The International Literary Quarterly

February 2009


Donald Adamson
Robert Appelbaum
Rosemary Ashton
Sujata Bhatt
Stephen Burt
Rita Dove
Elaine Feinstein
Sophie Judah
John Kinsella
Ron Padgett
Pascale Petit
David Plante
David Shields
Susan Stewart
John Thieme

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin
Consulting Editor: Marjorie Agosín
Consulting Editor: Richard Berengarten
Consulting Editor: Jill Dawson
Consulting Editor: Denise Duhamel
Consulting Editor: Marilyn Gaull
Consulting Editor: Beatriz Hausner
Consulting Editor: Mimi Khalvati
Consulting Editor: Suzanne Jill Levine
Consulting Editor: Margot Livesey
Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor:
Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Issue 6 Guest Artist: Anthony Whishaw

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. A.L. Rowse: An Appreciation (from a biography-in-progress)by Donald Adamson  

The book I am writing is an account of the life of A.L. Rowse, historian, poet and diarist, who was a Cornish friend and neighbour.  But it is no fulsome tribute to this great man.  Rather, it is a record of our friendship and an appraisal of his life and work, “warts and all”.

So I shall deal first in my book with the circumstances and events of Rowse’s life; then, in the second part, with his historical and literary achievements; and finally, in the third part, with my friendship with him over thirteen years.

There will be a final chapter on the Art of Biography, relating my biography to the general characteristics of the genre.

Rowse was a controversial and contradictory figure, best known in some quarters for his self-proclaimed “solution”, in 1963, of the first problem of Shakespeare’s Sonnets.  Who was “Mr W.H.”, to whom they were dedicated by their publisher “T.T.”?  Was “Mr W.H.” the “Fair Youth” of the first 126 Sonnets?  And was that “Fair Youth” Shakespeare’s patron, the young Earl of Southampton?  

Secondly, ten years later, Rowse became well known to the point of notoriety for his “solution” of the second problem.  Who was the so-called “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, to whom he addressed the last twenty-eight of these poems?

In my book I weigh the arguments on either side of each problem question – and come to a conclusion.

Rowse was a brilliant young history don at All Souls who, cold-shouldered by the Oxford History Faculty, was never invited to deliver a single history lecture to the University’s undergraduates;  a writer of major historical works on Tudor England who nevertheless felt powerfully drawn towards literature and the writing of poetry; a man of Conservative tastes and inclinations, even in his early manhood, who nevertheless began his adult life as a radical political thinker – and early exponent of Keynesianism – and who in two General Elections stood as a Labour Parliamentary candidate.

It was my good fortune to know him well and even on two memorable occasions to experience that full outpouring of his wrath which seemed to be bestowed only upon his closest friends. Much of my book is based on the (unpublished) diary I have been keeping since 1966.

I have conducted a great deal of background research into my subject:  tracing his family – nephews, nieces, cousins – in France, Australia, Canada and the United States; following his footsteps in America, albeit (for the most part) from a distance; and studying in depth the Cornish and Oxford backgrounds of his life.

My work is still only a biography in progress but here anyway are two extracts in the making.  The first deals with the sad topic of the official recognition of A.L. Rowse, so long withheld but finally granted to him in the twilight months of his life.  The second is taken from my account of our friendship.

Readers will understand that they are not the extracts containing my most important findings.


To a far greater extent than most people, Rowse was used to experiencing the extremes of honour and disregard.  He won high plaudits at school, and never more so than when, in 1922, he was awarded the only annual Cornwall County Scholarship, £60 p.a. intended to help finance a student's expenses at University.  To win an Open Scholarship, worth £80 a year, from St Austell County School to that noblest of Oxford colleges, Christ Church, was an extraordinary achievement.  Add to this the award, by the Drapers' Company in June 1922, of a Soley Scholarship worth £60 p.a. for three – extended to four – years, and his tally of early academic honours was complete.  At Christ Church came a proxime accessit in the University competition for the Newdigate Prize for the best English poem of the year, a First in Modern History (though not, it seems, the best Modern History First of the year) and, soon afterwards, a Prize Fellowship of All Souls.  ALR was the first man of working-class origin to win such a Fellowship, though by no means the youngest man overall as Hensley Henson had been eleven months younger on his election to a Prize Fellowship in 1884 and, even in the year of ALR'S own election, Roger Makins was two months his junior.  St Austell County School and many Cornish people (ALR's family, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, the Pethericks, Miss Coode, Noreen Sweet) took pride in this Fellowship; the school was given a half-day holiday on receipt of the news; and George Pilcher, MP for Penryn and Falmouth, wired his congratulations.

