Schama speaks out on rival historians
Schama faces hot competition from three world-famous historians
who are about to enjoy their TV premiere on BBC FOUR later
this month (Monday 23 February, 9.30pm).
position as popular TV historian, however, is not under threat -
all three of them have been dead for more than a century!
Of Genius is a new three-part series in which Schama will introduce
BBC FOUR viewers to Lord Macaulay, Edward Gibbon and
Thomas Carlyle - the leading historians of their day.
Samuel West, Simon Russell Beale and Bill Paterson
take on the role of these writers respectively, using only words
from their world-famous texts.
one tackles the reckless pursuit of kingship by Charles II's bastard
son, the Duke of Monmouth, and is based on Macaulay's The History
two looks at the excesses of the Roman emperors based on Edward
Gibbon's epic The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire.
final programme in the series tackles the blood and guts of the
French Revolution, written in nail-biting style by Carlyle in his
The French Revolution.
of us can write like Carlyle," admits Simon Schama.
shouldn't want to write like Carlyle, because it's not sensible
writing, it's not workaday, it's not ironic, the favourite tone
of the don, of the academic. It's like being swept away by the magma
of a mighty volcano.
I go back to that greatest of all 19th century history books I always
feel that the historical prose that we practise, that I practise,
is sort of like takeaway Chinese, it's just not enough."
Schama, about Edward Gibbon: "'The Gib', as he liked to sign
himself in his letters, or sometimes 'the Gibbon', didn't think
he'd be read by the masses.
boy did he write. Three thousand pages, six volumes. His calling
card was 'philosophe et historien'.
be a 'philosophe' in the 18th century meant to be someone who had
something serious to say about the manners of the past, the present
and the future; something serious to say about what civilisation
of Thomas Macauley, he adds: "Part of the reason he wanted
to make his histories as exciting as if they were novels, was that
he felt that history should be part of what we would sort of pompously
call now the common culture of the newly enfranchised middle class
that had got the vote in 1832.
he says, is a debatable land. It lies on the margin of two disputed
territories; those of poetry and those of philosophy; that of reason
and that of the imagination."
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