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Alumni collect and Yale receives

Recent university gifts with a personal touch include a $1.4-million haul of Kipling for the rare books library.

June 27, 2007|Kim Martineau | Hartford Courant

NEW HAVEN, CONN. — David Richards didn't have to tell his classmates what he'd been up to all these years. They could see for themselves.

Leather books and handwritten letters by Rudyard Kipling filled the glass cases at Yale's rare books library. Richards, 61, a real estate lawyer in New York, had spent the last quarter of his life hunting down all things Kipling. Now, for his 40th reunion, he was giving it all to Yale: first-edition copies of "Just So Stories" plus tea sets, posters and cigar boxes decorated with the British writer's face.

"It was like 15 years in the tunnel and here I am bringing out the diamonds," he said.

The gift, worth $1.4 million, is one of the largest the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library has received, putting Yale's Kipling collection on par with those at Harvard and the University of Texas.

Anyone can write a check. But for the love of Yale, some alumni go beyond, donating items with personal meaning. The gifts are as varied as the givers: sapphires from a gemologist, deep sea coral from a marine biologist and British poetry from a dealer in Americana. The treasures are not counted in Yale's $18-billion endowment. But squirreled away in library stacks and glass jars and hung on the walls of art galleries, they embody Yale's educational mission.

In an academic setting, a gift can be worth more than its dollar value. When Richards donated his Kipling collection, the books and manuscripts reflected years of scholarship.

"He's done all of this work for us," said curator Christa Sammons. "The collection has an intellectual shape."

For his 30th reunion this spring, William Reese, a bookseller in New Haven, donated his Siegfried Sassoon collection. Sassoon was a British military officer, poet and World War I hero who publicly criticized the war while it was still in progress. Reese started collecting materials related to Robert Graves, a poet who fought with Sassoon, after reading Graves' memoir, "Goodbye to All That." His search for Graves material led him inevitably to Sassoon, an upper-class writer who enlisted out of a sense of patriotism.

Sassoon's courageous nighttime raids earned him the nickname "Mad Jack," but with time, as the death toll rose, he turned against the war. While fighting on the Western Front, he wrote his devastating book of poetry "Counter-Attack."

"He was using far blunter language than anyone had ever put into print at that point," Reese said.

Interest in Sassoon picked up during the Vietnam War and has surged again with the war in Iraq, he said. "Every time there's an unjust war, which is fairly often, there's something in Sassoon that speaks to people," he said.

As he led his classmates through the Kipling exhibit, "Rudyard Kipling: The Books I Leave Behind," this month, another classmate, Leighton Longhi, an art dealer in New York, showed off the Japanese paintings he had just given to the Yale University Art Gallery.

Yale already has a British art museum, Longhi said. Donating British paintings would have felt like "adding a gallon of water to the Atlantic Ocean." He felt he could make a difference by donating art he knew intimately, that Yale also seemed to need.

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