restricted access Chapter 1: The Pursuit of Intimacy, or Rationalism in Love
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1 the pursuit of intimacy, or rationalism in love Robert Grant In what follows I refer to Michael Oakeshott by his first name, as I also do to those connected with him. This is partly to avoid the confusion of shared surnames , though I did actually come myself to address him by his first name. My main topic will be his love life, which is not the same as his sex life, though the two are obviously connected. And perhaps both are, more distantly , with his work. Michael in several places says that love was the main business of his life. If we are to take him literally, therefore, his work appears as more of a sideline or an antidote, and even he admits from time to time that he is using it to deaden his sorrows or drive away his demons. I published a very brief biography of Michael in 1990, in my little introductory book, Oakeshott. My chief informant had been Michael himself, whom I visited at his home in Dorset in 1987.1 This was only for a day, but we corresponded thereafter. I had met him briefly about seven years earlier. But when I interviewed him he was nearly eighty-­ six, so it would not be surprising if his memory had occasionally erred. He told me that he had gone up to Cambridge in 1919, that he had graduated in 1925, and that he was elected to a fellowship at his college, Caius, in 1927. I wrote these unlikely sounding dates down on the spot (as I did everything else) and innocently repeated them in my book. In fact, he went up in 1920, graduated (as would have been normal) in 1923, and was made a fellow in 1925. Other bits of misinformation were less obviously mistakes, though some may still have been. He told me he had been married twice, and that his first wife had died in the 1950s. (I already knew, from him, that he had a current This chapter is an extended and annotated version of an address given at the biennial Michael Oakeshott Association Conference at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, November 2009. The title is a quibble on Oakeshott’s famous characterization, in his 1952 inaugural lecture at the London School of Economics, of a mature politics as “the pursuit of intimations” (RP, 57–58, 66–69). Franco.indb 15 8/2/12 8:44 AM 16   a companion to michael oakeshott wife, Christel.) In fact it was three times. He had divorced his two previous wives and both had died, neither in the 1950s: the first, Joyce, in 1976, and the second, Kate, in 1964. Which of them was he airbrushing out, if he was? He had reason enough in either case, though that is not necessarily to say that he did so. He also told me that his maternal grandfather was the rector of Islington in the 1890s. In fact, two Islington churches have rectors; furthermore , his grandfather, Thomas Hellicar, was not a member of the clergy at all, but a well-­ off Islington silk merchant.2 According to Michael’s son Simon, it was his great-­ grandfather Hellicar’s money that enabled Michael’s parents to live much more comfortably than I had previously imagined, with a substantial house, a cook, a gardener, and, exotically, a Swedish lady chauffeur.3 And that is not to mention sending their three boys to a fee-­ paying school (something, admittedly, considerably cheaper in real terms than now). There is more in Michael’s background of interest, and, at least to my present knowledge, it is accurate. His father, Joseph (1860–1945), had at least one distinguished forebear, the portrait painter and friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Daniel Dodd.4 Despite this, Joseph’s immediate family was quite poor. So, after a good grammar school education (in which he distinguished himself in French), at sixteen Joseph became a “boy clerk” in the Civil Service. This was a newly invented, fast-­ track position whereby clever boys, in exchange for their labor, received an apprenticeship in the “administrative” (i.e., highest) class of the bureaucracy, along with the equivalent of a university education. Joseph became a founder of the Fabian Society, a friend of George Bernard Shaw, a principal clerk (divisional head) in the Inland Revenue at Somerset House, the author of Fabian pamphlets, and eventually a founder and governor of the London School of Economics, where, after his death, his son Michael was...