Dirty linen in public?... Moses Finley and the archives
I have lived in Cambridge for more than 30 years, and generally I think it is extremely nice to stay in the same place for so long. I guess my Mum and Dad felt the same about Shropshire, which I left too long ago really to recall.
In Cambridge, I like going to the University Library and talking to the same people on the entrance desk, when I come to borrow my books, as I did years and years ago..we've all grown older together and have grown up with a similar set of self ironies about stamping books, and libraryfines and whatever. (Let it be said to all those in charge that I have a glow of pleasure when I walk in to the UL, and have a human encounter before plunging into the stacks..no more computerisation at the entrance desk please, and if we could have the Georges back, that would be great. Much nicer than the worthy modern stuff we now have.
And I like the conversations you still have across the generations. Our house was once the house of A N L Munby (he soon moved on to better and posher premises) and I smile when I go to the Rare Books Reading Room in the UL, which is named after him. And after a few decades of working on the later nineteenth century, I can walk around town and say.. "J E Sandys used to live there" vel sim.
It all sort of joins up.
So far, so nostalgic... and comfortable. But a few days looking at the bits of Moses Finley's papers in the UL have given another side.
OK there's some of the reassuring, "well I never", to be found in the 20 or so boxes of half sorted Finley papers. I had a little jump when I found out that the place that Finley had rented when he first came to Cambridge is 1954 was 15 Oxford Road (above), about two minutes round the corner from my place (now as the picture suggests) quite posh.
But for me it wasn't quite all so cosy. I'm looking at the Moses Finley papers for a paper I'm doing on Finley's centenary. And I think that it's been the first time I've ever gone through the archives of someone I actually knew (Jane Harrison wasn't all that remote, but I actually sat down at dinner with Finley -- Harrison was dead almost 50 years before I first showed up in Cambridge).
I've talked before, I think, about feeling slightly uneasy about reading other peoples' private letters, not meant for your eyes. It was even weirder finding cards and letters in this archive whose writing I already recognised.. because I'd received them myself.
There was Hugh Plommer's comments on Finley's manuscripts. He had used to take me out on weekend trips to Northants churches when I was an undergraduate in a way that would not pass the harrassment police now (actually one of the most brilliant teaching experiences I ever had).
And then I spotted in one file the distinctive handwriting of (the longish dead) Simon Pembroke (one of the smartest and least productive students of Greek religion ever). I knew it was Simon because I still have a card from him on my study mantelpiece. It was written soon after the division into first and second class post came in.. "SECOND CLASS ONLY" it reads, "FIRST CLASS TOO GOOD FOR BEARD". And there he was writing quite deferentially to Finley.
I found some amazing stuff (more later), but I had a very strong sense that I shouldnt actually be rummaging through it all.