Thursday, November 08, 2012

Sir Lewis Namier

On Tues I went to a talk at a luncheon of the Forgotten People's Fund given by Marjorie Glick, an experienced and professional historian, on "Zionism's Fallen Angel, Sir Lewis Namier 1888 - 1960."  Namier was an eminent British historian and philosopher.
Namier was born Ludwik Niemirowski in Polish Galicia into a wealthy, secularized Jewish family, some of whose members had converted to Christianity.  He was educated at the University of Lvov and then Lausanne and then entered the London School of Economics in 1903.  He became a naturalized British citizen in 1913 and fought as a private in WWI, but was discharged due to poor eyesight.  He then joined the Department of Information and then the Foreign Office and was a political officer on the British Delegation to the Versailles Conference of 1919.  His antagonism to the anti-Semitism of the Polish Delegation resulted in the city of Lvov being transferred to the Ukraine. 
After leaving Government service Namier was accepted at Balliol College, Oxford, and taught there for a brief period, 1920-21.  This experience had a lasting effect upon him and for the rest of his life he sought to join the British elite.  In 1929 he published The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III which was considered a masterpiece of historiography and helped to revolutionize understanding of that period.  He then specialized in the workings of the Houses of Parliament and the political parties, and showed how local politics was paramount in British politics.  His knowledge and understanding of the Edwardian period was considered exemplary.  However, notwithstanding his prominence in English history he was turned down for Professorships at Oxford and Cambridge, undoubtedly due to prejudice against his Jewishness (he was regarded as loud and opinionated).  This embittered him and during his life he felt underappreciated.  Subsequently he became Professor of History at Manchester University in 1931, where he met Chaim Weizmann, who was also a Professor of Chemistry there, and he became a life-long Zionist.  Namier worked as political secretary for the Jewish Agency for Palestine and had a close relationship with Weizmann.  However, this friendship was severed when Namier converted to Anglicanism to marry his second wife. 
He had a strong aversion to Germany and was one of those who publicly warned against the policies of appeasement and of ignoring the lessons of previous history.  He fought hard to bring Jewish refugees to Britain and wrote a piercing history Europe in Decay 1936-1940 published in 1950.  He was knighted in 1952 and remained at Manchester University until his retirement in 1953 and he died in 1960.  He was eulogized at his funeral by the Foreign Secretary, George Brown. 
Although Namier sought to be part of the British elite, this was denied him because of his being Jewish.  He never tried to hide his Jewishness and there is an anecdote about Namier, preeminent historian of England, Sir Isaiah Berlin, premier philosopher of England, and American Bernard Berenson, premier expert on Renaissance Italian art, meeting in the 1950s and having a high level conversation in Yiddish. 


Post a Comment

<< Home