Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Ralph Wedgwood

Letter No.: 
[June 1899]


Dear Randolph,

I am writing in this extraordinary fashion not because of any decadent desire for originality but because ‘Oakrest’ in spite of its beautiful name (of this more later) doesn’t possess any blotting paper so that I wish to get as large a surface as possible before making it illegible by blotting it.1
The name of this house is misleading for it is a new little house built by the former proprietor of the queens head Burley (I mean “queens head”) in a most delightful and unfrequented village in the new forest where we came for Whitsuntide (how I hate that termination -tide)2 since by a shameful neglect of my duties we have managed to get the whole inside of a week (Holland is no longer on the carpet3).
I was glad to get your letter; it poured oil on to all my sore places4 and I wanted to sit down and write you a whole diary straight off but somehow I thought I’d wait for the new Forest and write there. We have a plan in store which is as follows - I have got, before October to write a thing called a degree exercise5 which will take all my time till then but in-as-much-as such work can be best done in a quiet country place we are thinking of getting as many weeks off as possible and taking a small oak-rest in a part of the country which shall possess (a) bracing air (b) quiet surroundings (c) hills (d) valleys (e) good bicycling roads (f) beautiful forest walks (g) trees (h) heaths (i) fens (j) downs (k) a river (l) nobody we know (m) salt marshes (n) good food (o) good drains (p) no waiters (q) a bathing place (r) shops where one can get pens (s) shops where one can mend bicycles (T.U.V.W.X.Y.Z) a lot of other things. Will you come and stay with us and make that our holiday together this year?6
You asked me for news - but really my life has been uneventful (‘happy is the nation’ etc7). You see your work (the practical part of it) is interesting while mine in the practical part consists of playing hymns & swearing at choir boys.

The rest of this letter is packed up so I must go on here. The New Forest is a most wonderful place. We’ve had it grey and wet and fine and green and its always beautiful - not one of your horrid stern places where you feel you must discuss high themes but a warm comfortable beauty - though very wild - enourmous8 heaths and then beautiful beech & oakwoods and jolly little rivers and brooks and marshes and an air that makes your strength as the strength of ten (-nyson).9
I heard today that you are doing a tour with Mr Gibb inspecting Irish railways & that Trevy comes after that - you didn’t tell us of this, and that reminds me that I spoke very harshly of Trevy [in my] last letter, but you must understand that I was speaking of Trevy not as a person but simply as a cause - because I like him very much - I hear he is going to bicycle to Hallsteads10 and arrive in nothing but his shirt.
Adeline and I had a quarrell11 over the meaning of part of your letter, and not having the original to refer to could not settle it. I said you meant to give us Sunday in June (if possible) and a slice of week when we had our holiday, Adeline held that the word “or” should be substituted for the word “and”, we fervently hope that I am right. You mustn’t think that from the complaining tone of some of my letters that I don’t like my work. First you must remember that I don’t consider organising my work.
My work is writing (the other is only money making and for the sake of doing something praktisch which I think every one should do - I know you agree with me) and I’ve been more active at writing and got on more in the last 18 months than ever before.

We met Crompton12 at a concert the other day - it touched me very much his going to a 5/0 place all by himself out of pure love of music - He was most active also in rescuing a fainting lady and nearly pulled all her clothes off in trying to carry her out single handed.

I haven’t yet told you about Lymington - I always imagined that Lymington was a small and unpleasant watering place - but it is in reality a delightful and very sleepy little town which happens to be by the Solent and to look across to the Isle of Wight - here comes in another of my delusions I always imagined that the Isle of Wight was a gimcracky kind of a place but what we saw of it was a magnificent stretch of downs and white cliffs - Don’t think me degenerate in my likes but you know I always have preferred soft scenery to stern uncomfortable scenery. I can admire it but I can’t really enjoy it. I know that shows a craven spirit but I can’t help it. My heart goes through the same manoeuvres as Wordsworths when he saw a rainbow when I see a long low range of hills - I suppose this comes from being born in Surrey S.W.
I am now working at my degree exercise now - I’m going to write a mass13 - they’re such fine words and you get such good climaxes out of them. I think I told you all this before - but this letter has been going for a week - I find it a very good plan to just write anything down as it occurs to me.
[No more of this letter survives]

1. VW is writing across the whole sheet of the paper and not on the first side after folding it, which was normal in that period.
2. Pencil note on letter. Since VW refers to it being Whitsuntide (Whit Sunday was 21st May in 1899), but a later instalment is on Cowley Street paper. The VWs were moving into 5 Cowley Street at about this time.
3. i.e. sur le tapis, though they went to Amsterdam and Haarlem later on that year in August. The idea of going to Holland for Whitsun was alluded to in VWL261.
4. A reference to the somewhat bitter observations in VWL261.
5. See note 13.
6. This holiday did not materialise.
7. An allusion to the proverb ‘Happy is the nation that has no history’; Thomas Carlyle attributed this observation to the French political philosopher Montesquieu (1689–1755).
8. sic.
9. An allusion to the lines in Tennyson’s Sir Galahad: ‘My strength is the strength of ten, because my heart is pure’
10. G. M. Trevelyan, a mutual friend from Cambridge. See VWL261. Hallsteads was the home of Wedgwood’s mother near Stoke on Trent.
11. sic.
12. Crompton Llewellyn Davies
13. See Catalogue of Works, p.10.  Deposited in Cambridge on 16 October 1899; see Mitchell, Wind Works, p.8.


Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/1, ff.122-127
General notes: 

Date in pencil noted on letter is mistakenly identified as 1898.

Cobbe 18; Kennedy, Works of Vaughan Williams, p.396.
Original database number: