Owen Chadwick 2

July 25 2015

First post (obits). I have linked to Alan Macfarlane of King’s College, Cambridge before. Here’s a ninety-minute interview of Chadwick by him, recorded in 2008.

I can only describe Chadwick’s smile as papery. From many years in a college. In my late teens I asked for the two volumes of his monumental The Victorian Church for Christmas, to the puzzlement of my family. At school I had had to read, and enjoyed, even if it lacked a certain drama, his The Reformation in the Pelican History of the Church, which he edited and to which he also contributed a volume on the Cold War. His younger brother Henry wrote the one on the early church, RW Southern a fine one on the medieval church.

He mentions DC Somervell in the first part, the man whose abridgements of Toynbee appeared in 1946 and 1957, as his history teacher at Tonbridge. He tells us that Toynbee’s early volumes were coming out then and that Somervell was rather contemptuous of him. But the first three then-uncontroversial volumes were only published in the summer of 1934. And would Somervell have said this? Especially when he wrote to Toynbee on September 11 to say that he had found them “enthrallingly interesting”? I wonder if this is not an academic reflex. Chadwick returns to Toynbee in the second part to show his own disapproval.

Macfarlane’s is a civilised voice, but he doesn’t get all that much out of his subject. But the picture in the Guardian shows Chadwick looking younger at 98 than he does here.

The discussion touches on Cambridge historians: Lord Acton (I met Chadwick at a lunch given for the launch of Roland Hill’s biography of Acton, which Chadwick in some degree mentored), GM Trevelyan, David Knowles, JH Plumb, Hugh Trevor-Roper (who was succeeded at Peterhouse by another ex-Christ Church figure, Henry Chadwick), Peter Laslett, Noel Annan, GR Elton. And others, such as the philosopher Michael Oakeshott.

“The Balkans might be better off at the moment if one or two people like David Owen or Lord Ashdown had known some history.”

Owen and Henry were both ordained Anglicans who were historians. Henry had a theological bent and wrote about the early church. Owen wrote mainly about religion, and the friction of church and state, in the nineteenth century.

Owen read history at St John’s, Cambridge and after the war was made a Fellow of Trinity Hall, Master of Selwyn College, Dixie Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Regius Professor of Modern History, and was for two years Vice Chancellor of the University.

Henry went to Eton and then Magdalene, Cambridge on a music scholarship, and after the war became a fellow of Queen’s College, Cambridge, Regius Professor of Divinity at Oxford, Dean of Christ Church, Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and then Master of Peterhouse in Cambridge, making him the first person in four centuries (since whom?) to have headed a college at both universities.

2 Responses to “Owen Chadwick 2”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Telegraph:

    “He always wrote most warmly about the country clergy and, as he put it, their ‘reasonable, quiet, unpretentious, sober faith in God and way of worship’.”

    Guardian:

    “Chadwick was immune from arrogance and self-importance. He retained a relaxed warmth and easy good nature, with an infectious reactive laugh. Indeed he had the unusual ability never to laugh at his own jokes and always to laugh at other people’s. It was an aspect of his most priestly and humane quality: the ability to listen. He could (rarely) switch off and appear uninterested, but never when people presented him with their sadness or anxiety. Theologically and intellectually he was cautiously liberal, but pastorally he was conservative with a strong streak of paternalism, and this brought balm to hundreds of people he met. He had the rare ability to make people feel better about themselves.”

  2. davidderrick Says:

    In the fourth para, I have taken out the patronising “Chadwick’s conversational sap is drying somewhat. His liveliness and laughter seem partly acted. The chains of his thoughts aren’t long.”

    I like Macfarlane’s comparison of the religious ambience in Kyoto with that of Anglicanism. There is a reverential atmosphere, but if you ask people what they believe, they don’t quite know.


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