An article by Paul Jarman in this week’s TLS notes the difficulty in getting through the myths to the facts of Edward Thomas’s life.
He discusses Matthew Hillis’s very readable Now All Roads Lead to France and its:
conventionally unpropitious assessment of Thomas’s pre-poetry, bread-and-butter compositions: Thomas despised the substandard wherever he encountered it: in the anointed, in his peers, but most especially he despised it in himself. For when he was not sharpening his mind on the reviewing he did for a living, he was blunting it again through the commissions that were beneath his talents: endless and often aimless prose measured out by the page to fulfil his contractual obligations.
The conventional picture of pre-war Thomas is as an intellectual forced by the market into hack writing, and making a living through commissions undertaken unwillingly.
It’s surprising, therefore, to see the official record of Thomas’s probate in 1917:
A century ago £983 was a considerable amount of money. If this was cash that Thomas had access to while alive, he was far from penurious. Do we need to look for a different explanation for his spending his talents on unpropitious commissions like the life of Marlborough? Maybe Jean Moorcroft Wilson will explain more about this complicated man in her forthcoming biography, which will probably give a fuller account of Thomas’s rather dismal Grub Street years.