JONES (DAVID) Series of one hundred and twenty six letters signed Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Monks Dene Residential Hotel, 2 Northwick Park Road, Harrow and Calvary Nursing Home, Sudbury ("Sodbury") Hill, Harrow, [mostly dated in Welsh], 4 February 1959 to 27 July 1974

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Lot 232
JONES (DAVID)
Series of one hundred and twenty six letters signed Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Monks Dene Residential Hotel, 2 Northwick Park Road, Harrow and Calvary Nursing Home, Sudbury ("Sodbury") Hill, Harrow, [mostly dated in Welsh], 4 February 1959 to 27 July 1974

Sold for £ 35,062 (US$ 44,868) inc. premium
MODERN BOOKS, MANUSCRIPTS & ORIGINAL ILLUSTRATIONS
JONES (DAVID)
Series of one hundred and twenty six letters signed (variously "much love from Dafyd", "your most loving Dafyd", "your devoted Dafyd", "with very, very, much love, Dafyd" etc.) to Valerie Wynne-Williams, née Price, ("Fy Elri annywyl", "My dearest Elri", "Elri gariad", "Dearest and ever dearest Elri Lan", etc.), two addressed to her husband Michael ("Mihangel") and one to them both, dating from shortly after their first meeting, the sequence ending just before his death, some fifteen letters illustrated with coloured pencil, pen and ink drawings and inscriptions.

An extraordinary, entertaining and revealing series of letters touching on all aspects of their relationship and key themes of his life, interwoven throughout with long discourses on Welsh language, culture and ancient history, often lapsing into Welsh, and full of his feelings for her ("...Please please darling Elri let me know if & when you can see me soon and make it as soon as you can... If this letter sounds exaggerated & intemperate... forgive it, but my love for you couldn't be exaggerated & that's the truth..."); taking pleasure in her appearance ("...I think your black frock specially lovely especially with that more or less wine coloured little woollen jacket... You ought to have a golden collar like the girls in Kulhwch & Olwen...") and sending gifts ("...I loved to see the thin twined gold round your nice neck – dear Elri..."); speaking of struggles with his work ("...When people say they paint for 'pleasure' I am dumbfounded. It's always a vast struggle for me. Perhaps I'm awfully bad at it really – but there's nothing else I can do at all, nothing..."), including the creation of The Lee Shore which he gave to her ("...these kind of drawings are touch & go & take ages & a lot of thought... it's nice when bits of it come out more or less as one wanted. But when I start a picture it's always almost like starting something one had never done before... the same struggle each time..."); his writing and legacy ("...I have not really, not in my deepest self, liked anything I've done for years & years & years. As to writing, I think The Anathemata will stand up alright (even though only a few people can make head or tail of it) – but in painting I seem to have lost my way... It's a strange business, this creativity – you can't command it, - it's like love – y mae y gwynt yu chwythu lle y mynno [the wind blows where it pleases]..."); his love of Wales ("...Ours is a rum nation, such an incomprehensible mixture of deep-felt sensitivity and total vulgarity..."), including detailed enquiries as to the etymology of Welsh words and place names; the importance of keeping the Welsh language alive ("...It's probably doomed anyhow... everything is weighted against these things of locality & tradition... some sympathy & understanding might be shown to those who try to save what can be saved..."); his own perceived inability to master the Welsh language ("...I'm terribly miserable that I can't seem to make any progress with Welsh... I'm just too old and too bloody stupid at languages..."), and his reluctance to join Plaid Cymru ("...it's probably a waste of money. But still I think their intentions are OK..."); touching on his Catholicism ("...the grave changes the Catholic authorities have made I find as difficult to take as I do the casting aside of Welsh by Welshmen..."); his illness and depression ("...I get these half physical half nervous things they are awful but not imagined... I did feel horrible & weak & peculiar & frightened, it's so silly & so impossible to explain..."); reminiscences of the first world war ("...that 10th of July battle of 43 years ago that I mentioned last night [the assault on Mametz Wood] is the one 'described' in the last part (part 7) of In Parenthesis..."), his camp on Salisbury Plain ("...by opening the flap [of the tent], there was Stonehenge in the grey light of a usually rainy dawn... I did a drawing of it, but alas, I've lost it..."), and seeing Lloyd George in 1915 ("...strange bloke, must have had very great qualities, perhaps that's why Winston C liked him... Damned interesting... cheap rhetoric & nothing more..."); discussing friends such as Jim Ede ("...who has one or two of my best pictures..."), Kenneth Clark ("...a really understanding and civilised man..."), the Eliots ("...they are obviously very happy, which was jolly nice to see. I'm deeply attached to him... He's a really great man and a good one..."), Eric Gill and his wife Mary ("...she had a lot to put up with one way & another..."), the poet Roy Campbell ("...a great mate of Dylan Thomas at one time – what a pair!..."), Harman Grisewood ("...The only Englishman who understood my thing about Wales – and much more besides including the arts & the catholic liturgy..."), Saunders Lewis, René Hague, Tom Burns, David Pryce-Jones, Douglas Cleverdon, Catherine Ivainer, Helen Sutherland, Kathleen Raine, Bernard Wall and others; the work of fellow artists including Kyffyn Williams ("...I like the way he talked of painting...") and Augustus John ("...more like a Welshman of some past epoch... his big, very physical someone truculent, buccaneer-like exterior... he had real genius... Wales certainly should be proud of him..."); with much on his writing for various journals, the publication in the United States of In Parenthesis, his work for BBC radio, a television interview with Saunders Lewis for the Writers World series in 1964 ("...Interesting 'technically' – I've never seen so many powerful lights & weird cameras... A nice thing emerged from this ordeal. Which was that the young man who was largely responsible for making the film was Tristram Powell [son of Anthony], he's extremely nice &, as it happens, knows all sorts of people I know or have known..."); glimpses into his homelife with continual complaints of the cold and "these confounded domestic chores", his "disgustingly untidy" rooms are in "muddle" and "chaos" with "endless piles of papers"; also sprinkled with various amusing anecdotes such as an encounter with a pig in Sidmouth, a visit by Stravinsky and his wife in 1963 ("...very surprising... I thought there must be some mistake, but no, he apparently has read some of my work & wants to see the drawings & me. He is over eighty – terribly nice, direct & simple. I did feel it a great honour..."), the return of an early work rediscovered by Stephen Spender ("...one of the kindest and most generous things I've ever heard of – it quite revived my flagging belief in human nature! It is about the best drawing I ever did – certainly the best animal drawing and I'm delighted to possess it again..."); with his views on a myriad of subjects ranging from De Gaulle ("...I'm all for him..."), to the RA show of 1961 ("...shockingly bad..."), his preference for biros over fountain pens ("...bought a shilling green biro today so now I've got red & black & blue & green..."), the Royal garden party and much else; the first fifteen letters in the sequence written in fountain pen (until 9 August 1959) and then a characteristic mixture of black, blue, red and green ballpoint at several angles across the page, with twenty six autograph envelopes, 356pp, tall folio (c.330 x 205mm.), Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Monks Dene Residential Hotel, 2 Northwick Park Road, Harrow and Calvary Nursing Home, Sudbury ("Sodbury") Hill, Harrow, [mostly dated in Welsh], 4 February 1959 to 27 July 1974

