Lord Acton was a man of multitudes: he had a scholar’s library of about 67,000 volumes, his notes and manuscripts in the Cambridge library fill some 50,000 pages, and he produced 200 definitions of liberty. Yet despite his productivity, the man who was once called “the most learned Englishman alive” never published a book.
At Open Letters Monthly, Luciano Mangiafico takes a in-depth look at the fascinating life of Lord Acton:
Contradictions in Acton’s life and views abound: although he never graduated from university, he received several prestigious honorary doctor’s degrees and from 1895 to his death held the chair of Regius Professor of Modern History at Cambridge University, where he delivered his first lecture at the age of 60. As he had no college degrees, before he could start in his new profession and enjoy some of the professorial privileges, he was granted a Master of Arts Degree; when his head was measured to make sure the cap fit correctly, it turned out that he had the largest head on record at the university; ruefully, he commented in a letter that he imagined that poet Robert Browning, who also had a large head, might take umbrage.