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After Ernst Gombrich had finished his studies at the University of Vienna, he was unemployed and, in those difficult times, with- out prospect of a job. A young publisher with whom he was acquainted asked him to take a look at a particular English history book for children, with a view to translating it into German. To which Neurath responded that he was welcome to submit a chapter. It so happened that, in the final stages of writing his doctoral thesis, my grandfather had been corresponding with a little girl who was the daughter of some friends.
She wanted to know what was keeping him so busy, and he enjoyed trying to explain his subject to her in ways she would understand. He was also, he said later, feeling a little impatient with academic writing, having waded through so much of it in the course of his studies, and was convinced that it should be perfectly possible to explain most things to an intelligent child without jargon or pompous language. So he wrote a lively chapter on the age of chivalry and submitted it to Neurath ï¿½ who was more than happy with it.
He plotted out the book at speed, selecting episodes for inclusion by asking himself simply which events of the past had touched most lives and were best remem- bered. He then set out to write a chapter a day.
In the after- noon, he would go to the library to seek out, wherever possible, some texts belonging to the periods he was writing about, to give authenticity to his account. Evenings were for writing. The only exceptions were Sundays ï¿½ but to explain about these, I must first introduce my grandmother. Ilse Heller, as my grandmother was then called, had come to Vienna from Bohemia about five years earlier to pursue her piano studies.
She was soon taken on as a pupil by Leonie Gombrich, after whom I am named. Leonie introduced Ilse to Ernst, and encouraged my grandfather to show her pupil some of the gal- leries and architectural splendours of Vienna. By their week- end outings together were well established ï¿½ and in fact, they married the following year. Evidently she liked it, and the readings continued for the next six weeks until the book was done ï¿½ for he delivered it to Neurath on time. If you read it aloud, you will find how beautifully those readings shaped the telling of it; the dedication gives an idea of how he appreciated them.
The original illustrations were produced by a former riding instructor, and my grandfather liked to point out that the numer- ous horses he included in his pictures were more skilfully drawn than the people. Within quite a short time, it had been translated into five other languages ï¿½ but by then, my grandparents were already in England, where they were to remain.
However, the seed had been planted and, despite his other con- cerns, my grandfather eventually responded to requests for a sequel, this time focusing on art history. It has remained in print since and continues to make new friends in more than thirty nations. But the first edition of the Little History, which preceded its better-known cousin, lay in a drawer in North London.
Some time after the war had ended, my grandfather managed to reclaim his copyright, but by then the world in which he had written the book seemed very far away. He took a cheerful interest in tailoring editions for audi- ences of different nationalities, and was always ready to listen to the suggestions of the various translators. There was one caveat, though. Apart from the Little History, my grandfather wrote all his books in English: if there was ever to be an English edition, he was going to translate it himself.
Then, for ten years, and despite repeated approaches, he refused to do so. English history, he said, was all about English kings and queens ï¿½ would a European perspective mean anything to English-speaking children?
And so, at the very end of his long and distinguished life, he embarked on producing a new, English version of the book with which he had started. He added new information about prehistoric man. He asked his son ï¿½ my father ï¿½ who is an expert on Early Buddhism, to advise on changes to Chapter 10, while his assistant, Caroline Mustill, helped with the sections on Chinese history.
It is our great good fortune that Caroline worked with him so closely, for he was still engaged in the task of translat- ing and updating when he died, at the age of ninety-two. With his blessing, she has completed this difficult task meticulously and beautifully. Clifford Harper produced new illustrations, which I know my grandfather would have loved to see.
But how he would have explained these things we could not guess, and so the areas he did not revise himself have been left as his thousands of readers in other countries already appreciate them.
Revisions, in any case, are perhaps beside the point. What mat- ters is his obvious sense that the pursuit of history ï¿½ indeed, all learning ï¿½ is an enquiry to be enjoyed. I would like my readers to relax, and to follow the story without having to take notes or to memorise names and dates. In fact, I promise that I shall not examine them on what they have read. Copyrighted Material The Estate of E. Trapp and, in particular, Adrian Lyttelton. Do you remember? Your father and mother were also small once, and so was your grandfather, and your grandmother, a much longer time ago, but you know that too.
And so it goes on, further and further back. Have you ever tried standing between two mirrors? You should. You will see a great long line of shiny mirrors, each one smaller than the one before, stretching away into the distance, getting fainter and fainter, so that you never see the last. They are there, and you know it. Then add one more.
That gets us quickly back into the past, and from there into the distant past. Does all this looking down make you dizzy? It does me. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it burns it will light up the sides of the well.
Can you see it? Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper. We use it to light up the past. First of all our own, and then we ask old people to tell us what they remember.
After that we look for letters written by people who are already dead. And in this way we light our way back. There are buildings that are just for storing old scraps of paper that people once wrote on ï¿½ they are called archives. In them you can find letters written hundreds of years ago. Truffles are a spe- cial sort of mushroom.
