Berlin never played with explosives in the same way; he was a consummate academic politician who went out of his way to befriend the powerful and charm potential opponents. Yet his posthumous letters contain a number of ticking time-bombs. They show that this supreme intellectual could also be snobbish and snide. He relished the noxious gossip of academic life. He wrote unctuous protestations of friendship to A.L. Rowse and then sent letters belittling him to other people. “On Forster as bore, 104”, reads one entry in the index. “Hates Connolly”, reads another.
These may be ordinary vices. But they still have the power to shock coming from someone who is the closest thing that Britain has produced to an academic saint, and they have opened him up to a lot of criticism. David Herman wondered how such an impressive man could also be so “two-faced” and “self-absorbed”. For Clive James the letters beg for “belittlement”. For A.N. Wilson they are the products of “malicious, snobbish, boastful, cowardly, pompous logorrhoea”.
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