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Donald Adamson
Born 30 March 1939 (1939-03-30)
Culcheth, Cheshire, United Kingdom
Occupation historian, biographer, translator, literary critic

Donald Adamson (born 30 March 1939 in Culcheth, Lancashire, now Cheshire) is a historian, biographer, literary critic, and translator of French literature. The books he has written include "Blaise Pascal: Mathematician, Physicist, and Thinker about God", and more recently "The Curriers' Company: A Modern History".



Adamson was born on 30 March 1939 in Culcheth. He was brought up in Lymm, Cheshire, the son of a farmer. From 1949 to 1956, he attended Manchester Grammar School, before studying at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1959, proceeding M.A. in 1963. He was Zaharoff Travelling Scholar of the University of Oxford in 1959-1960. In 1962 he took the degree of B.Litt. Prior to obtaining the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (D.Phil.), he had the privilege of studying at the University of Paris. His thesis, entitled "Balzac and the Visual Arts", was supervised by Jean Seznec.

Adamson spent most of his career teaching at university level, although he taught at his alma mater Manchester Grammar School from 1962 to 1964 and then the Lycée Louis-le-Grand from 1964 to 1965. After a brief time at J. Walter Thompson, the advertising firm, from 1968 he taught at St. George's School, in Gravesend, Kent.

In 1969 Adamson joined Goldsmiths' College in the University of London, where he lectured for the next twenty years. In 1971 he became a Recognized Teacher in the Faculty of the Arts of the University of London, and in 1972 a member of its Faculty of Education, holding both appointments until 1989. He served as Chairman of the Board of Examiners from 1983 until 1986.

In 1989 Adamson became a Visiting Fellow of Wolfson College, Cambridge. His personal interests include philosophy, the history of religion and genealogy. He is also a passionate art-collector, mainly of English, French and Italian paintings and drawings of the 18th and 19th centuries.

He has been active in the field of public policy on the arts, libraries and museums [1]. By speaking, writing and, through the Bow Group, submitting written and oral evidence to a select committee [2], he worked for the establishment of the National Heritage Memorial Fund.

Fellowships and honours

Over the course of his distinguished career, Adamson has received a number of honours and been elected as a fellow of several prominent societies, including:

Scope of his writing

The Genesis of Le Cousin Pons, substantially the text of Adamson's (B.Litt.) thesis, is a detailed study of the manuscript and proof-sheets of this very late work. Tracing the progress of the novel through its various editions, it reveals the full extent of Balzac's improvisation from novella to full-length masterpiece.

Illusions Perdues, a critical study of what is Balzac's most mature work, outlines its strong autobiographical element, analysing contrasts of Paris and the provinces, the purity of the artist's life and the corruptions of journalism, and the ambiguity of Balzac's narrative outlook. Major themes of the book are that in "fiction" is truth and in "truth" fiction, and that Illusions Perdues is the first novel by any writer to highlight the shaping of public opinion by the media, usually done in the pursuit of power or money.

Blaise Pascal considers its subject from biographical, theological, religious and mathematical points of view, including the standpoint of physics. There is a chapter on the argument of the Wager. The analysis is slightly inclined in a secular direction, giving greater emphasis to Pascal's concern with the contradictions of human nature, and rather less to his deep and traditional preoccupation with Original Sin. Since writing this book, Adamson has done further work on Pascal’s mathematical comprehension of God.

His historical writings fall into three categories. Besides articles on manorial and banking history he has written on the more recent history – and modern workings – of a livery company of the City of London, on travel in England and Wales in the eighteenth century, and a monograph on Spanish art and French Romanticism, in which the opening-up of Spain and Spanish art to travellers from France and other parts of Western Europe, and to enthusiasts in those countries, is explored.

He has just completed a study of one year in the life of the artist Oskar Kokoschka [3], as well as another on his recollections of his friend William Golding.

Views on literature

According to Adamson, literature does not necessarily fulfil any social mission or purpose; yet, as with Emile Zola or D.H. Lawrence, there is no reason why it should not highlight social evils. A novel or novella – or a biography – is not merely a good story: in Matthew Arnold’s words, poetry and the best prose are "a criticism of life". This means that they convey some sort of philosophy of the world, though some writers, such as Stifter and Jane Austen (to whom he is related through his mother [4]) do this less than most others, whilst on the other hand Samuel Beckett conveys a philosophy of life which is one of profound negativism.

All too often, in Adamson’s view, people go through their lives without living or seeking any belief. This, for him, is the supreme attractiveness of Pascal, whose philosophy is of a unique kind: grounded in the vagaries of human nature; not seeking to convince by mathematics; and foreshadowing Kierkegaard and twentieth-century existentialism in its appeal to human experience. Tolstoy also achieves this quality of vision in What Then Must We Do?


Adamson has written numerous articles, as well as eleven books. In addition to the publications listed below, he is currently working on a biography of A.L. Rowse.[5]

External links


  1. ^ Weekly Hansard, no. 1054, Pt I, cols 325-336, 25 November 1976
  2. ^ Hansard, Expenditure Committee, Third Report, Session 1977-78, pp. 128-136, 30 November 1977
  3. ^ Oskar Kokoschka at Polperro, The Cornish Banner
  4. ^
  5. ^ Adamson, Donald (February 2009). "A.L. Rowse: An Appreciation". The International Literary Quarterly. Retrieved 11 February 2010. 
  6. ^ "The Cornish Banner". November 2009. Retrieved 11 February 2010. 
  7. ^ "The Cornish Banner". February 2010. Retrieved 14 February 2010. 

Simple English

Dr Donald Adamson (born on 30 March 1939 at Culcheth, Lancashire) is a British historian, philosophical writer and literary critic.

He is the author of Blaise Pascal: Mathematician, Physicist and Thinker about God (1995). In this book there is a detailed discussion of the existence of God and a study of Pascal’s Wager.

He has written on French history, and histories of the City of London, a ducal family, travel, finance, art, and the development of a literary text. He has also written much about the novels of Honoré de Balzac and has put two novels of Balzac and 26 short stories of Guy de Maupassant into English words.

He has promoted the cause of museums and libraries in the UK. The French Government has decorated him for his services to culture and he has received numerous other honours.

From 1983 to 1992 he served as a Justice of the Peace for the City of London.

He studied at the University of Oxford, taught at both the Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris and at London University, and conducts research at the University of Cambridge.

His next principal work will be about the life and writings of the eminent Cornishman and historian A.L. Rowse.


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