My Dear Hugh: Letters from Richard Cobb to Hugh Trevor-Roper and Others

Richard Cobb was one of the most distinguished British historians of the twentieth century. A professor at Oxford, a multiple prize-winner, author of numerous books and innumerable essays and reviews, on subjects that ranged from the French revolution to pre-war Tunbridge Wells, he was proudest of all to be described as a Parisian. He was unconventional, anarchic and almost impossibly erudite. Somehow he managed in the course of a life of apparently unremitting grandeur to write letters to his friends, colleagues and increasing to Hugh Trevor-Roper, his equally brilliant and eccentric contemporary, and himself a notable correspondent. They were scratchy, iconoclastic, funny, indiscreet, vivid, fluent, and occasionally brilliant set-pieces of descriptive or historical reporting. The sight of one of his ill-typed missives in a blue Basildon Bond envelope was always a promise of pleasure, and usually of instruction, frequently an invitation to a feast of scurrilous gossip, and an excuse to put off day-to-day concerns for a while. He wrote about politicians, the royal family, fellow academics and journalists, and, of course, mutual friends. The complete letters would fill many volumes, but here is a selection of the best, made by Tim Heald, who was taught by Cobb at university, and corresponded with him intermittently for the next thirty years.