But of honour, or recognition, meted out to him by his own University very little was afterwards forthcoming, though from 1951 onwards the situation was rather different at Pasadena, Lynchburg and elsewhere – indeed, almost everywhere – in the United States.  At Oxford he never lectured in the History Faculty, was never elected into a Fellowship at any other college, was beaten by Nowell Myres to a history lectureship at Christ Church in 1926, deputized for Sir Arthur Salter at All Souls in his lectures not on history but on political theory, achieved no Ford Lectureship within the University and no Honorary Studentship of his old college.  Nor was he appointed to supervise any theses though several times he acted as an examiner for a B.Litt or D.Phil.  Through the All Souls system he did, however, move up to become Sub-Warden in 1950-1952 and (because of inopportune deaths) Acting Warden in 1951-1952.  A D.Litt. came his way in 1953, for which he had supplicated in the normal manner.   Yet, having progressed – almost on the principle of Buggins' turn – as far as being Acting Warden of All Souls, he narrowly lost out to John Sparrow in the 1952 Wardenship election:  no dishonour there!  He was not, on the other hand, adequately honoured by All Souls in later years, for although in the course of time he was elected an Emeritus Fellow of the College (something which was by no means a foregone conclusion), he did not achieve the Honorary or Distinguished Fellowship that was probably his due.  Honorary doctorates were also comparatively few and far between:  one from New Brunswick in 1960, another from Lynchburg College in 1984, and – probably most gratifying of all – an honorary D.Litt. from Exeter University as early as May 1960, predating the New Brunswick award by five months.   But none, for example, from Harvard, which my own supervisor had, who was also a Fellow of All Souls.

It also took a long time for a memorial tablet to be erected to him at All Souls, an honour which came much more easily to Isaiah Berlin, Leo Amery, G.M. Young and others.  And even then there has been an unexpected twist to the honour as ALR had left money in his will for the erection of the plaque and at the foot of that plaque are inscribed the words “Ipse Testamento Suo Legavit” (“he himself bequeathed the money for this memorial’”), words which the Fellows of All Souls have cunningly disguised in Latin.

From within his own county, which had no university, recognition came, after a period of somewhat strained relations with his home town, when he was invited to write the excellent local history St Austell: Church, Town, Parish (1960).  In September 1968 the Cornish Gorsedd admitted him as a Bard, by the name of Lef A Gernow Tramor (Voice of Cornwall Overseas).   Almost within view of Trenarren House and the vista of the sea he loved so much stands the memorial stone unveiled to him on Black Head in July 1999.  Seven months later, in February 2000, a further memorial was unveiled to him – as “Historian & Poet” – in the Jesus Chapel of Truro Cathedral.  This plaque stands alongside those previously erected in honour of Richard Trevithick, Sir Arthur Quiller Couch and Charles Henderson.

Meanwhile, on the wider national stage, ALR first appeared in Who's Who in 1938.  In February 1947, as “author of A Cornish Childhood, etc”, he was accorded the rare honour of election to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature “by invitation of Council” (the entrance fee being waived!), whereas most candidates for this distinction are put forward not by Council but, “from personal knowledge”, by at least four Fellows.  In 1952-1953 he was President of the English Association:  in Coronation Year this befitted an expert on the first Elizabeth who was already taking a keen interest in Shakespeare.  Towards the end of the same year he was featured in The Sunday Times Portrait Gallery:  the photograph was one of the celebrated portraits by Douglas Glass; the article itself was headed “An Elizabethan”.   It was a sure mark of public recognition. 

