Edward Marsh: Patron of the Arts – Fiona McVey

Edward Marsh’s influence as Patron of the Arts – by Contributor Fiona McVey

After his death in January 1953, The Times described Sir Edward Marsh as “perhaps, the last individual patron of the arts”.  Poetry had particularly benefitted from Marsh’s enthusiasm and impetus either side of the Great War, resulting in a number of names that would otherwise perhaps have been lost, remaining in the public conscience.  As a cultural connoisseur, The Times article went on to state that with the death of Eddie Marsh, “artists in the written and spoken word and on canvas have lost in him the perfect audience.”(1)   The impact and influence of Marsh on the careers of a number of artists and writers cannot be underestimated.

Eddie Marsh & Winston Churchill
Eddie Marsh & Winston Churchill

Edward Marsh had a long and distinguished career as a civil servant (1896 – 1937), beginning in the Colonial office which included appointments as Private Secretary to a number of the leading Cabinet Ministers of the day, most notably Winston Churchill, Joseph Chamberlain and H. H. Asquith.  Whilst Marsh undoubtedly had many influential political connections, including the trade unionist and Labour politician, J. H. Thomas, he also had a wide and erudite social circle, spending time with them both in the city and for weekends at grand country house parties.  Marsh was able to assist his proteges by expanding their exposure to the great and the good.

During the first half of the twentieth century, high society was composed of political, intellectual and social sets that intermingled fluidly and freely, enabling individuals to develop a wide-reaching network. Whilst Marsh himself was not borne into immense wealth, he did have some political clout being a great-grandson of Spencer Perceval, the assassinated prime minister, which combined with his own intellectual capabilities afforded him social capital.  Influential amongst these sociable sets before the Great War were The Souls and its second generation, The Coterie which contained a mixture of politicians and intellectuals and was followed between the wars by the Bright Young Things, a collective of young bohemian aristocrats and socialites.  Marsh was able to interact with many illustrious and varied people including the Manners family, the Wyndham family, Violet Asquith, G K Chesterton, Henry James, W. B. Yeats, James Barrie, T. E. Lawrence, the Sitwell siblings, Nancy Cunard, Aldous Huxley, Neville Chamberlain, Robert Ross and even Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, all of whom enriched Marsh’s life. As should be expected, Marsh’s funeral was attended by a wide range of people drawn from a cross-section of high society, political and intellectual circles.

Through these wide-ranging contacts, Marsh acted as a conduit for the introduction of many young artists and writers into wider circles, which would prove invaluable to establishing their careers.  The friendship, mentoring and financial support that he provided to them was crucial in their development and enabled them to rebel against the Victorian and Edwardian eras.  Amongst those artists who benefitted were Paul Nash, Mark Gertler, Duncan Grant, Stanley Spencer, whilst Rupert Brooke and Isaac Rosenberg were supported in their writing endeavours.  Brooke, in particular, had a very close friendship with Marsh, frequently staying with him at his Gray’s Inn apartment in Raymond Buildings (No 5).  Breakfast at No 5 was often a social affair, numbering among its guests Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Brooke, Spencer, Nash and W H Davies.  Sassoon, himself, would go on to live at apartment No 1 at Raymond Buildings for a few months in 1914.

Marsh’s lack of sexuality was perhaps key to his ability to engender such strong friendships amongst his peers.  Illness as a child had left him with a high falsetto voice and probable impotence and it was this inability to engage in a physical relationship that would have protected him in an era where homosexuality was still a criminal act.  Although the private behaviours of his social circle were known to others, being capable of only pursuing platonic relationships ensured that it was not to his detriment.

rupert brooke artnet.comRupert Brooke

Marsh’s work as a translator was also of considerable note and attracted a positive response from his fellow critics. His published translations of The Fables of Jean De La Fontaine, Odes of Horace, and Eugene Fromentin’s novel Dominique, all of which were favourably received.  As a textual editor, Marsh critiqued the writings of Churchill, Hugh Walpole and Somerset Maughan.

He is often identified as being central to the Georgian poet movement, whose writing focused on life in the English countryside and the wonders of nature.   At the suggestion of Grant and George Mallory (both of whom were connected to the Bloomsbury set), Marsh pursued the idea of publishing a poetry anthology as a parody of the type of poetry volumes that had recently been appearing. Working with John Drinkwater, Wilfred Wilson Gibson and Rupert Brooke, Marsh was responsible for the editing of the Georgian Poetry anthologies, a series of five volumes published by Harold Edward Monro between 1912 and 1922.  Common features of the poetry included were romanticism, sentimentality and hedonism.

