J.H. Plumb (1911–2001) was a British historian. He taught at Cambridge and Columbia. Plumb was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1968 and was knighted in 1982. His works include England in the Eighteenth Century, The Making of a Historian,and The American Experience.

Franklin’s Mint

Benjamin Franklin has not attracted as many biographers as one might expect. His professional life was so complicated that would-be biographers shy away. At various times in his life he was a printer, a scientist, a journalist, a diplomat, a politician, an entrepreneur, and some would have us believe a …

Spreading the News

Since World War II professional history in America has become more sophisticated and analytical, more European, than ever before. The great historians of the Thirties and Forties, Samuel Eliot Morison, Henry Steele Commager, Allan Nevins, Garrett Mattingly, and the young Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., were largely cast in the traditional nineteenth-century …

Very Heaven

One day last summer, the Place de la Concorde was a riot of color as a cloud of hot-air balloons rose majestically and blew eastward across Paris to mark the bicentenary of the achievement of the Montgolfier brothers: the first men to construct a hot-air balloon, in whose invention the …

Underqualified for the Job

In the flurry created by Antonia Fraser’s King Charles II Richard Ollard’s book is likely, undeservedly, to be overlooked. Also it is an odd book—a long essay, attached to a simple narrative structure, or rather chronology, since there is no story in a strict sense of the word. Salient facts …

Un-Kinglike King

Even by comparison with the rest of an unstable world, England was a wild, radical country in the seventeenth century. Usually kings or regents or ministers were despatched by assassins or thrown out of windows but never brought to trial. England, however, tried a captive queen in privacy and then …

Easy Living

Ambition in authors should always be applauded even though ambition in books, as in life, is rarely achieved. Mark Girouard calls his book, quite modestly, Life in the English Country House, but the title conceals more than it reveals of what he has attempted to do. Professor Girouard is concerned …

The Rise of Love

Professor Stone may be the boldest historian alive. Certainly he seems almost recklessly brave by the timid standards of the profession. He can write large books or short ones, but he cannot write a book about a trivial theme. His first large book, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641, analyzed …

How Freedom Took Root in Slavery

One of the great conundrums of American history is how Jefferson could write the Declaration of Independence, with its insistence on the inalienable right of all men to liberty, to equality, and to the pursuit of happiness, while he was depriving two hundred slaves on his own estates of precisely …

He Tried Harder

The qualities that make for success are at times baffling. G. H. Hardy, the great English mathematician, used to delight to point out that high intelligence was the least important quality for success in most human situations. Judgment he regarded as having little to do with intelligence (a view that …

Ravaged by Common Sense

For over twelve months now I have been in pursuit of Benjamin Franklin—rereading his autobiography, plowing systematically through his letters and essays, sampling the deluge of Franklin books that flow from the presses. Franklin is still, I suspect, a million-dollar-a-year industry, possibly more. Who buys, who reads, who believes? Why …

The Wolf’s Clothing

As 1976 looms nearer and nearer, one must expect a deluge of biographies, both American and English, of Washington, Franklin, Jefferson. Indeed all the Founding Fathers will be portrayed in every conceivable way in every possible medium. In this tidal wash will follow a smaller wave of biographies of those …

Hogarth’s Progress

This book is vast—a great river of words, flowing majestically on, but like most great rivers, it loops and winds and backtracks. Half a million words on Hogarth! Every parish register, every rate book, all the London newspapers have been ransacked for facts about Hogarth’s parents, even his uncles and …

From Peking to Rome

One of the most astonishing facts about the history of China is the immense length of time that elapsed before it became the disinterested study of Western intellectuals—and even now Sinologists are only beginning to grope with some of the fundamental questions posed by the immensity of China’s past. At …

Rabbit Stew

After the rip-roaring success of her book The Sun King, it was natural that Miss Mitford should have sorted through the European monarchs of the eighteenth century for its successor. There were some ripe characters available, for monarchy forces human character rather as a glass house does tropical fruit. Once …

Plantation Power

Now that the Sixties have closed, it is fitting to salute Eugene Genovese and the salutary, disturbing, critical effect that he must have on the writing of American history—performing, indeed, for his own country the service which Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm did for Britain in the Fifties. The rise …

Farmers in Arms

The nature of English politics in the late eighteenth century has suffered because historians, like voyeurs in a crowd, get hypnotized by the object of their preoccupation and pursue it with a concentration so intense that they ignore everything else that jostles them for their attention. For Sir Lewis Namier …

Slavery, Race, and the Poor

Often social change is imperceptible to those living in its midst. It is like water oozing through a dam—at first a faint dampness, a trickle, a spurt, the cracks multiply and either the dam crumbles or the pushing waters are sufficiently eased to create a new, if unstable, equilibrium. To …

The Bourgeois Take-Over

Since it was published forty years ago, Bernard Groethuysen’s book has enjoyed a modest subterranean reputation, greater perhaps in sociological than in historical circles. But it has always been a rare book, mentioned in the bibliographies of specialists in eighteenth-century French thought, but rarely read. It has now been excellently …

For Wilberforce’s Aunt

Here it is again—the horrors of the Middle Passage, the callous inspection of the naked human cattle in the slave pens, the dreadful auction by scramble when child was torn from mother. The old stories re-emerge: the young fourteen-year-old Negress flogged to death; the Negro boy of nineteen in his …

Excelsior!

By the end of the nineteenth century not much of the globe remained unknown to the Western world. Even the elusive sources of the Nile had been tracked down in the Mountains of the Moon, and H. M. Stanley had hacked his way through the Iturri Forest in the darkest …

Franklin Unbuttoned

An English historian must tiptoe as he draws near the American Pantheon, stuffed as it is with white marmoreal figures—austere, virtuous, dedicated. No virago here, like Elizabeth I, whose language could rival the porters at Billingsgate and was not above a bedroom tussle with her courtier favorites even though none …

Boney

Who buys them, the endless books about Nalopeon, Josephine, and his monstrous brood of brothers and sisters, or the battle books that pour from the press, describing in detail his tactics but rarely the slaughter of men? Is there anything new to say about Napoleon, or is the story so …

Unconditional Negotiations

America may be accomplished in the arts and sciences of mankind, but peace-making has never been her forte. After both World Wars opportunities were lost and complexities created that could easily have been avoided; suspicion and naiveté both contributed their quota of mistakes, yet by Yalta the American government had …

History in Spite of Itself

There might seem to be two ways of reviewing this book. One would be to dismiss the idea that history needs to be accurate, that historical judgments require for their formulation not one source but many, that human character is intricate, self-deceiving, subtly moulded by time and circumstance, that style …

Horace Walpole at Yale

How splendid they look—thirty-one massive volumes so far, beautifully and expensively printed, large rich margins, print bold yet delectable, binding discreet but costly; an air of immense opulence hangs about these books. As they come out in twos and threes, praise, florid, scholarly, or ornate extols the labors of W.

Amateurs

Three hundred years ago history suffered no division. Academics and amateurs were happy with the same mixture of fable and truth. King Lud lurked in the mists of London’s antiquity: and Brit, hoary, woad-stained, festooned with improbable legends, remained a convenient island terminus for the British Kings’ genealogy on its …