Aroused Rowse goes into historical action

September 22, 1995

A. L. Rowse is 91, but like his fellow nonagenerian Lord Denning, he is never afraid of saying something controversial. Next week, he brings out Historians I Have Known where he attacks (and occasionally praises) a host of British and American historians.

A. J. P. Taylor, widely recognised as the finest post-war popular historian, is damned as a historian without judgement or integrity.

"The word never appears in his work, and I don't think it meant much to him," Dr Rowse writes.

Christopher Hill is portrayed as a historian who is distracted by "the history of nonsense", Hugh Trevor-Roper (now Lord Dacre) is cited as clear evidence that "we can be misled by a brilliant surface", R. H. Tawney is labelled "an inverted snob" and Sir Lewis Namier is described in the book as "psychotic, if not pyschopathic".

The book might have been subtitled "mostly Oxford, mostly men and mostly dead". But his former pupil C.V. Wedgwood is included - and then promptly dismissed as "not the ablest".

Included too is Sir Michael Howard, who actually earns a compliment in the words "our foremost military historian".

Rowse, who once nominated himself as the historian's historian in the Observer, also applauds G. M. Trevelyan, who is called "a genius".

In this respect, it is interesting to note that Trevelyan recommended Rowse for the Oxford Regius professorship which eventually went to Trevor-Roper.

There are sideswipes against other historians who Rowse did not know, including Lytton Strachey, featured in the new film Carrington.

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