16 JULY 1948, Page 12



WE used, when we were young, to be told a cautionary tale, designed to warn us against the effects of pessimism upon human judgement. It was the story of a middle-aged spinster who had been left a legacy sufficient to bring her in an annual income of £3oo a year. She was a confiding soul, who combined a taste for necromancy with the habit of believing that the worst was certain to occur. Having read in a magazine that the world was bound to come to an end within a period of ten years, she organised her life accordingly. Selling out all her capital, she devoted the ten short years which remained for humanity and herself to sampling all the experiences which she had hitherto been denied. She purchased a set of ivory knitting needles, she engaged a personal attendant of the name of Armstrong, she rented a villa at Barbizon and a bungalow at the Ankhor Vat, and when the end approached she was living on what remained of her capital in a modest but not uncomfortable inn at Palmyra. When her D day had come and gone, she remained on at Palmyra, persuading herself in her flustered way that the magazine might possibly have made a miscalculation about the actual day of the week or even month of the year. But when it became quite evident that it would be her capital rather than the world which would come to an end, she killed herself quite quietly among the ruins of Zenobia's colonnades. I have frequently been reminded of this story during the last few months. There are people who are so convinced that life in this angry world will cease to be worth living that they come to long for what the Victorians called "release." There are others who imitate the example of my spinster and spend their capital on living what would be riotously were it not so rationed. And there are others again to whom the future is so thunderous that they w:nce away from it in black despair. I confess that I am incensed by those who fail to understand that the future, although it may be unpleasant, will certainly be interesting. And that I have

B deep respect for those others who, in our uncertain age, refuse to be intimidated by Tiridates and embark on projects which will take fifteen peaceful years to mature.

• * * In the top rank of these others I now place the Syndics of the Cambr:dge University Press. They have come to the conclusion that the thirteen stout volumes of the Cambridge Modern History— that superb compendium—are out of date. Most people, in this age of rapid transition, would be too faint-hearted to contemplate re- writing that gigantic work ; they would be content to add to each chapter or volume a short appendix covering the events of the period between 1912 and today. Not so the Syndics. They have come to the conclusion that "if the new Modern History is to be as useful as the old, a mere revision will not suffice, and there must be a new work." They have therefore planned twelve completely new volumes, and hope to start publication in the autumn of 1950. It is in truth an admirable thing that the younger university should be so resilient. In the prospectus which has now been issued it is interesting to observe how the conception of history has altered since Lord Acton's days. At the end of the last century people imagined that history was far more " scientific " or " ascertainable " than we believe today. The writing of history reduced itself to the scrupulous verification of recorded events, and it was to political, military and even personal factors that the greatest attention was paid. One does not need to be a convert to the materialist conception to realise that the historians of the past were all too apt to mistake the surface currents for the underlying tides. In the New History, economic and social factors will be considered at greater depth.

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It is instructive to compare the titles projected for the twelve new volumes with those of the older version. Volume III, for instance, will deal not merely with the Counter-Reformation, but with "Price- Revolution." Volume IX in the old version was entitled " Napoleon ": in the new version it figures as "The New Regimes and the Industrial Revolution." Volume XI in the 1934 edition was

called "The Growth of Nationalities" ; in the new version it will deal with such diverse subjects as changes in transport, technology, Liberalism, Socialism and the impact of the New upon the Old World. The last volume, which will bring the history up to our own age, will bear the sinister title of "The Era of Violence ": the concluding section will examine Civilisation at the end of the second world war. This difference in approach is well defined in a sentence in the Instructions which are being issued to contributors. " The

course of events," we read, "will not be described without referring to the structure of society. Thus the narratives of campaigns will be in close relation to the accounts of the art of war and of its usages and its social and economic aspects. The history of diplomatic negotiations will be kept in touch with the social forces behind them. There will be links between the political narrative and the chapters on political thought." The new version will not, moreover, be over- weighted with tables and bibliographies. It is intended to produce a supplementary volume to be called "The Cambridge Companion to Modern History," which will give one the required bibliographies and the most necessary tables of genealogies, dates, weights and measures and money. A fuller historical Atlas is also to be produced. Assuming that the new version will take as long to complete as the original version, we may' look forward to having the whole twelve volumes with their companions in 1965. I find such optimism most invigorating.

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I understand that the plan for this new version was drawn up by Dr. G. N. Clark, at one time Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge and now Provost of Oriel. Dr. Clark was evidently wounded by an incidental remark on the part of Professor Arnold Toynbee to the effect that the Cambridge Modern History was too "synthetic," and suggested, by its division of labour, the effect of the Industrial Revolution upon historical thought. Dr. Clark admits that co-operative historical writing cannot hope to achieve the "smooth, readable continuity which only an individual author can give to a whole work " ; but he contends, and rightly contends, that each section of the History did provide a fully articulated piece of individual writing. In the instructions issued to the contributors to the new version they are reminded that a history of this nature must be humane and therefore individual. Some personal interpretation must be given ; "dumb information may be left to the encyclo- paedias " ; and contributors may allow their own convictions to appear, provided, of course, that they treat all disagreements fairly. I have never felt that the intrusion of personal affections or prejudices destroys the value of histerical writing, provided that they are overt and avowed ; it was not their partisanship, so much as their pose of infallibility, which was so irritating about the Whig historians. Ex- cessive partisanship, moreover, is apt to ruin style. "While our historians," wrote Macaulay in his essay on" History," "are practising all the arts of controversy, they miserably neglect the art of narrative, the art of interesting the affections and presenting pictures to the imagination." Yet one must admit that in a series such as the Cam- bridge Modern History it is difficult to draw a line between a work of -reference and a work of art.

The temptation of all historians is to imagine that ascertainable effects must he the result Of ascertainable causes. "What is succes- sive," wrote Lord Acton, "is connected by the law of causation ; what is simultaneous is not connected by any law or any cause, but accident." Much as I venerate Lord Acton, I consider that remark to be one of the worst comments upon history ever made. Simul- taneous events are often governed by causation ; successive events are often governed by accident. Nobody who has watched history in the making can doubt the immense part played in human affairs by the element of chance. I look forward ardently to 1965, when I shall see whether the contributors to the new Cambridge Modern History have succumbed to the vice of all historians, the vice of hindsight.