Britain between the Wars, 1918-1940

By Charles Loch Mowat | Go to book overview

Preface

THE student of recent history ignores at his peril the warning of Gibbon: 'I should shrink with horror from the modern history of England, where every character is a problem, and every reader a friend or an enemy; where a writer is supposed to hoist a flag of party, and is devoted to damnation by the adverse faction.' To the dangers of partiality are now added the dangers of obliteration -- obliteration by the mass of materials from which recent history must be written. Some may complain of a lack of materials. The proper complaint is of their abundance: the writings of the times in books and periodicals, the contemporary and later studies of politics, economic conditions, social progress; the biographies and memoirs which tell a good deal, already, about the ideas and motives of the makers of policy. There will always be much more for the historian to read about these years than any one man can hope to master; so that he will need, as I do, more than the usual indulgence for his sins of omission. He will also find that he must be stern in using his pruning-hook, lest length and price keep readers at a distance.

The dangers of partiality are perhaps more difficult to avoid. because less easily perceived by one's self. Since any work of this kind is bound to be, in some sort and however unwittingly, autobiographical, I must explain that the first twenty-three years of my life have been spent in England, and mainly in Oxford, and most of the remainder, since 1934, in the United States. I have tried to discover the truth, by reading and by conversation -- particularly on two lengthy visits to England in 1947-48 and 1952. I have tried throughout to exercise judgment and to profit from the perspective afforded by some lapse of time and the interposition of the Second World War.

For help in my task I owe many debts of gratitude. The first is to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, which honoured me with one of its fellowships in 1947-48, enabling me to spend over a year in Great Britain, reading and travelling. I am grateful for this help; but even more for the magnanimous way in which it was given, as characteristic of the foundation as it is

-v-

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