G. M. Trevelyan
Trevelyan photographed by George Charles Beresford in 1926
|6th Chancellor of Durham University|
|The Marquess of Londonderry|
|The Earl of Scarbrough|
|Master of Trinity College, Cambridge|
|Sir J. J. Thomson|
|Edgar Adrian, 1st Baron Adrian|
|Regius Professor of History |
University of Cambridge
|J. B. Bury|
|Sir George Clark|
George Macaulay Trevelyan
16 February 1876
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, England
|Died||21 July 1962 (aged 86)|
Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, England
|Resting place||Holy Trinity Church, Langdale, Cumbria|
George Macaulay Trevelyan (16 February 1876 - 21 July 1962), was a British historian and academic. He was a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1898 to 1903. He then spent more than twenty years as a full-time author. He returned to the University of Cambridge and was Regius Professor of History from 1927 to 1943. He served as Master of Trinity College from 1940 to 1951. In retirement, he was Chancellor of Durham University.
Trevelyan was the third son of Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, and great-nephew of Thomas Babington Macaulay, whose staunch liberal Whig principles he espoused in accessible works of literate narrative avoiding a consciously dispassionate analysis, that became old-fashioned during his long and productive career. The noted historian E. H. Carr considered Trevelyan to be one of the last historians of the Whig tradition.
Many of his writings promoted the Whig Party, an important aspect of British politics from the 17th century to the mid-19th century, and its successor, the Liberal Party. Whigs and Liberals believed the common people had a more positive effect on history than did royalty and that democratic government would bring about steady social progress.
Trevelyan's history is engaged and partisan. Of his Garibaldi trilogy, "reeking with bias", he remarked in his essay "Bias in History", "Without bias, I should never have written them at all. For I was moved to write them by a poetical sympathy with the passions of the Italian patriots of the period, which I retrospectively shared."
Trevelyan was born into late Victorian Britain in Welcombe House, Stratford-on-Avon, the large house and estate owned by his maternal grandfather, Robert Needham Philips, a wealthy Lancashire merchant and the Liberal Member of Parliament (MP) for Bury. Today Welcombe is a hotel and spa for tourists visiting Shakespeare's birthplace. On his paternal side, he was the son of Sir George Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, who had served as Secretary for Scotland, under Liberal Prime Ministers William Gladstone, and the Earl of Rosebery, and the grandson of Sir Charles Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, who had served as a civil servant and had faced considerable criticism for his and the British government's handling of the Great Famine of Ireland.
Trevelyan's parents used Welcombe as a winter resort after they inherited it in 1890. They looked upon Wallington Hall, the Trevelyan family estate in Northumberland, as their real home. George traced his father's steps to Harrow School and then Trinity College, Cambridge. After attending Wixenford and Harrow, where he specialised in history, Trevelyan studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was a member of the secret society, the Cambridge Apostles and founder of the still existing Lake Hunt, a hare and hounds chase where both hounds and hares are human. In 1898, he won a fellowship at Trinity with a dissertation that was published the following year as England in the Age of Wycliffe. One professor at the university, Lord Acton, enchanted the young Trevelyan with his great wisdom and his belief in moral judgement and individual liberty.
[Trevelyan's] great work was his Garibaldi trilogy (1907-11), which established his reputation as the outstanding literary historian of his generation. It depicted Garibaldi as a Carlylean hero--poet, patriot, and man of action--whose inspired leadership created the Italian nation. For Trevelyan, Garibaldi was the champion of freedom, progress, and tolerance, who vanquished the despotism, reaction, and obscurantism of the Austrian empire and the Neapolitan monarchy. The books were also notable for their vivid evocation of landscape (Trevelyan had himself followed the course of Garibaldi's marches), for their innovative use of documentary and oral sources, and for their spirited accounts of battles and military campaigns.
Historian Lucy Voakes argues that his Garibaldi project was part of a larger movement among English intellectuals to consolidate, celebrate and sometimes to critique liberal culture and politics. She sees Trevelyan's conception of the hero, and his study of the Italian Risorgimento emerging from his promotion of a distinctly 'English' patriotism based upon Whig gradualism, parliamentary monarchy and a hierarchical anti-republicanism.
Trevelyan lectured at Cambridge until 1903 at which point he left academic life to become a full-time writer. In 1927 he returned to the University to take up a position as Regius Professor of Modern History, where the single student whose doctorate he agreed to supervise was J. H. Plumb (1936). During his Professorship he was also familiar with Guy Burgess - he gave a positive reference for Burgess when he applied for a post at the BBC in 1935, describing him as a "first rate man", but also stating that "He has passed through the communist measles that so many of our clever young men go through, and is well out of it". In 1940 he was appointed as Master of Trinity College and served in the post until 1951 when he retired.
Trevelyan declined the presidency of the British Academy but served as chancellor of Durham University from 1950 to 1958. Trevelyan College at Durham University is named after him. He won the 1920 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the biography Lord Grey of the Reform Bill, was elected a fellow of the British Academy in 1925, made a fellow of the Royal Society in 1950, and was an honorary doctor of many universities including Cambridge.
Shocked by the horrors of the Great War he saw as an ambulance driver just behind the front lines, Trevelyan became more appreciative of conservatism as a positive force, and less insistent that progress was inevitable. In History of England (1926), he searched for the deepest meaning of English history. Cannadine says he reported they were "the nation's evolution and identity: parliamentary government, the rule of law, religious toleration, freedom from continental interference or involvement, and a global horizon of maritime supremacy and imperial expansion".
Cannadine concluded in G.M. Trevelyan: A Life in History (1992):
During the first half of the twentieth century Trevelyan was the most famous, the most honored, the most influential and the most widely read historian of his generation. He was a scion of the greatest historical dynasty that (Britain) has ever produced. He knew and corresponded with many of the greatest figures of his time... For fifty years, Trevelyan acted as a public moralist, public teacher and public benefactor, wielding unchallenged cultural authority among the governing and the educated classes of his day.
Once called "probably the most widely read historian in the world; perhaps in the history of the world." Trevelyan saw how two world wars shook the belief in progress. Historiography has changed and the belief in progress has declined. Historian Roy Jenkins argues:
Trevelyan's reputation as an historian barely survived his death in 1962. He is now amongst the great unread, widely regarded by the professionals of a later generation as a pontificating old windbag, as short on cutting edge as on reliable facts.
On the other hand, historian J. H. Plumb argues:
What is perhaps most frequently forgotten, or ignored, is the skill of his literary craftsmanship. Trevelyan was a born writer and a natural storyteller; and this, among historians, is a rare gift ... If one quality is to be singled out, is should be this, for all historians he is the poet of English history ... His work has one other great and enduring merit: the tradition within which it was written. The Victorian liberals and their Edwardian successors have made one of the greatest contributions to science and to culture ever made by a ruling class. To these by birth and by instinct Trevelyan belonged.
Trevelyan was the first president of the Youth Hostels Association and the YHA headquarters are called Trevelyan House in his honour. He worked tirelessly through his career on behalf of the National Trust, in preserving not merely historic houses, but historic landscapes.
G.M. Trevelyan was a prolific author: