Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Ralph Wedgwood

Letter No.: 
VWL277
[ca 7 February, 1900]

My dear Randolph

You must not think that I can do anything but admire your outbreak of military spirit - what else can anybody have now - if for no other reason to try and prevent all the best men in England being mown down. Besides Chamberlain has got us into this damned mess and we’ve all got to do our best to get ourselves out of it - besides we’ve got to win, whatever the disgusting beginnings of this horrible business may be we’ve got to win it now - thems my sentiments.1
I won’t insult you by pressing the truism how much braver you are sticking it here than rushing off to the cape - but what I do want to know is what is the peculiar magic of a real fight - if you want to see men heroically risking their lives you’ve only got to look round Hull itself - if you want to risk your own you have only to do what you are doing now in which occupation it seems to me you must be risking your life every minute. If you want to see - no this is all pedantic but still I cannot persuade myself what there should be about a fight which should put it on a different level from every other experience - You have never seen Everest but you know Hellvellyn and have got the best of the bargain.2
Your letters do me good. Ever since I finished my degree exercise I’ve been doing precious little except write some articles which have none of them been accepted - I have written trivial but brilliant essays on the following subjects
1.  How to play Brahms
2.  A school of English music
3.  The soporific finale
4.  Bach & Schumann

I am now writing a longer & more solid one on “The Words of a Musical Drama”. This task has been much interrupted by getting into the house of which more later. I am also going to write two more on “Palestrina & Beethoven” and “A precursor of Wagner”. Then I am going to get an introduction to the reader of Smith Elder and send him the lot as a small book - when he returns it I shall send it round to several others, and having finally failed in this desperate attempt to get a living I shall take to composing symphonies.3
Adeline will tell you a lot about the house. It’s most of it white wood and green blinds - I expect we were done in the premium we paid but I don’t mind about that as we wanted this kind of house and we had the money about and we prefer to spend it that way and not (say) on dinner parties. The only other thing to say about it is that it contains a spare room with a bed and that Hull is not very far from London.
Yours affectionately

R. Vaughan Williams


1.  ‘‘Them’s my sentiments’ a phrase of Fred Bullock in William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, ch.21.  VW's attitude to the Boer War was that it was a mess that politicians had got into, but, once under way, had to be prosecuted energetically so as to get out of it successfully; he had the same attitude later to the two world wars.  See Chamberlain's speech to the House of Commons 5 February, 1900.
2.  AVW also discusses RW’s wish to be serving in the forces in VWL278.
3.  All the pieces referred to (except “A precursor of Wagner”) were published in the first three issues of The Vocalist (April - June 1902).  See Catalogue of Works, pp.296-7.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/2, ff.39-42
General notes: 

References in the letter to the new house (in Barton Street) make it clear that this was written soon after moving in in February 1900.  See AVW’s letter to him VWL278.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 24
Original database number: 
9902xa