G.M. TREVELYAN by David Cannadine


A Life in History
Age Range: 1876 - 1962
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 A well-written if not wholly successful effort to revive the reputation of G.M. Trevelyan as a historian. There have been few more born to the craft of history than Trevelyan (1876-1962). A descendant of the English historian Lord Macaulay and the son of historian George Otto Trevelyan, he dedicated himself at an early age to the family tradition. ``The past,'' writes Cannadine (History/Columbia; The Pleasures of the Past, 1989), ``was his inheritance, his passion, his calling, his duty, his art.'' Trevelyan threw himself into it with all the Victorian virtues of his ancestors--stamina, self-discipline, and the appreciation, more common then than now, that history and literature are inseparable. His three-volume life of Garibaldi, his three-volume history of England in the Age of Queen Anne, and his English Social History enjoyed immense sales. In the latter book, he almost pioneered social history or, as he described it, ``the history of the people with the politics left out.'' Cannadine notes that Trevelyan's reputation has been in eclipse for some time: He reflected an earlier era in his belief that the function of history is to illuminate the present in the light of the past, and in his conviction that ``all novelists since Conrad are cads.'' But these ideas, Cannadine notes, arose from ``a mind of remarkable range, power, erudition and creativity,'' and were accompanied by a determination to get inside the minds of his subjects and to see their problems as they saw them. Cannadine doesn't persuade, though, in his attempt to show that Trevelyan's internationalism, constitutionalism, and feeling for the countryside were so emblematic of his era that ``the time in which he lived cannot be properly understood without reference to [his] life and work.'' Cannadine tries hard, but he fails to disprove Trevelyan's own dictum that ``historians, scholars and literary men who have led uneventful and happy lives, seldom afford great subjects for biographies.''

Pub Date: April 26th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03528-X
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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