D.W. Brogan

© National Portrait Gallery, London

From the Reeve* collection. D.W. Brogan's books have become somewhat hard to sell but he is here recalled as a great lecturer by a connoisseur of lecturers (and Dons.)


From what I had read and heard I hoped to see an attractive man, when I attended a lecture at King’s College, in London. I was not disappointed. He must be one of the most interesting lecturers in Cambridge; and his memory, particularly concerning American history is certainly uncanny: a phenomenon which must have been apparent to millions of people who have heard his ready responses to questions from America which surprised the American questioner, who had evidently expected to puzzle the Cambridge don with unusual questions.
  Few at the lecture had seen him previously; and his fresh complexion, sturdy body, unostentatious delivery and pleasing voice, was that of a cultured countryman. The audience of seventy were rewarded by an enjoyable hour of lecture and discussion. I can remember a few meetings as enjoyable, but we were learning something new in the best possible environment, and I dare not hope to enjoy a happier afternoon.
  Like many of our most brilliant professors Sir Denis Brogan spent many years working on lectures, and commissions. He has written at least twenty books; and is a director of Hamish Hamilton, Ltd. He has probably reached that state of mind when it is impossible merely to sit and contemplate quietly the hidden mysteries of nature and science. Does he find it possible to watch a cricket match at Fenner’s without considering some problem of the moment? Can he spend an hour at the chessboard oblivious to all else? Is his golf deteriorating because his thoughts are elsewhere? Is he able to digest an Agatha Christie or Dorothy Sayers, without the intrusion of some current complexity? Is excitement possible when witnessing a Peterhouse undergraduate involved in a photo finish? Is sleep elusive?
  Sir Denis has led such an extremely busy life that he must risk nervous exhaustion, and I can well imagine the late Dr Rivers or Professor Flugel asking similar questions. I am sure the penalty of fame is a reluctant refusal to undertake too many engagements. I hope he wiIl refuse still more.
  At the beginning of the century I knew an organist at King’s College Chapel, who was also the chief clerk to a solicitor, and a member of the town council. Ignoring the advice of his doctor he suffered a stroke which made him a nervous wreck and ruined the remainder of his life.
  One of our greatest mathematicians, Dr Curzon, born in Cambridge, took on so many commitments that when he left his train at Sydenham porters often examined his compartment to recover anything he may have left behind, as his memory was so affected by the stresses imposed on his nervous system.
  Professor Brogan has been honoured by many universities and several nations. He is one of the intellectual giants of this age, and I often wonder which of his numerous books gives him the greatest satisfaction. Had I written them I believe my supreme pleasure would have been The English People. Dean Inge once wrote on a similar theme. I envied him.
  Sitting next to a college don at an important lunch attended by Royalty at Cambridge a relative of mine asked what he taught. "I am not a teacher, Madam, I am a lecturer," he snapped. A nasty snub by a snobbish representative of an ancient, vital and intellectual university. Such remarks are a disservice to the profession for if the cynical snarler isn't a teacher he is not a competent lecturer. One cannot dissociate teaching from learning, and I would rather be called a good teacher than an excellent lecturer.
  Years ago one of my lecturers said:
  "Keep to your notes from my lectures. You will not fail in the examination.” If such a procedure isn’t teaching I haven't yet learned the essentials of study.
  Although I believe that J. H. Wimms, M.A., was the finest lecturer I have ever known, H. W. Nevinson the famous war correspondent tells in his memoirs that Ruskin was a wonder at Oxford, and fascinated the undergraduates who crowded into his lectures. He may have been more of a magnet than Wimms, but I am relating my own personal experiences. Having seen Denis Brogan, and heard him at times on the radio I wouId place him second or third on my long list of lecturers, and I have heard some brilliant dons in my time.

* Found among  the papers of the long defunct literary agency Michael Hayes of Cromwell Road S.W.5  - parts of a manuscript memoir by one L.R. Reeve of Newton Abbot, South Devon. Mr Reeve was attempting to get the book (Among those Present: Very Exceptional People) published, but on the evidence of the unused stamp Hayes never replied and  L. R. Reeve published the book himself through the esteemed vanity publisher Stockwell two years later in 1974.

L R Reeve had, in a long life, met or observed a remarkable selection of famous persons. He  presents 'vignettes' of 110 persons from all grades of society (many minor or even unknown) they include Winston Churchill, Dorothy Sayers,  H H Asquith, John Buchan, the cricketer Jack Hobbs, J.B. Priestley, H.G. Wells, Marconi, E.M. Forster, Duchess of Atholl, Marie Stopes, Oliver Lodge and Cecil Sharp -- 'it is unnecessary to explain that  many I have known have not known me. All of them I have seen, most of them I have heard, and some of them have sought information, even advice from me." Reeve states that the unifying qualification all these people have is '… some subtle emanation of personality we call leadership, and which can inspire people to actions  unlikely to be undertaken unless prompted by a stronger will."

Reeve was a teacher throughout his life and deputy head of 3 London schools, headmaster of Loughborough emergency schools, ex-president of London Class Teachers Association  and very early member of the British Psychological Society (55 years)... I calculate he was probably born in about 1900. His style is markedly unexciting but he has much information unavailable elsewhere.. He sent several typed manuscripts to (from the smell) the chain-smoking agent Hayes…

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