[OPE-L:8538] Re: Christoper Hill, 1912-2003

From: Paul Bullock (paulbullock@ebms-ltd.co.uk)
Date: Sun Mar 02 2003 - 16:29:08 EST


good to see you put this up. Those who havn't read absolutely all his stuff
are missing out dreadfully.... his Lenin is excellent...( and anyone who
upset Hexter gets my vote!).  Tragically he suffered from Alzheimers for the
last years, although his wife staunchly told me that thay had had many good
years. As the obituary says, she pre-deceased him last year. Life goes fast
...I attended a lecture by him when I was in (high) school!

----- Original Message -----
From: "gerald_a_levy" <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Sunday, March 02, 2003 3:25 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:8537] Christoper Hill, 1912-2003

> To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site,
> to http://www.guardian.co.uk
>  Christopher Hill
> Marxist historian whose radical interpretation of the 17th century changed
> the way we think about the English revolution
> Martin Kettle
> Tuesday February 25 2003
> The Guardian
>  Christopher Hill, who has died aged 91, was the commanding interpreter of
> 17th-century England, and of much else besides. As a public figure, he
> achieved his greatest fame as master of Balliol College, Oxford, a post he
> held from 1965 until 1978. Yet it was as the defining Marxist historian of
> the century of revolution, the title of one of the most widely studied of
> his many books, that he became known to generations of students around the
> world. For all these, too, he will always be the master.
>  It would be a pardonable exaggeration to say that Hill created the way in
> which the people of late 20th-century Britain - and the left in
particular -
> looked at the history of 17th-century England. As he never tired of
> out, some of the themes he illuminated so richly had already been explored
> by left-wing scholars in the 1930s. But from 1940, when he published his
> tercentenary essay, The English Revolution 1640, his own voluminously
> expanding and unfailingly literate work became the starting point of most
> subsequent interpretation, even for those who rejected his method and
> conclusions.
>  No historian of recent times was so synonymous with his period of study;
> is the reason why most of us know anything about the 17th century at all.
> was, EP Thompson once said, the dean and paragon of English historians.
>  Hill was born in York, where his father was a solicitor. His parents were
> Methodists, a fact to which he attributed his lifelong political and
> intellectual apostasy. Though his life was to be the embodiment of a
> secularised form of dissent, his high moral seriousness and egalitarianism
> surely had roots in this radical Protestant background.
>  At St Peter's school in York, his academic prowess was immediately
> It is said that, when Hill was 16, the two Balliol dons - Vivien Galbraith
> and Kenneth Bell - who marked his entrance papers agreed to award him
> before travelling to York to capture him for the college and prevent him
> going any further with a Cambridge application. Galbraith, in particular,
> was to remain an immense influence.
>  Hill's association with Balliol was to continue, with only brief
> interruptions, from his arrival as an undergraduate in 1931 until his
> retirement as master 47 years later. Academic honours regularly fell his
> way, starting with the prestigious Lothian prize in 1932, and continuing
> with a first-class degree in 1934 and an All Souls fellowship that winter.
> But he was a successful rugby player too, the scorer of a famous
> try for Balliol. Even more lastingly, he had become a Marxist.
>  Exactly when and why this happened is uncertain, since Hill was always
> notoriously inscrutable about discussing his personal life. He once
> it came about through trying to make sense of the 17th-century
> poets, but although he read Marx as an undergraduate, the moment of his
> conversion to communism is elusive.
>  His contemporary, RW Southern, once teasingly remembered "a time when
> Christopher was not in the least bit leftish", but Hill was an
> during the period of the great depression, the hunger marches, the New
> Hitler's rise (he visited the Weimar Republic before going up to Oxford),
> and the first (favourable) impact of Stalin in the west. He was a regular
> attender at GDH Cole's Thursday Lunch Club, where, as he once put it, "I
> forced to ask questions about my own society which had previously not
> occurred to me."
>  Certainly by the time he graduated, Hill had joined the Communist party.
> 1935, he spent a year in the Soviet Union, during which he was very ill,
> also formed a lasting affection for Russian life - and a somewhat less
> lasting one for Soviet politics.
> After Moscow, he had two years as an assistant lecturer at University
> College, Cardiff, before returning to Balliol as a fellow and tutor in
> modern history. In 1940, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Oxford
> and Bucks Light Infantry, before becoming a major in the intelligence
