he pursued interests in horse racing and began learning the violin. He also participated in a local amateur dramatics society, playing several roles and meeting members of touring professional companies. These included the pianist with one company, Robert Young and his aspiring actress wife, Edith, who was later to marry Alexander himself.
Books by F. Matthias Alexander
F. Matthias Alexander was an Australian actor, author and educator, who is best known as the inventor of Alexander Technique, a method for "unlearning" acquired habits of movement and posture that are harmful or suboptimal, and allowing natural, heal...