SPENDER (RICHARD) Papers of the Second World War poet Captain Richard Spender of the Parachute Regiment (1921-1943), including draft verse, corrected proofs, letters home, photographs, etc.
Lot 218
Sold for £ 4,375 (US$ 5,777) inc. premium

Lot Details
SPENDER (RICHARD) Papers of the Second World War poet Captain Richard Spender of the Parachute Regiment (1921-1943), including draft verse, corrected proofs, letters home, photographs, etc.
Papers of the Second World War poet Captain Richard Spender of the Parachute Regiment (1921-1943), including draft verse, corrected proofs, letters home, photographs, etc., comprising:

(i) Autograph manuscripts of all nine poems that he sent home shortly before his death, while serving with the Parachute Regiment in Tunisia, and which were published posthumously as Parachute Battalion: Last Poems from England and Tunisia (November 1943); in publication order: 'Before the First Parachute Descent' (opening: "All my world has suddenly gone quiet/ Like a railway carriage as it draws into a station/ Conversation fails, laughter dies..."), 'Wing and Arrow' ("...The girl who wears a badge of wings/ Holds hands across tea cups with the man/ Who breaks the bombers flight with rushing shell./ Thus does the bird love the arrow./ And thus the bow kisses the wing it pierces..."), the three poems that make up the sequence 'Embarkation Leave' ('Train Journey', 'Big School' and 'School Chapel', the last two in draft form), 'Heart's Song' ("...'Learn to laugh until you're blind,/ 'And then the fear that lurks behind/ 'Will not be seen, will not be known..."), 'Women of Sleep' (ending: "For I have seen men, who had kissed you in darkness,/ Wake to your cold sister Death's chilly stare"), 'Parachute Battalion' (two manuscripts, with the note "If security allows title should included Bttn number (mine) II"), and ' Tunisian Patrol' (opening: "The Night lies with her body crookedly flung/ In agony across the sharp hills..."), in an envelope marked "Original M.S.S. of some of Dick's poems, including all those sent from Tunisia"

(ii) Set of unbound page proofs, one corrected and revised seemingly by Spender, for his first book of poems, Laughing Blood; plus a copy with presentation sticker signed by him (as "Toad") to his aunts, who acted as his literary agents (see below); and copies of his posthumous Parachute Battalion (1943) and Collected Poems (1944), with later editions

(iii) Series of over seventy autograph letters to his parents, with a few to his brother Jim in the RAF, the last dozen or so written while on active service in Tunisia, the others when on training, a series combining a youthful mix of world-weariness, idealism, cynicism and humour; and touching on his own poetry ("...I am waiting anxiously for news of arrival of poems 'School Chapel', 'Train Journey', & 'Parachute Bttn'. Now don't get too conceited about your poet son! There is no need to bother your heads about my skin. Just keep well yourselves, Old Folks, & keep the Home Fires switched on...") as well as the routine of everyday life in the army ("...My batman tells me that after this war, the 'oristocracy' will be all swep[t] away, & that he & his brother, (who earns millions at Nuffield's for staring like a drunken cow at a lot of foolish machinery) will employ me. I told him it was very kind of him, but what could I do? He found that difficult, so I promised that I would write odes on all the tin plates he & his brother churn out. I would like to see my batman running a factory. I should also like to do business with him. I should make a lot of money. Well my unbelievable blossom, cheerio, & if the bottom falls out of things, just pickle my memory in alcohol & press it in the pages of a rhyming dictionary..."), and touching on practical matters ("...Now don't get all agitated about all this as I say, money doesn't matter & if (horrible pause) I catch or stop a packet, nothing will be wasted as all the stuff is spread round the boys..."); the letters to his brother Jim likewise discussing his literary career ("...That little bastard of a brother of yours Dick, gave up his cushy Battle Bulls job to become a parachutist. He is now in N Africa with the 1st Army. Heard of us? He has also just published a book, & all the best papers now publish his work. Times, Daily Telegraph & Observer. He is a household word, just like Lux & Oxo. There is no more news & no paper. Be careful & keep your heads down. See you in Tunis..."), but possessed of an even greater degree of freedom, as evinced by a letter dating four days before his death ("...This place is absolute hell. Everybody gets knocked off amid scenes of utter wet cold misery, & still up we come for another bloodbath. Could you get me a transfer to the levies as any of the following, a) Batman (b) Cook (c) Parachutist (Instructor, Ground) (d) Camouflage Officer (theory only) (e) Press Representative, or EMSA representative (rear areas only) (f) Brigadier..."); together with wartime letters by his brother Jim

