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C. V. Wedgwood

  • The individual — stupendous and beautiful paradox — is at once infinitesimal dust and the cause of all things.

  • My own varying estimates of the facts themselves, as the years passed, showed me too clearly how much of history must always rest in the eye of the beholder; our deductions are so often different it is impossible they should always be right.

  • The selective winnowing of time leaves only a few recognizable individuals behind for the historian to light on. Thus the historian who finds the human being more interesting than what the human being has done must inevitably endow the comparatively few individuals he can identify with too great an importance in relation to their time. Even so, I prefer this overestimate to the opposite method which treats developments as though they were the massive anonymous waves of an unhuman sea or pulverizes the fallible surviving records of human life into the grey dust of statistics.

  • All normal human beings are interested in their past. Only when the interest becomes an obsession, overshadowing present and future conduct, is it a danger. In much the same way healthy nations are interested in their history, but a morbid preoccupation with past glories is a sign that something is wrong with the constitution of the State.

  • History, in spite of the occasional protest of historians, will always be used in a general way as a collection of political and moral precedents.

  • Democracy, like the human organism, carries within it the seed of its own destruction.

  • The weakness from which democracy — the government of the people — suffers is a weakness of definition. What are 'the people'? The answer, thoughtfully given, is of course that they are the whole of society (not merely one class — a common error this), but — and this is more important — that they are a great number of separate entities, each one having a separate birth and death and an astonishingly large number of quite peculiar characteristics. ... Our narrow imaginations cannot conceive of the mass in terms of individuals, and the first effect of giving every man his right to a say in his political fate has been the removal from him of his identity as a man. He becomes a party-member, a worker, an Aryan or what you will.

  • International politics, by and large, are a depressing study.

  • ... the independence of the artist is one of the great safeguards of the freedom of the human spirit.

  • Written history is, in fact, nothing of the kind; it is the fragmentary record of the often inexplicable actions of innumerable bewildered human beings, set down and interpreted according to their own limitations by other human beings, equally bewildered. The tribunal of history judges about as fairly as an average bench of magistrates; which is exactly what it is.

  • ... somewhere about the eighteenth century, history tacitly replaced religion as the school of public morals.

  • ... historical research of the truly scholastic kind is not connected with human beings at all. It is a pure study, like higher mathematics.

  • A nation does not create the historians it deserves; the historians are far more likely to create the nation.

  • Discontent and disorder were signs of energy and hope, not of despair.

  • An educated man should know everything about something, and something about everything.

    • C. V. Wedgwood,
    • address, Birkbeck College ()

C. V. Wedgwood, English historian

(1910 - 1997)

Full name: Dame Cicely Veronica Wedgwood.