5 JANUARY 1940, Page 26

Historical Marginalia

I HAVE sometimes wondered, since reviews in this age have rather taken the place of sermons in the last, why our writers have not the courage to republish their reviews as the Victorians did their sermons. It might have a good effect on the so much criticised art of reviewing, since it has been held that the test of a good review is whether' it stands reprinting. Here are two historians who do not fear to repro- duce their reviews along with more substantial articles, and they certainly survive the test well.

These two books afford interesting comparisons and some contrasts. They are both collections almost entirely of his- torical and political essays : offshoots from the main work of these two distinguished writers. Mr. Fisher recognises. the occasional character of his : they convey " a gentle invitation to humane studies and a rebuke to the menacing barbarism of the age." To Professor Namier, the margin of history means something more profound : practically all of the main stream of history that is grasped by the conscious intelli- gence. " History is a river," he says, " not to be harnessed in action nor to be mastered in thought ; our conscious work is done on its margin." The first book is that of an eminent but disillusioned Liberal, who finds that "the prime source of evil in the world today is the eclipse of Liberalism "; the second that of a distinguished and valued recruit to this country from Eastern Europe, who regards himself as a Tory, with the realism of the Tory outlook and the added dis- illusionment which has come from the experience of his people. They both, like all the best historians, have an active interest in politics, to which these books bear witness : they are not products merely of the study with no know- ledge in practice • of the subjects they are writing about. Mr. Fisher quotes, evidently with approval, bne of the eminent qualifications in Macaulay's view for a historian: that he should have " spoken history, acted history, lived history." Mr. Fisher himself has been a Cabinet Minister ; Professor Namier has been much concerned with Zionist politics and would regard himself as a practising Tory.

They share an interest in Napoleon. A section of Professor Namier's book is given up to essays and reviews in that immense field ; while Mr. Fisher's historical might-have-been on " If Napoleon had escaped to America," with its very convincing ending, is excellently done and most enjoyable. (But, by the way, is not a steamer on the Hudson in the year 1815 a little premature?) Mr. Fisher's essays, as might be expected, are the more polished works of art, with their conscious classicism continuing the flavour of the last century into this : I like " John Buchan, a familiar name, throwing off the sepulchral integuments of an English peerage, comes forward once more, despite the heavy charge of his proconsulate," &c. But Professor Namier has more to say to us.

Mr. Fisher will not regret that : he regards the present with a certain disdain, and turns from the disgraceful spectacle to the age of Augustus, and that other Augustan age of the great, and the belated, Victorians, Gladstone, John Morley, Arthur Balfour, Philip Snowden, the House of Commons. (But again by the way, was the age of Augustus " the most wonderful century of human history "? I should have thought there was as much, or more, to be said for fifth-century Athens, or the full tide of the Renaissance.) Like so many others writers nowadays, Mr. Fisher writes out of nostalgia for the nineteenth century. But that can be overdone : there are great achievements in our time, too, it is time for people to be reminded. Mr. Namier writes bitterly that the experi- ences of the past few years have brought home to him the meaning of the line : " l'horreur de penser et l'honte d'être homme."

But without being an optimist—and how can a historian be an optimist?—I am not sure, with all respect, that these eminent authors are not mistaken. After all, this is an exciting age to be living in : anything is possible, and things may yet go right with us. It is agreed that since 5931, that disastrous turning-point in recent history, things have gone pretty wrong. Mr. Namier has a section devoted to Lawrence (T. E.), about whom he has written better than anybody ; but an

age which can in this country alone produce two such Lawrences, T. E. and D. H., will not go for nothing.

Neither of these historians disdains, quite rightly, to draw lessons for the present and future from the study of the past. After all, if a historian cannot advise us from the mistakes of the past, who can? Professor Namier, with his strong vein of common sense, his realism, has some salutary, if depress- ing, things to say about the recent past. He said of the too much maligned Treaty of Versailles in 1933: " The bear- ing of the peace settlement on recent developments in Germany should not be overrated. The rise of a pathological nationalism ten or fifteen years after a national defeat seems a recurrent phenomenon, practically independent of the terms imposed on, or accorded to, the defeated country." There is a great deal of sense and observation in this. The English have a wonderful faculty for sitting gratuitously in a white sheet, when we have not so much to repent of really. The primary causes of what has happened in Germany are internal ; the external factors, regrettable as they have been, are secondary. It is interesting to observe in these essays, dating back to before 1933 as they do, how right, how utterly right Professor Namier has been all along about Hitler. Buf then, he knew. These contemporary essays, which occupy' more than half the book, are the best and the most inforMative : Professor Namier has not forgotten his Eastern and dentral Europe, to our great advantage, for all that he has become our leading authority on the reign of George III.

Of Mr. Fisher's studies, the most substantial, as he tells us, is that on " The Whig Historians "; though the most instructive is " The Real Oxford Movement," on the brief and brilliant flowering of scientific studies in Oxford in the middle of the seventeenth century. And I have never known Mr. Bertrand Russell so well dealt with as in " A Philo- sopher's Paradise," with an irony equal to his own and a great