On this day: A. L. Rowse, Homosexuals in History

rowse homosexuals in history

A. L. Rowse, who died October 3, 1997, didn’t like people much, other than the great and mighty among whose ranks he wished to be counted. The great Elizabethan historian authored the controversial 1977 book Homosexuals in History: A Study of Ambivalence in Society, Literature and the Arts.

Read Homosexuals of History free and legally — link at bottom of article.

As that most perceptive chronicler of queer history, Rictor Norton noted, “There is a certain class of homosexuals who believe that homosexual tastes per se – without any other marks of distinction – are sufficient proof of greatness…

“Rowse’s theme is the natural superiority of homosexual aristocrats; the only variation on this theme is the natural superiority of aristocratically-aspiring working-class homosexuals.”

Yep. A. L. Rowse was a snob — a rather terrible snob — but Homosexuals in History is nevertheless a great read.

However, readers should acquaint themselves with the book’s limitations. First of all, despite the title’s suggestion of an encyclopedic, comprehensive survey, don’t expect to read about any female homosexuals. Rowse thought himself unqualified to include a single lesbian.

Speaking of diversity — don’t speak of diversity. You will search in vain for People of Colour other than the odd mentions of Yukio Mishima or Lawrence of Arabia’s 15-year-old ‘friend’.

Rowse also ignored the contributions of more common garden-variety homosexuals. As he did the renowned queers of antiquity, a curious omission in light of the cover illustration.

Homosexuals in History is nevertheless well worth a read for the insights the formidably intelligent, if greatly flawed, historian brought to his subject matter. Check out this first paragraph of the book.

Homosexuals in History

In primitive societies — with dirt, disease and death all round them — the overwhelming need was for people to propagate, reproduce their kind for society to survive.

Any habits that impeded or frustrated-this end were apt to be disapproved of — sometimes savagely, as in the case of the ferocious Old Testament Jews, exceptionally hard put to it to survive and naturally doubly keen on survival.

Hence the draconian decrees of Leviticus, which have had such an appalling influence in the long sequel of Christianity.

These decrees were understandable enough in the desert 2,500 or more years ago; they have no absolute validity, and only relative application.

They are best understood anthropologically rather than morally — indeed they do not exemplify any high standard of ethics.

A. L. Rowse

The circumstances of childhood leave indelible marks on the human animal. Rowse was born into poverty. He grew up unsure if his dad was his mother’s clay-mining husband. Perhaps, he thought, the local butcher’s blood sausage played a role in his conception (seriously).

Despite the deprivations of his childhood, the gifted scholar received a splendid education by way of hard-earned scholarships. In the 1930s, he ran for parliament as a Labour candidate but without success. He later explained that the conservative appeasement of Nazi Germany drove him into the Labour camp.

Rowse certainly did not ever display much empathy for the lower classes from which he sprang. He complained in his diaries about supporting them with his taxes.

“I don’t want to have my money scalped off me to maintain other people’s children. I don’t like other people; I particularly don’t like their children; I deeply disapprove of their proliferation making the globe uninhabitable. The f_cking idiots – I don’t want to pay for their f_cking.”

According to his diaries, the youthful Rowse was openly gay, “fascinated by young policemen and sailors, obsessively speculating on the sexual proclivities of everyone he meets.”

But like many people, he became more conservative as he aged. And not only about politics.

“Of course, I used to be a homo; but now, when it doesn’t matter, if anything I’m a hetero.”

You can read Homosexuals of History — at no cost, and legally — at the Internet Archive.

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