Thursday, 19 July 2007

Small talk

Cecil Torr's Small Talk at Wreyland is a book that's constantly popular around here.

Torr, who lived from 1857-1928, was an interesting polymath. Described by his Times obituary for Thursday, Dec 20, 1928 as "a finely intellectual English country gentleman", he was the son of a solicitor, who was educated at Harrow and Trinity, Cambridge, then briefly took up law. But then he inherited the family estate at Wreyland, Lustleigh, and not needing to work for a living, spent the rest of his life in the duties of a country squire, travel, and scholarship. He wrote well-regarded books on the antiquities of Rhodes, ancient naval architecture and his own theory about Hannibal's route over the Alps.

In addition to these, he wrote the three-volume Small Talk series. The Times describes them as about "first of all (though he did not know it) Cecil Torr, next about Wreyland in the past and present, and then about subjects so diverse and so many that few readers (and no reviewer) could resist the fun of seeing how incongruous a list could be made out of them". I won't even try - but the flavour is, in fact, that of a wide-ranging weblog (well beyond the "Devon interest" into which it's commonly categorised).

There has been a recent reprint, but the books are old enough to be out of copyright in the USA, and all three volumes are available on the Internet Archive: Volume 1 / Volume 2 / Volume 3. They are greatly worth exploring. His more specialist works are also archived (here), including Xenophon's Expedition of Cyrus (1835), Rhodes in Ancient Times (1885), Ancient Ships (1894), Memphis and Mycenae; an examination of Egyptian chronology and its application to the early history of Greece (1896) and Hannibal crosses the Alps (1924).

- Ray

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