Letter from Steuart Wilson to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
9 Nov. 1942

From Steuart Wilson,
23, Chepstow Villas,

My dear Ralph

There can't be anyone else who has got so much out of you who could be so slow in writing to you on this anniversary year; don’t put it down to any cause but laziness to get down to a pleasure.
I didn’t hear the broadcast & I wasn’t in London for the Nat. Gallery but I did hear the Albert Hall concert; and over the Sea Symphony I lived again the days of 1909, 10 & 11 when your music was the great excitement and stimulus of my life, it has never ceased to be that, but when I was young and “exposed” to it for the first time the effect was naturally more than it could ever be in pure excitement; so I heard again the phrases “Flaunt out visible as ever” and the old mysteries of “Mocking Life”, and the hard places & the glorious places all coming in together again to make me feel that it had been worth while to have been young while that music was young too and that I could not be so old while it was still so full of beans.
Dona Nobis still enthrals & I can hear it with the calmer appreciation of middle age!
But do you know that you’ve left a more valuable thing to us of this generation than your music, and that’s your personal character and your integrity and “guts”. Your “all this” won’t mean anything in 100 years unless people can divine it in your music but it has meant everything to us, that we could admire without reserve a man who could write such music and who could stand like a rock when he wanted to. Perhaps I should have put my own rock facing a little differently some times, but what a thing it has been to have a rock in these days. That’s the biggest service you have given to music in your generation - and in that respect we are all your pupils and should be your followers.1 I can’t judge whether music is immortal or not and I don’t care. But I do know that character in music is immortal in its influence on people, and That Means You.
All the way through Sea Symphony I was haunted by Jim McInnes’ voice - I don’t think anyone will ever sing it so well again. And Agnes Nicholls - but I’m not so clear in my remembrance there.2
I have now to break it to you that I’ve joined the B.B.C. staff in a minor capacity with hopes of preferment. We haven’t even got a hatchet left to bury now.3
Mary was with me too & sends her love and excitement at the music. We couldn’t burst our way through the ranks on Saturday & salute you - it looked like a Wedding Reception.

Steuart - Mary

1. This paragraph to this point printed in R.V.W.: a biography, p.252
2. See VWL342. Campbell McInnes, as principal baritone at the Leeds Musical Festival that year, had sung the baritone part in the first performance of A Sea Symphony in 1910 and again in the first London performance on 4 February 1913, when the soprano soloist was Agnes Nicholls.
3. This is an allusion to the fact that Adrian Boult, Conductor of the BBC Orchestra and, until recently, Director of Music at the B.B.C., was married to Ann, Steuart Wilson's first wife.

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