The study of English political history has suffered a grievous loss with the death of Stephen Koss in New York on 25 October last. Though only 44, hardly more than half my age, Stephen had already established himself as an authority of the first rank on British political history in the 19th and 20th centuries. He wrote outstanding biographies of such Liberal leaders as Asquith, John Morley and Haldane, concluding with A.G. Gardiner, long-time editor of the Daily News. He then gave up political biography and wrote an enormous two-volume work on The Rise and Fall of the Political Press in Britain. It is difficult enough to write the history of a single newspaper: Koss handled them without strain by the dozen. He was devoted to England, which he visited for a considerable period nearly every year. Indeed he aspired to an academic post somewhere in England or Scotland, and it is to be much regretted that Stephen’s ambition was never fulfilled. As it was, he was warmly welcomed in English historical communities wherever he went. Many English historians turned to Stephen Koss for guidance and information. I can think of no historian whom I respected more or who guided me better on difficult topics.
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[*] Joseph, 256 pp., £9. 95, 15 October, 0 9075 1643 2.
Vol. 7 No. 1 · 24 January 1985
SIR: Why does A.J.P. Taylor assume that because people are dead they have automatically ‘sunk without trace’: in this instance, Julian Maclaren-Ross and Cyril Connolly (LRB, 6 December 1984). The fact that Maclaren-Ross’s Memoirs of the Forties has just been reissued by Penguin and is reaching more people than he ever managed to reach in his lifetime is surely proof to the contrary. Similarly, anyone who wonders, rhetorically, whether Connolly or Horizon are remembered, largely, it seems, because Connolly is dead and Horizon came to an end – the fate of all people and most magazines – must indeed lead a sheltered life. Cyril Connolly was never the centre of Taylor’s apparently despised Bohemia, nor is The Rock Pool the book to which many people would attach his claim for attention. There are others, even if Taylor is ignorant of them. ‘I never thought much of Orwell,’ Taylor adds patronisingly, as if that was a further nail in Connolly’s and Horizon’s coffin. Too bad.
Charity may not be Taylor’s strong suit but he ought to show more sense.
Vol. 7 No. 2 · 7 February 1985
SIR: Since there’s no accounting for taste, A.J.P. Taylor, in one of his more distressing columns (and they’ve been increasing lately), is entitled to his belief that there can ‘be no more satisfactory novel’ than Arnold Bennett’s Riceyman Steps (LRB, 6 December 1984). That the judgment strikes me, for instance, as analogous to boasting about the tallest building in, say, Wichita, Kansas is beside the point. But what are we to make of his egregious comments on Lord Hervey?
First of all, will someone please tell the good professor that he’s been ‘struggling’, not with Lord Hervey’s diaries, but his Memoirs and if this sounds like nit-picking to him ask him to translate the following: ‘There are some curiosities in his [Lord Hervey’s] record all the same. The most remarkable is the number of regular mistresses kept by the King and by nearly all the members of the Court. The Queen did not lag behind,’ In what? Mistresses? Does Taylor know something Lord Hervey didn’t? At least there’s no mention in the text of this calumny. Professor Taylor may join, if he chooses, that dubious minority that finds Lord Hervey lacking in wit or even doubts his ability to write, but at least the gentleman could read.
Princeton, New Jersey