Tea with Medea
- BuyMy Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others edited by Tim Heald
Frances Lincoln, 240 pp, £20.00, October 2011, ISBN 978 0 7112 3240 2
Who now, other than historians of modern France, remembers Richard Cobb? Cobb’s Wikipedia entry – the canonical index of posterity’s interest – measures three lines; by contrast, Hugh Trevor-Roper, his principal addressee in this collection, gets five thousand words. Yet Cobb, who died in 1996, was not only a historian of acknowledged genius. As these letters incidentally but consistently demonstrate, he was also a maverick member of the wider cultural world. He chaired the Booker judges (ensuring that Hôtel du Lac prevailed over Empire of the Sun, and relishing the ensuing howls). He wrote for the broadsheets; he featured in and fed material to Private Eye. Introduced in his youth to Fitzrovia, he knew Dylan Thomas, Louis MacNeice and Julian Maclaren-Ross, and wrote with sufficient extra-historical purchase to make it into Margaret Drabble’s Oxford Companion to English Literature (to his immoderate delight). His memoirs were a Book at Bedtime. He received the Légion d’honneur, was an FBA and a CBE. His birthday was in the Times.
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[†] Adam Sisman’s biography was reviewed by Neal Ascherson in the LRB of 19 August 2010; Hugh Trevor-Roper’s Wartime Journals are edited by Richard Davenport-Hines (I.B. Tauris, 322 pp., £25, November 2011, 978 1 84885 990 6).