(iv) Series of nearly twenty wartime letters by Spender to his aunts Brenda, Clara and Doreen ('ABCD') who in their capacity as poets or writers, with Brenda being literary editor of Country Life acted as his agents and liaised with his publishers Sidgwick & Jackson, seeing his first collection, Laughing Blood, through the press ("...Now. I am going mad. This is the last letter. I am off tomorrow, having got one days extension to finish off the book. Now – I will not have any Latin or Greek in my book. It is of poems of now, & I hope they are full of the life, urgency & wonder that is truth, & a bit of cobwebbed Latin at the top can do no good at all. I will not have any dead languages near it. Final. No ill feelings; but I'm in a rush & I had to say it quick... the book's nett tone is one (I hope) of optimistic resolve. Well, I'm leaving it in good hands. Thank you & bless you. Goodbye till after the war...")

(v) Other material, including typescript copies of poems; photographs; a draft of the memoir published with Collected Poems; printed ephemera; two volumes of cuttings kept by his family (devoted chiefly with his poetry, beginning with 'Thought on Seeing Searchlights', published in Country Life, 13 July 1940, and including contributions to, reviews by and obituaries appearing in The Observer, Times Literary Supplement, Punch, Daily Telegraph, Country Life, The Times, John O'London's Weekly, etc.); early periodicals containing his verse, etc.

(vi) Other correspondence, including the final four letters to Spender by his mother, father and brother Jim, all stamped as undelivered 'as the addressee is reported dead' (two of the letters remaining unopened; his father writing on the very day he died about Laughing Blood: "They are all very enthusiastic about it & delighted to hear of the second edition"); the telegram announcing his death and related official letters; letters by his commanding officer, Lieut-Col John Frost [subsequently of Arnhem fame] ("...The battalion had attacked enemy positions during the night, and had been successful. In the morning Dicky's platoon was again going forward when the enemy counter attacked. He and his men fought magnificently but in the action he was hit by M.C. fire and killed instantly... We brought his body down and he has been buried in a military cemetery. He is a very great loss to us and we will never forget him..."); other letters of condolence by fellow officers and others ("...Did ever Soldier write so well, or more nobly Poet die?..."); with further posthumous letters by the likes of the War Graves Commission, Sidgwick & Jackson, his Alma Mater, the King Edward VI School Stratford-upon-Avon, Humphrey Spender (brother of Sir Stephen and a fourth cousin), and many others


  • THE PAPERS OF THE POET RICHARD SPENDER OF THE PARACHUTE REGIMENT, KILLED AGED TWENTY-ONE WHILE LEADING HIS MEN INTO ACTION DURING 'OPERATION TORCH'; his headstone in the Imperial War Graves cemetery at Tabarka, Tunisia, inscribed with lines from his poem 'The Young Soldier': 'In High Proud Exultation/ Let Us Repay/ Laughing Blood With Spilt/ R.W.O.S.'

    'Parachute Battalion', one of the group of last poems sent from the Tunisian front present in this archive, was published in the Times Literary Supplement on 3 April 1943 – unbeknownst to them he had been killed on 28 March – and was to be quoted three weeks later in his obituary: 'Those familiar with the work of the young solder-poet will be aware of the loss his death must mean to English literature... They will know that had he been able to order his end he would not have chosen it otherwise. In "Parachute Battalion" which appeared recently in The Times Literary Supplement, he speaks of those who "die that the great Truths shall live." Now he has joined that high-hearted company, leaving us all too little inheritance from one who promised so much' (24 April 1943). The Observer wrote on his death: 'Our Service poets of this war are sadly diminished by the loss of Richard Spender, whose work was known to readers of this column... He wrote, mainly in the free style, with a passionate appetite for all lively and beautiful things. There is enough of his work left to make another small book. He will be remembered by far more than his friends' (18 April 1943).

    Provenance: sold by the heirs of Richard Spender.
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  1. Simon Roberts
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
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