Excellence in Scholarship and Learning


JB – An Unlikely Spanish Don

The Life and Times of Professor John Brande Trend

After graduating at Cambridge as a student of Professor Trend, Margaret Joan Anstee has had an adventurous life working for the United Nations all over the world. A pioneer in an exclusively male world she became the first woman Under Secretary General and the first woman to head a military peacekeeping mission.

John Brande Trend, the first Professor of Spanish in Cambridge in 1933, arrived at his Chair by a circuitous route through a variety of disciplines, encountering a host of prominent people in pre-war political, cultural and intellectual life. It was this wider experience that made his teaching so unique and makes his story central to the period through which he lived.

At Cambridge with the doomed generation who were to perish in the First World War, Trend studied Natural Sciences but fell under the spell of the musicologist Edward Dent, who became his lifelong friend. A brilliant linguist and musician, it was music that took Trend to Spain in 1919 to unearth ancient manuscripts and to write articles for London magazines. He fell in love with a country undergoing a cultural, intellectual and political transformation that culminated in the establishment of the Second Republic in 1931. He became a close friend of Manuel de Falla, whose music he introduced to the British public, as well as of the ill-fated poet, Federico Garcia Lorca, and other luminaries of the optimistic 1920s. After the euphoria of the Republic and the subsequent Civil War, he never returned to Spain but did much to help Spanish exiles and refugees. Academically he extended his interests to Central and South America, one of the first Hispanists to do so. Trend’s books on Spanish literature and music were vivid and evocative, as was his style of teaching, inspired by the philosophy of the Spanish educationalist, Francisco Giner de los Rios.

Drawing on Trend’s prolific and hitherto unknown correspondence with many celebrated figures, the book depicts his extraordinary personality and achievements, and his first-hand involvement in important events of the period.

Published in association with the Cañada Blanch Centre for Contemporary Spanish Studies


Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-572-4
Hardback Price: £22.50 / $34.95
Release Date: March 2013
Page Extent / Format: 272 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes

List of Illustrations

Chapter 1: Family Background and Early Years
Chapter 2: Charterhouse
Chapter 3: The Groves of Academe: Cambridge I

Chapter 4: Two Worlds in One Year: 1914
Chapter 5: The First World War: 1915–18

Chapter 6: 1919: The Damascene Moment
Chapter 7: A Scholar Gypsy in a New Golden Age

Chapter 8: The Groves of Academe revisited: Cambridge II
Chapter 9: A Failed Idyll: The Spanish Civil War

Chapter 10: A New World and a New War
Chapter 11: Post-bellum and the Portugal Yesrs

Chapter 12: JB: The Man and His Times


From the Preface by Alison Sinclair, Cambridge

Cultural and intellectual enthusiasms build on genealogies of excitement, passed on from one individual to another. Unlike that hoary joke about the definition of a lecture being something that passes from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student without passing through the mind of either, real academic communication is vital, often unplanned, and it lives on in the mind of the receiver. It is to do with serendipity, synchronicity, and the organic and independent growth of lines of thought from miniature questionings received in the appropriate environment.
... A prime example of someone who benefited from such genealogies of excitement, and who himself would ignite them in others, is John Brande Trend, the subject of this book on his life and times. This account is long overdue, and one that explores the edges of his experience as well as the centre of it.
... Trend, who would be appointed to the first Chair in Spanish in Cambridge in 1933, arrived there by a circuitous and eccentric route. His trajectory towards academia stands in counterpoint (the musical analogy here is a deliberate choice) to the mainline academic culture of his day. In formal terms he was a man whose original academic education in university was within the Natural Sciences. Though hardly pursued with any degree of commitment or success, this choice seems to have derived from an initial enthusiasm for entomology. This early interest seems somehow characteristic of the man, a sort of sign of the delight in detail and the unusual that would feature in so many ways in him later. After his degree, Trend would move swiftly and authoritatively (but also quietly) into languages and culture. Most vitally he did so via a tangential route – through music, an interest that had developed informally during his time as a student. This progression in some ways is typical of Trend’s time, but in his cheerful exploration of fields that interested him (rather than studying fields that he felt under some obligation to investigate) indicates him as a man who was as outstanding as he was unassuming.
... JB’s interests and tendencies, aside from the particulars of music and poetry, can be summarized by the human, a sense of humanity and respect for what was humane, and – in the best and broadest meaning of the term – a genuinely lived modern humanism. How can we see this in him? The interest in the human can be read as the way in which broad streams of intellectual interest were set in motion and sustained by specific engagements with the human in all respects. Then Trend’s sense of humanity was expressed via his quiet and determined support of those whose lives were ravaged by the Civil War. The style of his humanity was significantly exemplified by that discreet moment when he drew the Cambridge University Spanish Society to one side of the political conflict, thus allowing all of its varied interests to continue. As for his humanism, his Renaissance profile was displayed throughout his work, most of all in his easy, even nonchalant disregard for formal delimitations of disciplines and boundaries. Trend was a man who followed his nose, and the nose followed the trail of his fellow humans.
... The reader whose knowledge of Trend is based upon his published writings, or in the case of his pupils, knowledge drawn only from his teaching and his books, can have had only a partial view. Most will have seen a quasi-public man, the one willing to trust himself to the published word, or to respond to the variety of interests presented by students. But there are hitherto unknown aspects that come clearly to the fore in this book. One is that Trend was a man of his time, product of a family life both typical and mildly eccentric (the background of his sister, Henrietta, who travelled with a small theatre, the Osiris Players, is particularly illuminating here). He was also a man in whom one can see, via his letters, reactions that tell much about his social circles and outlook, as well as what he observed. But in addition to this, Trend in this volume, and particularly when we see him in his letters and diaries, is allowed or made to show himself in an exceptionally private vein. He was a prolific correspondent, writing as (and what) he thought, and thinking as he wrote, he reveals himself in many moods and modes. We see him in the mode of the ordinary, the periodically frustrated, and we can sense him as the man full of energy not quite given full rein.
... The style of this private writing also tells much in its variations. In the war diaries, the style is terse and telegraphic, full of swift summaries and throwaway lines, and it is fundamentally reticent. When Trend writes to Dent, however, it is very different. In the early letters from Spain, he shows high levels of enthusiasm for what he sees and experiences. But also we find that when he writes to Dent, he relaxes in tone, conveys more of the self, and the high and low points of his reactions. This close relationship (of half a century) with Dent, the Cambridge musicologist, is one of the aspects of Trend least known, and yet most revealing. It is certainly what prompts the most spirited, energetic and free-wheeling epistolary output from Trend.
... There are other treats of detail for the reader. The passing reference to Trend’s idea that George Borrow, author of the famous Bible in Spain of the 1840s, should be the subject of a comic opera by Falla, is one of those. Another comes as no surprise, and has its relevance for educational debate today. When Jesús Bal y Gay was going to take up the post of lector in Cambridge, Trend wrote with advice. This included avoiding ‘the kind of lecture which gives “the fourteen points of Lope [de Vega] etc.”, which people can learn by heart for the purpose of passing examinations’. Enough said.
... This last advice on lecturing fits what we learn of Trend’s own lecturing style. His was not the most organized form of lecturing, it would seem, but it is evident that when he taught, whether formally in lectures, or – more memorably – when seeing students in his rooms in college, he was full of ideas to run before eager minds. It is without doubt for this that he will be most remembered by his pupils. This includes, in the immediate circle of genealogy, those who went far from formal Hispanism, as in the case of the author of this book, and so many other pupils. The line of those who have been able subsequently to draw on his gifts, whether in direct contact, or in a subsequent generation, is a long one. The chain continues, through that genealogy mentioned at the start, from the intuition-led approach of a man who went unfailingly towards what inspired interest, and caught his imagination and that of others.

