An Open Elite? England 15401880
by Lawrence Stone, by Jeanne C. Fawtier Stone
Oxford University Press, 566 pp., $39.95
One reason why most historians don’t write very much is that they have a fulltime job keeping up with the vast output of the few who do. Among these prodigy producers, whom it would be more impolitely accurate to call Cliomaniacs, Lawrence Stone can be particularly distinguished partly by the range, quality, and audacity of his work, and partly by the impassioned and varied responses which it invariably, and deliberately, provokes. His major work comprises four huge volumes, which together add up to more than 2,500 pages—a million words on a millennium of English history. and, as readers of this journal have ample cause to know, scores of coruscating, combative, and controversial reviews.
Stone’s historical universe is not only large and full of matter; it is also an exciting—if dangerous—place to be. The past of which he writes is one of great events and constant action: of rise and fall, change and crisis, evolution and revolution. There are usually at least ten causes for this, seven consequences of that, and five reasons why most other historians have got it wrong. His admirers, and there are many, see him as a Cliomagician, and acclaim his energy, his originality, his vision and high spirits. His curiosity about the past is insatiable; his interest in sociology and statistics, economics and anthropology, is irrepressible; his determination to tackle large topics is an inspiration. He is open to new ideas new subjects, and new approaches in an exemplary way; and his books are always brilliantly organized, written in lively and lucid prose, abundant with crisp judgments. All this he has accomplished while carrying formidable burdens of teaching and administration. At Princeton he presides over the Davis Center for Historical Studies, which puts on the best and bloodiest gladiatorial shows in the profession; he is one of the most influential members of the editorial board of Past and Present; and he is an inspiring and intimidating supervisor of graduate students, to whom he is known as “the Pope of Princeton.” Cliomogul might be a more apt description.
But to his enemies, and there are also many, he is closer to being Cliomonster: cavalier in his use of sources, unsound in his statistical calculations, speculative in his generalizations, and irresponsible in his polemics. Indeed, his list of adversaries is nearly as long, and at least as distinguished, as his own list of publications. Those who are on the scholarly right, but wrong, include H.R. Trevor-Roper, G.R. Elton, J.P. Cooper, J.P. Kenyon, and Conrad Russell. And those who are on the left but are …