Books: Retroactive Iconoclasm

VICTORIAN MINDS by Gertrude Himmelfarb. 397 pages. Knopf. $8.95.

The history of ideas, like etymology, is often regarded as just a game. Most of the time, the concerned man is satisfied to understand current meaning and usage, whether of ideas or of words, without worrying about origins. Enough to say that it's spinach, and the hell with what the Persians called it.* But intellectual history is really a game with serious consequences. In running down the genealogy of contemporary doctrines and institutions, the intellectual historian is likely to challenge their legitimacy, their reputations and...

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