The Man Who Enjoyed Everything

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If Sir Edward Marsh appears in a few literary reference books, it is as the editor of five anthologies of Georgian poetry published between 1911 and 1922, the idea for which came from Rupert Brooke. As Brooke said, they ‘went up like a rocket’; ‘Yes, and came down like a stick,’ Marsh ruefully recalled. But his name pops up unexpectedly – usually just as ‘Eddie’ – in many memoirs and biographies of twentieth-century figures from Henry James to Ivor Novello, Somerset Maugham to David Cecil, D. H. to T. E. Lawrence. And he was for a quarter of a century the close friend and assistant of Winston Churchill.

He had an enormous talent for friendship, a lesser talent for discretion, and a love of a good story – displayed almost relentlessly in his memoir A Number of People, which came out in 1939. I bought my copy at least fifty years ago, from the tray outside Sheila Ramage’s wonderful bookshop just along the street in Notting Hill. It’s still marked 1/6, in pencil, and was certainly second-hand, if not third- or fourth-. The cover fell off on the way home. Did I really want it? Always a sucker for a good anecdote, it didn’t take me long to decide.

Born in 1872, the son of a surgeon who became Master of Downing College, Cambridge, Eddie was fortunate in his mother, who read to him incessantly – he heard all the Waverley novels and all the major novels of Dickens between the ages of 10 and 12. He had a brilliant career at Cambridge, during which he excelled in Latin and Greek, passing the time while waiting for the papers to be turned out on the morning of an examination by making an elegant Latin translation of Wordsworth’s sonnet on Westminster Bridge.

He went into the Civil Service, and worked as a Private Secretary to a succession of Britain’s most powerful ministers, beginning with Joseph Chamberlain. Much of his career was spent with Churchill, following him to every department he occupied until 1929. He got on a

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About the contributor

Derek Parker now lives in Sydney, walking the dogs, enjoying not having to chip ice off the car windscreen, and waiting eagerly for the next issue of Slightly Foxed to suggest new reading matter.

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