Letters: A J P Taylor: the historian as performer

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Sir: Jan Morris, in her admirable review of Norman Davies' Europe, A History (19 October) says: "I was jarred by Davies's lapses into exhibitionism, rather in the A J P Taylor style."

Anyone who got up in time to join the hundreds in Magdalen College dining hall for Taylor's lectures - delivered without note, timed exactly to the hour as the clock in the great tower chimed 10 - would agree with me that Taylor was more a performer than an exhibitionist. His lectures, like his performances on television, were an art form.

But great performance does not make great history. Taylor himself confessed to the poverty of his historicism. When asked what was his philosophy of history, his reply was: "What happened next?" Davies quotes Taylor on the First World War: "Perhaps the war ... had no profound causes ... The only safe explanation is that things happen because they happen." Is this really the way to write history?

One is reminded of his footnote about George V, in his English History 1914-1945: "His trousers were creased at the sides, not front and back." All very well for television, but history?


West Worthing, West Sussex