On 21 November 2019, with generous assistance from the Friends of the National Libraries, the National Library of Wales purchased at auction a small group of letters of the artist, engraver and poet David Jones (1895-1974) to his friend Morag Owen (née McLennan), together with some related papers.
In his later years living in Harrow, Jones was increasingly supported by a large circle of friends, one of whom was Morag Owen, a young art student at the time of their first meeting in 1948. Once Morag married and moved away, she became one of the many friends with whom Jones corresponded frequently and at length.
The letters, the later ones written in his distinctive combination of black, red and green ink with notes and postscripts added at angles in the margins, cover a variety of topics, although a recurring theme is his declining health.
Although born in Kent, Jones’s father was Welsh and he was always very conscious of his Welsh heritage. He had a lifelong interest in Welsh history and literature and, while never a fluent speaker, had a detailed knowledge of Welsh grammar and etymology. All of this is attested to in the letters. Prompted by Morag’s Glaswegian upbringing, Jones also discusses at some length the history and place names of the Brythonic-speaking regions of Strathclyde and Rheged, the ‘Old North’ of Welsh tradition.
Representing his artistic side is a fine pencil drawing of an unidentified woman. A distinctive and original aspect of Jones’s artistic output is his painted inscriptions, juxtaposing quotations in Welsh, Latin, Greek and English. There are also several examples of these among the papers; some are incorporated in his letters as greetings, others are photographic reproductions, which he sent as Christmas cards.
These papers are a valuable addition to the vast archive of Jones’s personal papers, correspondence and literary and artistic works already at the National Library of Wales. In particular, it complements a group of 30 or so letters from Morag Owen to Jones. The papers have now been catalogued (reference number NLW MS 24139E) and are available to access in the Library’s reading rooms.