Piers Paul Read      

Poet, Knight, Anarchist


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     When my father, Herbert Read, died in 1968 my mother had inscribed on his grave stone the words ‘Poet, Knight, Anarchist’.  The words reflected how she thought he would liked to be remembered rather than the reality of his reputation at the time.  That came from his writings on art.  He was ‘the apostle of modernism’ who had defended cubism, surrealism and abstraction against the scorn of his philistine fellow-countrymen.  In his lifetime he wrote more than 50 books and countless essays, lectures, prefaces and reviews on anarchism, syndicalism, poetry, psychoanalysis, education, design but above all on modern art. 
     During my childhood in North Yorkshire in the 1950s, most of our neighbours in Yorkshire still thought that all modern art was tosh.  If they respected my father, it was not for his reputation as a poet, art critic or anarchist theorist but for the decorations he had received for gallantry in World War I.  They themselves liked to be addressed according to the rank they had held in the army unless, of course, there was a peerage or a baronetcy in the family: thus it was Captain Egerton, Major Tetley, Colonel Slingsby, Brigadier Heathcoat-Amory; but Sir William Worsley, Sir Martyn Beckett and Lord Feversham.  A few called my father Captain Read when he returned to live in Yorkshire in 1948.  When he was knighted ‘for services to literature’ in 1952 he became ‘Sir Herbert’ and my mother, of course, ‘Lady Read’.