The Book of Total Snobbery


From the wondrous library of Jeremy Beadle. and signed by him in pencil, is a copy of The Book of Total Snobbery(1989)  compiled by Lynne and Graham Jones.Rowse pic

Mr Beadle has littered the text with various dates, but if the date ( 5 DEC 1906) alongside snobbish remarks made by the popular historian and alleged ‘ poet ‘ A.L Rowse refers to the Oxford don’s date of birth, it is wrong by several years. Be that as it may, Mr Beadle seems to have been amused or even shocked by what he read of Rowse.


It may be true, as the compilers and Rowse himself admitted,  that someof his  snobbish remarks were deliberately provocative, but what is not true is that the historian was’ a nice old bean ‘. To some, including the late Brian Aldiss, who was  a very nice and generous person, he was one of the more repulsive dons that he had to deal with while working as a bookseller’s assistant (see The Brightfount Diaries) in Oxford during the fifties. The Jones’s confirm as much. Rowse—at one time a Labour supporter it must be stressed—always held the common man in contempt:

‘I have genius ‘, he once remarked, ‘ordinary human beings are bloody idiots ‘. On another occasion he told a reporter from the Times‘ There’s the paradox, dear, not only am I first rate, I am an enormous best-seller as  well ‘. And there’s more:


‘I don’t live my life among ordinary human fools. I really am the most colossal   highbrow, my dear. I’m hardly human, you know’


‘My real mission in life is to teach clods to use their brains’


‘I’m really rather fortified by my contempt for contemporary society. I’m happy working creatively for myself. I’m not interested in what third-raters think of them’


‘The truth is that ordinary people are incapable of working without direction’.


The rather ironic aspect of all this is how the academic historians at Oxford felt about Rowse’s writings. Many devalued his work as being too ‘ popular ‘.


Incidentally, Rowse’s snobbery even extended to inhabitants of his native county. In a letter to me he argued that the acclaimed poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson wasn’t Cornish, despite being born in Pelynt, near Looe. He didn’t have Cornish blood, you see. It is true that both Grigson’s parents came from East Anglia, but you try telling someone born in Yorkshire that because his parents ( or one parent) hailed from, say Derbyshire, that he was by virtue of this, no Yorkshireman.


2 thoughts on “The Book of Total Snobbery

  1. Roger

    “Rowse’s problem is that nobody could possibly be as intelligent as he thinks he is, and nobody could possibly be as stupid as he thinks everyone else is.”
    – said by someone – but I can’t remember who – who knew him over forty years ago.


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