Monday, 7 June 2010

Lost in a Footnote

In a letter to the LRB R.G. Collingwood’s Roman Britain is described thus:

…[it] remains an outstanding essay, with a comparative perspective and breadth not to be matched.

Later this view is qualified.

Though outdated, as any work of scholarship must become, Collingwood’s Roman Britain remains intensely readable, elegant and provocative.

It is a curious phenomenon: hundreds of thousands (millions) of scholars, dedicating many years to their subject, yet they leave so little behind. Like the workmen in the great cathedrals, their memory simply a stone here and there… and often not even that.

Yet, the letter also points elsewhere: insight lasts. Perhaps we can create a dichotomy between the thinkers and the scholars. Easy, but not quite right. How many philosophers are remembered from the C19th? No, this will not do. No, a few writers have the power to penetrate to some truth, or at least to grasp something original and deep, and it is this quality that remains. Like the great artists, and their paintings on the walls….

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