Footnotes

  • 'IT'S PART OF MY NATURE TO WRITE... IT'S A JOY TO WRITE TO YOU...': ILLUSTRATED LETTERS FROM DAVID JONES TO VALERIE WYNNE-WILLIAMS.

    Jones's letters are unique: 'annotated in several colours, [they] tumbled effortlessly from sheet to sheet and subject to subject like the dialogues of Plato. He concentrated on a friend, on a subject of conversation, on a detail of any kind, historical or technical or visual or intellectual, with uncommon intensity' (Peter Levi, ODNB).

    It is somehow fitting that David Jones and Valerie Price met as a result of a correspondence. In her own words '...I had written some letters to the Times with regard to Welsh affairs. Dafydd also contributed some letters... I later invited Dafydd to a Plaid Cymru party I was giving. He did not attend but telephoned and asked me to meet him at Northwick Lodge...', which she did, accompanied by her soon-to-be husband Michael Wynne-Williams (ed. René Hague, Dai Greatcoat: a self portrait of David Jones in his Letters, London, 1980, p.177). That was the beginning of a lasting and intense relationship: 'A native Welsh speaker, Valerie was twenty-five, dark haired, vivacious... By the end of their visit... Jones was smitten' (Thomas Dilworth, David Jones: Engraver, Soldier, Painter, Poet, London, 2017, p.298).

    Feeling that marriage and family life could not accommodate his artistic vocation, Jones had always been a believer in Romantic Love and had several strong platonic attachments to women throughout his life, most notably to Lady Prudence Pelham, perhaps seeing himself in the role of Malory's Sir Launcelot endeavouring to resist enchantment. Valerie was the last and arguably the most all-consuming of these attachments which, unlike the others, had the element of a strong physical attraction ("...I like your beautiful upper right arm... & I like the white upper part of your dress and, of course, your face, and the long black gloves..."). He was particularly attracted to her voice and had her read aloud to him in Welsh. His letters to her are love letters. He wrote to her frequently and at great length ("...I think about you every day and much more often than that..."), and he kept her replies in a red silk-lined case. It is "blissful" to be with her, he writes: "I rejoice in the thought of you always" and "in a special sort of way, adore you". He is preoccupied with her when they are apart; "...You did make me so happy...I do hope we meet again very, very, soon. I do wish that today was yesterday again... with very, very, much love..." he writes in April 1959. His dependence on her is almost childlike, his concern parental – he is "terrified" when she arrives late lest "something really awful has happened" and reprimands her for not writing ("...I, I admit, was disappointed on not hearing from you on my birthday, but in no way angry, do believe that..."). He continually worries about her health, that their letters are going astray and, sometimes forgetting she has the demands of a husband, family and career, pleads with her to write and repeatedly asks if she's read books or articles he has sent or heard his broadcasts, desperate for her approval ("...I ask only for a little note expressing come kind of affection..."). He takes great pleasure in sending her gifts - flowers (he is furious with the "vile, horrible interfloral people" when they fail to send the right ones), a golden torque ("...it becomes you very much..."), inscriptions (including a marriage poem which was lost) and pictures. Whilst many of his friends feared her influence as an interloper and possible predator, in the opinion of Jones's great friend Harman Grisewood she was 'sympathetic, gentle, and honest, never... exploitative' (Dilworth, p.300). To Jones, as is abundantly clear here, she was the unchanging epicentre of his world.

