As many of you know, King’s has recently been awarded £430,000 (for which we are most grateful) from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF) towards the £500,000 purchase price of the largest collection of Rupert Brooke material that was held outside King’s. We took possession of the collection on April 17th. Peter Jones (Librarian) and Peter Monteith (Assistant Archivist) are shown here, unpacking the acquisition in our reading room.
The University Press Office published a news story about the accession. As you can see from the photo, most of the manuscripts were bound by Marsh and Schroder into guard books, which kept them in good condition and makes them easy to catalogue. The letters and papers in guard books are now on open access, and the cataloguing will proceed apace so that everyone will soon know exactly what is in the new accession. My favourite finds so far relate to Eric Gill. There are three letters from Brooke to Gill. In the first he says he’s seen Gill’s Madonna and Child sculptures that belong to Frances Cornford and to Maynard Keynes (which was left unfinished, as Keynes preferred it) and would like Madonna and Child (right) to buy one for himself. Keynes left his art collection to King’s, and we have his, which in fact presides over the top of the last staircase you have to climb to get up to the archives. It was seen by Keynes before Gill had finished it, and Keynes so liked it in that state that he purchased it as it was.
The second letter says Brooke has received his Madonna, and loves it, and will send a cheque. The third and final letter, written from San Francisco, says he may have forgotten to pay Gill and so he asked Eddie Marsh to send a cheque. At the bottom of the page you’ll find ‘If you’ve a cheque from him, too, you’d better tear up one, + I advise this: for he is of the Great + his cheque is sure to be honoured, but I’m a poet, + with me it’s always doubtful.’
The Schroder collection also includes the torn-up cheque.
Poignantly, there is also a letter from Eric Gill to Eddie Marsh offering to carve the lettering on the memorial plaque that was erected in the Rugby chapel. These are my favourites because they illustrate the research value of the new papers (I’ve never seen anything before about Brooke’s artistic tastes), they create even more links between our collections (we have Keynes’s correspondence with Gill and invoice for his Madonna, as well as having the statue itself), and they exemplify the relationship between old and new collections (the photo of the Rugby plaque is from the old collection). There’s the allure of ‘big names’ like Eric Gill. Finally, there are questions raised – why a torn-up cheque? – that can only be answered by recourse to the papers themselves.
It is particularly gratifying that the majority of funding to acquire this important collection comes from the NHMF. The Fund has its roots in the National Land Fund, established by the then Chancellor, Hugh Dalton, himself a Kingsman and friend of Rupert Brooke, who established the fund as ‘a thank-offering for victory and a war-memorial’. The letters Hugh Dalton himself had received from Rupert Brooke, were bequeathed to King’s and form part of the College’s existing Brooke papers.