One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper

Hugh-Trevor-Roper-010John Banville at The Guardian:

In a letter to Gerald Brenan in March 1968, Hugh Trevor-Roper stated in the simplest terms his aesthetic position: “I find more pleasure in good literature than in dull (even if true) history.” Trevor-Roper had boundless admiration for Brenan, a non-academic, self-taught scholar whose 1943 book The Spanish Labyrinth: An Account of the Social and Political Background of the Spanish Civil War had become a classic. Earlier in the same letter, Trevor-Roper paid his friend and colleague the highest compliment: “Ever since I read The Spanish Labyrinth I have looked upon you as my ideal historian – you see the past in the present, and the present in the past, imaginatively, and yet with corrective scholarship, and you express it in perfect prose.

This characterisation could be applied equally well to Trevor-Roper himself. As a historian, he had the finest prose style since Gibbon, one of his abiding heroes (“I think I would rather be thought to write like Gibbon than any other writer of English”); and indeed, for clarity of expression and beauty of form he often outstripped the chronicler of imperial Rome.

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