Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Gerald Finzi

Letter No.: 
VWL2491
October 19th 1952.

From R. Vaughan Williams,
The White Gates,
Westcott Road,
Dorking.

Dear Gerald,

There are three things to do with S.O.L.1 -
A. Leave it to its fate. But is this right? there is no room in the world for second rate work, and if this is really second-rate it had better be put out of its misery by the vet. The more so because Ursula's words which are certainly worth preserving are already in print in her new book, QV.
B. I could revise it. But is it worth revising? In which case I had better
C. Scrap it.2
The funny thing is that
(1.) I got excited and liked it while I was doing it and thought the tunes very good. But when I heard them they all seemed to be still-born.
(2.) The part I liked best is part I. especially the horses of the sun, and this is the part which most people seem to like least.
(3.) The chorus seemed tame and bored, but to excuse the work on these grounds is like a bad workman complaining of his tools.
What really worries me is that this flop, if it is one, has made me lose my self-confidence. For the last two months I have been writing away hard, and thinking it all very good, but now after this interval, I am sure I shall say “Am I deceiving myself? and losing my power of self-criticism?”
Now I want you, and my other friends, to tell me, like the policeman did to Mrs Sheldon Amos at Piccadilly Circus,3 when I ought to go home as being too old for this job. This probably will not prevent me going on writing but I can keep it all confidential.4
There, that is all I have got to say at the present.
Ursula and I laughed till we cried over the free milk.5 
My love to Joyce.
Uncle Ralph 


1. Sons of Light (Catalogue of Works 1950/3) first performed at the Albert Hall on 6 May 1951.
2. This would have been difficult, since it had been published the previous year by Oxford University Press.
3. Mrs Sheldon Amos (Sarah Maclardie Amos, nee Bunting) was a political activist especially concerned with women's rights. She was the mother of VW's Cambridge friend and contemporary, Maurice Amos, from whom VW may have heard this story.
4. Finzi replied the next day saying that in all artists' output there were good and less good works and if VW had stopped writing at the time of the earlier second-rate examples such as Old King Cole or The Poisoned Kiss then a number of truly great works would never have been written.
5. Finzi seems to have told VW an amusing story to do with something like the government's provision of free milk to school children. 

Location of copy:

Shelfmark of copy: 
Finzi Box 10
General notes: 

Typewritten, signed, dictated to Ursula. Apparently a response to VWL2490.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 592
Original database number: 
521019