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Anthony Bryer

Steven Runciman - Proem: The problem of Oratory: being a brief thesis on the World, oral, written and remembered; in a word History.

From the New Griffon, A Gennadius Library Publication, American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Editor: Haris A. Kalligas, Director, Gennadius Library. Athens 2002.

II. Steven Runciman and Edward Lear

Please do not misunderstand this comparison. They looked quite different. Steven Runciman was elongated and had an immaculate sense of dress. Edward Lear was round and bearded and looked like an unmade bed - something like this speaker. Nor do I wish to pursue any analogies of their personal and family lives. But, there is more in common between them than that Steven's collection of Lear drawings (destined for the National Gallery of Scotland) which reminds me of the wonderful sequence in the Gennadius Library. Both Lear and Runciman have a lifelong consistency of style. You can see it is Lear, whether he is drawing Corfu or the Himalayas, at any date. You can tell it is Runciman whether he is writing about Corfu or the White Rajahs of Sarawak, at any time. There is lucidity, easiness and timelessness about their work. Both were well-researched about places and dutiful about people. Both groused about the Greeks with the informed intimacy of those who love them. Lear and Runciman worked very hard on their respective treadmills of picture-making and lecture-tours, long after both might have retired from their chosen crafts. Both were true travellers, when the word still meant «travail». Both hated its discomforts - both speak of bed-bugs to start with. Yet some duty drove them. For Runciman it was fun at first. He spoke often of being overtaken by the Turkish army toiling over the Zigan Pass, south of Trebizond in 1937, the stench of which left him with an indelible idea of what a crusade was like - and quite put him off his picnic. But compare Edward Lear's Cretan Journal and rain-spattered drawings of 1864, here in the Gennadius Library, with one of Steven Runciman's itineraries in America and the Antipodes a century later.

Your drawings confirm that Lear drew Mount Ida at 7.00 p.m. on 24 May, then «No sleep all night long, and extreme misery... rose from my detestable couch» and drew Mount Ida again at 4.30 a.m. on 25 May. They are wonderful pictures. Steven's lectures must have been wonderful too, but at the same sort of cost of another early morning flight to the next eager hosts. The hosts were anxious for a taste of Steven's stories. They were good enough for Runciman to publish an authorized version in 1991. When in 1996 I took him to the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen with a Polish friend, who noticed a discrepancy in the canon, it all became haram. Let us keep the Testament, for they are excellent and instructive stories. Steven's rules of evidence were those of Herodotus, Anna Comnena or an English crown court: which is to accept the testimony of two witnesses, but one will do if royal, for kings cannot lie.

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