Letter from Harold Child to Ralph Vaughan Williams

Letter No.: 
VWL492
18 Feb. 1922

12, Hill Road,
St John’s Wood, N.W.8.

Dear R.V.W.,

I liked the Pastoral Symphony more than I can say.1 At a first hearing it got hold of me more than anything of yours that I have heard, & I kept feeling as if you had written it specially for my benefit.  Especially in the Andantino there were moments when one got the feeling of being hardly able to bear anything so beautiful - so one feels sometimes on a spring evening or an autumn afternoon.2  I won’t go on, or I shall probably reveal my ignorance & lack of perception; but I’m desperately keen to hear it again as many times as the young lady was sick in the train.3  Who said he couldn’t write a tune?  Or is a tune different from melody?  I stayed to the end as I wanted to hear the Holst thing.  It’s glorious; but it didn’t get inside me like the Pastoral.
I’ve got a very commonplace and foolish notion about a one-act opera: four characters & the chorus.  A poet (or, if you like, a composer - at any rate something that wears long hair & a velvet coat & looks flabby); a Sergeant-Major; his wife, & the poet’s “financy”.  The poet lives in lodgings kept by the Sergeant & his wife.  The girl could be on her way to a fancy-dress ball (Oh! ain’t it all original!).  The Sergeant, of course, is a bass bully, & the poet a tenor who turns out to have won the V.C in the war (& always wears it under the velvet coat) & when the time comes can biff the Sergeant edgeways.  No plot yet; & no details except that the poet must sing a love-song down the telephone & write a love-letter on his type-writer - like the man in du Maurier’s drawing.  Does it all sound utterly hopeless, for a (formal?) little thing of about an hour?4
As to that 3/6, by the time you have sent it & I have paid income tax on it, there will be nothing left.  Isn’t there some musical charity box (or should it be charity musical box?) at the R.C.M.5 in which you could drop it for me?  Thus we should diddle the tax-collector, which is always a bracing thing to do.
Ever yours

Harold  Child.


1. Child had been at the second public performance of the Symphony at the Royal College of Music the previous day.
2. The marking of the second movement was later changed from Andantino to Lento Moderato.
3. There was a young lady of Spain
 Who was horribly sick in the train
 Not once, there and then,
 But again and again
 And again and again and again.
4. The idea did not progress.
5. Royal College of Music.

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
MS Mus. 1714/1/6, ff.40-41
General notes: 

 Child was leader writer on The Times and librettist of Hugh the Drover.

Format: 
Letter
Original database number: 
220218