This short letter (left), on the face of it, has little connection with Siegfried Sassoon. However, the writer, Sir Edward (Eddie) Marsh, Arts Patron, poetry publisher and private secretary to Winston Churchill among others (right, at Raymond Buildings), who Sassoon first met in 1913, was enormously influential in furthering Sassoon’s career as a poet. The letter is written on Marsh's headed notepaper with his printed address 5, Raymond Buildings, Grays Inn, (London). While visiting Marsh at his flat in 1913 Sassoon declared that he wanted to move away from his family home ‘Weirleigh’ in Kent, where he lived an aimless life with his mother, and Marsh immediately suggested he move to London. He told Sassoon that there was a vacant flat in Raymond Buildings he could rent, and with initial surprise turning to excitement at the thought, Sassoon decided to do just that. In early May 1914 Sassoon moved into 1, Raymond Buildings, but had either of them thought too much about it they would have soon concluded that Sassoon could not afford to rent a London flat on the £400 a year income he was receiving (he had not yet inherited his aunt’s large fortune). By the end of July, after reality had set in, he had moved back to Weirleigh.
The letter begins “Jean dear,” who I think was Jean Untermeyer, the wife of Louis Untermeyer who wrote a glowing review of Sassoon’s poems published in Marsh’s book, ‘Georgian Poetry 1916-1917.’ Untermeyer also wrote positive reviews of Sassoon’s books, The Old Huntsman and Counter-Attack, and also arranged for Sassoon’s work to be published in America.
The P.S. at the bottom of the letter is the most interesting part: “I had a lovely Sunday at Redroofs, to celebrate my first weekend of freedom.” Redroofs, at Littlewick Green near Maidenhead, was the home of the composer and actor Ivor Novello, he lived there with his lover, the actor Robert Andrews. In October 1924 Sassoon began a relationship with Novello, ending in the following February. This was a bruising and painful affair, so much so that Sassoon destroyed his diary entries for this period. Marsh would also become infatuated with Novello which probably explains his ‘enjoyable’ visit to Redroofs. The house was a regular meeting place for homosexual men at that time. Marsh was probably homosexual although it is still not certain if he ever engaged in its physical aspects.
Marsh retired from the civil service in February 1937 and his biography states that he spent his first free weekend at Redroofs. This letter dated February 16th was without doubt written on that occasion in 1937. The only biography ever written about Marsh (centre), by his long term partner, Christopher Hassall, is as we might expect, quite ‘selective.’ Let’s be kind and say it requires updating. Hassall published the biography in 1959 so presumably had to be very careful about mentioning the sexual side of Marsh's story as homosexuality was still illegal then.