‘I think these journals’, wrote William Shawcross on Kenneth Rose’s death, ‘are likely to be the most detailed, amusing and accurate account ever of the post-war world of the English Establishment.’ Rose himself was confident that his journals would set him among the great diarists of the age. His history books would survive, but his journals would be unique; through them he would settle his reputation and address posterity. This, the second volume, runs from 1979 until his death in 2014, a period during which I knew him fairly well.
Rose had, I’m afraid, an inflated idea of the importance of his diaries. What’s missing is the man himself. Great diarists examine themselves and find themselves wanting before they find the world wanting, but Kenneth would have regarded such an approach as self-indulgent and bad form. He censures his contemporaries Alan Clark and James Lees-Milne for offering vulgar revelations in their diaries. He has written a historian’s journal: he is Creevey rather than Boswell or Pepys. The truth is that diaries are often most interesting when the author is failing.