Seamus Perry

Read or Dead

Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame


Yale University Press 294pp £20 order from our bookshop

Like many impecunious university students, I concocted clever fantasies for making money some day. One of my brightest notions was to buy up the works of an author which, though currently unfashionable and therefore cheap, were bound to come into renewed favour soon and so shoot up in value. The author in whom I principally placed my financial hopes was, for reasons I cannot now recall, Sir Herbert Read, an eminent man of letters in the middle part of the 20th century: art critic, literary commentator, editor, general man of ideas. Perhaps I chose him because he wrote such a lot. For many years he was ubiquitous, ever ready to produce a preface or think piece when called upon: a joke that did the rounds of literary London in the 1930s was that a new edition of the Bible had been published with an introduction by Herbert Read.

Although driven chiefly by mercenary cunning, I did look at the volumes I was picking up for pennies in Blackwell’s and Thornton’s, and a lot of it turned out actually to be good. Read did a real service in introducing the British public

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