The sale of Siegfried Sassoon’s library by his son George has been described as a tragedy. Rupert Hart-Davis and Geoffrey Keynes both believed that George had committed a grave mistake and Siegfried’s books ought to have been kept together as a single entity for posterity; looked after no doubt, by one or the other of them.
Sassoon’s library consisted of a huge number of valuable (and not so valuable) books, including first editions, limited editions and signed editions. Many were his own which formed the biggest part of his bibliography, but there were many from other writers, including signed association copies, sent to him by his many famous friends and acquaintances.
When George inherited Heytesbury House after his father died, he was presented with a huge repair bill as it had been neglected for many years and had fallen into disrepair. There had been a flood at one point; probably a leaking roof or burst water pipe, and a large number of Sassoon’s books had become water damaged. This can be seen occasionally when his books come onto the market; they are sometimes stained or wrinkled due to this incident.
Later, George lost a great deal of money as a Lloyd’s name, and also spent a large amount in legal fees fighting the building of a new road through the grounds of the house, a fight which ultimately failed.
Had he not sold his father’s library, what would have become of it? Possibly it would have been stored away carefully in a secure location, with anyone wishing to look at it having to make an appointment. More likely it would have been kept away from his many admirers, and used only by those privileged enough to know the executors, or for other learned individuals wishing to use it for research. At best it would have gone to a university library.
Sales of Siegfried’s manuscripts and letters, as well as his books, took place in 1975 and 1983.
The major part of what was left was sold by Sotheby’s in 1991. Strangely enough, a very large part of the library did go to a university, the Harry Ransom Center, at the University of Texas at Austin in the United States. The Centre produced a catalogue (right) for their Memorial Exhibition in 1969 which includes many original manuscript poems as well as books, which must have been acquired both before, and immediately after Sassoon’s death in 1967.
The greatest part of Sassoon’s library went to dealers buying at auction, and these dealers subsequently sold the items on, as is their business. Had this not been the case, then Siegfried’s many admirers would not have had the opportunity to own something that had been very special to him; I would not be the proud owner of the books that are presented on this website, and you would not have been able to see them.
I believe that George Sassoon did a great favour for those who are fascinated by Siegfried Sassoon in giving us all the opportunity to own a piece of Sassoon’s historical and literary legacy. These books often come back onto the market and are resold by dealers to those who are looking for them. It is a constant delight for me to come across other examples that I can add to this website.
For more detailed information regarding previous auctions of Sassoon items, go to the Catalogues page.