Conrad Russell

  • F.W. Maitland by G.R. Elton
    Weidenfeld, 118 pp, £12.95, June 1985, ISBN 0 297 78614 8
  • Renaissance Essays by Hugh Trevor-Roper
    Secker, 312 pp, £15.00, July 1985, ISBN 0 436 42511 4
  • History, Society and the Churches: Essays in Honour of Owen Chadwick edited by Derek Beales and Geoffrey Best
    Cambridge, 335 pp, £30.00, May 1985, ISBN 0 521 25486 8

This could be called a review of the three Regiuses. G.R. Elton is at present Regius Professor at Cambridge. Owen Chadwick, to whom tribute is paid in a festschrift, is his predecessor in the same chair, while Lord Dacre of Glanton, more commonly known as Professor Trevor-Roper, is the recently retired Regius Professor at Oxford. From this conjunction, a classical or prophetic scholar would no doubt bring forth a portent: if the conjunction of three kings signified so much, what might the conjunction of three Regiuses symbolise? Perhaps this is a line a mere reviewer should not pursue too far, for there are many other things to be said about these works. Only the festschrift is a conventional exercise in scholarly research. Professor Elton is writing for the new series ‘Historians on Historians’. The book tells us a vast amount about the historical creeds both of Maitland and of Professor Elton himself, but it is only occasionally that it tells us much about history that we did not know before. Professor Trevor-Roper has reprinted a collection of ephemera, reviews, talks and occasional articles. Yet these works do say something about the basic outlook of the historians concerned. What emerges most clearly from Elton’s work on Maitland is their love for archives, and in particular for the Public Record Office; and Elton, who has earned the undying gratitude of the profession by his contribution to saving the Public Record Office at Chancery Lane, is a fitting man to pay tribute to the work Maitland did there. Both of them emerge as men whose work grows from the records outwards, from the small piece of grit in the Plea Roll to the published pearl. In this respect, Professor Elton is entitled to his identification with his subject. So he is also in stressing their common respect for legal records, without falling into what Elton once called the ‘essentially a-historical’ attitude of lawyers searching for a precedent. As Maitland put it, ‘what the lawyer wants is authority, and the newer the better: what the historian wants is evidence, and the older the better.’

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in