Quotations about Isaiah Berlin

‘There is no need for me to introduce, much less recommend, Mr Isaiah Berlin to you. His learning is notorious, and joined with it is a brilliant turn of dialectic which has dazzled many audiences. Listening to him you may think that you are in the presence of one of the great intellectual virtuosos of our time: a Paganini of ideas. And you would not be wrong. But do not be deceived. The art of which he is a master is not an easy art.’
Michael Oakeshott, introducing Berlin before his Auguste Comte Memorial Lecture, ‘History as an Alibi’, on 12 May 1953 at the LSE:
from his notes (LSE Library Oakeshott/1/3)

‘Though like Our Lord and Socrates he does not publish much, he thinks and says a great deal and has had an enormous influence on our times.’
Maurice Bowra, letter to Noel Annan, 1971, when Berlin was appointed to the Order of Merit:
see Noel Annan, ‘A Man I Loved’, in Hugh Lloyd-Jones (ed.), Maurice Bowra: A Celebration (London, 1974), p. 53

‘He was known as the only man in Oxford who could pronounce “epistemological” as one syllable.’
C. M. Woodhouse, Something Ventured (London etc., 1982), 2

‘As a schoolboy in NW3, I would be sent on cross-country runs over Hampstead Heath, where I might encounter Michael Foot walking his dog or Isaiah Berlin walking his brain.’
Richard Morrison, The Times, 20 June 2002, Times 2, p. 7

‘Closer on the scale of human potential to Isaiah Berlin than to Jeremy Clarkson’
Stephen Bayley,  Independent, 28 December 2002

‘Art Deco favoured decadence over depth; it was more Irving than Isaiah Berlin.’
The Economist, 22 March 2003, US edition, Books & Art

‘Mrs Tiggy-winkle is an apprentice?’ I asked incredulously, staring at the large hedgehog who was holding a basket of laundry and sipping delicately at a sherry.

‘No, ... Tiggy’s a full agent. She deals with children’s fiction, runs the Hedgepigs Society – and does our washing.’

‘Hedgepigs Society?’ I echoed. ‘What does that do?’

‘They advance hedghogs in all branches of literature. Mrs Tiggy-winkle was the first to get star billing, and she’s used her position to further the lot of her species; she’s got references into Kipling, Carrol, Aesop and four mentions in Shakespeare. She’s also good with really stubborn stains – and never singes the cuffs.’

‘Tempest, Midsummer Night’s Dream, Macbeth,’ I muttered, counting them off on my fingers. ‘Where’s the fourth?’

‘Henry VI, part one, act four, scene one: ‘Hedge-born Swaine.’

‘I always thought that was an insult, not a hedgehog. Swaine can be a country lad just as easily as a pig – perhaps more so.’

‘Well,’ sighed Snell, ‘we’ve given her the benefit of the doubt – it helps with the indignity of being used as a croquet ball in Alice. Don’t mention Tolstoy or Berlin when she’s about, either – conversation with Tiggy is easier when you avoid talk of theoretical sociological divisions and stick to the question of washing temperatures for woolens.’

Jasper Fforde, The Well of Lost Plots (London, 2003), 55–6

‘[Evgeny] Lampert sees Herzen as Lampert writ large,’ I remember Berlin telling me, when I was embarking on a doctorate on Herzen. [E. H.] Carr’s retort, when I recounted this to him, was that ‘Berlin sees Berlin as Herzen writ large.’
Edward Acton, ‘Eugene Lampert: Distinguished Scholar of Russian History’ (obituary), Guardian, 9 October 2004, 29

Quotations are listed in chronological order of source date.

Thanks to Deborah and Joshua Cherniss.