This article is taken from Stand 231, 19(3) September - November 2021.

Ruth Burton Order and ephemera in the Herbert Read Library

When Herbert Read returned to live in Yorkshire in 1949 he had been absent for nearly thirty years. He had left Leeds to join the First World War, and afterwards had become an increasingly important part of literary and artistic life in London. By the time he left the city he had co-founded the ICA and counted T.S. Eliot, Barbara Hepworth, Ben Nicholson and Henry Moore among his closest friends and collaborators.

Read brought back to Stonegrave in North Yorkshire an extensive collection of books: a priority concern for him in the home-making process. ‘[A]lthough we are by no means “straight,”’ he wrote to Bonamy Dobrée, ‘and some rooms remain untouched […] I have got most of my books onto shelves, and in some sort of order.’ 1

Read’s library is now housed in Leeds University Library’s Special Collections, and contains many rare items. There are presentation copies and first editions from avant-garde artists and writers, including Eliot, and one of the few advance copies of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Read’s interests were diverse, and books on poetry, psychoanalysis, politics, education and art vie for attention on the shelves. Crucially, the books remain in the order that they were placed on the shelves at Stonegrave. This makes the library of more interest than the sum of its individual volumes. The links between books, as Read himself grouped and used them have been retained.

Photograph of Read's library

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