Although the early volumes injected a fresh vision and manner into the poetry of the time, several of the poets objected to being identified as ‘Georgian’ from their association with the anthologies, particularly the latter volumes which failed to include examples from the modernist movement.  Of note are the contributions made to the Georgian Poetry anthologies by A. E. Housman, Chesterton, Walter de la Mare, D. H. Lawrence, Robert Nichols, Brooke, Ledwidge, Graves, Rosenberg, Brett Young and Blunden. As a counterweight to the Georgian Poetry anthologies, the Sitwells would go on to publish six anthologies of their own between 1916 and 1921 (Wheels); unlike Marsh’s featured poets, very few of the Sitwells chosen poets can be considered to be of heavyweight status.  The only poet to feature in both Georgian Poetry and Wheels was E.W. Tennant.

Edmund Blunden Portrait - edmundblunden.orgEdmund Blunden

robertgraves image websiteRobert Graves

ETennant - Poetry AtlasE.W. Tennant

In common with Marsh, Harold Monro is perhaps better known for the support and opportunities that he gave to other poets, rather than for his own writings.  The founding of The Poetry Review and its successor Poetry & Drama was crucial to this role, as was the opening of the Poetry Bookshop in Bloomsbury, London.  The shop was set up in a house focussed around shelves stocked with books, tables holding copies of journals and a crackling fire.  It was located in the heart of literary and artistic London, close to the British Museum, University College and the Central School of Arts & Crafts.  Whilst not located in the most salubrious area, Monro maintained that it was intended to attract those who cared enough about poetry to find his shop and he encouraged browsing, reading and learning within its walls.  It was from the Poetry Bookshop that Monro published poetry collections, orchestrated poetry readings by the known and the new (Yeats, de la Mare, Brooke, Marinetti among them) and provided a haven for struggling poets, several of whom lodged in the upstairs rooms.  Whilst his collaboration with Marsh on the Georgian Poetry anthologies was key to the popularisation of the Georgian movement, Monro was without literary prejudice so also published the work of significant modernist poets such as Ezra Pound.

During the second decade of the twentieth century, a small group of poets were drawn to the village of Dymock, located in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, close to the border with Herefordshire.  Whilst the so-called ‘Dymock Poets’ were never formally a group, rather a collective that identified strongly with each other and their mutual admiration and attachment to the local area and its landscape.  Of the six most recognised Dymock poets (Gibson, Abercrombie, Drinkwater, Thomas, Brooke and Frost), only three of them actually lived in the area – Abercrombie, Gibson and Frost – whilst the remainder were regular visitors.  The network of friendships combined with their deep love of the landscape continued to influence their writings even after the Great War had scattered them on their different paths.   As the patron of the ‘Dymock Poets’, Marsh was once again able to support and nurture the work of this small group of writers, including personal visits.  Of the six, only Thomas and Frost failed to feature in Marsh’s Georgian Poetry anthologies and likewise they did not contribute to the Dymock poets self-published New Numbers journal.

Edward Marsh can be linked to a number of the poets featured in England Remembered. His relationship and friendship with Rupert Brooke have been well documented and culminated with Marsh being appointed as one of Brooke’s literary executors after his death.  It was Marsh who introduced Brooke to the Dymock poet collective and for Brooke, the Dymock locale and its occupants was to provide a fixed artistic centre whilst he pursued his travels.  Edward Thomas, who first met Brooke in 1910, whilst he was already a recognized writer and critic also benefited from his involvement with the Dymock group ultimately resulting in turning his notable talents to poetry.  Brooke and Thomas were to come to know each other well over the next four years, Brooke being a welcome visitor at the Thomas’ Steep home.

E Thomas image websiteEdward Thomas

At his retirement from the Civil Service, Malcom MacDonald, Secretary of State for the Dominions commented that Marsh was “a man who has a wide circle of friends in each of the many spheres in which you are graciously pleased to move.  There is a great company of artists who are devoted to you.  The most illustrious poets and men of letters of the day hold you in high esteem. Statesmen drawn from all the Cabinets of the last 30 years, who can agree on nothing else, unite in claiming you as their friend.”(2) MacDonald’s comments remained pertinent at the time of Marsh’s death – Marsh remained as devoted to his circle of friends as they were to him.

Fiona McVey

Sir-Edward-Howard-Marsh c1935 National Portrait Gallery croppedEdward Marsh c1935


Read Fiona’s second post for the England Remembered Blog – Ivor Gurney: Composer & Poet

Fiona McVey is a local historian.  She was born in Sutton, Surry, and after serving in the Royal Air Force at a number of locations worldwide settled in Portchester.  In 2018, she was awarded an MA in History focusing on the workhouses in Portsmouth.  Fiona currently works in Human Resources at the University of Portsmouth. 



Header image compilation © Jacky Dillon: Circular from left;  Isaac Rosenberg, Wifred Wilson Gibson, E.W. Tennant, John Drinkwater, Robert Graves, Edward Thomas, Francis Ledwidge, Francis Brett Young, A.E. Housman, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Harold Edward Monro, Edmund Blunden, Walter de la Mare, Centre – Edward Marsh c1935


(1) The Times (London, England), Wednesday, January 14, 1953, Issue 52519, p7

(2) The Times (London, England), Saturday, February 13, 1937, Issue 47608, p14

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