Robertson was born at Lowestoft in 1890, but the family soon moved to Whittlesford where the young Robertson was tutored by his father until in 1902 he became a King's scholar at Eton, where he was to rise to be Captain of the School. In 1908 he came up to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was to show all-round abilities that were to mark him out for the rest of his life. In 1910 he gained a first in part I of the Classics Tripos, moved over to Economics and took a first in part II of the Economics Tripos. He won the Chancellor's Medal for English verse in 1909 and again in the two following years. He was an excellent actor, President of the Amateur Dramatic Club and President of the Union. In 1913 he won the Cobden Prize and the following year was elected a Fellow of Trinity, an honour he was to hold until 1938 and from 1944 until his death.
The dissertation that Robertson entered for his prize fellowship was worked into A Study of industrial fluctuations, his first major work which was published while he was serving in WWI, having campaigned vigorously for a peaceful settlement before the outbreak. On his return in 1919 Robertson resumed his fellowship and was appointed a lecturer and later reader at Cambridge University, his major works of this first period at Cambridge being Money, The Control of industry, Banking policy and the price level, and a number of important contributions to economic journals. However, perhaps the most significant occurrence was the break with Keynes. Robertson worked closely with Keynes from 1919 to the early thirties, but it is clear that by the time Keynes' Treatise on Money was published that there were not inconsiderable differences between the two men which were to grow as Keynes worked on the General theory.... This refutation of some of Keynes' theories was to affect Robertson for the rest of his academic life. To those that swallowed Keynes hook, line and sinker, he was unable to make a positive statement, yet the respect that Robertson was held in the business, banking and civil-service communities puts the question of his influence in a different light.
In 1938 Robertson accepted the Sir Ernest Cassell chair of economics at London University but spent much of his tenure involved in war work. In 1944 he returned to Cambridge as Professor of Political Economy. Keynes, however, cast a long shadow over Cambridge economics, and Robertson's thirteen years in the chair can not have been particularly happy ones, as the disciples of Keynes who filled the faculty attempted to exclude him as much as was possible from its business. They were unable, however, to stop the publication of his work. As long ago as 1931, with the publication of Economic fragments, Robertson's method of bringing his ideas into the public arena were set. Articles were published in various journals and then, when the material sufficed, consolidated volumes (5 in all) were produced. Robertson also published his Cambridge faculty lectures in three volumes and his 1960 Marshall lectures.
Personal correspondence and papers 1894-1963; career papers 1930-62; professional correspondence 1910-63; notes 1910-63; lectures 1913-62; publications 1913-63; poetry 1899-1914; papers relating to Robertson's dramatic activities 1909-51.
Provenance: Esther Robertson and Stanley Dennison
On his death the papers passed to his niece Jean Bromley who loaned the professional papers to Stanley Dennison, who had been asked by Robertson to look over them. By 1974 Mrs Bromley had destroyed much of the personal material, which Robertson had indicated as not being particularly worth permanent preservation. The two boxes that survived were donated to Trinity by Esther Robertson in 1991. On the death of Stanley Dennison the professional papers were passed on to Prof J R Presley who, with the permission of the Robertson family, gave them to Trinity
It is clear from the many notes made by Robertson that are scattered throughout his papers that he went through them more than once towards the end of his life. It appears that he split his papers into a number of personal categories and a professional one. In listing the personal and professional papers I have attempted, where possible, to retain Robertson's own arrangement which is, in places, idiosyncratic