> and being seconded to the Foreign Office from 1943 until the end of the
> This was, to put it mildly, an intriguing period, about which he rarely
> fall much detail.
>  By this time, he had begun to publish, at first pseudonymously, articles
> and reviews which, among other things, did much to draw attention to the
> burgeoning Soviet school of English 17th-century studies. Then, in 1940,
> arising out of intensive debate among a group of Marxist historians, who
> included Leslie Morton, Robin Page Arnot and - particularly influential on
> Hill - Dona Torr, came the decisive The English Revolution 1640.
>  The essay was originally published as one of a collection of three
> reflections (the others were by Margaret James and Edgell Rickword).
> contribution, which was subsequently published alone, was a
> assertion of the revolutionary nature of England between 1640 and 1660,
> an assault on the traditional presentation of these years as an aberration
> in the stately continuity of English history.
>  "I wrote as a very angry young man, believing he was going to be killed
> a world war," Hill later told an interviewer. The book, he said, "was
> written very fast and in a good deal of anger, [and] was intended to be my
> last will and testament." It has rarely, if ever, been out of print since.
>  The discussions surround- ing Hill's essay also produced, in 1946, the
> Communist Party Historians Group, an association he regarded as "the
> greatest single influence" on his subsequent work. This formidable
> which inclu- ded Edmund Dell, Maurice Dobb, Rodney Hilton, Eric Hobsbawm,
> James Jeffreys, Victor Kiernan, George Rud&#233;, Raphael Samuel, John
> Saville and Dorothy Thompson, has a good claim to have redefined the study
> of history in Britain, especially after the launch, in 1952, of the
> Past And Present, of which Hill rapidly became the moving spirit and,
> the doyen. It also generated the path-breaking collection of documents,
> Good Old Cause, that he edited with Dell in 1949.
>  The active, 20-year involvement with communism, which also led to his
> biography, Lenin And The Russian Revolution (1947), came to a crisis after
> the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. Along with many in the CP, Hill
> become disenchanted with the party's lack of democracy and its reluctance
> criticise the Soviet Union. Both issues came to a head in the late weeks
> 1956, though his own break did not come until the following year. He was
> appointed to a CP review of inner-party democracy, but the rejection of
> critical minority report, written by Hill (with Peter Cadogan and Malcolm
> MacEwen), precipitated his final departure.
>  These were watershed years in Hill's personal life too. A wartime
> to Inez Waugh, the former wife of a colleague, produced a home life which
> combined the high seriousness of Balliol Marxism with an extravagant
> bohemianism. It also produced their daughter Fanny Hill, later a dashing
> figure on the Oxford scene, who drowned off the Spanish coast in her 40s.
> The marriage collapsed early and, in 1956, he married again, this time to
> Bridget Sutton, then a history tutor with the Workers' Educational
> Association in Staffordshire. Turbulence was replaced by the single
> happiness of Hill's life. With Bridget (obituary, August 13 2002), he had
> son and two daughters, one of whom died in a car accident.
>  After 1957, Hill's career ascended to new heights as he began the
> remarkable output of books on which his reputation will rest, and which
> continued undiminished until he was well into his 80s. Hill always argued
> that the connection between leaving the CP and his wider fame was post-hoc
> rather than propter-hoc, and it is certainly true that 1956-57 caused no
> revolution (let alone a counter-revolution) in his analysis of the English
> revolution. On the other hand, the Bridget effect can hardly be
> underestimated.
> >
> > If the steady flow of books which began with Economic Problems Of The
> Church (1955) can, to some extent, be seen as a succession of more
> explorations of the themes sketched out in the early didactic essays, they
> also reflect the extraordinary sweep of Hill's interests and mind. Central
> to the whole project was a patient fascination with religion, represented,
> in particular, in his attempt to understand the revolutionary power of
> puritanism.
>  But Hill's explorations were in no way bound by traditional or
> theories. The single, most striking and controversial aspect of his method
> was the way in which he subtly identified intellectual connections,
> and continuities between the most unlikely pieces of evidence - from
> of court records to Paradise Lost and Pilgrim's Progress. His use of
> literary sources was one of his most fascinating characteristics.
>  Many of the tasks he set himself were laid out in his next book,
> And Revolution (1958). They were further explored in Society And
> In Pre-Revolutionary England (1964) and the remarkable Intellectual
> Of The English Revolution (1965, and extensively revised 31 years later),
