"the cult of these antique figures"
May 16, 2013 7:32 PM   Subscribe

"Old Polymaths Never Die ...they just keep on publishing. Adrian Wooldridge explores the unstoppable legacies of Isaiah Berlin and Hugh Trevor-Roper." posted by the man of twists and turns (7 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to say, dig up George Steiner and tell him the good news that he didn't die, but, sonofabitch, he's still alive.
posted by thelonius at 7:47 PM on May 16, 2013

"Steiner, often praised as a polymath, understands that the polymath is all too often a curiosity"

I often feel this longing to have had a classical education growing up, to have been taught Latin and Greek and have read all the great works. Reading this one brought that back.
posted by a birds at 8:23 PM on May 16, 2013 [2 favorites]

But in death both men have been more prolific than when they were alive...Berlin has published four new books on the history of ideas, “The Roots of Romanticism”, “Three Critics of the Enlightenment”, “Freedom and its Betrayal” and “Political Ideas in the Romantic Age”. He has also produced a study of Soviet Communism, “The Soviet Mind”, and two thick volumes of letters, with two more still to come.

ZomBerlin is more productive than I'll ever be.

Lucky us.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:37 PM on May 16, 2013

He declared that K.B. McFarlane, a revered Oxford medievalist who populated the Oxford history faculty with his acolytes, was “only capable of producing turds the shape of his own arsehole”.

what a great article
posted by bukvich at 7:59 AM on May 17, 2013

Because sometimes it's easier to just die first so you don't have to respond to the whinging critics.
posted by Twang at 8:38 AM on May 17, 2013

I can't say I ever cared about Trevor-Roper, but Isaiah Berlin has been one of my intellectual heroes, and it's great to know there's more good stuff coming out.

Nice article; I found this bit depressing and annoying:
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”.
I wish Herman's, James's, and Wilson's private letters could be published while they are still alive so they can have their noses rubbed publicly in their own two-faced, self-absorbed, malicious, snobbish, boastful, cowardly, pompous logorrhoea. What pathetic, hypocritical assholes.
posted by languagehat at 10:36 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

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