Established now as one of the two leading authorities on Tudor England, ALR delivered the Raleigh Lectureship of the British Academy on “Sir Richard Grenville's Place in English History” in 1957, and the Trevelyan Lectures, on “The Elizabethans and America”, at Cambridge in the following year:  the invitation to deliver these Cambridge lectures was, he said, “the greatest honour that has befallen me [hitherto]”.  Also in 1958 he joined the prestigious ranks of the British Academy, Sir John Neale, Richard Pares and A.J.P. Taylor being among his nominators.  Much later in his life came a further indication of a prestige that was perhaps still growing, perhaps already slightly on the wane, when in 1972 he was elected to membership of the Athenæum Club under its prestigious Rule 2 (as W.B. Yeats had been thirty-five years previously).  I have always been fascinated by the great store he set by the Benson Medal of the Royal Society of Literature, conferred upon him in 1982 for meritorious works in “poetry, fiction, history, biography and belles-lettres”.  He was only the twenty-eighth medallist since 1916; among its previous recipients had been Gabriele d'Annunzio, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster and Philip Larkin:  recognition by and of “the happy few”!

The enigma is at the level of public honours, though here too there is a considerable measure of clarity if one looks deeply enough and in the right places.  Was ALR offered honours he refused, or was he offered nothing?  I occasionally asked him whether he would accept a national honour if it were offered him.  “If it would help to sell my books”, he would reply.  There is no doubt that what he most desired was the OM, that supreme accolade of personal distinction which was conferred upon his All Souls colleague Sir William Holdsworth in 1943, and which was also enjoyed by G.M. Trevelyan, Gilbert Murray, Lord Halifax, T.S. Eliot, and that “Quaker milksop” G.P. Gooch: ALR's words to me.  In later years it was also conferred upon his former pupil C.V. Wedgwood and upon Isaiah Berlin.  Veronica Wedgwood, not ALR, was Gooch's replacement.  This is how the system tends to work:  substitute one historian for another; “she has my OM” was ALR's reaction.

An immense prestige is attached to the Order of Merit, which, partly because so many second-ranking politicians (or statesmen) have been appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour, the latter has been unable to rival.   ALR's publisher Harold Macmillan, himself an OM for the last ten years of his life, was fond of recalling that three OMs (Morley, Bryce, Hardy) attended his wedding in 1920.  At the party held at Trenarren to celebrate the award of his CH the by then very debilitated stroke-victim whispered to me that he “would have preferred something more academic” (by which he meant the Order of Merit).  For one reason or another there was no chance that he would be offered it.  Was he ever offered a knighthood, as William Waldegrave has suggested?  Certainly, much was done to block “[his] OM” by the so-called Maecenas Committee on which both Isaiah Berlin and C.V. Wedgwood sat.  It was a big job even to get ALR the CH, something to which, in 1993 and again in 1996, I myself devoted a good deal of time and effort.   From March 1989 to June 1990 Woodrow Wyatt had tried in vain with Margaret Thatcher to obtain an honour for him, and he was merely thinking of a knighthood.

Honour is not always the polar opposite of dishonour, often being the antithesis of obscurity or oblivion or disrepute; it is not even synonymous with reputation.  The “most unkindest cut of all”, two years after ALR's death, has been the memoir of him by his All Souls colleague John McManners, who, clergyman as he was and no doubt plain-speaking friend, conducted with becoming decorum his memorial service in All Souls College Chapel.  However, according to this memoir, ALR was “an impossible figure” “tarnished” by “lunatic self-importance”, “overweening self-esteem”,  “selfishness”, “spleen”, “ranting”, “rumbustious vulgarity”, and a man who in one of his books “blatantly plagiarizes”.  It is this insinuation of plagiarism, based on a joke about All Souls, that most rankles.  Incidentally, rumbustiousness is no dishonour, nor is it a personal failing.

Extreme epithets such as those of John McManners do perhaps detract from ALR's reputation; they do nothing to impugn his honour.  He fortunately cared little for his personal reputation despite having a fatherly but also businesslike concern for the reputation of books that were personally and distinctively his.

What remains to be established is his reputation as one of the best of British diarists.


In the autumn of 1983 my wife and I bought our home at Polperro on the south coast of Cornwall.  Topple Cottage was, and is, an ancient fisherman’s cottage in the very heart of the village, three storeys high, the ground floor being what is known in those parts as a “cellar”, where in the old days the fisherman would store pilchards and conger eels in brine in readiness for the winter months, and where also he would keep and mend his nets.   More recently this cellar had been used as a shop.  I decided to make it into a second-hand and antiquarian bookshop and ran it successfully for six years.   In February 1984 I wrote to Rowse suggesting that I should stock his books.   His response, needless to say, was delighted:  “come and see me on 25 February”.

