GLOVER, Terrot Reaveley
23rd July 1869 to 26th May 1943
Glover was a classical historian. He spent most of his career at Cambridge, but also lectured in India and Canada. A devout Baptist, he also wrote and lectured on the development of Christianity.
Glover was born in Bristol on 23 July 1869, the son of a Baptist minister. He was educated at Bristol grammar school and then from 1888 at St John’s College, Cambridge, where he won several medals and first classes of both parts of the classical tripos in 1891-2. He became a fellow of St John’s in 1892. From 1896-1901 he was professor of Latin at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, returning to Cambridge in 1901. In 1911 he was appointed a university lecturer in ancient history. He married Alice Few, daughter of a Cambridge corn merchant, in 1897.
A pious man, Glover also worked with charities and took literally the stricture to work with the poor. During the First World War he spent time in a hospital camp in France, working with soldiers suffering from venereal disease. From 1915-16 he worked with the YMCA in India, also giving a series of lectures which later formed the basis of his best-known work, The Jesus of History. He also never lost his fondness for North America, and following the end of the war made a number of lecture tours in Canada and the USA. He was Lowell Lecturer at Harvard University in 1922, and Sather Professor in Classics at the University of California in 1923.
Glover’s long academic career resulted in a number of honorary degrees, from Queen’s and McMaster Universities in Canada, from Glasgow and St Andrews in Scotland – another country for which Glover had great fondness – and Trinity College Dublin. He became one of Cambridge’s most distinguished figures, and was proud to have presented degrees to ‘six prime ministers, two kings and one god (the crown prince of Japan)’ (Roberts 2004). He was equally proud of having, while serving as proctor of the university, fined the future King George VI for smoking while wearing academical dress (Roberts 2004). Glover retired from the university in 1939, and died at his home in Cambridge in 1943.
Glover wrote widely, and was a noted classical scholar in his own right; his books on Virgil and Herodotus were considered important studies. His most famous works, however, are his works on religion. Glover was both a deeply religious man, and a deeply romantic one. His fondness for Canada and Scotland was partly connected to the wild landscape of both places, and some of his writing is almost pre-Raphaelite in its devotion to nature. His writings on religion are designed to ‘humanise’ his subject, to present religious figures from the past – including Jesus – as living, breathing incarnations. In a fairly gentle way, he uses the historian’s tools to strip away some of the accretions of myth around religion and present religious figures and religious controversies as they really were, all without disturbing their sanctity.
Occasionally, Glover did venture forward in time to look at contemporary Christianity, as he does in parts of Progress in Religion in the Christian Era (1922) and in Democracy and Christianity (1932). In those later lectures, Glover argued that the historical development of democracy and Christianity has gone hand in hand; by emphasising the importance of the individual, Christianity strengthened the spirit and will and made people better able and more determined to exercise their democratic rights freely.
Glover’s Rowntree lecture is the final one in the series in September 1921, and was deliberately intended to bring a more philosophical and reflective tone to the proceedings. He begins rather obliquely, discussing moral law, and then segues into economics, questioning whether there really are universal economic laws. To say that all human activity is governed by economics is, he says, tantamount to saying that human beings themselves are just a matter of chemistry. There is much more to us as people, and much more to life, than that.
Glover stops well short of saying that the answer is found in religion. Indeed, he refuses to discuss Christianity at all, describing it as an ‘abstract concept’. Instead, he appeals to our own humanity. He asks his audience what Jesus would think of economic problems, not Jesus the saviour of mankind, but Jesus the man. He makes references to Jesus’s own thoughts and opinions as expressed in the Bible, falling back on his favourite theme of the humanity of Jesus, but then he goes further: the same essential humanity, he says, can be found everywhere, and he refers to his own work among the poor in India. At the same time he chides the intellectual elites for thinking that science and economics had given them access to a greater truth, referencing Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion: ‘Norman Angell wrote a book, which was read all over the world, in which he indicated that the most anti-economic thing we could have was a great war. Europe had it all the same.’
Human weakness is responsible for many of our failings, says Glover:
What is brought home to me is our inadequacy for the task. We can all of us see its dimensions, but what is to be done with tools like ourselves? One of the bitter things in life as we grow older is to realise the wonderful hopes we had of putting things right, wherever our sphere was, [have not come true] and to grasp the fact that one of the reasons they were not put right is that we were not right ourselves.
That is where religion comes in; faith, says Glover, can make us stronger and heal some of the imperfections, make us better fit to understand ourselves and each other. From there, progress can truly begin.
The Conflict of Religions in the Roman Empire, 1909.
The Nature and Purpose of a Christian Society, 1912.
The Christian Tradition and Its Verification, 1913.
Poets and Puritans, 1915.
The Jesus of History, 1917.
Jesus in the Experience of Men, 1921.
Progress in Religion in the Christian Era, 1922.
Democracy and Religion, 1932.
Kilpatrick, R.S. ‘“Old Friends and Good Temper”: T.R. Glover and Horace’, Arethusa 28(2), pp. 309-37, 1995.
Roberts, S.C., ‘Glover, Terrot Reaveley’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Wood, H.G., Terrot Reaveley Glover: A Biography, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953.
‘Christianity and industrial problems’, 25 September 1921, Balliol College