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Public & Private

By Humphrey Trevelyan

‘I have drifted into a fascinating life,’ Lord Trevelyan modestly says. A man of extraordinary precision, with a first-class practical mind, he has been one of the most outstanding diplomats of his generation.

Following a career in the Indian Political Service, he was Chargé d’Affaires in Peking from 1953-5, Ambassador to Egypt at the time of Suez, with the United Nations as Under-Secretary at the special request of Hammarskjöld, Ambassador to Iraq following the murder of the royal family and Nuri Said, Ambassador to the USSR when Khruschev was ousted. Then in 1967, after his retirement, he was sent as British High Commissioner to South Arabia, when the British withdrew from Aden.

The first part of the book contains portraits of some of the men in power whom he encountered: Chou-En-Lai, Nasser, Dag Hammarskjöld, Qasim of Iraq, and Khruschev. Also included are stories and anecdotes about other periods in his career, some of them light-hearted, in effect a kind of autobiography. All are told in the engaging, urbane and economical style that will be familiar to readers of Lord Trevelyan’s other books. The section ends with a delightful account of his time as Chairman of the Trustees of the British Museum.

The second part of the book may provide clues to what has made Lord Trevelyan into the sort of man he is. Other members of his family have become well-known in different fields, in particular the descendants of his distinguished great-uncle, Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, who married Macaulay’s sister: George Otto Trevelyan and his three sons, the Labour politician Charles Trevelyan, the poet RC Trevelyan and the historian GM Trevelyan. All these however flourished in a quite different social climate from our own, the like of which will never be seen again. Finally by contrast we have A Gentle Soul, an affectionate account of the author’s own father, who belonged to a less affluent and worldly milieu, a Trollopian character who also had much in common with his Cornish and Somersetshire ancestors.

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