On 19 August 2020, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, the National Library of Wales purchased at auction a substantial group of letters of the artist, engraver and poet David Jones (1895-1974) to his friend Valerie Wynne-Williams (née Price).
When they first met in 1958 Jones was in his early sixties and Price nearly forty years his junior. Whilst their relationship was entirely platonic, Jones was undoubtedly besotted with Valerie and the letters are certainly, in part, love letters to her. He addresses her throughout by her pet name ‘Elri’, occasionally decorating her name with illustrations of flowers and birds. His infatuation continued long after Valerie married her fiancée Michael Wynne-Williams in early 1960.
The letters concern his usual preoccupations such as his declining health, his living conditions in successive lodgings in Harrow-on-the-Hill and Harrow and his struggles with his art, but also his deep interest in Wales, the Welsh language and Welsh history. In this last regard Valerie was an ideal correspondent, being a Welsh speaker and a supporter of, and later a parliamentary candidate for, Plaid Cymru.
Between them David and Valerie knew many stalwarts of the Welsh language cultural and political establishment and in the letters the likes of Saunders Lewis, Gwynfor Evans, Aneirin Talfan-Davies and Keidrych Rhys jostle for space with Jones’ other friends such as T. S. Eliot, Stephen Spender and Harman Grisewood.
The letters contain several illustrations, including pigs, ponies and a sleeping cat, a portrait of a beautiful woman and the view (drawn from memory) of Stonehenge as seen from his tent whilst stationed on Salisbury Plain in 1915. There are several of his distinctive inscriptions, mostly in Welsh, the most impressive being a version of his inscription commemorating the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282.
The letters are unpublished but were made use of by Thomas Dilworth for his recent biography David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet (London, 2017).
The National Library of Wales is home not only to David Jones’s personal library but also to his main archive, consisting of personal papers, correspondence and literary and artistic works. His letters to Valerie Wynne-Williams are another significant addition to our holdings, complementing as they do the sixty letters from her to Jones and a handful of draft letters from Jones already in the archive. They are also the second significant group of David Jones papers recently acquired with the aid of a Friends of the National Libraries grant, following the purchase at auction of his letters to Morag Owen in November 2019.
The National Library remains keen to acquire further groups of David Jones’s correspondence, in particular to complement letters already in the archive. We are especially interested in correspondence reflecting his interest in Wales and Welsh affairs, such a notable and interesting feature of his letters to Valerie and Morag.
The letters have now been catalogued (reference number NLW MS 24167E) and are available to access in the Library’s reading room.
Rhys M. Jones
Assistant Manuscripts Librarian
This post is also available in: Welsh