Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Joan Shaw

Letter No.: 
4th February, 1953

The White Gates,
Dorking, Surrey.

Dear Joan,
I have written something for you which I hope you will like.  I enclose it.1
I do hope you have not suffered from the floods.
(R. Vaughan Williams).

Mrs. Martin Shaw,
Long Island House,
Southwold, Suffolk.


To a superficial observer Martin Shaw would appear to be a rich, cultivated, dilettante, handsome, well-read, well-dressed with a slight touch of Bohemianism, cultivated, with beautiful manners, (a little tinge of the eighteenth century), a fine horseman (when he can borrow a horse!)  This is the apparent picture of Martin Shaw.
But there is another side to the question.  He is not rich – he loves his art too much for that; he is no amateur, he comes from a professional stock who realise what art means - hard work and thoroughness.  In his work, whether as a composer or performer he has the real professional touch.
He is a fine organist and pianist and would probably have been a virtuoso if he had chosen; he is also a thorough and strict teacher,
The Bohemianism in his make up was the result not of choice but of necessity.  When I first knew him he was literally starving in a garret, but happy with it all.  The result of this kind of life led him to resort to other Bohemians, Pryde and Gordon Craig among them.  Gordon Craig, as usual, made full use of him and then cast him aside.
From the perils of this kind of life he was saved by two things.  First, he obtained an organist's appointment at St. Mary's, Primrose Hill, where he made the acquaintances of Percy Dearmer.  This led on to his great work for the reform of Church music and especially of hymnody.  Then there was his wonderful marriage to Joan Cobbold.  I need hardly say more about this except to quote what Martin said to me only the other day - “What should I do without Joan?”.
Of Martin Shaw's compositions I need only say that they contain much beautiful music, especially the Cantata “The Redeemer”, which deserves to be widely known.  There are also some very beautiful songs all composed with imagination and a masterly technique.  He will probably be best remembered by his hymn tunes which will live, I believe, as long as hymns are sung in churches.

1.  A biography of Martin Shaw, see VWL4544.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1767/3/1/1/12 (1)