Posterity judges us by what we do, our friends by what we are. People whose lives have been more essence than action are frustrating subjects for biographers. If those who remember him are to be believed, it seems unlikely that Michael Cox’s ‘informal portrait’ of M R James can have captured the essence of the man about whom he quotes Jo Grimond as writing:
It is impossible to compare him with Churchill or De Gaulle, wrapt about in the aura of their achievements. But in force of personality he struck me, perhaps because I was younger when I knew him, and knew him better, as more redoubtable than either.
Michael Cox’s portrait shows a rather bloodless kind of man, who as a result of a fundamental lack of seriousness failed to achieve all that a man of his brilliant intellect should have achieved, and became instead a kind of highbrow Mr Chips. The facts more or less fit; but