Unknown memoir of Dylan Thomas to be exhibited

msdisplayswanmuseum

Image courtesy of Swansea Museum

Two manuscripts including a previously unknown memoir of Dylan Thomas are to be donated to the British Library after being exhibited at Swansea Museum. Professor John Goodby, of Swansea University, the leading authority on Dylan’s poetry, explains:

There are three items; a memoir, a short letter by Dylan Thomas, and a programme for a production of Under Milk Wood at Laugharne in 1961. The memoir is by Dr David Hughes, and the letter is a copy of a letter of 1950 from Dylan to his friend Phil Richards, the publican at the Cross House pub in Laugharne.

I was given them by Dr Charles Barber, a retired doctor who now lives in King’s Lynn. Charles was a student at Marlborough College Cambridge, and in 1960-61, his final year there, he became interested in Dylan Thomas. As a result, he promised to give a paper on Thomas to the Cambridge Literary Society in 1961, and wrote to his father, a friend of the Thomas’s family G.P., David Hughes, to ask for his help in obtaining information about the poet. David Hughes responded by sending Charles a 26-page memoir of Thomas and his family, handwritten in blue ink. Charles then forgot about it; not until he was at a Marlborough College reunion in 2015, 54 years later, when he got into a discussion about Dylan Thomas with Rowan Williams, another Marlborough man, did he recall having it. Rowan Williams told him he should give it to me.

Dr David Hughes was based in St Clears, and was a G.P. in the area for many years. Although Dylan Thomas’ father D. J. Thomas died in 1951, and Dylan himself in 1953, David Hughes seems to have remained their G.P. until after Caitlin and the children left Laugharne for Italy in 1957, and Thomas’s mother, Florence, died there in 1958. According to David N. Hughes’ Dylan Remembered, Vol. 2, his full name was David Mendelssohn Hughes, and he ‘was a man of learning and culture … a gifted painter’ as well as a doctor, who had friends that included Philip Burton, Richard Burton and Arthur Giardelli. His memoir resembles in several details the verbal account of the Thomases he gave to Colin Edwards, as transcribed by David M. Thomas in his book, but it is far more extensive and detailed.

The memoir details Hughes’s dealings with the Thomas family, and with Dylan’s alleged drinking and womanizing habits (he says the drinking in Laugharne was very small-scale and the womanizing non-existent). It has much to say about Dylan’s relationship with his parents, whom he brought to Laugharne, and about Caitlin, of whom David Hughes had a low opinion. It begins with recollections of Dylan, who the doctor at first thought was merely playing at being a genius, during his first sojourn in Laugharne in 1938-40, and the ‘flashingly attractive Titian-blonde’ Caitlin. It moves on to discuss the health of the family and tales about Dylan, whom by this time the doctor had grown to like a good deal, although he never mentions his writing. Hughes makes it clear that on a personal level he never got closer to Dylan than the patient-doctor relationship of professional respect, but he has many telling anecdotes and insights into his character and motivation. There is humour – the tale about Dylan’s acquisition and slaughter of a pig named ‘Wallis’, for example – but in general David Hughes finds Dylan a melancholy figure, suffering much on account of Caitlin.

The letter to Phil Richards (Thomas’s friend and the publican of the Cross House Inn, Laugharne), dated 8 November 1950, also mentions Wallis, along with Dylan’s forthcoming trip to Persia to write a film-script. The letter is referenced in the memoir, where David Hughes says the copy of it was made by his wife, Phyllis; he says nothing about the original, or how he had acquired a letter written by Dylan to Phil Richards. The letter is not included in either the 1985 or 2000 editions of the Collected Letters, and this may be the only record of it.

Opening page of David Hughes memoir-1

The items will be on display at Swansea Museum from May 4th until May 12th, and will then be presented to the British Library at a ceremony on May 13th. It is intended that the manuscripts will make a return journey to Swansea to be exhibited at the Dylan Thomas Centre during the 2017 Dylan Thomas Festival.

John Goodby edited and annotated the centenary edition of The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas, which will be published in paperback on May 12th, and launched at an event at The Wheatsheaf in Fitzrovia on International Dylan Thomas Day, May 14th. It is a ticketed event; invitations may be obtained from John at j.goodby@swansea.ac.uk

Click here for more information on International Dylan Thomas Day.

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