Scott McLemee has a good article on Francis M. Cornford’s Microcosmographia Academica, a sort of Lifemanship for the young academic. Some of Cornford’s Edwardianisms have a faint odour of fustian, but in the main his skewering of academic politics is as sharp and relevant as ever. He’s especially fine on the combination of high sounding perorations, low self interest and relentless tedium that marks politics in the self-governing university, and on the ruthlessness of “young men in a hurry,” whose professed radicalism only imperfectly conceals their desire to accommodate their own bottoms comfortably to the seats of power. Cornford’s analysis of academic publishing rings true today (except for the bit about government subsidy):
The Principle of Sound Learning is that the noise of vulgar fame should never trouble the cloistered calm of academic existence. Hence, learning is called sound when no one has ever heard of it; and ‘sound scholar’ is a term of praise applied to one another by learned men who have no reputation outside the University, and a rather queer one inside it. If you should write a book (you had better not), be sure that it is unreadable; otherwise you will be called ‘brilliant’ and forfeit all respect. University printing presses exist, and are subsidised by the Government for the purpose of producing books which no one can read; and they are true to their high calling.
Scott points to an online version of MA (slightly dodgy scan, but still perfectly readable), which inspired me to do a Google search on the first book by Cornford that I ever read, Thucydides Mythistoricus , only to discover that it’s online too. It’s a quite brilliantly written Marxisant account of the Peloponnesian war, which blames the outbreak of hostilities on the desire of the Athenian commercial classes to maintain a stranglehold on trade. I’ve no idea how well Cornford’s analysis has held up among classical historians, but he’s still read by international relations scholars.