This, unbeknown to me at the time, illustrated the extraordinary openness with which he reacted to some interventions from the outside world:  solipsistic though he said he was, in but not really of St Austell, alienated from his family (at least two branches of which lived within a few miles of his home), and stubbornly unwilling to receive many visitors.  In short: he reacted favourably to me because I was keen to sell his books.

It was strange, in a sense, that we should have met in this way, and not at Oxford, where I never remember him giving a lecture to a University club or society during the later 1950s (had he done so, I would certainly have attended it).  This, of course, was the time when Rowse was beginning to make longer and more frequent visits to the United States.  But I believe it is a fact that he gave no talks or lectures to University clubs and societies during the time when I was an undergraduate (in my time at Oxford he did, however, speak to a handful of college societies, such as at New College on “The Edwardian Churchills” and at Trinity on “The Cecils”).  My experience differed, therefore, from William Golding’s, who told me that he attended a talk given by Rowse while he (Golding) was an undergraduate; this was probably his address to the Brasenose Club, on “War and Psychology”, delivered on 16 May 1935.

It was at Lanhydrock, the National Trust property near Bodmin that was once the seat of the Robartes family, that I first saw him on 9 August 1980.   He was in the company of his friend Jack Simmons, the historian of British transport who had been his friend since 1943.  Simmons, though I did not know this at the time, was on one of his regular holidays at Trenarren; he was in the habit of paying a visit there most summers.  I, who was at Lanhydrock with my wife and two small sons, recognized him first in the tea-room and then later in the National Trust shop but did not break in on his conversation with Simmons.  I remember ALR to this day, just standing there in the shop, holding forth in his inimitable fashion: wherever he went, he always made a powerful impression, for good or ill.

On 25 February 1984, almost four years later, I visited him at Trenarren, taking with me Richard, my elder son.  At a bookseller’s discount of three books for the retail price of two, I bought some from him – naturally, they were signed copies!  Thus our association, and friendship, began.  He had just got back from a grand luncheon given by Collins in Vintners’ Hall, London in honour of Arthur Bryant’s eighty-fifth birthday.  He and Michael Foot had been the speakers: “I spoke very well; Michael Foot was rather rambling and never really came to the point”.  He was clearly under the impression that I had come to live at Polperro permanently and nothing I said could disabuse him of this.  Concerning the bookshop he was full of advice, but thought that perhaps Looe or Newquay or Plymouth would have been better places commercially.  For Looe he had endless good to say whilst confessing that, although both he and I lived on the south coast of Cornwall, he for one much preferred the wilder bleaker inland areas such as Blisland;  or else, had he not been Cornish par excellence, he would have lived happily in north Dorset.

I, as it happened, had fairly recently been involved in bidding for a cottage very near his home.  This had developed into a contract race, from which, knowing something about the background to the story, I had eventually backed out.  Slightly to my surprise, I discovered that he had heard all about this commercial adventure from the owner of Trenarren House, who had triumphed over me in the race for the cottage.

Perhaps because in the intervening period he was away in the United States, at Lynchburg, Washington and New York, it was some seventeen months before I saw ALR again.  I was developing the habit of calling on him unexpectedly, something I was later to discover he would tolerate from very few people, David Treffry being the principal exception to that rule.  David Treffry, at any rate during the last forty years of ALR’s life, was his closest friend.  By both blood and marriage he was a cousin of the Mrs Anne Treffry who, together with Sir Arthur Quiller Couch, had reigned over Fowey in the young man’s school and university days.  The Treffry family had been there since the early fourteenth century.  A Magdalen man like myself, David had been tutored in history by Bruce McFarlane; after which he had gone as a political officer to Aden and, at Washington, had worked for the International Monetary Fund.  He retired from Washington in the summer of 1987 and, whilst retaining his home at Georgetown, came back to Cornwall.  As far as Rowse was concerned, David’s return to Fowey was as exciting an event, as fraught with intriguing possibilities, as the arrival of the new bishop and Mrs Proudie in Barchester Towers.  David was to serve as High Sheriff of Cornwall four years later, becoming the fourteenth member of his family to do so; but the eagerly awaited book which ALR hoped for from David was never written; and not the least of his services in these declining years was to be the companion of his friend – and to chauffeur him round the county.

