Henry Hardy

Draft obituary

Henry Hardy was a born editor whose good luck in being associated with Isaiah Berlin gave him a prominence, and brought him a fulfilment, that he would otherwise have been very unlikely to aspire to.

Henry Robert Dugdale Hardy was born on 15 March 1949 in University College Hospital, London. His father, Richard Hardy, was a doctor then engaged on medical research for the army, and his mother Elizabeth, née Harris, was a civil servant, having previously been private secretary to the post-war Labour Minister of Education, Ellen Wilkinson, who introduced free school milk.

Elizabeth Hardy died of polio on Palm Sunday in 1952, shortly before the discovery of the polio vaccine, and the three-year-old Henry was sent with his younger brother of ten months to live with his aunt Ruth (his father’s half-sister), who was married to Michael Sutton, a GP in Exmouth, Devon; Richard Hardy became Sutton’s partner. This domestic arrangement, whereby Ruth effectively became the boys’ mother, continued until 1956, when Richard married the missionary teacher Anne Ritchie (invalided out of her vocation), with whom he set up house elsewhere in Exmouth. Anne was not a successful stepmother, and Richard’s decision not to move away at this point, for all the good intentions behind it, may with hindsight have been a mistake, since Ruth’s continued presence nearby frustrated the development of a maternal relationship growing between Richard’s sons and his new wife. Certainly much of his elder son’s psychological make-up, as well as his lifelong preoccupation with the question of religion, stems in part from his stepmother’s not always benign influence.

After prep school in Exmouth and Exeter, Hardy went to Lancing College in Sussex, chosen by his parents both because of its strong Anglican ethos (Education without religion is in itself a pure evil, declared its founder, Nathaniel Woodard) and because boarding away from home might reduce family tensions; he was very happy there, and at the age of sixteen was accepted by Corpus Christi College, Oxford, to read classics. There was a strong classical tradition in the family (Hardy’s grandfather had been a classicist and headmaster), and Hardy was not strong-minded enough to resist it until later.

Being so young, Hardy was able to take a gap year before university. This he spent in the Southern African enclave of Basutoland, which became the newly independent Lesotho soon after his arrival. For his first six months he worked as a carpenter in a hospital deep in the Maluti mountains in the interior of the country, and for the remaining months as a teacher in the town of Mohale’s Hoek, in the south-west of Lesotho, near the border with South Africa. This too was a very happy as well as a formative time. (He visited Lesotho again forty-five years later, in 2012.)

Arriving in Oxford in October 1967, Hardy stuck with classics long enough to sit Classical Mods in Hilary Term 1969, but then changed to philosophy and psychology, two of the components of the degree called PPP (the third P being physiology). This course gave him a strong interest in the philosophy of mind, which (after a year teaching at Shrewsbury School) he pursued in theses written at Wolfson College, Oxford, for the BPhil (1974) and DPhil (1976) in philosophy, focusing on Wittgenstein’s views (which he strongly disputed) on the nature and communication of subjective experience. It was at Wolfson that he came to know Isaiah Berlin, then President of the College, though he was never formally Berlin’s student. Berlin was unusually accessible for a head of house, and those who shared his interests and enjoyed talking to him, or rather being talked to by him, had the good fortune to spend a good deal of time in his company.

After Wolfson, Hardy, who had long demonstrated a somewhat managerial taste for re-organising the words of others, pursued a career in publishing for fifteen years, starting with small firms in London, but moving in 1977 to Oxford University Press in Oxford, where he remained until 1990, first in the department responsible for general books, especially paperbacks, where he founded the Past Masters series (now absorbed into the Very Short Introductions series), and then as the commissioning editor responsible for academic publications in politics, sociology and social anthropology. This last position was not one that he sought or welcomed, and this left him open to other options.

The option that he pursued arose in 1988. In his spare time Hardy had already (co-)edited four volumes of Berlin’s uncollected essays, published in 1978–80, and Berlin, who was revising his Will, asked him if he would be willing to act as one of his literary executors when the time came. Hardy’s response was not just to accept, but to say that he would like to begin work as soon as possible, while Berlin was still available to answer questions and clarify obscurities. He had surveyed the mass of papers in Berlin’s house, and realised that many years would be needed to put everything in order and bring it into publishable form; he was also struck by the unexpectedly large quantity of unpublished material of the highest quality that deserved to see the light sooner rather than later.

After some reflection Berlin agreed to Hardy’s proposal. Berlin’s friend Lord (Alan) Bullock raised the necessary funds (an occupation he relished), and Hardy left OUP in October 1990 to become a Research Fellow at Wolfson College. Further books by Berlin appeared both before and after his death in 1997. The main project was completed in 2015 with the publication of the final instalment of a four-volume edition of Berlin’s letters.

In 1979 Hardy married the medical historian Anne Wilkinson, from whom he separated in 2004 and was divorced in 2012. They had two children, Ellen and Michael. In 2013 he married Mary Merry, who had typeset Berlin’s books since 1996, though the two did not meet for the first time until 2004, and after that not until five years later.

Henry Hardy, editor, born 15 March 1949