One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper by Richard Davenport-Hines & Adam Sisman (edd) - review by Leslie Mitchell

Leslie Mitchell

Wit & Whiggery

One Hundred Letters from Hugh Trevor-Roper


Oxford University Press 447pp £25

For Hugh Trevor-Roper the writing of a letter was part entertainment, part lecture and part therapy. He was clear that ‘if one never writes real letters one can never acquire the art of expressing one’s self, and at times it is such a relief to do so’. It was a form that allowed people to write of serious things inconsequentially and of inconsequential things seriously. For the scholar, normally constrained by the bounds of evidence, there was ‘the pleasure of total vacancy’. He hoped that he would not be judged by his letters, because, in them, he had felt ‘licensed to be free and irresponsible’. What better way, then, to celebrate the centenary of Trevor-Roper’s birth than to treat the reading public to a hundred of his letters? Here he is, off-guard, intimate, giving full rein to an amused view of life.

The older he became and the more history he read and wrote, the more he became convinced that, although there were very general rules that governed human behaviour, beneath them was a rich and infinite jumble which might loosely be called la comédie humaine. As he himself put it, ‘I

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