Driven by Treffry, ALR came to lunch with us at Polperro on 20 August 1985.  All the books written by him which I had in the shop he autographed before we went out to lunch at the Captain’s Cabin.  “You will not”, he warned me, “eat as well as this at All Souls”.  Only later did I hear the joke that books not autographed by ALR had more value than those that were:  a joke which, as a matter of fact, was without foundation.  In all things, he said, appealing to Shakespeare (who voices the sentiment three or four times in his plays), an apparent reverse can be the source of unexpected good fortune.  On our return to the shop he bought three books from me, including Meryle Secrest’s Being Bernard Berenson: A Biography and the Autobiography of William Plomer.

It was a month later (18 September 1985) that I first lunched with ALR at Trenarren.  The lunch, cooked by the faithful and longsuffering Phyllis Cundy, was an excellent Cornish pasty, with a trifle to follow.  We sat in his spacious library throughout the afternoon as the mists gathered from the sea and clambered up his garden slopes.  We discussed my writing, which he hoped I would persevere with:  there were, he thought, “at least a dozen books inside [me] still waiting to be written”.  I noted afterwards in my diary that I was now looking out for two further books for him:  Trollope’s Three Clerks and a study of the freethinker Matthew Tindal who he believed may well have been a Fellow of All Souls.  [Tindal was.)  He remarked that most of his library was in America, just as most of his money was in dollars.  Urging me always to keep in touch with David Treffry, and to remain friends, he said he would also like me also to encourage and up to a point assist him in the writing of one or two books, once he (David) had retired.

Three months later he hosted a dinner party at the Athenæum in celebration of his eighty-second birthday.  He looked amazingly strong and fit, telling me that his present vigour was all due to working so hard in the garden.  Among his guests were Anthony Curtis, literary editor of The Financial Times, Charles Moore, at that time editor of The Spectator, and the biographer Rosalie Glynn Grylls.

Thus my meetings with Rowse accumulated and I find it amazing how varied were the places at which we met.  

The next occasion was on the home ground of the Royal Society of Literature’s then premises in Hyde Park Gardens, where he treated Fellows to a Christmas poetry-reading of the works of West Country poets, Hardy, Hawker, Betjeman, Charles Causley, Rosalie Glynn Grylls – and, naturally, himself.  He introduced me to many as “Lord Polperro” (his friendly nickname for me, just as he referred to “John Trebetjeman” and “David Treefrog”:  I will not enumerate them all).  Puzzled by this, the author Bryan Guinness, also known as Lord Moyne, said to me:  “You’re not really Lord Polperro, are you?”  Afterwards I drove Rowse back to the Athenæum.  “I shan’t attend Frank Longford’s birthday party tonight”, he announced.   “Unlike Rosalie Mander, I’m simply not interested”.  

Then, in January 1986, I lunched with him at Trenarren where he had “killed the fatted chicken in my honour”;  I brought with me the shell church (it was of St Mary’s, Penzance) which John Betjeman had bequeathed to him and which I had collected from the poet’s home in Radnor Walk.  And again in June of that year I lunched with him at Trenarren, when the other guests were William and Ann Golding, A.N. Wilson and Diana Colville.  

In the following month I stayed with him at All Souls.  My first sight of him, on my arrival at the college, was of the great self-publicist conducting a group of American tourists – English-Speaking Union, I think – around the Great Quadrangle.  He waved cheerily and shouted across the lawn:  “I’ll see you in an hour or so”.  I was put into T.E. Lawrence’s bedroom looking on to Catte Street and St Mary’s.  Rowse was “camping out” in rooms in the south-east corner of Great Quad.  He was full of conversation about his book on Quiller Couch, parts of which he was going to have to rewrite because of new material which had come his way.  Francis Warner joined us for drinks in a charming garden, bringing a pile of books intended for Rowse; but some of these Rowse already had, so he gave those to me.  At dinner I sat next to the Acting Warden, Peter Fraser.  He displayed a strong dislike of Rowse, considering that, from the standpoint of other writers, he had ruined virtually every subject he had ever touched.  After dessert Charles Monteith, Rowse and I took our coffee outside beneath the twin towers and in full view of the mellow outline of the Radcliffe Camera; we were joined by John Sparrow, who, broken in health though he was, worked himself up into a lather of indignation at one of Rowse’s chance remarks.

