Thomas, Gwen and Salvador

Collections - Posted 29-06-2021

Tucked in the last but one file of the Gwasg Gregynog archive to be catalogued, a file mainly devoted to the far from straight-forward passage through the press of Gwasg Gregynog’s first, experimental, publication, R. S. Thomas’s ‘Laboratories of the spirit’ (1976), is a single stray letter from 1938, presumably preserved as a keepsake and then lost in the paperwork. It is a letter from Thomas Jones CH (1870-1955), chairman of the predecessor Gregynog Press, and until 1936 Deputy Secretary to the UK Cabinet, to Gwendoline Davies (1882-1951), one of the Davies sisters of Gregynog, owners of the Press, written in May 1938, in the midst of the period of Appeasement:

Street Acre
St. Nicholas-at-Wade
Station (3m) Birchington-on-Sea
Sunday, 22 . v . 38

My dear Gwen
Madariaga & I are not very good for each other with all this sabre-rattling in Europe. I dont know which of us is the more depressing. It is a wretched time even for the old & what must it be for the young. Not until this year have I ever felt ready to slacken my hold on life. I wish you were nearer today. . . .

M. has the power to liberate his mind in books & plays & poems. He is working on a series of sonnets which condense the message of his World Design. I have been going over them & suggesting minor changes of word or phrase here & there. His power over the language is amazing. He asked me this morning if you would care to print them at the Press in a small book to sell at no more than 10/. He is sure many of his American friends would buy copies, especially in the present mood. It would be in size something like the George Herbert but that Wardrop could advise about. He will improve some of the lines. He may call them The Dream of Adam or perhaps (as I suggest) The Home of Man – the last words of the sequence. This little book which I have read this morning is for your own room.

T. J.

Salvador de Madariaga (1886-1978) was a Spanish diplomat, writer and pacifist. He had been Spanish ambassador to the USA and France, permanent delegate to the League of Nations, and minister for education and justice. Since 1936 he had been in exile in England from the Spanish civil war. Both he and Thomas Jones had family homes in the village of St Nicholas-at-Wade, on the Isle of Thanet in Kent. The sabre-rattling is probably the partial mobilization of Czechoslovakian armed forces along the German border on 20 May, in response to intelligence reports (later proved false) of menacing German military concentrations. The Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Germany, had happened only two months earlier, so the Czech government was understandably on edge. Madariaga might also have been upset by the Vatican recognition of Franco’s fascist government in Spain on 5 May.

Madariaga’s ‘The world’s design‘ was newly published. The Library’s copy is stamped 21 April 1938. The Gregynog Press had previously published his ‘Don Quixote : an introductory essay in psychology’, in 1934, translated from the Spanish by the author and his wife, Constance H. M. de Madariaga. This was in a limited edition of 250 numbered copies (NLW holds copies no’s 14 and 27), before being published by the Clarendon Press for the mass market in 1935. There are a few post-1938 letters from Madariaga in the Gregynog Press and Thomas Jones CH archives (both held by NLW) which may be worth exploring, but a cursory search suggests Madariaga’s sonnets remain unpublished.

The ‘little book’ originally enclosed in Thomas Jones’s letter to Gwen Davies is J. M. Edmonds, ‘Some Greek poems of love and beauty: being a selection from the little things of Greek poetry made and translated into English’ (CUP, 1937). Edmonds (1875-1958) was an English classicist and poet, whose most lasting contribution are probably the two military epitaphs:

Went the day well?
We died and never knew.
But, well or ill,
Freedom, we died for you.

When you go home, tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrows these gave their today.

This book and a couple of Jones’s comments in the letter seem oddly personal, but perhaps this was typical of Jones and Davies’s working relationship. The most striking part of the letter is Jones’s world-weariness at the thought of another war.

Stephen Benham

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