    These letters are not only love letters to Valerie Wynne-Williams, however, they are love letters to Welsh culture and language, the very thing that brought them together. Throughout he lapses into Welsh (which he asks her to correct) and digresses into long discourses on Welsh history and legend and the etymology of the language. He laments the decline of spoken Welsh ("...because of the attitude of mind of so many Welsh people. If only they would stand firm and see what they are betraying, something could still be done..."), whilst finding his own inability to master the language a constant preoccupation and disappointment, lamenting "...You've no idea what it means to me – it is a disaster & prevents me fulfilling so much of my heart's desire. I feel an alien in ways I can't explain...".

    Throughout the correspondence his continuing battle with depression is revealed which keeps him confined to his room and refusing invitations, leaving him in a "...low, unreasonable, irritable, depressed trough and very muddled...". By May 1962 he is on "six different kinds [of pills] a day", and continually complains of feeling "drugged" and "feeble" which, according to his biographer 'all but ended his creative life' (Dilworth, p.315). His illness is bound up with struggles with his painting, most notably here with Gwener, Ceidwades Caolnnau (Venus, Keeper of Hearts) - sold in these rooms on 22 November 2017 - where Valerie is depicted as the embodiment of Venus: "...I do hope you like Gwener, because you've made it possible for me to do it..." he writes in September 1959 and announces "It's title I think is The Lee-shore". He writes too of his subsequent works Trystan a Esyllt ("could not be more different") and Annunciation in a Welsh Hill Setting, which he famously refused to sell to Stravinsky, and admits to her that, despite the difficulties in completing these major later works, he is resigned to the struggle as "there's nothing else I can do at all, nothing".

    His illustrations on these letters are striking; delicate floral vignettes adorn her name, he sends a delicate pink rose reminiscent of the woodcut he customarily presented to women he admired, a cat curled-up in an armchair, the horses in the field below his house, a herd of pigs ("...much harder to draw than the horses or cats... sheep are also jolly hard..."), a beautiful girl ("...with a very long white neck & long golden hair... a bit like a white horse... mostly because of the mane I suppose..."), even a prosaic map of Harrow with road names and annotations in Welsh becomes a work of art. From his childhood memories he sketches Capel Drillo ("...It was just by this chapel that I first met my Welsh grandfather John Jones when he was very old...") and from his reminiscences of the Great War, the view from his tent on Salisbury Plain.

    Our letters include several examples of the inscriptions which, later in his life, gave him most pleasure and less anxiety to complete, serving to 'combine (or bridge between) painting and poetry...' (Dilworth, p.284). He enjoyed the placing of the letters and the use of Welsh, Latin or Greek texts which allowed the piece to be seen rather than read. A particularly fine piece of thirteen lines included within a letter of December 1959 in biro and coloured inks begins 'Gwedia Dros Cymru' and is written to commemorate the anniversary of the death of the last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, a date he often commemorates with her. Jones, however, is not happy with it ("it really is a bad bit of lettering") and asks her to "forgive it's aesthetic inadequacy"; another, comprising two lines of Latin and Welsh in yellow and green inks begins 'Veni Sanctificator', the first line of a prayer in the Latin mass.

    Valerie Wynne-Williams had a successful career as a radio and television broadcaster, model and actress. An ardent Welsh Nationalist, she was instrumental in promoting the establishment of a Welsh-language TV channel in Wales and was elected as the Plaid Cymru candidate for Barry. It came as a surprise to Jones to read in the Radio Times that she had also been a champion hurdler in her youth before recalling "...I shall always remember your leaping up the stairs with the lightness of a deer, a hydd – one of the few animals names I know in Welsh without thinking hard...".

    The correspondence has been in Valerie Wynne-Williams' possession until now, and was made available to Thomas Dilworth for use in his recent biography. They are not published, however, in René Hague's collected letters. Her letters to David Jones are held in the National Library of Wales (ref. CT1/11).
Contacts
JONES (DAVID) Series of one hundred and twenty six letters signed Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Monks Dene Residential Hotel, 2 Northwick Park Road, Harrow and Calvary Nursing Home, Sudbury ("Sodbury") Hill, Harrow, [mostly dated in Welsh], 4 February 1959 to 27 July 1974
JONES (DAVID) Series of one hundred and twenty six letters signed Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill, Monks Dene Residential Hotel, 2 Northwick Park Road, Harrow and Calvary Nursing Home, Sudbury ("Sodbury") Hill, Harrow, [mostly dated in Welsh], 4 February 1959 to 27 July 1974
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