The National Library of Wales is grateful to have received generous support from the Friends of the National Libraries to purchase a small, yet important group of literary papers relating to the poet, writer and soldier Edward Thomas (1878-1917).
Edward Thomas was born in Lambeth to Welsh parents in 1878 and is considered to be one of the great poets of the age. He was a well-established writer and critic when, in early December 1914 and with the encouragement of the American poet and his friend, Robert Frost, he made his first concerted attempt at writing poetry. The 144 poems ascribed to him were nearly all written in the two years that followed. He enlisted in the war effort in 1915 and was sadly killed in April 1917 during the first hour of the battle of Arras in northern France.
The items acquired were all once in the possession of Thomas’s friend, the Gloucester lawyer and bibliophile Jack Haines (1875-1960). The most significant and interesting item is a school exercise book once used by Myfanwy, Thomas’s daughter, which was reused by him to write his poetry. Although only eight leaves remain in the book, they contain multiple drafts, in his own hand, of two of his very earliest poems, ‘The Mountain Chapel’ and ‘Birds’ Nests’. They are dated 17 and 18 December respectively, only a few weeks after Thomas began writing poetry in earnest. No autograph copies or drafts were previously known to exist so the manuscript adds significantly to our understanding of his development as a poet. The manuscript also includes a draft of a slightly later poem, ‘House and Man’, which itself has the distinction of being among his very first to be published, in the journal Root and Branch in 1915.
The papers also include two letters from Thomas to Haines and one from Thomas’s widow, Helen – the latter containing a frank description of the relationship between her, Edward and Robert Frost – as well as an apparently unpublished holograph book review of Gerald Stanley Lee’s The Lost Art of Reading (1902), dating from 1903, entitled ‘Pioneers! O Pioneers’, and several typescript copies of his poems.
Since our acquisition of the manuscripts, they have received conservation treatment and have been catalogued (reference numbers NLW MSS 24122-24123) and are available to access in the reading rooms. They are in the process of being digitised and will be made freely available to view through the National Library’s website during 2019. The Library will also be providing facsimiles of some of the items to the Edward Thomas Fellowship.
These manuscripts are a valuable addition to the National Library’s already significant collection of manuscripts and papers of Edward Thomas, which include manuscript drafts of many of his poems, correspondence with his wife, and his diaries, among them his 1917 war diary.