The Norman MacColl symposium in April 2013 in Cambridge celebrated the life of Trend, remembering him as ‘The Quiet Internationalist’, in which a combination of the presentation of academic papers and music strengthened the chain of Trend’s influence.

Few of the many people whose lives he touched ever saw as a whole the many different aspects of J.B. Trend’s incredibly rich and varied life. He was scientist, musician, scholar, linguist, teacher; an inspired and inspirational internationalist who helped Spanish refugees to start new lives and international musical ventures to get off the ground. For the first time JB’s extraordinary life and work have been given proper full consideration in Dame Margaret Anstee’s wonderful biography, which is both a piece of excellent scholarship and an intensely personal view of a man who made such a difference to her and to many others.” Karen Arrandale, biographer of Edward J. Dent, Trend’s lifelong friend and partner

“This is a highly revealing account of the life and times of John Brande Trend, one of the most eminent if rather elusive figures of British Hispanism in the twentieth century. Drawing judiciously on a whole range of documents, including hitherto unpublished diaries and letters, Margaret Joan Anstee provides a remarkable insight into Trend’s background and intellectual development as well as his love for all things Spanish. This book is long overdue and is a joy to read.” Professor Nigel Dennis, Professor of Spanish at St Andrew’s University

“One shudders to think how little the British would have known about Latin America had it not been for J.B. Trend who became Cambridge’s first Professor of Hispanic Studies. In this, the first biography – and a lively and affectionate one – of her important and inspiring teacher, Margaret Anstee, the first woman Under Secretary General of the UN, tells of battles between supporters of the Spanish government and those backing the outrightly fascist rebels who tragically overthrew them in 1939. As an energetic and fun-loving pioneer with unerring political flair JB went on to support the finest political thinkers in the Western Hemisphere.” Hugh O’Shaughnessy, author and journalist

“Great teachers inspire grateful students. Margaret Anstee’s life was changed for ever by studying Spanish at Cambridge under J.B. Trend, who held the first Chair in Spanish from 1933 to 1953. Without his passionate ability to bring everything Spanish ‘alive’, Anstee would never have embarked on her creative and adventurous life with the United Nations, much of it spent in Latin America.
…Trend was amongst the finest of the great mid 20th century dons. Yet when she returned to Cambridge in 2003 she discovered that ‘JB” was totally forgotten, even in his own college. He now lived only in the memory of Anstee and his other surviving students. Anstee has put that right. She has laboured with love to research and write this absorbing biography of the teacher who helped form her mind and her life. Using his letters and diaries, she has recreated the life of a wonderful pedagogue, a man of great culture, wit, learning and humanity who deserved just such a memorial. What good fortune for ‘JB’ that amongst his delighted students was the young Margaret Anstee, later the intrepid international official and accomplished writer, Dame Margaret. Lucky for us readers too!” The Hon. William Shawcross, author of many books, including Deliver us from Evil: Warlords, Peacekeepers and a World of Endless Conflict

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