The papers of Herbert Read

Item author: Herbert Read
Item date: c1900-1958
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £20,000
Item date acquired: 2018
Item institution: Leeds University, Brotherton Library
Town/City: Leeds
County: West Yorkshire

Herbert Read studied at the University of Leeds, during which time his passion for art and literature flourished at the Leeds Arts Club. He went straight from the University to fight in World War I, emerging in 1918 as a decorated hero (DSO, MC), committed pacifist and published poet. His reputation as a poet and critic grew in post-war London, and he made lifelong friendships with leading writers, above all TS Eliot. As a curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum, he published widely, on literature, art history and the contemporary visual arts. He renewed his involvement with the University in the 1950s by helping to establish the Gregory Fellowships, forming the distinguished appointing committee with his friends TS Eliot and Henry Moore.

The Brotherton Library acquired Read's 14,000-volume library and a proportion of his archive from his family in 1996 (generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund). It includes many items with unique personal associations and numerous rarities, and includes the manuscript of his only novel The Green Child.

The papers acquired with the support of the Friends of National Libraries supplement and enrich the existing holdings of the Brotherton Library, extending the chronological scope of the collection. Significantly, this acquisition covers the Great War and the growth of the relationship between Herbert Read and Margaret Read (over a decade later), as well as documenting the close friendship with T S Elliot. Letters from Barbara Hepworth are included.  Of primary importance are the letters exchanged (approximately 200) between Herbert Read and Margaret Ludwig.  The majority date from 1931-1933 between their first meeting in Edinburgh and their elopement to London.  There are letters from Read running to a dozen pages of autobiographical musings and revelation.  Some letters include holograph poems about her, or drafts of other poems.  Read writes to his uncle Ernest during the Great War.  In 1916 he writes of being at Ypres where he was injured; when war ends he won’t go back to Leeds but will study art in London and Paris.  “But it isn’t much good saying what one will do when one is not very sure of being there to do it.” 

The Treasures of the Brotherton Library Gallery hosted an artist’s event in June 2018 to mark 50 years since the death of Herbert Read at which the new acquisition was publicised. Artist Stephen Sutcliffe has been commissioned to create a new work as part of an exhibition being curated in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery (opening September 2019). The exhibition draws on items from this new archive collection alongside Herbert Read’s library.  The collection, exhibition and associated events will coincide with the Yorkshire Sculpture International. We are actively fundraising for the cataloguing of the collection and a network of academics at the University of Leeds are actively incorporating the collection in teaching and research.

Selection of papers from the archive.
Selection of papers from the archive. Courtesy of the Brotherton Library.