On Friday, December 18th, Cambridge University Library took delivery of the personal archive of Siegfried Sassoon (1886-1967), marking the culmination of a six-month campaign to restore the collection for the nation.
The Sassoon Archive was in the possession of the poet’s son until his death in 2006. It went on the market two years later. Siegfried Sassoon studied as an undergraduate at Cambridge University and later became an Honorary Fellow of Clare College. The library already held an extensive collection of Sassoon’s manuscripts and letters and thus seemed a particularly suitable home for the Sassoon Archive. It launched a campaign to raise the necessary £1.25 million to purchase the collection. Prior to its purchase, the archive was the most important collection of any First World War poet’s papers still in private hands.
The collection includes the war diaries which Sassoon kept on the Western Front and in Palestine from 1915 to 1918, drafts of his autobiographical trilogy The Old Century, The Weald of Youth and Siegfried’s Journey, as well as a series of notebooks, which range from records of his schoolboy cricket scores to journals charting the progress of his literary career in the aftermath of the First World War.
In the words of poet Sir Andrew Motion:
‘The Sassoon Archive that has been acquired by the University Library is of the
greatest importance, nationally and internationally. As a memoirist and as a
poet, Sassoon occupies a unique place in the history of writing in English –
someone who combines writerly, political and social significance to an
exceptional degree. Their purchase is wonderful news.’
The Sassoon Archive is now due to be conserved, sorted and catalogued in preparation for a major display in the library’s Exhibition Centre in July 2010, which will bring together documents from the newly acquired archive and a selection of manuscripts and letters from the pre-existing collections.
In Between the Lines: First World War Correspondence, one of our latest feature articles published in November, Anthony Fletcher considers what the letters sent by British soldiers to their loved ones back home reveal about the men’s inner lives.
For an insight into why the First World War captured literary imagination, read First World War Literature by A.D. Harvey.