Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hibbert’s diary books

Christopher Hibbert, a prolific and popular historian and writer, died last month. He wrote many biographies on a wide range of subjects, from Elizabeth I to Disraeli; and often turned his pen to Italian people and places. However, he also edited a number of books - such as those on Greville, Wheatley and Livingstone - based on diaries.

Born in 1924, Hibbert was educated at Radley School, and then Oriel College, Oxford. He joined the Army, and served as an infantry officer in the London Irish Rifles regiment in Italy during World War II (winning a Military Cross in 1945). After ten years working with a company of land agents and auctioneers, he switched to a career as a history writer in the late 1950s - his first book being The Road to Tyburn. Wikipedia has a short biography, but more information can be found about Hibbert in the various obituaries that followed his death on 21 December - The Guardian’s was published only yesterday.

The Times says Hibbert ‘was probably the most widely-read popular historian of our time and undoubtedly one of the most prolific’. According to The Guardian, he was never sensational for sensation’s sake: ‘He wrote in a careful, measured and meticulous style, not seeking to impose his personality on his prose, preferring to present the facts to the reader, to set his story out before them, rather than to embellish his research with supposition, theory and conjecture.’ The Telegraph says his style was sometimes criticised for failing to break new ground or to tackle subjects in enough depth, nevertheless, Hibbert ‘was sure of his methodology and his audience’.

The Guardian says Hibbert ‘had more than 50 books published’ and The Telegraph that he ‘wrote more than 40 books’ (although The Times says he ‘wrote more than 50 books’). This discrepancy between the number of books he ‘wrote’ and the number he ‘published’ is partly explained by those he edited, and of these several were based on people’s diaries. In 1964, Hibbert edited and Longmans published The Wheatley Diary: A Journal and Sketch-book Kept during the Peninsular War and the Waterloo Campaign.

Other diaries edited by Hibbert include: Greville’s England - Selections from the Diaries of Charles Greville 1818-1860, published by the Folio Society in 1981; Queen Victoria in Her Letters and Journals published by John Murray in 1984; A Soldier’s Tale, Three Nineteenth Century Stories of Life at War: The Letters of Private Wheeler; The Diary of a Napoleonic Foot Soldier and The Recollections of Rifleman Harris published by Windrush Press in 1999; and The Life and African Exploration of Dr. David Livingstone: Comprising All His Extensive Travels and Discoveries As Detailed in His Diary, Reports, and Letters, Including His Famous Last Journals published by Cooper Square in 2002.

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