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The title page of "Leviathan": The axis around which political theory still turns

I should begin by declaring an interest. Dr Noel Malcolm — as well as being one of my oldest and dearest friends — has been a considerable cause of aggravation to me for the past 40 years or so.

It was my fate, as an aspiring student of history in the year below him at school, to be greeted from time to time (when an essay was returned) with an exceedingly annoying phrase along the lines of: "This is all right; but not, of course quite at Malcolm's level" — and roughly the same thing happened throughout my time at university. Bad enough in itself, yet more irritating when one has the dreadful suspicion that it is true.

Since those days, Dr Malcolm's aggravating academic superiority has been rather widely acknowledged. Indeed, his distinctions virtually constitute a cursus honorum of British academic life: a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford; a fellow of the British Academy; an honorary fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge and of Peterhouse, Cambridge; a speaker of more languages than there are colours in a large rainbow; a distinguished musicologist; the author of important works on the Balkans; the writer of more interesting journalism than almost any journalist; an authority on nonsense verse; the biographer of some of the most romantic of early modern figures; and, above all, an intellectual historian of astonishing erudition and subtlety, whose classic edition of Hobbes's correspondence has now been followed by this definitive edition of Leviathan — all in preparation for the magisterial biography of Hobbes itself that we await.

Even as I write these words (which in fact provide only a partial account of Dr Malcolm's multitudinous activities and distinctions), I am — not for the first time — struck with awe at the thought that one single person can have done quite so much, and of such a quality. 

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