Obituary: George Lazarus

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The Independent Online
George Lazarus was a passionate collector in three fields: Dutch painting, imperial jade and, principally, modern rare books and manuscripts. He assembled the finest collection of the works of D.H. Lawrence in private hands, a collection bequeathed to Nottingham University where Lawrence had become, in his own words, "cash-chemically BSc" (the reference being to Boot's, cash-chemists, whose founder, Jesse Boot, was an early benefactor of the university).

Educated at Marlborough and Caius College, Cambridge, where he read Modern Languages, Lazarus came down in 1925 to join the family business, Lazarus Brothers, jobbers on the London Stock Exchange, leading the market in gold mining shares. He was to go on to become senior partner.

He had begun collecting books as an undergraduate and now he set about building a collection based on serious fiction of the 20th century. There were two basic criteria: authors had to have produced work which gave him personal satisfaction and a conviction that it was of permanent value. Fashion and the opinion of professional critics were totally disregarded.

In the earliest days Lazarus sought H.G. Wells's first editions as well as those of Galsworthy. Lawrence was soon added. By the mid-1950s some 30 novelists were represented, including E.M. Forster, Aldous Huxley and Somerset Maugham. Women writers included Elizabeth Bowen, Constance Holme, Mary Webb, Virginia Woolf; Irish, Sean O'Casey, Frank O'Connor, Sean O'Faolain; Americans, William Faulkner and John Steinbeck. Lazarus bought the works of almost all these before their reputations were firmly established.

In each case he sought fine copies of the first editions of every work in the author's canon and then to reinforce the sets of printed work with letters and manuscripts. In the fashion of his day he was disdainful of dust-jackets, which collectors now regard as de rigueur.

His work in the City leaving him little time to indulge his collecting hobbies, he chose to buy through one carefully selected specialist dealer in each field,. He would ask for advice. There would be discussion. But the eventual decision would always be George Lazarus's own. The mere availability of funds never meant that items were bought regardless of price.

Pressures of space brought about the continuing refinement of the library, author collections being sold to leave room for concentration of his chief aim, the perfecting of his D.H. Lawrence collection. The high spot of this probably remains the manuscript of Lawrence's first novel, The White Peacock.

Lazarus was one of the first private collectors to buy the manuscripts of contemporary writers. He bought stories, he bought poems; he seized every opportunity of buying letters with significant texts, amassing more than 150 Lawrence pieces addressed to 27 different correspondents.

A handsome man, immaculately turned out, George Lazarus was blessed with an agile mind and appeared to make decisions easily. During the Second World War the Royal Air Force made use of these qualities, employing him first in Great Britain and then for three years in the Middle East, plotting and directing the movements of fighter squadrons. He rose to the rank of squadron leader.

He saw all problems in terms of black and white: for him there were no greys. A generous and loyal friend, he never suffered fools gladly: in fact he scarcely suffered them at all.

In later years his failing eyesight made it difficult to read, but he was devoted to his beautiful garden in Buckinghamshire and retained a lively interest in cricket and in sport generally. His views on the performance of the English cricket team in Zimbabwe at the end of last year are best left unrecorded.

George Louis Lazarus, stockjobber and collector: born London 15 March 1904; twice married (one son, one stepdaughter, and one son deceased); died Henley-on-Thames 11 January 1997.