The most satisfying room I know is in a Gloucestershire farmhouse. It is neither large nor imposing, but it has quiet perfection. Over the course of thirty years, at auctions and gallery openings, in shops in country towns and markets in London, my friend Ursula has bought paintings and objects that appeal to her. They are not rare or costly, but they chime with one another in finely attuned harmony.
I have been thinking a lot of Ursula’s sitting room, and of the Frick museum in New York, and of Derek Jarman’s garden at Dungeness. Each of them is the sure and coherent expression of an individual’s unhampered choices. Subjective taste in the hang of pictures or the planting of gardens always seems to me more rewarding than a didactic, conscientiously even-handed, impersonally curated display. It’s no different with another type of collector and arranger, the literary anthologist – something very much on my mind at the moment as I put the finishing touches to my own anthology.
Clare Bucknell’s The Treasuries: Poetry Anthologies and the Making of British Culture, which I reviewed for this magazine in February, reminded me why I prefer anthologies that, like Jarman’s garden, make a personal testament. Auden’s A Certain World (1970), for example, is a bewitching autobiography of taste and