Discovered in a catalogue of the late 1990s from the estimable dealer in autographs, David J Holmes, is a long description of a collection of holograph letters, typed letters, and post-cards from Charles Morgan (1894 – 1958 ), the English novelist and playwright who became a household name in the 30s and 40s. The price asked was $8,500.
Twenty years ago Morgan was out of fashion and unread, hence the relatively low price, which works out at about £18 a letter. In the same catalogue a letter of two pages from A. A. Milne would cost you $1,000, while one of similar length from Virginia Woolf is priced at $2,000. Today, while there will always be fans of Milne and Woolf, Morgan’s popularity has hardly improved, though apparently there are signs of a ‘revival ‘. However, in the world of literary biography quantity is everything. A single, if fascinating, letter from the creator of Pooh Bear would mean very little to a Milne biographer, and the same could be said for the Woolf letter.
However, anyone considering writing on Morgan and his times might have done well to shell out $8k to acquire these 156 signed handwritten letters, 58 signed typed letters two postcards together with several letters from his wife Hilda. Written to the couple’s close friends, Ronald Armstrong, a diplomat, and his wife Nellie, they cover most aspects of Morgan’s life and work in the period 1930 – 57, including his novels and dramatic pieces, his lectures, travel plans, dealings with publishers, printers and agents, his health and family matters.
Some extracts from the correspondence will give a flavour of the collection:
(28 Jan 1937)
‘…Really, I owe you an apology for not having thanked you for taking me to the Vauschlarts. They are, in the great world—precisely the kind of people who seem to me valuable, by which suppose I mean people who have something inside them—apart from wealth or power or even intellect—that strikes on my box. There are many books, even good books that I put down after a few pages (Jane Austen for example) not because I condemn them, or even fail to admire them, but because they have nothing for me. So with people. ‘
(4 April 1947)
‘…How I wish L’Academie Francais would make me a Membre Correspondent. The one thing I should really like. However, the University of St Andrews is going to make me an Honorary Doctor of Laws, and the Vice Chancellor of Oxford has asked me to deliver next year’s Zakaroff—so life goes on, even if the French ( which I confess surprises me a little ) have produced since the war no official or academic recognition. Instead, they have given the Legion to Cyril Connolly! Phew! Did you know that he once translated Pean de Chagrin as Cloak of Suffering?’
I wonder if these letters were picked up by some University—perhaps the University of St Andrews. [R.M.Healey]