Edward Marsh (polymath)

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Sir Edward Howard Marsh KCVO CB CMG (18 November 1872[1] – 13 January 1953) was a British polymath, translator, arts patron and civil servant. He was the sponsor of the Georgian school of poets and a friend to many poets, including Rupert Brooke and Siegfried Sassoon. In his career as a civil servant he worked as Private Secretary to a succession of Great Britain's most powerful ministers, particularly Winston Churchill. He was a discreet but influential figure within Britain's homosexual community.[2][3]

Early life

Marsh's father was (Frederick) Howard Marsh, a surgeon and later Master of Downing College, Cambridge. His mother, born Jane Perceval, was a granddaughter of prime minister Spencer Perceval. Jane, a nurse, was one of the founders of the Alexandra Hospital for Children with Hip Disease; Howard was a surgeon at the hospital. Marsh was educated at Westminster School, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge,[1] where he studied classics under Arthur Woollgar Verrall. He was a Cambridge Apostle.

Career as a civil servant

Edward Marsh (standing) together with Winston Churchill during an African journey in 1907.

In 1896 he was appointed Assistant Private Secretary to Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary. When Chamberlain resigned in 1903, Marsh became private secretary to his successor, Alfred Lyttelton. When Winston Churchill became Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1905 during Henry Campbell-Bannerman's first Government, Marsh became Churchill's Private Secretary, beginning an association and friendship that would last through Marsh's death. Marsh would be Churchill's Private Secretary for the next ten years, until Churchill left the Government in 1915. As Randolph Churchill put it, from December 1905, "Marsh was to accompany Churchill to every Government department he occupied: to the Board of Trade, the Home Office, the Admiralty, the Duchy of Lancaster, the Ministry of Munitions, the War Office, back to his original Colonial Office and the Treasury."[4] These moves were somewhat irregular as Marsh remained, until 1937, officially a clerk at the Colonial Office, but many exceptions were made, possibly at a cost to Marsh's official advancement.

When Churchill left government for the first time in 1915, Marsh became Assistant Private Secretary to Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, in which position he served until the fall of Asquith's government in December 1916. When Churchill returned to government as Minister of Munitions in 1916, Marsh joined him there as Private Secretary and worked in that position, through successive departments, until the fall of David Lloyd George's Coalition Government in 1922. When Churchill became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924, Marsh joined him there as Private Secretary and remained at the Treasury until the fall of Stanley Baldwin's second government in 1929, when Marsh was returned to work at the Colonial Office. He then served as Private Secretary to every Secretary of State for the Colonies from 1929 until his retirement in 1937. Marsh was knighted upon his retirement, becoming Sir Edward Marsh.

Literary career

A classical scholar and translator, Marsh edited five anthologies of Georgian Poetry between 1912 and 1922, and he became Rupert Brooke's literary executor, editing his Collected Poems in 1918. Later in life he published verse translations of La Fontaine and Horace, and a translation of Fromentin's novel, "Dominique".

The sales of the first three Georgian Poetry anthologies were impressive, ranging between 15,000 and 19,000 copies apiece.[5] Marsh and the critic J. C. Squire were the group's most important patrons, and it was in Marsh's London rooms that Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke met for the first and only time, in June 1914.[6] In 1931, he won a literary contest with a new stanza for Paradise Lost, which repairs the omission of how "Adam and Eve Brush Their Teeth". His Ambrosia and Small Beer appeared in 1964, recording a correspondence with Christopher Hassall.[7]

Marsh was also a consistent collector and supporter of the works of the avant-garde artists Mark Gertler, Duncan Grant, David Bomberg and Paul Nash, all of whom were also associated with the Bloomsbury Group.[8]

In addition to his work editing Churchill's writing while the latter was in or out of government, Marsh introduced Siegfried Sassoon to Churchill as a means of aiding the former's career. He was also a close friend of Ivor Novello. In 1939, he produced A Number of People, a memoir of his life and times containing his memories of those writers and politicians with whom he had associated.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "The Papers of Sir Edward Marsh". Janus. Cambridge University.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Taylor, John Russell. "A Neglected Painter". Apollo. Retrieved 25 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Motion, Andrew (13 November 2010). "Strange Meetings: The Poets of the Great War by Harry Ricketts – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 25 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Churchill, Randolph. Winston S. Churchill: Young Statesman 1901–1914. (c) 1967 C&T Publications, Ltd.: p. 110
  5. Copp, Michael (2013). "Siegfried Sassoon, Modernity and Modernism". Siegfried's Journal. Siegfried Sassoon Fellowship. 23 (Winter): 7–12. |access-date= requires |url= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Siegfried Sassoon, The Weald of Youth (Faber, 1942)
  7. Ambrosia and Small Beer: the record of a correspondence between Edward Marsh and Christopher Hassall (London: Longmans, 1964)
  8. Butlin, M. (1960). "Edward Marsh, Patron of the Arts: A Biography". The Burlington Magazine. 102 (686): 218–219.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • E.Marsh, "A Number of People" (1939)
  • Eddie Marsh – Sketches for a Composite Literary Portrait ...Compiled by Christopher Hassall and Denis Mathews (1953)
  • Edward Marsh Patron of the Arts A Biography By Christopher Hassall" (1959)
  • "Ambrosia And Small Beer The Record of a Correspondence Between Edward Marsh And Christopher Hassall" (1964)
  • Gilbert, Martin.Winston S. Churchill: The Challenge of War 1914–1916.(c) 1971 C&T Publications, Ltd.
  • Gilbert, Martin.Winston S. Churchill: The Stricken World 1916–1922.(c) 1975 C&T Publications, Ltd., etc.

External links