Letter from Robert Frost to J W Haines

Item author: Robert Frost
Item date: 8 February 1915
Grant Value: £1,691
Item cost: £1,691
Item date acquired: 2018
Item institution: Petersfield Museum
Town/City: Peterborough
County: Cambridgeshire

A letter written by the American poet Robert Frost to Gloucester solicitor J W Haines, a mutual friend of both Robert Frost and Edward Thomas.

Since 2017 an extensive and important collection of over 2,000 books and other items, including some letters, by and about the early 20th-century literary reviewer, writer and poet Edward Thomas, has been held at Petersfield Museum in Hampshire, on loan from the Edward Thomas Fellowship.

Edward Thomas (1878 – 1917), was a pre-eminent book and poetry reviewer before the First World War.  This was the reason behind the visit of a young American poet, Robert Frost, to London in 1913 when he was seeking a review of his first book of poetry, ‘North of Boston’.

Thomas, who was known for his honesty when reviewing poetry, wrote not only one but three favourable reviews of Frost’s poetry and on the two men meeting they struck up a friendship that lasted long beyond Thomas’ death in action at the First Battle of Arras in 1917.

From their first encounter in 1913, there are many recorded instances of Frost and Thomas meeting both in London and, in the summer of 1914, in Gloucester where Frost and his family were renting a property near Dymock, a village that at the time had attracted a small gathering of poets – who became known as the Dymock Poets. 

Since 1906 Thomas, together with his wife and three children, had been living in the small village of Steep, on the outskirts of Petersfield.  Petersfield then and now enjoys a regular and direct train service to London. 

It was whilst in Steep that Thomas started writing his poetry in December 1914, before enlisting in 1915.  The family followed him to Loughton in Essex towards the end of 1916 before he embarked for France in January 1917.

Until now we have not been able to prove that Frost and Thomas met in Steep. Whilst it has been reported that Frost had visited Thomas in Steep, this letter from Frost to Haines (their mutual friend) written on 8 February 1915 addressed “Steep Petersfield” confirms this once and for all.  It is for this reason that it is important in the wider context for the collection in the Edward Thomas Study Centre at Petersfield Museum.

This collection, which was put together by the late book-collector Tim Wilton-Steer, gifted to the Edward Thomas Fellowship by his family and is now on long-term loan to the Museum.

The opportunity to add this letter, with its local significance, through the generosity of the Friends of the National Library, is a significant step forward for the Museum and the Edward Thomas Fellowship as both seek to further establish the Study Centre as an important resource for Thomas scholars and the wider public.