But we only catch glimpses, because our light is now falling faster and faster: a thousand years. Even in those days there were children who liked good things to eat. Twenty thou- sand. Now our memory-light is getting very small. Some of them were bigger, but as the rain poured down it slowly turned them into hills.
They grew up gradually, out of the sea, over millions and millions of years. They were huge and looked rather like dragons.
And how do we know that? We sometimes find their bones, deep in the ground. When I was a schoolboy in Vienna I used to visit the Natural History Museum, where I loved to gaze at the great skeleton of a creature called a Diplodocus. An odd name, Diplodocus. But an even odder creature. It was as tall as a very tall tree, and its tail was half as long as a football pitch.
What a tremen- dous noise it must have made, as it munched its way through the primeval forest! It all goes back much further ï¿½ thousands of millions of years. Do you know how long one second is? And how about a thousand million seconds? Now, try to imagine a thousand million years! At that time there were no large animals, just creatures like snails and worms.
There was nothing. Not a tree, not a bush, not a blade of grass, not a flower, nothing green. Just barren desert rocks and the sea. An empty sea: no fish, no seashells, not even any seaweed. Susan Lowish. Wei-sheng Lin. Paul Acker. Elizabeth Sears. Robert Born. Richard A Kaye. Alisa Ililisa. Donal Casey. Claudio Gomes. Morna O'Neill. Travis Nygard.
Ruxandra M Looft. Lionel Gossman. Rupert Shepherd. Luke Devine. Priscilla Roberts. Katherine Baker. Evangelia Georgitsoyanni. Mona Hadler. Jaleen Grove.
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Need an account? Click here to sign up. Download Free PDF. Gombrich's A Little History of the world. Read Article Download. Related Papers. Interpreting Yohji Yamamoto in the Museum. The book is quite remarkable as an introduction to world history. Its style is unique. Readers can chase this up for themselves. However, when Ernst first published his Weltgeschichte World History in he was not a grandfather but a young graduate earning a crust as a writer.
As a young graduate he would have been mindful of the difference between the kind of history written by scholars and that written by cultural historians.
The first was dominated by concrete facts and the second by subjective constructions from a wide variety of historical sources, as epitomised in the work of the great Swiss historian Jacob Burckhardt. The Little History is no dry collection of data. It opens with an invitation to stand in a hall of mirrors or peer into a bottomless well. It is a thoroughly entertaining exercise in the art of story-telling.
Besides updating his account from the end of the First World War, he corrects two critical judgements that he made in the first concerns the ending of that war, the second the impact of the Enlightenment and its turn from brutality to Reason. In , believing German propaganda, he accused President Woodrow Wilson of failing to keep his word regarding the peace settlement.
Secondly, his belief in human progress towards civilised behaviour had been undermined by the atrocities of the Second World War. He vividly demonstrates that the writer of history is part of history itself.
Back in , Gombrich had reservations about using art to engage with the history of the past. There was a prevalent belief that, for instance, looking at Gothic cathedrals would reveal insights into the workings of the Gothic mind. The spectator could be spared the task of rooting around in the archives. History could be judged on the basis of appearances.
Nevertheless a young reader would be bored by a history book without any pictures, thus his text was illustrated with drawings to capture moments from the past. When Dumont published a new edition of the book in , they retained the original illustrations to produce a pocket-sized paperback. However when Yale produced the first English translation in they disposed of the original illustrations, substituted new ones by the English illustrator Clifford Harper and used a larger format.
Harper has described himself as inspired by the work of Frans Mazereel. The artists I had in mind were people like Clare Leighton, Gertrude Hermes, Gwen Raverat, Edward Bawden and all the others who continue to influence contemporary printmakers. Clifford Harper's illustrations are very much in this tradition. I felt the book needed to look a little old-fashioned but not be illustrated in a pastiche of the s but in the natural style of a contemporary illustrator.
Clifford was perfect in this respect. The new Yale edition of is in an entirely different league. Still beautifully designed, in an even larger format it contains photographs of unintended monuments of human civilisation.
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Reviewer: AvidOdd - favorite favorite favorite - March 25, Subject: The guy who wrote in the margins was a prick. It does me. It will fall slowly, deeper and deeper. And as it burns it will light up the sides of the well. Can you see it? Our memory is like that burning scrap of paper. We use it to light up the past. First of all our own, and then we ask old people to tell us what they remember.
After that, we look for letters written by people who are already dead. And in this way, we light our way back. There are buildings that are just for storing old scraps of paper that people once wrote on ï¿½ they are called archives.
William was a little Italian prince who lived four hundred years ago. But we only catch glimpses, because our light is now falling faster and faster: a thousand years. Even in those days, there were children who liked good things to eat. Twenty thousand. Now our memory-light is getting very small. Some of them were bigger, but as the rain poured down it slowly turned them into hills.
They grew up gradually, out of the sea, over millions and millions of years. Report broken link Support this Website.
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