Tag Archives: Edward Marsh

‘Eddie’ – tributes to Sir Edward Marsh

Found in a book* of tributes to Sir Edward Marsh, these two pieces unknown to the web - the foreword by Winston Churchill and the 'Tailpiece' by Max Beerbohm. Wikipedia (who regard him as a polymath) has this on him. Very clever, amusing, retiring, gay, one of the 'great and the good' and a patron of the arts - it is hard to think of a modern equivalent. Churchill, whom he served as Private Secretary for many years, attended his memorial and here contributes a touching piece on 'Eddie.' Beerbohm, who regarded him as 'not unalarming' also recognised him as 'one of the ornaments of his time.'


Winston Churchill 

The friendship of Eddie Marsh is a memory which I put high among my treasures. We began working together at the Colonial Office in 1905 and from then onwards out association remained intimate and happy for nearly fifty years. He was not only an admirable Civil Servant, on whose judgement, loyalty, and competence I could always count, but he was a master of literature and scholarship, a deeply instructed champion of the arts, and a man for whom the esteem of his friends could not fail to be combined with their deepest affection. His serenity in all things made his companionship a pleasure; and his noble and generous nature made him an unfailing joy to men and woman of all generations who were so fortunate as to walk with him along the road. 


Max Beerbohm


I do not remember having anywhere at any time heard him spoken of by anyone as Edward Marsh. And yet, with his tufted eyebrows and his monocle, and his sharply chiselled features, and his laconic mode of speech, he was not, one would have thought, unalarming. Or at any rate one would have thought so if his great kindness of heart had not somehow shone through the rather frigid surface of his social form. He was immensely more interested in other people than in himself - though he must have known that he was undeniably one of the ornaments of his time. 

*Sketches for a composite literary portrait of Sir Edward Marsh. C. Hassall and D. Mathews. London: Lund Humphries for the Contemporary Art Society, 1953.

The Ponsonby-Baring Language

Maurice Baring with his
pet budgerigar 'Dempsey'

This private language, known as 'The Expressions,' was used by the writer Maurice Baring (1874 -1945) and his family and friends. It was started by his mother and her sister, Lady Ponsonby, when they were very young and developed over two generations. It is mentioned in Emma Letley's biography of Baring and there are a few pages on it in Sir Edward Marsh's A Number of People (London, 1939.) Marsh writes: '..in the course of two generations (they) had developed a vocabulary of surprising range and subtlety, putting everyday things in a new light, conveying in nutshells complex situations or states of feeling, cutting at the roots of circumlocution. Those who had mastered the idiom found it almost indispensable, and my stable-companion at the Colonial Office, Conrad Russell, when asked if he knew anyone who knew the Baring language, answered: 'I spend all my days with a Baring monoglot.' One or two words have already passed into the language: 'Pointful' (the opposite to 'pointless') which Desmond MacCarthy constantly uses in his critical writings, is of Baring origin…'

Some of the words are a little site-specific but could still have their uses (e.g. 'a Shelley Plain' for the sighting of a famous person*) others like 'loser' seem quite current, although M.B.'s 'loser' is more of a cad than a failure. Here is a glossary based on Letley/ Marsh:

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Alphabet of Dead Writers

This was entered for a New Statesman competition in 1944. It may have won a prize but its author Edward Marsh notes that it wasn't a first prize. The poem is reprinted in a collection of his poems called Minima (London 1947). Sir Edward Marsh is now mostly remembered as a friend and promoter of Rupert Brooke, although he served as Churchill's private secretary for 10 years. Wikipedia have him listed mainly as a polymath (which he may have been) and note '...he was a discreet but influential figure within Britain's homosexual community.' He was also something of a poet and poetaster editing 5 volumes of Georgian poetry and in 1918 his late friend Rupert Brooke's Collected Poems.

This alphabet is fun (X is always a problem) and it is likely that in 1944 most or all of the references would have been picked up by New Statesman readers, but I have added a couple of notes for these fallen times...the question marks are Marsh's.

Alphabet of Dead Writers

Edward Marsh with Churchill in Africa 1907

A is for Addison, model of prose
B is for Lord Byron, parading his woes.
C for young Chatterton, splendidly lying,
D for old Dyer, whose Fleece wanted dyeing.
E is for Emerson, star-waggon-hitcher,
F not for Beaumont, but only for Fletcher.
G for John Gay, whom his Beggar made rich,
H for Tom Hood with his Song of the Stitch.
I is for Ireland*, in forgery far-gone,
J for James Joyce with his Jabberwock jargon.
K is for Charles Kingsley,that Christian so muscular
L for poor L.E.L**., so pale and crepuscular.
M for Kit Marlowe, whose line was of might,
N for Newman, the pilgrim of light.
O is for Otway, Preserver of Venice,
P is for Pope, friend and foe to John Dennis.
Q for the quaint emblematical Quarles,
R for Lord Rochester, friend of King Charles.
S is for Sterne, a divine somewhat shady,
T is for Tate, coadjutor of Brady.
U for Nick Udall, who wrote Roister-Doister,
V for the Ven'rable Bede in his cloister.
W ? Wainewright, both critic and crook,
X for the bards of the Exeter Book.
Y for Jeames Yellowplush, alias Thackeray,
Z ? Israel Zangwill - I wish he'd been Zachary,
Neatly to finish my little gimcrackery.

* William Ireland(1775 -1835) forger of Shakespearean documents etc. also Gothic novelist and poet.

**Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802 –1838), English poet and novelist, better known by her initials L. E. L.

John Dyer (1699-1757) was a Welsh poet and painter and Thomas Wainewright (1794-1847) was a writer, critic, artist and serial killer (poison). Nahum Tate and Nicholas Brady were 17th century hymn writers and psalmists -their version of Psalm 34 'Through all the changing scenes of life' is still regularly sung today. John Dennis (1658-1734) was a critic and dramatist (admired by Dr. Johnson) who was attacked in a venomous pamphlet by Pope...