And so the pattern of our meetings continued, with seemingly endless permutations and even some surprises.  In August 1986 my wife Helen met him for the first time.  He had been unwell since the previous day, suffering from his all too recurrent digestive troubles.  I sat with him in his bedroom but, at the mention of Helen (who had gone down for a stroll on the beach), he insisted on meeting her, got out of bed, put on a dressing-down, came downstairs – and she and I drank sherry.  He showed me the second part of the MS of his book on Quiller Couch, to which he had added very considerably in view of the new material supplied by the novelist’s great-nephew Guy Simondson:  it was the material on which he had been working at All Souls in the previous month.

In September 1986 he lectured in Truro on the controversial South African cleric Bishop John William Colenso and at tea with him early in November of that year he gave me his copy of André Billy’s Vie de Balzac.  Three years on I attended a second lecture, this time at Camborne, on Bishop Colenso, about whom – and the latter’s cousin – he was publishing a book.  It was a brilliant performance, full of his familiar boutades, and firing many broadsides against the academic establishment and the “third-rate professors”.  Against the Church too, in that it had refused to accept the findings of the higher biblical criticism.  

Although I was to meet ALR seventy or so times after that, perhaps I may be forgiven for not recording all those occasions but also for recording a few more.

It was problematic gaining admission to the Trenarren fortress, where Rowse and his aged but very sprightly housekeeper Phyllis Cundy would retire to their respective bedrooms about 4.30 in the afternoon and where, in order to save opening the front door, groceries were sometimes hauled up in a basket to the first floor and payment was dangled down to the recipient.  I would arrive at the house almost always unannounced and was indeed fortunate to be able to turn up in that way, for, whenever she was at home and could hear the knock on the front door, I was always welcomed in by Phyllis.  If she did not open the door, I would go on to the terrace and throw gravel up to Rowse’s bedroom window.  He would almost invariably hear this, appear at the window, see me, and come down to open the door himself.  

On one occasion, however, there was no sight or sound either of himself or of Phyllis; and, as it was before the days of mobile telephones, I drove the couple of miles to Pentewan, the next village, and rang the sacrosanct ex-directory number from a telephone box.  I well remember this episode.  It was raining and thundering outside the box, a woman was waiting her turn to make a telephone call, whilst I painfully endeavoured to speak to Rowse.   I was reluctant to go all the way back to Polperro without seeing him and may well have had some books for him.  From his bedroom he picked up the receiver but could hear little or nothing.  I resorted in the end to thundering that it was “Lord Polperro” on the line.  No sooner had I pronounced these words than he could hear immediately – but thought I had said “John Sparrow”.  I could hardly put the receiver down by this point but stumbled through a hasty and embarrassing telephone call, reassuring him, in response to his enquiries, that “I” was really quite flourishing in my Iffley retreat and looked forward to seeing him again whenever he might be in Oxford.

What the woman standing outside the telephone box must have thought of this performance I simply cannot imagine.

Having established that ALR was at home, I drove the two miles back to Trenarren, where he now welcomed me.  We talked for an hour or so but, to the best of my recollection, neither of us mentioned John Sparrow.

On another visit to Trenarren, some years later, it was again impossible to stir him or Phyllis into action; so, having by now acquired a mobile telephone, I rang him on that. He, awakened to the external world, came downstairs, let me in and asked:  “How did you telephone?”  “From my car”, I replied:  to which, as he seemed to be looking in vain for a telephone box, his only reaction was, “How extraordinary!”  He was far removed in spirit from the modern technological age, not even using a typewriter but writing all his books in neat, tidy and meticulous longhand until the very end of his life, from which script they were typed up by a succession of typists over the years (among these, latterly, being the Oxford graduate Robin Davidson and the mother of the historian John Vincent).

