J. H. Plumb

From Wikiquote
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Sir John (Jack) Harold Plumb FBA (20 August 1911 – 21 October 2001) was a British historian, known for his books on British 18th-century history. He wrote over thirty books.

Quotes[edit]

  • Men write history for many reasons; to try to understand the forces which impel mankind along its strange course; to justify a religion, a nation, or a class; to make money; to fulfil ambition; to assuage obsession; and a few, the true creators, to ease the ache within.
    • Studies in Social History (1955), p. xiii
  • His [Winston Churchill's] violent disagreement with Neville Chamberlain did not spring solely from thwarted ambition or personal dislike. Such motives may have sharpened the phrases and honed his epigrams, but the long policy of appeasement, the weakening of Britain's world role, the acceptance of oppression and racialism were to Churchill a denial of England's historical destiny and, because a denial, bound to end in disaster.
    • 'The Historian', in Churchill: Four Faces and the Man (1969; 1973), p. 123
  • For many years, as a gloomy exercise, I used to look for British cars on the streets of New York and the best that I could hope for was a rare "mini" or a rarer Rolls-Royce. Now its streets are alive with Jaguars – a tribute to the new professionalism in British industry which goes right down to the shop floor, a professionalism, however, which still has to be extended and encouraged.
    This can only be done by continuing the policies upon which Mrs Thatcher's government has embarked – particularly in education where the need to instill professional qualities and to teach technological skills is paramount. It is only through well trained youth and expanding industry that new, real jobs can be created.
    Everyone to whom I spoke in America – senators, industrialists, bankers, publishers – from the left of the Democratic party to the right of the Republican spoke with admiration of Mrs Thatcher, not only of the part she is playing in nuclear disarmament but also of the way she has changed the image of Britain from one of collapse and decay to self-reliance and hope.
    They believe, and I agree, that a victory for Labour would be disastrous. Mr Kinnock and his colleagues possess neither the intellect, the foresight, the sense of human reality nor the creative imagination needed for leadership. They know they cannot convince so they attempt to bamboozle.
    • Letter to The Times (10 June 1987), p. 17

Quotes about J. H. Plumb[edit]

  • He has always written to be read. He is always as concerned with the quality of his prose as he is with the quality of his argument or the precision of his evidence. In intention alone, such literary concern marks him out from the mass of practising academic historians, and the results of his endeavours mark him out even more clearly. His writing is, for pace, vigour and flow, unrivalled among contemporary historians and sometimes it is held to be too vivid. His figures of speech are not always appreciated by the profession: when he wrote, for instance, of Walpole's attempt to muzzle the youthful Chatham, "As well might he attempt to stop a hurricane with a hairnet", there were not a few reviewers who tut-tutted at the extravagance of the idea and its expression, but fortunately most have welcomed a writer who can present the product of massive scholarship elegantly and compactly and vividly. For his work can convey an unusual sense of intellectual excitement, and its polish and panache make him one of the most readable historians... He is a man to read for the larger scale and the developing vision. He is an historian to read for the changing relationship between political allies and rivals, for the battle between moral scruple and tactical skill in political factions, for the narrative curve of a politician's career, of the unfolding of a man's character in the face of opportunity, triumph, setback or defeat.
    • Neil McKendrick, 'J. H. Plumb: A Valedictory Tribute', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (1974), p. 14
  • I once wrote that I knew no one else who could at the same time master the technical problems of conveying the sweep of history – the tour d'horizon of internaitonal relations, balance of power, economic development, social structure, cultural achievement and national ambition – and at the same time stud these landscapes of the past with perceptive and original interpretations of the major figures bestriding the stage he had set. Plumb switches from the telescope to the microscope with unusual ease.
    • Neil McKendrick, 'J. H. Plumb: A Valedictory Tribute', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (1974), pp. 14-15
  • If boldly conceived, thoughtfully researched and elegantly written popular history is once again enjoying an extraordinary flowering in Britain, it was Sir John Plumb who planted the seeds, and tended the garden, while himself producing some of its most dazzling blooms. From the beginning of his career to its end he never wavered from the view that history's vocation might begin in the academy, but it should not end there; that as an illumination of the human condition, the "interpreter of its destiny", it was too important to be confined to the intra-mural disputes of the professionals.
  • In 1950 Plumb was confident enough to write for "The Pelican History of England" his justly famous masterpiece of compression, England in the Eighteenth Century, with its shrewd thumbnail sketches of the powerful and its unforgettable social scene-painting. On its pages countless readers smelled the London streets as well as the nose on a Houghton Bordeaux. It was, in miniature, writing of the kind Plumb admired in his literary epigones such as Sterne and Rabelais.
  • Creative energy is one of Professor Plumb's most obvious gifts – another is his sense of reality. No other historian can convey so vividly the feeling for how men breathe, eat, breed, enjoy themselves, go about their business, hope, worry and die. He is not too fastidious, he has a brotherly sympathy for the lusts of the flesh and the pride of the eye. All his books are written in what the French used to call the odour of the man... Vigorous, empathetic, sane, Professor Plumb is one of the tonic spirits of our day.
    • C. P. Snow, quoted in Neil McKendrick, 'J. H. Plumb: A Valedictory Tribute', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (1974), p. 18
  • Professor Plumb is outstanding among contemporary historians in fighting this diminished scope of his chosen discipline. It is shown, of course, in the breadth of his historical interests where his editorial work and his essays demonstrate his remarkable historical range. But it emerges more powerfully in the depth of his probing, and the constantly held wide perspective in which he has studied and made his own a portion of English history – the interrelation of political and social order in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries... Again and again J. H. Plumb brings to our conciousness by inference the triumphant victory of humanity in the last centuries, despite all setbacks, over material squalor, disease and brutality of manners; equally insistent is his sense of the tragic shortness of men's lives set beside their aspirations, of their persistent proneness to cruelty, to lethargy or to corruption.
    • Angus Wilson, quoted in Neil McKendrick, 'J. H. Plumb: A Valedictory Tribute', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (1974), p. 17
  • In Robert Walpole's life he has found the exemplar of that need for political stability without which social stability is impossible; yet, as the concluding remarks upon political stability of his Ford Lectures show, he is intensely aware that this very banishment of the chaos which haunts us all, holds in itself the nemesis of an inertia upon which social instability feeds. To have maintained such profound and pressing human problems as the constant background of works of exceptional detailed scholarship has surely been Professor Plumb's own splendid answer to the urgent demand he posed in his penetrating lecture "The Death of the Past" of 1969, when he called for a renewal o a meaningful study of history in an age when the past no longer gives the old simple linear answers that helped to hold civilisation together from the age of Eusebius to the century of Karl Marx.
    • Angus Wilson, quoted in Neil McKendrick, 'J. H. Plumb: A Valedictory Tribute', in Neil McKendrick (ed.), Historical Perspectives: Studies in English Thought and Society in Honour of J. H. Plumb (1974), pp. 17-18

External links[edit]

Wikipedia
Wikipedia has an article about: