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This report is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

Sir Isaiah Berlin Nicolas Tredell

'I remember seeing a policeman being dragged off, pale and struggling, by a mob, obviously to his death'. This was a key moment in the childhood of Sir Isaiah Berlin, which he never forgot and which gave him 'a lifelong horror of physical violence' (Ramin Jahanbegloo, Conversations with Isaiah Berlin (London: Peter Halban, 1992, p. 4). Berlin, whose death on 6 November 1997 at the age of 88 received wide publicity, was born in Riga, Latvia on 6 June 1909, the only child of Russian Jewish parents. In 1915, the family moved to Petrograd, where Berlin, then eight years old, witnessed both the Russian Revolutions of 1917; it was during the Bolshevik Revolution that he saw the policeman being dragged to his death. His father, a businessman and Anglophile, took them back to Latvia in 1919 and then, in 1921, to England, where Berlin went to St Paul's School in London; he learnt English, and kept up his Russian by reading. In 1928, he won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he edited Oxford Outlook, a magazine of which W.H. Auden had been an earlier editor, and got to know Stephen Spender, who became one of his greatest friends, who shared his love of classical music, and whose poetry spoke to him 'very directly and deeply' (Jahanbegloo, p. 197). Gaining a first in Greats (Litterae Humaniores) and in Modern Greats (PPE), he then won a prize fellowship at All Souls in 1932, and remained closely linked with ...


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