An Historian's Conscience: The correspondence of Arnold J Toynbee and 'Columba Cary-Elwes, Monk of Ampleforth, edited Christian B Peper (OUP, £9.95).
ARNOLD Toynbee (1889-1975) was the author of thit most Victorian of, modern histories, The Study of History. The first three volumes of this monumental work appeared in 1934, the next three in 1938, and the remaining four in 1954.
It was Victorian in its vast scale, its elegant use of language and its ambiguity to Christianity. Toynbee himself had a Victorian childhood and was brought up as a conventional member of the Church of England. At about the time he went up to Balliol in 1907 he drifted into a state of 'disbelief in the existence of any transcendental reality, life or personality'.
Later, entre deux guerres he turned to a more theocentric view of the universe and an awareness of the place of the Christ in history as he revealed in the sixth volume of The Study "And now, as we stand and gaze with our eyes fixed upon the farther shore, a single figure rises from the flood and straightaway fills the whole horizon. Then is the Saviour" (p.278).
Toynbee's vision of the past, which has not received wide support from other professional historians, was a deeply personal one and this vast volume of letters (some 600 pages long) is the first part of the historian's correspondence to be published.
Letter-writing is not normally considered as a twentiethcentury art but this correspondence which covers some forty years belies that claim even if we can look on Toynbee, as I have suggested, as a Victorian born out of time.
Toynbee's confidant in these letters (which are preserved at the Bodleian Library in Oxford) is Dom Columba Cary-Elwes of Ampleforth (born in 1903 and still very much alive) whose own life at St Louis (where the editor of this volume lives) and in Nigeria as well as in his own monastery has been a remarkable one.
Dom Columba, whose earlier hopes of receiving Toynbee into the Church were never realised,. acted as a spiritual adviser to the older Toynbee and gave an opportunity to the historian to engage in a long-term dialogue with a sympathetic Christian and Catholic who had an undoubted influence on his writings.
"The correspondence", as the introduction tells us, "remained an exchange between equals, united by a deepening friendship which transcended the conceptual theological differences, and the influence of each upon the other is reflected in increasingly similar terminology."
It shows the wide contacts and broad intellectual sympathies of the historian and the monk who were, at heart, both searching for the same reality.
Dom Aidan Bellenger