Sir Herbert Read Biography

Sir Herbert Edward Read (1893–1968) was an English anarchist, poet, and critic of literature and art. He was one of the earliest English writers to take notice of existentialism, and was strongly influenced by proto-existentialist thinker Max Stirner.

Early life

The son of a farmer, Read was born at Muscoates near Nunnington, about four miles south of Kirkbymoorside in the North Riding of Yorkshire. His studies at the University of Leeds were interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War, during which he served with the Green Howards in France. He received the Military Cross and the Distinguished Service Order, and reached the rank of captain. During the war, Read founded the journal Arts and Letters with Frank Rutter, one of the first literary periodicals to publish work by T. S. Eliot.

Early work

Read's first volume of poetry was Songs of Chaos, self-published in 1915. His second collection, published in 1919, was called Naked Warriors, and drew on his experiences fighting in the trenches of the First World War. His work, which shows the influence of Imagism and of the Metaphysical poets was mainly in free verse. His Collected Poems, appeared in 1946. As a critic of literature, Read mainly concerned himself with the English Romantic poets (e.g., The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry, 1953) but was also a close observer of imagism. He published a novel, The Green Child. He contributed to the Criterion (1922–1939) and he was for many years a regular art critic for the Listener.

While W. B. Yeats chose many poets of the Great War generation for The Oxford Book of Modern Verse (1936), Read arguably stood out among his peers by virtue of the 17-page excerpt (nearly half of the entire work) of his The End of a War (Faber & Faber, 1933).

Read was also interested in the art of writing. He cared deeply about style and structure and summarized his views in English Prose Style (1928) a primer on, and a philosophy of, good writing. The book is considered one of the best on the foundations of the English language, and how those foundations can be and have been used to write English with elegance and distinction.