Sir Rupert Hart-Davis was a gentleman-publisher, author, editor and bibliophile. It has been said that nobody of Hart-Davis’s generation was so much at the heart of the English literary scene as he was. His careers in publishing, editing and writing spanned nearly six decades.
Sir Rupert started in publishing as an office boy at the publishing house of William Heinemann Ltd. in London in 1929. He later bought a stake in Jonathan Cape Ltd., which he joined as a director in 1933. He founded his own publishing company, Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd., in 1946. The company published books such as Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, which was dedicated to Sir Rupert, and Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet. The company became part of Heinemann, later being sold and sold again to other firms. Sir Rupert left it in 1968.
Sir Rupert had a second and even more prolific career as an editor and writer. He was the literary executor for authors Edmund Blunden, Sir Max Beerbohm, Sir Hugh Walpole, and the poet, Siegfried Sassoon. He edited a number of volumes of their letters, diaries and poems. Sir Rupert wrote a biography of Hugh Walpole (1952) and a memoir titled The Arms of Time in 1979. He also published six volumes of his own correspondence with George Lyttleton, his former housemaster at Eton.
Sir Rupert retired from publishing to live and write surrounded by his books in Yorkshire. A voracious collector of books, he amassed a library of more than 17,000 volumes, including the Hart-Davis publishing archives. His son, Duff Hart-Davis said, in speaking of Sir Rupert’s books in 1994, “…they are his life…” Sir Rupert Hart-Davis died in 1999 at the age of 92.
The Rupert Hart-Davis Library was acquired by TU from Sir Rupert in 1983. The University took possession of the materials in December 1999 upon his death.
Sir Rupert collected widely, with volumes dated as early as the 17th century, and many published in the 19th century. Almost half of the titles indicate a copyright date from 1900 through 1960. Many of the volumes contain inscriptions and notes reflecting warm relationships with 20th century authors.
A common practice of Sir Rupert’s was to place letters, newspaper clippings and other ephemera into books. Hundreds of letters were removed from the books by Lady Hart-Davis as the strain on the bindings increased, and hundreds of other letters, clippings and notes have been removed from volumes by McFarlin catalogers. A few of the authors whose correspondence is represented include Rebecca West, W. Somerset Maugham, Edmund Wilson, and Richard Ellmann.
The library includes a collection of novels and personal correspondence of Edmund Blunden, an English writer who is best known for his World War I memoir Undertones of War. The library also holds a substantial manuscript collection from such authors as Sir Hugh Walpole (manuscripts of four of his novels and his Book of Prefaces), Henry James, W. B. Yeats, George Moore, letters from T. S. Eliot, caricatures by Sir Max Beerbohm, and many Siegfried Sassoon letters.
– Kay Calkins