New R.S.Thomas Manuscripts for University Collection
The tenth anniversary of the R.S. Thomas Study Centre at Bangor University has been marked by two major acquisitions. The Centre has acquired a large collection of manuscripts and typescripts, including much unpublished material, from the estate of the late Peter Jollife, a prominent collector of modern literary books and manuscripts.
“This is a major addition to the Centre’s already substantial holdings”, said Professor Tony Brown, one of the Centre’s co-directors.
“This was the most significant collection of R.S. Thomas material still in private hands, built up over many years, and we are grateful for the support of the Archive and the University in our acquiring it. The collection includes handwritten drafts of poems which date from the beginning of Thomas’s career, as well as later work. There are also a number of prose pieces, including the manuscript of a series of unpublished short stories, some of which are illustrated by Thomas’s wife, the artist Elsi Eldridge. We are also delighted that the new collection includes three charcoal drawings of R.S. by Elsi, two of them from the 1940s, about the time that they got married. Amusingly, there is also a newspaper clipping showing R.S. in rugby kit, as part of a local rugby team at Wrexham, when he was a curate!“
Earlier in the year the Centre also acquired a substantial collection of books from R.S. Thomas’s personal library, when the poet’s last home, at Pentrefelin was sold by the family of his second wife, Betty Vernon. Amongst the books are R.S. Thomas’s copies of the work of a number of poets who influenced his own poetry, including the work of American poets like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens. There is also a copy of The Great Hunger, by the Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh, which has been acknowledged as contributing to the evolution of Thomas’s portrayal of the Welsh hill farms in his early work and the creation of the recurring figure of Iago Prytherch.
“It is always fascinating to have access to the personal library of a writer”, said Professor Brown, “to confirm what they were reading at a particular time. Thomas was not an extensive annotator of his books—unfortunately—but there are some interesting marginal comments in some of his books on theology and of science.”
The acquisition of material by Elsi Eldridge also adds to the Centre’s collection of her work, as painter and illustrator, including two handwritten journals, sketchbooks and many drawings. This material formed the basis for a recent television programme on her life for which Dr Jason Walford Davies of the University’s School of Welsh and co-director of the R.S. Thomas Centre, was the main contributor and academic adviser. The programme, Pwy Oedd Mrs. R.S. Thomas? [Who was Mrs. R.S. Thomas?], included a showing of the painter’s major work, “The Dance of Life”, a huge mural on six canvas frames, which was originally commissioned for the hospital at Gobowen, but which has been hidden away in a store for many years.
Dr Jason Walford Davies said: “This is a major work of art, one of the most significant post-War achievements in British painting. It is a great shame that such a magnificent work is not publically on show in Wales. This work, empasising the importance of the life of the natural world and the dangers of modern technology, also shows what is evident in other work and writing by Elsi: that she had a considerable influence on the thinking and writing of her husband, especially in his attitudes to the countryside and the environment”.
Among recent donations to the Centre are the letters-152 in all-sent by R.S. Thomas over the course of half a century to the distinguished poet and critic Raymond Garlick. (This correspondence has recent been edited by Dr. Walford Davies and published by Gomer Press.) The acquisition of these substantial collections confirm the Centre’s major position in the study of R.S. Thomas’s work; amongst numerous visiting scholars from across the UK and abroad, the Centre recently hosted an extended visit from Ms Cheng Jia, from Jinan University, China, who has translated Thomas’s poetry into Chinese.
Image 1: A clip from a local newspaper showing a team of rugby playing clergy - including a young R.S.Thomas
Image 2: A sketch of R.S. Thomas by Elsi Eldridge
Publication date: 19 September 2011