Mighty Causes

Mark Kishlansky

  • The English Civil Wars 1640-60 by Blair Worden
    Weidenfeld, 192 pp, £12.99, January 2009, ISBN 978 0 297 84888 2

Thomas Hardy, it is said, believed the history of humanity could be written in six words: ‘They lived, they suffered, they died.’ As a historical account this was more than adequate. It depicted change over time, contained a point of view, and encapsulated a universally applicable lesson. What detail the story lacked could be supplied by readers, each in their own way. Like many good historians, Hardy was writing from experience. A sickly child whose ambition to attend Cambridge and enter the church was thwarted at an early age, he eventually lost his faith. His best friend committed suicide and his family shunned his barren marriage, which soon devolved into a long, loveless arrangement of keeping up appearances and a house. His gloomy outlook and dyspeptic personality weren’t improved by critics’ responses to his work, or by his never quite consummated love affairs. Fittingly, he went to two graves: his heart was buried in Dorset and his body in Westminster Abbey.

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