Fifty years, almost to the month, before the publication of John Adamson's book, Hugh Trevor-Roper stated his intention to write what he knew would be 'a very long book', the most ambitious of his career, on the Puritan revolution of 17th-century England. The project went through many mutations over the next four years, but by 1961 it was virtually complete. He was dissatisfied with his typescript, which became a famously unpublished book. It has only recently surfaced in his archive, and Adamson can have known nothing of its content. Yet there are uncanny correspondences between the two works, both of which centre on the brief but congested time, perhaps the most controversial period of English history, between the breakdown of Charles I's personal rule in 1640, when financial collapse and military defeat by the Scots drove the king to call the Parliament that would destroy him, and the year of the outbreak of the Civil War in 1642 (though whereas Trevor-Roper's narrative went beyond the beginning of the war in August, Adamson's halts with the king's attempted arrest of five members of the Commons for treason in January, the event that drove Charles from London and marked the irreparable divide between Crown and Parliament). Trevor-Roper was 47 when he completed his text; Adamson must have been at, or very close to, the same age when he completed his. Trevor-Roper's book, though eventually reduced by a quarter, was planned to be about 300,000 words long, which is the length of Adamson's text, too. The two accounts stand above all that has been written on the prelude to the Civil War in the intervening half-century. Between their approaches and arguments there are instructive resemblances, and no less instructive contrasts.
LRB 24 May 2007 | PDF Download