Popper's friends mount last ditch attempt to retain library in Britain

May 19, 1995

A final bid to keep Karl Popper's library in the country is being made by a group of friends and admirers headed by one of his former students at the London School of Economics.

Last weekend, Sotheby's coordinated a private deal - reputed to be for Pounds 500,000 - with the Austrian government and the Bundesland Karnten, a regional authority in Austria, which will see the 6,000 volume library going to the University of Klagenfurt.

Alex Bellamy, who studied under Popper in the 1960s, has written to Stephen Dorrell, National Heritage Minister, asking him to recognise the national heritage value of the collection and ensure that the Austrian government provide a copy of the most crucial works, to be kept in Britain.

The collection contains antiquarian books dating back to 1480, and a wealth of other material including a letter from Einstein. Mr Bellamy, who regards Popper as "the most important philosopher in the English language since Russell", said the works of principal scholarly value are the autographed books and the master copies of such famous works as The Open Society and Its Enemies, which was expected to fetch Pounds 50,000 at the auction.

Mr Bellamy had been preparing a bid for the auction of the collection, which would have taken place today but for the Austrian intervention. The University of London library would have received the collection. Mr Bellamy was disappointed by the failure of the London School of Economics, where Popper taught between 1946 and his retirement in 1969, to show an interest in the collection. Angela Raspin, the college's archivist, said: "If we had possessed the archive as well, the arguments for keeping the whole collection would have been much more striking." Popper's archive was purchased by Stanford University in the 1980s.

John Watkins, emeritus professor of philosophy, and a friend of Popper, has backed the bid to have the collection microfilmed. He said the autographed works were significant because "they show when and how his ideas developed".

Ula Krauss, acting cultural director of the Austrian Embassy, said that Popper was now considered a very important philosopher in the country he fled to avoid Hitler.

The late Sir Karl Popper at work, left, and, below, a first edition of Hobbes's Leviathan is one of his collection of 6,000 books. Popper wrote in, Objective Knowledge: "It is interesting to note that Hobbes's belief that the physical world was deterministic preceded Newton's theory. Newton's magnificent success thus could be readily interpreted as a most impressive corroboration of the determinist doctrine. It seemed that Newton had turned the old deterministic programme into reality."

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