Quotation of the Week 3

‘To give an accurate and exhaustive account of the period would need a far less brilliant pen than mine’

Max Beerbohm (Yellow Book 1895)

Economic historian and numismatic consultant


  1. Meaning ivory towers and ‘true’ history don’t sit well together? Or that brilliance excludes one from speaking for the voiceless? I’m still pondering this one..

  2. I am inclined to read it as follows. The past has to be interpreted, but the plodding historian will concentrate on searching out detail in order to give him enough substance to minimise the need for interpretation, of which he is nervous. The dashing Mr Beerbohm, on the other hand, will be so able and willing to enter into a free-wheeling conversation with the past, that he will feel no need to pile on the detail, and no lack of confidence in his lively interpretations. This may not be a mortal sin. John Morrill, in his introduction to the 2002 edition of G M Trevelyan’s England Under The Stuarts, remarked that a book which showed such slight acquaintance with primary sources would not be published today, but still acknowledged that the book had its greatness.

  3. As a follow-up to my previous comment, it would be a mortal sin for me to leave on the record an inaccuracy that I have discovered in my representation of John Morrill on G M Trevelyan. I relied on memory, but have now looked at the book. The comment was not specifically about primary sources. The words (page xii) were “No book based on such narrow reading would be published today”.

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