PERSONAL IMPRESSIONS by Henry Hardy
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PERSONAL IMPRESSIONS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The fourth and final volume of the Oxford philosopher/historian's collected essays consists of appreciations of persons he has admired and in most cases known: Churchill and Roosevelt; Chaim Weizmann; distinguished fellow-dons; and, from stays in his native Russia in 1945 and 1956, Pasternak and Akhmatova. A galaxy of unlikes, reflecting Berlin's pluralism--"the acceptance of a multitude of ideals appropriate in different circumstances and for men of different callings," as Noel Annan notes in a discerning introduction. So Berlin defends Churchill's archaic, highly colored prose as the expression of an all-encompassing, all-fusing historical imagination; and stirringly contrasts Churchill's internalized "sense of the past" with Roosevelt's sensitivity to "the smallest oscillations" of the external present. They represent two types of statesman, the visionary and the intuitive (reminiscent of Berlin's division of historians into "The Hedgehog and the Fox"). Chaim Weizmann, to Berlin, is the great man who makes "what seemed highly improbable happen"--in this case, of course, creation of the state of Israel. Berlin himself, we learn, became a Zionist as a schoolboy at St. Paul's c. 1910; he is acutely aware of the discomfiture of "assimilationist" West-European Jews, then and later, and attributes the very possibility of Israel to the Yiddish-speaking Jews of the Pale of Settlement--who "developed a certain independence of outlook" from their "involuntary confinement." Weizmann, for all his Anglomania, eminence, and authority, remained "flesh of their flesh," down to his gestures and inflections. Among the scholars apotheosized, some will be merely names, if that, to most American readers (Richard Pares, Hubert Henderson, John Henry Plamenatz); headnotes might valuably have been provided for pieces that, moreover, are in several instances literally eulogies. But one need have no special knowledge to appreciate Berlin's recall of historian--and Zionist--Lewis Namier, fulminating again Marx ("a typical Jewish half-charlatan, who got hold of quite a good idea and then ran it to the ground just to spite the Gentiles"); or his tributes to Maurice Bowra, a limited critic but "a major liberating force" or the latter-day, paranormally-preoccupied, still-prophetic Aldous Huxley. Apropos of his meetings with the hounded, uncompromising Pasternak and Akhmatova, Berlin is content to convey their overwhelming presence--plus Pasternak's anger at Berlin's solicitous attempt to dissuade him from publishing Doctor Zhivago abroad, and Akhmatova's embrace (commemorated in "Poet without a Hero") of the first Westerner to Bring her news of the outside world in 30 years. Memorable reading for persons, too, of many sympathies and interests.
Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1980
ISBN: 0691088586
Page count: 324pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 1980




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