An ancient

January 6 2007

I have quoted Toynbee’s description of a visit to Ephesus in which he loses himself in a reverie, as though he had known it in the first century.

Evelyn Waugh describes my godfather Douglas Woodruff (1897-1978) in A Little Learning (1964):

“Douglas Woodruff seemed an ancient. […] I can conceive of him as equally at home in Ambrose’s Milan, in the libraries of the medieval scholiasts, in the renaissance universities, in the courts of the Counter-reformation, in the coffee shops of Dryden, or in the Oriel common-room of the 1840s. With heavy head and hooded eyes, he drew in Johnsonian diction on a treasury of curious historical lore which gave the impression of personal reminiscence rather than research; I have since observed him abroad gazing at some famous historical site, a space overbuilt, or a monument reconstructed and totally unrecognisable to the modern eye, with a peculiar air of familiarity as though he had known it well centuries before.”

He had been vice consul in Amsterdam from 1917 to 1919, before going to Oxford. He was colonial editor on The Times from 1926 to ’36 under Geoffrey Dawson and editor of The Tablet from 1936 to ’67, where my father was his deputy from 1938 to ’61. In 1933 he married Lord Acton’s granddaughter, the redoubtable Hon Marie Immaculée Antoinette Dalberg-Acton (1905-94), Mia to all.

“He was a man of unobtrusive and overwhelming authority”: Patrick O’Donovan, Personal Memoir, in Mary Craig, editor, Woodruff at Random, The Universe, 1978. “He liked the sites of history – Bosworth field or Marston Moor were his idea of places for splendid outings.” See also Dictionary of National Biography entry by Auberon Waugh.


Portrait by Simon Elwes, 1949

8 Responses to “An ancient”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Morton’s Toynbee bibliography mentions a review by Woodruff of Experiences in The Tablet, From Particular to General, on August 16 1969.

    McNeill in his Notes: “Toynbee recalled […]: ‘After Rosalind and I became engaged, he [Gilbert Murray] [bracket in original] questioned me, I remember, on my religious beliefs, and showed satisfaction at finding they were, more or less, Stoical, in the classical sense.’ Bodleian Library, Toynbee Papers, letter, AJT to Douglas Woodruff, 5 February 1972.”

    Waugh reviewed Woodruff’s Talking at Random and The Tichborne Claimant in The Spectator respectively on September 26 1942 and July 21 1957; reprinted in Donat Gallagher, editor, The Essays, Articles and Reviews of Evelyn Waugh, Methuen, 1983.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Douglas was fond of elephants. For his 80th birthday I gave him HH Scullard’s The Elephant in the Greek and Roman World, Thames and Hudson, 1974, in the Aspects of Greek and Roman Life series.

  3. […] My godfather often read Gregorovius. He liked grand, leisurely books and Gregorovius knew his ancestor by marriage, Lord Acton. […]

  4. davidderrick Says:

    Waugh on Woodruff: “No one and nothing beneath his notice and very little indeed to command his respect.”

    If you aim at that consciously, you are insufferable, but if anyone said this of me on the evidence of this blog, I’d be very flattered.

  5. davidderrick Says:

    He produced no major work of scholarship.

    Plato’s American Republic 1926

    The British Empire 1929

    Plato’s Britannia 1929

    Charlemagne 1934

    Expansion and Emigration in GM Young, editor, Early Victorian England 1934

    Great Tudors 1935

    European Civilisation: The Grand Tour 1935

    Editor, Dear Sir 1936

    The Story of the British Colonial Empire 1939

    Talking at Random 1941

    More Talking at Random 1944

    Still Talking at Random 1948

    Walrus Talk 1954

    The Tichborne Claimant 1957

    Church and State in History 1961

    The Life and Times of Alfred the Great 1974

    Milton unfinished

    He had long wanted to write a life of Mirabeau, the great French constitutionalist of the Revolution, whom he considered a figure unjustly neglected in Britain. I wonder whether the suggestion had come from Belloc. This was, I suppose, one of Belloc’s unwritten books. Perhaps it would have been his reply to Belloc’s Danton.

  6. […] in the post before last. Where Douglas and Mia Woodruff lived from 1964, when they left London, until their deaths, his in 1978, hers in […]

  7. davidderrick Says:

    O’Donovan makes a great point about DW’s zest and health being good to the end. I am not so sure. I think there was some depression when he could no longer read, and there was certainly less conversation.

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