In response to:

Save the Warburg Library! from the September 30, 2010 issue

To the Editors:

Save the Warburg library? That cry [Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger, NYR, September 30] should have gone up years ago, when the institution decided—of its own volition—to sell off the books bequeathed it by the eminent scholar Frances Yates, a frequent contributor to these pages and quite possibly the most influential—certainly the most inspirational—of all the scholars the operation in Woburn Square has ever produced. The books thus sacrificed on the altar of mammon were not duplicates; they were the very books in which Dame Frances wrote her penciled notes. They are historical records of enormous value, and they now reside at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles—at least we may be grateful that they were not sold off piecemeal. The Yates Archive, on the other hand, remains in London, in the venue where its creator lived and worked. To be sure, the Warburg Institute needed money on that occasion, too, but the real poverty this transaction revealed was not a poverty of means.

Furthermore, the deal carried a dreadful hidden price. For by selling its soul—and surely Frances Yates was part of its soul—the Warburg, like many a Faustian bargainer, turns out to have put its body up on the block as well.

Ironically, therefore, one way to restore—restore, not save—the integrity of the Warburg library’s collection (and more than its collection) is to sell the whole damn thing to the Getty. Aby Warburg, passionately interested in the American Southwest, could have adjusted to L.A. at least as easily as those adoptive Angelenos Thomas Mann and Arnold Schoenberg.

Ingrid D. Rowland
Rome, Italy

Anthony Grafton and Jeffrey Hamburger reply:

Frances Yates was one of the greatest historians of the twentieth century, and Ingrid Rowland is right to argue that the Warburg Institute should have kept her annotated books, as it has those of Aby Warburg. But Yates was only one of the consummately erudite scholars and teachers who built up the Warburg library as a unique, coherent collection, one that supports many traditions of research in multiple traditions and areas—by no means all of which were covered by her extraordinarily wide-ranging scholarship. What matters most is to see this unique library preserved. We would certainly rather see it sent to Los Angeles than broken up or entrusted to the wrong hands. But we believe that it should stay in London, close to the British Library and British Museum and only a couple of hours’ travel from the other great collections of the United Kingdom and the Continent—research in all of which it continues to sustain.

This Issue

October 14, 2010