A Few Home Truths

Jonathan Rée

  • R.G. Collingwood: ‘An Autobiography’ and Other Writings, with Essays on Collingwood’s Life and Work edited by David Boucher and Teresa Smith
    Oxford, 581 pp, £65.00, December 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 958603 5

‘An Autobiography’ by R.G. Collingwood must be one of the most popular philosophical books in the English language, but when it was published in 1939, it was not expected to do well. Collingwood warned Oxford University Press that it was ‘destitute of all that makes autobiography saleable’. It was going to be a ‘dead loss’, he said, and in a preface he offered a pre-emptive apology: he was a philosopher by vocation – had been as long as he could remember – so the story of his life could not be anything more than a compendium of abstract ideas. But the remark was not as self-deprecating as it looks. It was among other things an allusion to John Stuart Mill, who had opened his own very celebrated Autobiography with a similar disclaimer: he had nothing to offer, he said, apart from an account of the origin and growth of his philosophical convictions, and ‘the reader whom these things do not interest, has only himself to blame if he reads further.’

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