Photographic portraits of Herbert Read
Image credit Leeds University Library

Recent cataloguing work has highlighted undiscovered gems in the Herbert Read archive.

Sir Herbert Edward Read (1893-1968) was an art historian, poet, literary critic, philosopher and anarchist. Born in Yorkshire, he lived at Stonegrave House near York for much of his life. He maintained a strong connection with the University of Leeds up until his death in 1968.

Special Collections acquired Read’s extensive library and much of his archive during the 1990s.  A lot of the material has been catalogued, but a series of files remained unlisted.

We were recently able to record this material due to generous support from the Strachey Trust.  An inventory of the contents of 84 boxes of archives was created, with records now available online.

The material discovered in this collection is exceptional. Letters, manuscripts and photographs show the extent of Read’s influence on artistic and literary life over many years.

Files cover key literary and artistic figures of the 20th century.  They include letters from people as diverse as E.M. Forster, Leonard Woolf & the Hogarth Press, T. S. Elliot, and Jon Silkin. There is also correspondence with artists Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Hans Richter and Naum Gabo.

The collection indicates how Read helped shape artistic and literary sensibilities at home and abroad. Letters from Peggy Guggenheim show Read encouraging her to bequeath her collection to the Tate, while correspondence with publishers highlights Read’s influence as an editor. A long series of letters from Bonamy Dobree (Professor of English Literature at Leeds, from 1936 to 1955) show Read’s prominence in the development of Gregory Fellowships at the University.

The Dobree correspondence covers the years 1925 – 1968 and is an important record of their relationship. The letters demonstrate, in great detail, their collaborative work on the London Book of English Verse (1953): evidence of the creation of a national literature in action.