George Grote

Statut : Author / academic


Notes : George Grote was educated at Charterhouse School (1804-10) and joined his father's bank at the age of 15 in 1810. After leaving school Grote devoted much of his time to a rigorous course of self-education. He continued his study of Greek and Latin authors and he embarked in the study of philosophy, political economy, and German. In about 1818 he became acquainted with the economist David Ricardo, who in turn introduced him to James Mill, the father of John Stuart Mill and Grote’s mentor for almost twenty years. It was about this time that Grote met also Jeremy Bentham. Certainly Grote’s historical method is essentially that of James Mill in his “History of British India”, and it was Mill who inspired the passionate dedication to democratic principles that underlies Grote’s concept of Greek political history. The beginnings of the “History of Greece” may be traced back to two essays on Greece and Macedon in the Fourth century B.C. which date from 1815. In 1821 he published a pamphlet on parliamentary reform, followed ten years later by a more elaborate work on the same subject. In 1820 he also produced an essay on magic, which was recommended for publication in the “Encyclopedia Britannica” but never appeared. In addition, Bentham handed over to Grote his notes on religion, out of which Grote produced “An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind” published in 1822 under the pseudonym Philip Beauchamp. By 1822 Grote was hard at work on his History, and in 1826 published a long attack on William Mitford's History of Greece in the radical Westminster Review. But the book was delayed by his political activities: on the passing of the Great Reform Bill of 1832 he was elected to Parliament as a Radical M.P., and served as a somewhat unsuccessful leader of the Radical group (1832-41). It was also during this period that Grote turned his hand to founding a new university free from religious shackles and elitism. From 1825 to 1830 he served on the council and several committees of what later became University College. In 1830 he resigned from the council but returned in 1849, becoming Treasurer in 1860 and President in 1868. The University of London (established in 1836) was also the scene of Grote’s educational activities. In 1850 he became a member of the academic senate and from 1862 to the end of his life he held the post of Vice-Chancellor. He received many academic honours but refused a peerage. He left his books to the University, where Senate House Library still possesses a large selection. English-speaking scholars in the Victorian age were fundamentally shaped by the perception of Ancient Greek culture in Grote’s “History of Greece”. From an exhaustive survey and analysis of myth and legend (a kind of preview had appeared in the “Westminster Review” of 1843 presenting Grote’s extreme scepticism on the historical value of ancient Greek legend) it proceeded to the death of Alexander the Great. His passionate advocacy of Athenian democracy reflects his political views as a “Philosophical Radical”. Grote had originally intended to include a study of Plato and Aristotle in his account of the fourth century, but the impracticality of this scheme convinced him that separate treatment was necessary. In 1865 he published in three volumes “Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates”. He has also started writing a book on Aristotle, which was left unfinished at his death in 1871 and was published posthumously in the following year. The “History of Greece” in its whole was reedited several times until the “Everyman's Library” edition of 1907. It was translated into German (1850-6), Italian (1855-8), French (1864-7) and at least partially into Russian (1860). It had a large impact especially in Germany, where its views were very controversial.

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