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TIMES Obituary for William Woodthorpe TARN 1957



Born in 1869, William Woodthorpe Tarn was educated in College at Eton .... From Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he became a distinguished disciple of Henry Jackson. He then read for the Bar and was called by the Inner Temple. He had already made a name as a Chancery barrister when a severe illness forced him to retire from the practice of the law. For the rest of his life, apart from a period in the 1914-18 War, when he did intelligence work in London, his home was in Scotland, first near Dingwall and then at Muirtown House by Inverness.

As his health improved he devoted himself to the study of Hellenistic history. His first book, Antigonos Gonatus, published in 1913, displayed his power of combining political history with the interpretation of philosophic ideas and won for him recognition in Hellenistic studies both in this country and abroad. This position he fortified by very many papers in which, on disputed points, he showed himself a forceful, while courteous, controversialist. His method of work was to collect his material during long visits to London, and then retire to the north to write with a mature judgment born of long reflection.

...Tarn contributed chapters to four volumes of the Cambridge Ancient History, notably a brilliant account of Alexander the Great and a masterly chapter on Parthia. ...

During the 1939-45 War Tarn was persuaded to prepare a revision of his Alexander chapters in the Cambridge Ancient History, together with a companion volume of Sources and Studies, which preserves for scholars the wide and penetrating researches which underlay all his work on this theme. ... His eminence as an historian was recognized by his election to the British Academy and by what he prized even more, an Honorary Fellowship of Trinity. He was an Honorary Doctor of Edinburgh and a foreign member of several academies and learned societies. He was knighted in 1952.

By the side of his historical work Tarn had lived the life of a hospitable country gentleman. He was a good shot, and had ... [a bit missing off the bottom of the paper here] ceased to be able to travel, he rejoiced in the occasional visits of scholars who brought him news of the world from which he was half withdrawn. ...

The study of the Ancient World in this country has owed much to those who were able to devote themselves to scholarship without holding academical positions. Of this class, now so small, Tarn was a very eminent example. ... When, in his later years, he had to contend with ill-health, he retained a notable power of work and vigour of mind, and he did not outlive his capacity for friendship and happiness, above all in the company of his daughter and grandchildren. He remained all his life the student that appears, self-revealed, in The Treasure of the House of Mist. In 1896 he married Flora Macdonald, third daughter of John Robertson, of Orbost, Isle of Skye, and they had one daughter. His wife died in 1937.

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