Debts of Honour is Michael Foot's most famous collection of essays. Adept at the longer distance though he was, one only has to remember The Pen and the Sword and his Aneurin Bevan biography, the essay very often saw his writing at its sharpest and most eloquent. He has been compared to Arnold Bennett and J. B. Priestley, but there is no exaggeration in extending that to A. J. P. Taylor.
Of this volume, Kenneth Morgan has written,' But it is still an enchanting volume, revealing of Foot's style and of his friends and heroes past and present. His heroes are literary and political, though it is clear that for Foot the categories merge into one common stream of aspiration.' There are fourteen essays. It is instructive to list the subjects: Isaac Foot (his father), William Hazlitt, Benjamin Disraeli, Beaverbrook, Bonar Thompson (Hyde Park Sceptic); Bertrand Russell; H. N. Brailsford; Ignazio Silone; Vicky (the cartoonist); Randolph Churchill; Thomas Paine; Daniel Defoe; Sarah, The Duchess of Marlborough, and Jonathan Swift. The range is impressively wide, something that struck a fledgling politician. In July 1982 Tony Blair wrote with depressing truth, 'The first thing that struck me about Debts of Honour was the prison if ignorance which my generation has constructed for itself.' Having mentioned Hazlitt, Paine and Brailsford and doubting they are still read, he ends with this exhortation, 'We need to recover the searching radicalism of these people.' Stirring words even if they might embarrass the author now!
'Michael Foot is an accomplished politician, a trenchant orator and a devoted Socialsit - all good things to be. But the Michael Foot I like best is the enthusiastic essayist, using his command of words to praise his Radical heroes past and present. Here are fourteen of them in all theiri variety. Some were politicians, one was philosopher, some were journalists, one was a woman . . . some were Socialsits; some strongly anti-Socialist. But all, including Michael himself, had one thing in common: a proud individualism and a rejection of conventional ways . . . The book is packed with delights from the first page to the last.' A. J. P. Taylor, Evening Standard
'He pays theses Debts of Honour to a variety of incongruous people from Right as well as Left of the political spectrum. No narrow bigot could acknowledge as heroes both Hazlitt and Disraeli, both Bertrand Russell and Lord Beaverbrook. Only a determined eclectic could pay homage both to Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, and to Jonathan Swift, both to Vicky and to Randolph Churchill . . . Michael Foot is open-mindedly one-sided.' The Times
'He is one of the best literary and political journalsits and essaysits of our time: he is far, far more than an unusually literate politician. Mr Foot is a worthy companion of all those he writes about. Such a thoroughly enjoyable book!' Bernard Crick, The Guardian