Letter from Ralph Vaughan Williams to Thomas Humphrey Marshall

Letter No.: 
VWL558
9/16/24

As from
13 Cheyne Walk
SW3

Dear Mr Marshall1

Thank you very much for your letter. I did not stand for the post2 entirely because I thought (and still think) that I am not a “fit and proper person”. People will not realize what an appallingly illiterate person I am - both in ancient & modern music - Nor have I had more than a very little experience of teaching and organising.  My whole life has been taken up (in the intervals of earning my living) with trying to become a composer - & I look forward now that I can drop some of my outside work to trying to compose really learn the job of a composer - which I have as yet failed to do - before I am too old to do anything.
To take up an important work, for which I am entirely unprepared, at the age of 51 wd be rather an appalling prospect.  In order to carry out the conditions of lecturing teaching organising (which people like Dent wd take in their stride) I should have to go back to school & learn it all up - this wd take all my time & goodbye to all my private work.
The one thing I feel I cd do fairly adequately, conducting the C.U.M.S.3  etc is already being very well done - and I cd not interfere with it.  Don’t think I am being selfish in this - for the very reason which makes me not want to undertake it, would also, obviously, make me a very bad professor.
To put it shortly - at my time of life I’ve got to settle whether with the rest of what remains to me I am to write or to teach - I want (rightly or wrongly) to write - I can’t do both - also for the same reason I am a bad teacher.
I wrote (I believe at your original suggestion) to the V.C.4  on behalf of Dent - This in itself prevents my now standing myself.  I have also had a very kind letter from Stewart5 - wd you mind showing him this rigmarole - as it will answer him as well as you.
I am sorry for delay in answering - but I am away from home this week.
Yours very sincerely

R Vaughan Williams


1.  T.H. Marshall was, at the time of this letter, a Prize Fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge, and a keen amateur musician and thus served on the Committee for the election to the Chair of Music Subsequently he became Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and Director of Social Sciences at UNESCO. He died in 1981. His widow presented the letter to the British Library in February 1990.
2.  The Chair of Music at Cambridge - Charles Wood was appointed on this occasion. Dent succeeded him in 1926.
3.  Cambridge University Musical Society
4.  i.e. Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University.  See VWL556 and VWL788 to Dent on the subject of his standing for the Professorship.
5.  H.F. Stewart, French scholar and Fellow of Trinity College. See VWL449.

Subjects:

Location of original letter:

Shelfmark of original letter: 
Add. MS 69816, ff.1-7
General notes: 

The arrangement of the date is unusual for VW; it may be that only '24' is in his hand.

Format: 
Letter
Citation: 
Cobbe 146
Original database number: 
240916