Herbert Read

Other names: 

Sir Herbert Edward Read

Date of birth: 
04 Dec 1893
City of birth: 
Muscoates Grange
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
12 Jun 1968
Location of death: 
Stonegrave House, Yorkshire

Herbert Read was born on 4 December 1893 at Muscoates Grange Farm in Yorkshire. In 1912, he studied law and economics at Leeds University. From 1915, he served in the army and was promoted to captain by the end of the First World War. After the war he became a convinced pacifist.

While on leave in London during the War, he came into contact with key figures of London’s literary and artistic circles such as T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. After 1918, he continued his career as a poet and literary critic. From 1923 he contributed regularly to T. S. Eliot’s journal Criterion. He published with Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press and became literary adviser to Heinemann and Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1937.

In the 1930s, Read befriended Mulk Raj Anand and, according to Anand’s Conversations in Bloomsbury (1981), the two of them met with Eric Gill and Stanley Morrison to talk about art. Anand describes Read thus: ‘strikingly tall, with tousled hair, sallow face, mongoloid high cheekbones, and soft shy eyes’ (p.112).

Read also befriended M. J. Tambimuttu, the founder-editor of Poetry London. Read contributed to the first edition of Poetry London (1939), Tambimuttu’s Poetry in Wartime (1942) and to the Festschrift for Marianne Moore’s Seventy-Seventh Birthday (1964), edited by Tambimuttu.

By the 1950s and 60s, Read had established himself as a renowned critic on literature and the arts, his reputation resting on several major works. He died on 12 June 1968.

Published works: 

Selected Works:

Art and Alienation: The Role of the Artist in Society (London: Thames and Hudson, [1907])

Songs of Chaos (London: Elki, Mathews, 1915)

Eclogues: A Book of Poems (Westminster: Cyril W. Beaumont, 1919)

Naked Warriors (London: Art & Letters, 1919)

Mutations of the Phoenix (Richmond: L. and V. Woolf, 1923)

In Retreat (London: L. & V. Woolf, 1925)

English Prose Style (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1928)

Phases of English Poetry (London: L. & V. Woolf, 1928)

The Sense of Glory: Essays in Criticism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929)

Ambush (London: Faber and Faber, 1930)

The London Book of English Prose (London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1931) (with Bonamy Dobree)

The Meaning of Art (London: Faber & Faber, 1931)

The Place of Art in a University (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1931)

Form in Modern Poetry (London: Sheed and Ward, 1932)

Art Now: An Introducton to the Theory of Modern Painting and Sculpture (London: Faber and Faber, 1933)

The Innocent Eye (London: Faber and Faber, 1933)

Art and Industry (London: Faber and Faber, 1934)

Henry Moore, Sculptor: An Appreciation (London: A. Zwemmer, 1934)

Unit One: The Modern Movement in English Architecture, Painting and Sculpture (London: Cassell, 1934)

Essential Communism (London: Stanley Nott, 1935)

Art and Society (London: Faber and Faber, 1936)

Surrealism (London: Faber and Faber, 1936)

Annals of Innocence and Experience (London: Faber, 1940)

English Master Painters (London: Kegan Paul, 1940)

The Philosophy of Anarchism (London: Freedom Press, 1940)

Education Through Art (London: Faber and Faber, 1943)

The Politics of the Unpolitical (London: Routledge, 1943)

The Education of Free Men (London: Freedom Press, 1944)

A World Within a War: Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1944)

The Grass Roots of Art (London: Lindsay Drummond, 1947)

Existentialism, Marxism and Anarchism ([s.n.]: [s.n.], 1949)

The London Book of English Verse (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1949) (with Bonamy Dobree)

Education for Peace (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1950)

Art and the Evolution of Man (London: Freedom Press, 1951)

Byron (London: Longmans, 1951)

The True Voice of Feeling (London: Faber and Faber, 1953)

Icon and Idea: The Function of Art in the Development of Human Consciousness (London: Faber and Faber, 1955)

The Art of Sculpture (London: Faber and Faber, 1956)

Truth is More Sacred (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1961) (with Edward Dahlberg)

The Contrary Experience: Autobiographies (London: Faber and Faber, 1963)

Eric Gill: An Essay (Berkeley Heights, NJ: Oriole Press, 1963)

Henry Moore: A Study of His Life and Work (London: Thames and Hudson, 1965)

The Origins of Form in Art (London: Thames and Hudson, 1965)

The Redemption of the Robot; My Encounter with Education Through Art (New York: Trident Press, 1966)

The Cult of Sincerity (London: Faber, 1968)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Art & Letters

Burlington Magazine


New Age

Poetry London

The Listener


Secondary works: 

Anand, Mulk Raj, Conversations in Bloomsbury (London: Wildwood House, 1981)

Berry, Francis, Herbert Read (London: Longmans, 1953)

Bluemel, Kristin, George Orwell and the Radical Eccentrics: Intermodernism in Literary London (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004)

City of Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, A Tribute to Herbert Read, 1893-1968: An Exhibition in Conjunction with the 1975 Ilkley Literature Festival, The Manor House, Ilkley, 25 May-22 June 1975 (Bradford: Bradford Art Galleries and Museums, 1975)

Harrod, Tanya, 'Read, Sir Herbert Edward (1893-1968)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/35695]

King, James, The Last Modern: A Life of Herbert Read (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1990)

Kinross, Robin, 'Herbert Read's Art and History: A History', Journal of Design History 1 (1980), pp. 35-50

Paraskos, Michael, Reading Read: New Views on Herbert Read (London: Freedom Press, 2007)

Read, Benedict, and Thistlewood, David, Herbert Read: A British Vision of World Art (Leeds: Leeds City Art Galleries in Association with the Henry Moore Foundation and Lund Humphries, London, 1993)

Skelton, Robin, Herbert Read: A Memorial Symposium (London: Methuen, 1970)

Thistlewood, David, Herbert Read: Formlessness and Form: An Introduction to His Aesthetics (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984)

Varadachari, C. D., The Literary Criticism of Sir Herbert Read (Tirupati: Sri Venkateswara University, 1990)

Woodcock, George, Herbert Read: The Stream and the Source (London: Faber, 1972)

Archive source: 

Correspondence and literary papers, Historical Manuscripts Commission, National Register of Archives

Correspondence and papers, University of Toronto

University of Victoria, British Columbia

Correspondence with Monty Belgion, Churchill College, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge

Correspondence with James Hanley, Liverpool Record Office and Local Studies Service

Correspondence with Lord Russell and Lady Russell, William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario

Correspondence with Lord Clark, Margaret Nash, Lady Norton and relating to Unit One, Tate Collection

Letters to George Bell & Sons, University of Reading Library

Letters to E. Finlay, Victoria and Albert Museum National Art Library, London

Letters to Naum Gabo and his wife, Beinecke Library, Yale University

Performance recordings, National Sound Archive, British Library