With his courtly wit, gentle manners, incisive intellect and inevitable and faintly annoying bow tie, Arthur Schlesinger always seemed a throwback to a lost age of elaborate courtesies and gentleman scholars. When I met him eight years ago, after he had graciously agreed to an interview for my doctoral project, he was both impressively sharp and impossibly polite. At the time, I was very excited about our meeting, but Schlesinger must have contemplated the encounter with bored resignation. In an entry in his journal, dated October 1986, he laments that he has been unable to get going with his latest project because he spends too much time ‘talking to people about the past’. ‘Having bothered plenty of busy people in my own time for historical purposes,’ he writes, ‘I feel I must make myself equally available to historians and journalists today.’ There is an unmistakeable hint there of weary obligation – a hint, to do him justice, that never came across fourteen years later.
Schlesinger’s journals, abridged and edited by his sons, are an uncanny reflection of the author’s personality and style as well as the tenor of his times. The son of an eminent Harvard historian, he was a marvellous historical writer in his own right, albeit a very old-fashioned one, reserving his