Trevor-Roper on Toynbee

Fri Feb 1, 2008

As I have an interest in Spengler’s influence in England, and in British historiography of the early-mid 20th C more generally, I was quite curious about Hugh Trevor-Roper’s piece on Toynbee in the New York Review. I didn’t expect it to be quite so acidulous:

Behind what his biographer calls “his mask of modesty,” which became in time a grotesque parade of “humility,” there was a raging egotism. In this he reminds us of another great egotist who also ended as a self-important prophet vaticinating in the void, Thomas Carlyle. When Carlyle was constipated, all history had to writhe and groan with him.

I’ve read the abridged Study of History, and Carlyle was not at all the first comparison that came to mind. Carlyle’s somewhat anarchic glorification of anachronism is also worth comparing with Toynbee’s.