The death of the once-independent publishing firm Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd was an agonisingly slow one. First, for lack of means, it became a British subsidiary of the American giant Harcourt Brace. Then, in 1963, Harcourt Brace, dissatisfied with its acquisition, sold it on to Granada. For a while, Hart-Davis stayed on as a director. But his opinions and even his presence were so rarely sought that, increasingly chagrined and humiliated, he eventually quit. Having done so, he wrote to his close friend Edmund Blunden: 'I'm not really au fond a publisher at all . . . I'm really some sort of literary bloke, who likes reading, ferreting, compiling, classifying.'
In making that assessment, he was, uncharacteristically, selling himself short. But he was stating a basic truth. For all the distinction of his list, he was not a natural publisher like, say, Jonathan Cape, with whom he served his apprenticeship, or Hamish ('Jamie') Hamilton, who was a life-long friend. What came