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Hugh Trevor-Roper: A member of the last generation in England to take letter-writing seriously 
Hugh Trevor-Roper was a case of redemption by misfortune. Brilliantly gifted, for most of his life he devoted himself to careerism, social climbing and the exercise of virtuoso malevolence. As such, he flourished mightily. Then fortune turned sour. But from his sufferings a new man emerged, more sensitive, softer, gentler, and his end — aged, lonely, blind but with his formidable intelligence still intact — was strangely edifying. This moral tale can be traced in his letters, of which this is a superb selection. 

Trevor-Roper belonged to the last generation in England which took letter-writing seriously. He was a self-conscious stylist and composing letters was for him an arduous duty and delight. These include a number of set pieces: a wonderful description of Iceland, another on the floods of 1947, two brilliant evocations of Greece, a third of Jerusalem, and a startling glimpse of the student riots of 1968 at the LSE. But there are also letters to a wide variety of correspondents, famous and obscure, about a great variety of subjects. The book makes a hugely entertaining volume, and since Trevor-Roper published little, a propensity he shared with his enemy at Magdalen, K.B. McFarlane, it should be treated as a salient part of his oeuvre. 

Trevor-Roper began his career with an explosion of success. By good fortune, he was given by the authorities the job of writing up Hitler's end. He did this with such skill and verve that The Last Days of Hitler became an international bestseller. It enabled him to buy a Rolls Royce, take up fox-hunting and become the smartest don in Oxford. He also, in due course, married the daughter of an earl, admittedly an ennobled general, Douglas Haig, who sent so many gallant volunteers to their deaths. It is a relief, as we learn from a letter to Alan Clark, author of that denunciation of the brass-hats, The Donkeys, that Trevor-Roper was a covert anti-Haig man. 
What exactly were his relations with Xandra, as she was known, is not clear, though they wrote each other many letters. "I give my heart to you," he enthused. But one of their hostesses told me they insisted on having separate bedrooms and, if possible, bathrooms too. In time, Xandra became a sardonic critic of Trevor-Roper's inability to produce the masterpiece which he boasted he was about to finish. "I am now writing a huge book in three volumes," he crowed. But no such work appeared. Xandra commented: "Our attic is crowded with Chapter Ones. Never a Chapter Two."

Despite this, Trevor-Roper continued to prosper. In 1957, Harold Macmillan, a prime minister he had cultivated, made him Regius Professor of History, a prize which rightly should have gone to A.J.P. Taylor. In time a life peerage was added by his Tory friends, for which he impudently chose the ancient title of Dacre. He gave up hunting and contrived to sell his horse during a tutorial (the new owner was a Baring). He had a genuine dislike for the low-born, the source of his otherwise inexplicable detestation of A.L. Rowse. "Poor old Rowse," he wrote. "I fear he has never really transcended his social origins. That tongue which shoots out with such chameleon agility towards a ducal posterior, never uncoils, in our little republic of letters, except to discharge the hoardings of a parish scold." He dismissed Mrs Thatcher's invaluable colleague, Norman Tebbit, one of the nicest men in England, who had risen from the ranks, as "a thug". He delighted in ingenious pieces of research, such as his discovery that his colleague "The Prof", Professor Lindemann, was the son of a man who owned the Dresden waterworks. For social purposes Trevor-Roper was an Anglican but regarded Christianity as inferior to Judaism or even Islam. He had a particular detestation of Catholics, especially converts. The genial Frank Longford, who would go the length of England to help a poor ex-criminal in distress, he dismissed as "an ass", and he treasured a letter from Lord Birkenhead denouncing Evelyn Waugh in unmeasured terms, though would not refer to it publicly for fear of "incurring the insane malice of his son", Auberon Waugh.

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April 28th, 2014
11:04 AM
This is not the first time that Paul Johnson has written about Hugh Trevor-Roper, and each time his dislike is pretty apparent (and probably started when Johnson was at Magdalen). But the errors and innuendo reveal more about Johnson than they do about Trevor-Roper. If Johnson's writings tell us anything about Trevor-Roper, they offer evidence of the variety of responses that he could provoke.

Billy Corr
March 17th, 2014
12:03 AM
Any comment about the saintly Frank (Lord) Longford , who was a good egg at heart, necessarily embraces his involvement in the in the culturally-reactionary Festival of Light - 'Moral Pollution Needs A Solution'

Billy Corr
March 16th, 2014
11:03 AM
I am so slow-witted that I am still trying to puzzle out whether parts of this riveting piece are intended as quiet jokes (for the pleasure of whom?) or 100% wholly-seriously-intended

March 15th, 2014
3:03 PM
This article provides as depressing glimpse into the world of the status obsessed English intellectual elite of the recent past. One has the impression of a privileged, back-biting parasite struggling for position in a world peopled by his own repulsive kind. The Hitler Diaries incident exposed his shallowness.

March 9th, 2014
3:03 PM
Please excuse what may be seen as my naïveté, but I am baffled by elements of this review. Are parts of it an elaborate in-joke? Norman Tebbit, 'one of the nicest men in England'? My (admittedly spotty) knowledge of British politics in the Eighties led me to believe that there are large segments of the public who would, at the very least, not automatically concur with this characterization. (I only know Tebbit from the Spitting Image presentation of him as, yes, a thug, and always assumed there was at least some truth behind the satire.). And the Dame Edna Everage comment has got to be a joke on Johnson's part, right? Forgive me, I'm usually sensitive to a writer's tone, but has alcohol got the better of Johnson here? Or is this the kind of facetiousness in which he usually indulges in his writing? Or am I just losing my mind, Tebbit's a saint, Dame Edna's a real person, and I should seek professional help?

Andrew Paul Wood
March 9th, 2014
11:03 AM
Dame Edna Everage is perhaps better addressed as Barry Humphries

March 8th, 2014
10:03 AM
honestly, this is a picture of a useless, malevolent, and bigoted person who accomplished little. and yet he's 'the most brilliant don of his day,' etc. read your own article and then give the assessment of the man that it entails.

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