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Full Access ‘History Man’. The First Biography on R.G. Collingwood

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‘History Man’. The First Biography on R.G. Collingwood

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Abstract Is ‘History Man’, Fred Inglis’ biography on R.G. Collingwood a successful biography? Inglis’ explicit ambition is to portray the concrete figure Collingwood by abducting him from what he calls the vacuum-packed academic world of scholars. But the best biographers look for a balanced equilibrium between rendering philosophical ideas and dramatizing a philosopher’s life. Put another way, they evoke the interweaving of a philosopher’s thought with the vicissitudes of his life. Despite the unmistakable qualities of this biography, Fred Inglis did not fully succeed in finding that very balance, mainly due to a lack of philosophical background. While Oxford University Press with the new edition of his works and manuscripts is thoroughly reorienting the traditional view of Collingwood, Inglis’ fluently written but rather biased portrayal does no full justice to the heart of his fascinating philosophy and personality.

1. FN11) Inglis published monographs on the most diverse subjects with prestigious publishers: on literary critique, daily life during the cold war, key concepts in education, the relation between popular culture and political power, the phenomenon of celebrity, etc. His most famous biography is: Raymond Williams: the life. Routledge, London / New York, 1995.
2. FN22) Simon Blackburn, ‘Being and Time’. In The New Republic, April 3, 2010.
3. FN33) In 1905 – Robin Collingwood is then sixteen years old and is at Rugby – he is baptized as member of the Church of England. One year later, on 27th of March 1906, he was confirmed and chooses the name George: henceforth he will always sign with R.G. (Robin George).
4. FN44) HM, p. 70.
5. FN55) Two examples of this ‘idiosyncratic’ style. With regard to Gentile’s and Heidegger’s fascist sympathies he writes: “Gentile joined the Fascist Party at the same time as Martin Heidegger joined the Nazis, ill-advisedly assuming the good Bavarian’s uniform of Lederhosen and Tyrolean hat, and the pair of them were dismissed from the company of serious philosophers” (pp. 122–123). When in tragic circumstances Collingwood asks Kathleen Edwardes to accompany him to Lanehead in the terminal phase of his life, Inglis writes: “Like every dying animal, there was only one place he wanted to be, and that was home” (p. 305).
6. FN66) Inglis studied English literature, published monographs on among others Keats and Elizabethan poetry and edited an anthology on English poetry.
7. FN77) This quote contradicts Inglis’ statement two pages earlier: “Collingwood had kept hold of Anglicanism, although throughout the 1930s the necessity he had once found and affirmed in Religion and Philosophy and Speculum Mentis in Christianity’s personal God had thinned out to become the vast transparency of Spinoza’s God-as-and-in-Nature” (p. 291).
8. FN88) The original Dutch version of this review essay was published in Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, (73), 1, 2011, pp. 147–155.

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