> this last based on his 1962 Ford lectures. Alongside came more popular
> of exegesis - a Historical Association pamphlet on Cromwell (1958), the
> bestselling (but not adulatory) biography God's Englishman (1970), the
> textbook The Century Of Revolution (1961) and the hugely successful
> economic history, Reformation To Industrial Revolution (1967).
>  Those who heard Hill deliver the lectures on which it is based - lectures
> delivered in a nervous, slightly stuttering voice - will always reserve a
> special place for his 1972 study of radical and millenarian ideas, The
> Turned Upside Down. Not only was this one of the very few history   books
> be turned into a play (at the National theatre), it was also a work made
> more exciting by the time in which it was written, an era of
> counter-cultural energy which Hill observed (and quietly celebrated) from
> the Balliol master's lodgings.
>  This was a period of immense academic daring (and, thought some, of
> over-reaching) as Hill scythed through received tradition in his study of
> AntiChrist In 17th-century England (1971) and his controversial study of
> Milton And The English Revolution (1977), which, like many of his later
> works, was written at the plain but lovely house in P&#233;rigord which
> Bridget badgered him into buying in 1969.
>  Meanwhile, in 1965, Hill had defeated Ronald Bell in the election for
> master of Balliol, a success which caused raised eyebrows (it was only 10
> years or so since academics with Hill's politics had been, to all intents
> and purposes, blacklisted from many posts) and much press attention. His
> tenure was deft and collegiate, and he tried to maintain his teaching and
> research amid the administrative and ceremonial duties. He never seriously
> hid his enthusiasm for the two main innovations of   his mastership - the
> opening of male-only Balliol to women, and the representation of students
> the college governing body. "Common sense varies among the young," he
> admitted, "as among the old."
>  Retirement found his productivity undiminished. He moved to Sibford
> on the Cotswold hills, and, for two years, worked as a visiting professor
> the Open University, an entirely characteristic effort to bring his
> to a wider audience. Then he settled down to further books: Some
> Intellectual Consequences Of The English Revolution (1980); The World Of
> Muggletonians (1983); and The Experience Of Defeat (1984), an account of
> Restoration made poignant by the reverses 20th-century leftwing politics
> were suffering at the time.
>  A marvellously vivid study of Bunyan followed in 1988, before The English
> Bible In 17th-century England (1993) and Liberty Against The Law (1996).
> Three volumes of essays were published in the 1980s - throughout his life,
> Hill wrote some of his most challenging and original work in articles and
> reviews.
>  Hill was honoured by an OUP festschrift, Puritans And Revolutionaries,
> he retired from Balliol in 1978, and Verso published a series of tributes
> and criticisms, Reviving The English Revolution, 10 years later. Yet, for
> the last 20 years of his life, he became once again a more controversial
> figure.
>  His methodology was famously assaulted by JH Hexter in a Times Literary
> Supplement review in 1975, and his assessment of Milton was powerfully
> denounced by Blair Worden. A reaction against his big reading of
> 17th-century history took root in the work of Conrad Russell, John Morrill
> and others. Yet Morrill's tribute in 1989 - "If we can be sure that the
> century changed England and Englishmen more than any other century bar the
> present one, we owe that recognition to him more than to any other
> scholar" - shows how, even in relative eclipse, Hill remained the central
> point of reference in 17th-century studies.
>  People always felt there was something enigmatic about Hill. Whether as a
> friend walking through Oxfordshire or the Dordogne, as a tutor hunched in
> his armchair discussing an essay - and still more on formal occasions - he
> kept his cards close to his chest, forcing you to do the talking, making
> listen to what you were saying in the way that he was listening too. But
> then he would make a joke, often just a pointed ironic observation, that
> made you love him. As someone once said, although he affected to be
> he could not help being benign.
>  But tough too. Always. Hill once gave a radio talk marking the centenary
> the publication of Das Kapital. He ended it by telling how, in old age,
> had bumped into a fellow revolutionary from the 1848 barricades, now
> prosperous and complacent. The acquaintance reflected that, as one got
> older, one became less radical and less political. "Do you?" Marx replied.
> "Do you? Well, I do not!" And nor, he clearly intended us to understand,
> Christopher Hill.
>  &#183; John Edward Christopher Hill, historian, born February 6 1912;
> February 24 2003
>  Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited

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