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History and the Enlightenment Hardcover – June 29, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
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“[An] indispensable book.”—Andrew O’Hagan, New York Review of Books
Top Customer Reviews
Robertson's "Editor's Introduction," puts the various essays to follow into a helpful context, especially for those who are not familiar with T-R and his interests. Robertson has also taken much care with the essays' notes, supplementing some and adding references where none was published with the essay. In his appendix, "A Guide to Later Scholarship," he discusses some more recent work that pertains to T-R's topics. This update is very helpful because the essays were published mainly in the 1960's, 1980's, with the most recent being published in 1997.
The essays themselves, all tied somehow to the enlightenment and the writing of history, reflect some of T-R's most central interests. For example, there are three perceptive essays on Edward Gibbon, long a T-R favorite. I came to a much better understanding of why Gibbon is so important, both to the discipline of history, as well as to our substantive knowledge. The Scottish Enlightenment, an area in which T-R got even the Scots to take an interest, pops up in several of the essays, including a very interesting one on David Hume. Surprising to me, T-R devotes one essay to Sir Walter Scott and his contributions to the "romantic movement and the study of history." Thomas Carlyle was introduced to me in a study of his historical philosophy; I knew the name but never had read any of his work. Similarly, Lord Macaulay and his dominance of English history is examined under T-R's microscope. Finally, an essay on the Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt concludes the collection. Other essays discuss Pietro Giannone, Dimitrie Cantemir, and Conyers Middleton.
A typically trenchant T-R essay on "The Historical Philosophy of the Enlightenment," commences the volume, and it is T-R at his best. Great in learning; incisive in analysis; uniting in one thesis many different strings of topics; and just a pleasure to read. This essay gives T-R a chance to discuss another of his favorite topics, Montesquieu and his enormous impact on both the writing of history and the enlightenment. An interesting theme developed in this essay is how the French Revolution impacted on the writing of history. One can only stand in amazement as to how much one learns from reading these essays, which are packed with information and challenging ideas, and yet are just fun to read as well. If only more intellectual history were this sparkling!
Trevor-Roper is at his best in short pieces, and previous collections, such as 'Historical Essays" and "Renaissance Essay", show him at his insightful best, witty and wise. In the book under review the touch is less popular and more academic. His editor, John Robertson, has even provided more detailed footnotes than Trevor-Roper had originally.. (Oddly, for all his work, Robertson is not even listed on the title page as editor.).
If the title "History and the Enlightenment" is a bit heavy-handed, the contents are less ponderous. Trevor-Roper's breezy style is open to every reader, He reminds us chiefly of David Hume, whose clever and readable history of England, Trevor-Roper praises warmly.in the essay "David Hume, Historian," almost the last word on the philosopher's English history. A valuable essay is that of the little-known Italian Enlightenment historian, Pietro Giannone, who deserves to be better known. Trevor-Roper calls him "the real founder, and indeed protomartyr,of the 'civil history' of the Enlightenment.' Along with Vico, Giannone blazed a trail for Italian historians to follow, but for this he was persecuted, while Vico was praised. His "The Civil History of Naples" exposed the power that the Church held over the city in no uncertain terms. For this, he was driven from Naples, and pursued to the north of Italy.
Other essays deal with the triumphs and failures of historians, with no mercy shown (especially in the case of Macaulay).
This new collection is certainly a jewel in the crown of Trevor-Roper's work, and adds considerably to the history of ideas, It can be considered equally valuable, alongside those well-known miscellanies of Isaiah Berlin and E.H. Carr.