Then there was the occasion when I – or was it he? – managed to get ourselves locked out of his house.  It was an episode I never cared to see repeated.  I had come to the house on a day almost as warm as any in mid-summer (the date was 20 April 1987), bringing him books he had asked me to obtain for him:  this was a far harder task for a bookseller before the advent of the internet.  He was not, or did not appear to be, at home.  I therefore tried his garage door, found it unlocked, and placed the books on the bootlid of his red Morris Marina.  After which I drove on a few miles and spent a happy afternoon on the beach and in the sea.  On my way home to Polperro I could not resist calling at Trenarren again.  This time there was a response to my knock at the door.  I went upstairs and sat with him in his bedroom.  “I’ve brought you your books”, I said.  “They’re in the garage on the boot of your car”.  “Impossible!” he snapped; whereupon he jumped out of bed, donned his dressing-gown and, followed by me, stalked straight downstairs, out to the garage – and found the books.  “You were right!” he admitted, with commendable honesty but nevertheless with the greatest reluctance.  He then realized that, instead of previously locking the door of his garage, he had now inadvertently locked the front door of his house.  I was duly anathematized even though I was offering to climb up to a first-floor window.  Upon closer examination of his dressing-gown pocket he, luckily for us both, discovered a key to the glass door of the porch; and peace was restored.  But I shall never forget those three words “You were right!” which he could never bring himself to say in the all too numerous confrontations of life – as, most notably, in the Appeasement crisis – where the issue was not one of black versus white but of opposing shades of grey.

These were the only two disagreements we ever had:  one on the easily verifiable, then incontrovertible, matter of whether the books had been left in the garage; the other on the major geopolitical matter of Appeasement and the Munich Agreement, where the opposing sides of the debate are finely balanced and argument will never cease.  On one occasion I could not resist bringing up the name of Neville Chamberlain as Rowse lay in bed bemoaning all the damage done by the Second World War.  Tears came to his eyes as he mentioned some of the young undergraduates he had taught and who had subsequently laid down their lives in battle.  He wept as he spoke of some of the young men he had known and taught at Oxford:  Victor De la Rue from Trinity, a wealthy young Etonian who “had never heard of Agincourt” and who was killed in Burma; and Christopher Cadogan, a Fellow of Magdalen, who “was last seen struggling in the water”.  To which I replied that at least the Appeasement policy was intended to prevent all that terrible bloodshed and the destruction of the world as it then was.  “At least Chamberlain was trying to stop that happening”, I could not help remarking.  Rowse erupted like a volcano.  “Now I know that you really are second-rate, etc, etc!”, he bellowed.  I had not wished to distress him and never referred to Neville Chamberlain again.  Even so, I do not think that the so-called truth about Appeasement has been conclusively established, nor can it ever be.

I had stood up for myself in this incident of the books in the garage and, as so often at other times in our friendship, noted his respect for those who were positively unwilling to be browbeaten.

Bristol Milk to warm me up (my hands, by now, were quite cold), and we shared the supper Phyllis had left out for him.  Then upstairs to his bedroom where, after a strenuous morning’s work in the plantation, he had been resting in bed writing about his times in Paris in the 1950s and reading Sainte-Beuve.  “The world is full of stupid people.  People are idiots.  I want to have nothing to do with them.  More and more I feel as Proust felt, cutting myself off from the world in the solitude of my own room and my memories, and writing because it gives me pleasure to write”.

Still on the theme of the inaccessibility of Trenarren, not only were there the cousins from America whom he would not welcome when they turned up out of the blue but there were also the people whom, shamefacedly, I myself turned away.  One day Rowse and I were conversing in his bedroom, Phyllis, deaf at the best of times, was perhaps resting, when all of a sudden there was a ringing of the doorbell, repeated and insistent.  “There’s someone at the door”, I said – for Rowse too was, perhaps rather selectively, deaf.   “Ignore it!” he commanded, but still the ringing continued.  I went downstairs and, through the glass door of the porch, saw a youngish couple.   “I’ve just come hoping to show my wife the house”, Mr Bennett said.  “Do you think we could meet Dr Rowse?  I spent two years of my early childhood here”.  There was no key in the glass door, I noted:  I was as much locked in as they were locked out!  But Dr Rowse is not very well today”, was my lame excuse; “he’s in bed, resting”.  “That’s no problem”, said the man; “my wife’s a nurse.  Perhaps she could help”.   “But I can’t let you in!”  “Well, do you think we could perhaps have a walk round the gardens?”  I raised my hands in embarrassed confusion, took my leave and walked back upstairs.  “Who was that?”, asked ALR.  “People who once lived at this house”.  “I hope you sent them away!”  All I could hope for was that he would not jump out of bed and see the husband and wife strolling in the grounds; which very fortunately he did not.

And finally, on this theme, a notable writer and historian tells me of his attempted visit to Rowse at Trenarren in December 1992 and his eventually successful visit in the following February …