Monday, January 14, 2013

a little touch of research

This is just a lucky tidbit of scholarly research that's come my way lately, that I don't have a pending use for, and which I'm describing not for its importance but as a typical example of something I used to, and maybe will again, do fairly regularly.

Fifteen years ago, when I was researching a paper on R.B. McCallum, the Oxford historian and political scientist who was a member of the Inklings - a paper published in Mythlore in 2001 - one of my lucky research discoveries came when I ran across a library copy of Alistair Horne's massive biography of Harold Macmillan, British prime minister in 1957-63. Macmillan had, I remembered, been elected Chancellor of Oxford University in 1960. The chancellor, usually a retired politician (currently it's Chris Patten), is the honorary head of the university and is elected by (essentially) all the university graduates who care to show up in person to vote. Consequently a chancellorship election - a rare event, as the job is for life - is an opportunity for office politics writ large. The 1960 election occurred while McCallum was Master of Pembroke, head of his college, and I wondered if he might have played a role in it.

He did. It turned out that McCallum was essentially the campaign manager for the major losing candidate. Macmillan's campaign manager was Hugh Trevor-Roper, the Regius Professor of History, and Horne quotes Trevor-Roper in a letter calling McCallum "a sanctimonious Scottish ass." This compared and contrasted interestingly with other judgments of McCallum, and it made a juicy quote in my paper.

Very well. Recently I happened to be browsing through Trevor-Roper's entry in Wikipedia, and found a reference to a collection of his Letters from Oxford published a few years ago. (I learn of a lot of intriguing books through references in Wikipedia articles.) I wondered if the outspoken Trevor-Roper would have any other quotable remarks on Inklings therein. I ordered the book through interlibrary loan, and found that it did. In two letters to Wallace Notestein, Trevor-Roper gives exceedingly gossipy accounts of the 1938-51 elections to the Professorship of Poetry, another office-politics elective post which comes up more often as it's a five-year term, and which involved, among others, C.S. Lewis - Trevor-Roper was on the opposite side of the academic barricades from Lewis, and his scurrilous and distinctly stereotyped description of Lewis is, so far as I know, yet unknown to Lewis scholarship - and the 1960 chancellorship election.

This time, Trevor-Roper explains that McCallum opposed Macmillan because he didn't want Macmillan as Chancellor to hold the ex officio position of Visitor (another honorary supervisory role) of Pembroke, and that the reason for that was that McCallum had recently "published an article in the Contemporary Review urging that the PM and most of his colleagues be impeached."

Wow. Not only did that sound more than usually juicy, but I'd been keeping a haphazard bibliography of McCallum's known works, and wanted to get this piece on that list.

It turned out that the piece was sort of already there. I had a citation for an article of that date in a journal called Contemporary Commentary, and a notation that I hadn't been able to locate it. But since (I now found on checking) that other title apparently did not exist, while Contemporary Review did, and the volume number in my citation matched the info I had on Contemporary Review's publication pattern, I concluded that the citation had simply gotten the name of the journal wrong.

It had. I found the back volumes of Contemporary Review at the San Jose State library. McCallum's article was there at the cited volume and pages. And it was in a section of the issue called "Contemporary Commentary", which appears as a running head and explains the mistaken citation. But it hardly fit Trevor-Roper's description. It bore the anodyne title "Thoughts on the General Election" (of 1959), and its contents were equally anodyne. No calls for impeachment anywhere. And no, McCallum hadn't written other articles for the journal in that period.

From which we learn: take anything Hugh Trevor-Roper tells you with caution, even when he's not authenticating fake Hitler diaries.

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