British Civil Servant and Patron of the Arts
Born 1872 Died 1953

Early Life

Edward Howard Marsh was born at Knightsbridge in London on the 18th November 1872, the second child and only son of Frederick Howard Marsh, and his first wife, Jane. Edward's father was an eminent surgeon who later became the Professor of Surgery at Cambridge University; his mother was the grand-daughter of Spencer Perceval the former British Prime Minister, who later became a nurse and founded the Alexander Hospital for Children with Hip Disease.

Marsh attended a day-school in Guildford Street before being sent to Westminster School as a boarder at the age of ten. From there he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he obtained first classes in both parts of the classical tripos and won the senior Chancellor's medal in 1895. At Cambridge he was a member of the Apostles and formed a close friendship with both G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, as well as Edmund Gosse, who introduced him to his literary circle in London. But it was through his connection to Oswald Sickert, editor of the Cambridge Observer, that his first forays into literary criticism appeared in print and he won a name for himself as one of the early champions of Henrik Ibsen.

The Civil Servant

On leaving Cambridge in 1896 Edward became a junior clerk in the Australian department at the Colonial Office and where he later became assistant private secretary to Joseph Chamberlain and later Alfred Lyttelton. By the end of 1905 Edward had risen to the status of a first-class clerk and was working at the West African department. It was at this point that Edward was approached by Winston Churchill (recently appointed as parliamentary under-secretary for the colonies), and invited to become his private secretary.

There followed a period of some twenty-three years during which Edward was closely associated with Churchill and followed him to the Board of Trade (1908–1910), the Home Office (1910–1911), the Admiralty (1911–15), and then briefly the Duchy of Lancaster until November 1915. For a brief period in the years 1915 to 1916 Edward worked for H.H. Asquith, but returned to Churchill's side at the Ministry of Munitions (1917-1919), the War office (1919–21), the Colonial Office (1921-1924) and the Treasury (1924–1929).

It was only the defeat of the Conservative Party in the 1929 General Election that ended his association with Churchill, after which Edward moved to the Dominions Office where he worked first for J. H. Thomas between 1929 and 1935 and then for Malcolm MacDonald from 1935 to 1937. After a distinguished career Edward retired from the civil service in 1937 at the age of sixty-five and was honoured by being as appointed KCVO.

Patron of the Arts

Throughout his life Edward Marsh was "a deeply instructed champion of the arts" as Churchill was to remark. Edward's artistic interests were partly finances by what he called his "murder money": Edward was a Perceval on his mother's side and following the death of an uncle in 1903, he inherited one-sixth of what remained of the money granted to the Perceval family in 1812 in compensation for the assasination of Spencer Perceval.

Marsh began collecting pictures soon after he began work in the Civil Service. He initially relied on the guidance of Neville Lytton, but branched out on his own in December 1911 and bought a painting by Duncan Grant from the Carfax Gallery run by Robert Ross. Marsh soon became a keen collector of contemporary British painting, acquiring works by such artists as John Currie, Mark Gertler, John and Paul Nash, and Stanley Spencer. By the year 1914 he had built up one of the most comprehensive collections of modern work in private hands which covered almost every inch of the available wall space of his flat at Number 5 Raymond Buildings at Gray's Inn in London which remained his home until 1940.

Edward Marsh had met the poet Rupert Brooke in Cambridge in 1906 and remained a close friend afterwards. In 1912 his critical essay in the Poetry Review on the work of Rupert Brooke brought Edward to the attention of Harold Monro who ran Monro's Poetry Bookshop in London. Since Brooke had already suggested the idea of compiling an anthology of modern verse, it was put to Munro that he might wish to publish such a book and the first volume of Georgian Poetry appeared in December 1912. This naturally included the work of Rupert Brooke together with other poets such as James Flecker, Lascelles Abercrombie, Gordon Bottomley, W. H. Davies, Walter de la Mare, and D. H. Lawrence.

Marsh later edited a a further four volumes in this series which in 1917 introduced the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, and Robert Nichols and helped establish what is known as the Georgian school of poets. Rupert Brooke was killed in the war and Edward also edited Brooke's Collected Poems of 1918 which included his own memoir of the poet, whilst he also acted as Brooke's literary executor from 1915 until 1934. He also had a taste for musical comedy and liked to attend the first-nights of the latest West End shows. In this way he came to know Ivor Novello and even installed a piano at Raymond Buildings so that Novello could compose undisturbed. (And rovided the lyrics for the song The Land of Might Have Been (1924) under the name of Edward Moore.

Later Life

Following his retirement in 1937 Edward Marsh became a trustee of the Tate Gallery and a governor of the Old Vic Theatre and was also active in both the Contemporary Art Society and the Royal Society of Literature. He wrote a memoir of his life, A Number of People in 1939 and having earlier produced a translation of the Fables of La Fontaine in 1931 he completed a translation of the Odes of Horace in 1941. He also worked as a proof reader for Winston Churchill and Somerset Maugham. Edward Marsh died on the 13th January 1953 at his flat at Walton Street, Knightsbridge in London.


Non fiction



C. V. Hassall, ‘Marsh, Sir Edward Howard (1872–1953)’, rev. Mark Pottle, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Edward Marsh,

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