Saturday, July 09, 2011

H.M. Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions

“To be taught by and to get to know well Hector Munro Chadwick was one of the most wonderful experiences in my life. He was the greatest scholar I have ever met, and one of the most remarkable characters. The stories about him are legion and, surprisingly, true.  ... Somehow we became scholarly friends, how I do not know, except that in university life (and Oxbridge often does it to perfection) that is beyond all thinking, planning and money, it is the meeting of minds and particularly the easy meeting of the established scholar and the uncertain questing young non-scholar. ... His main teaching was based extensively on non-archaeological sources: we read Tacitus and Bede, Procopius and St. Germanus, the Mabinogion and the Flattyjarbök. He showed us that we were not just archaeologists but general students of antiquity and ancient history. He himself was primarily a linguist and an historical and linguistic scholar; he mildly expected us to read everything from Greek and German and Gothic, from Beowulf to Cyndellan ... once a week when I was resident in Cambridge I went out to see him after Hall, and we talked about everything. There would always be an enormous pot of tea. I can see myself, in my mind’s eye, sitting with two dogs around me asking some fairly reasonable question. ‘Oh, don’t you know? Don’t you know?’ the old man would say, jumping up from his chair and finding a book from his shelves and explaining a passage in some Latin author or Old Norse Saga.”  Glyn Daniel, Some Small Harvest. The Memoirs of Glyn Daniel (London, 1986), pp. 82-5, heavily abridged. 

“In fact, a general feature of the Ecclesiastical History is that it is rarely illuminating on the preoccupations of the Anglo-Saxon aristocracy; and this is one reason why Sir Frank Stenton’s book is curiously light on the status and culture of the early English nobility (and has little to say of Beowulf), whereas Hector Munro Chadwick, whose ear was attuned to the rhythms and themes of vernacular poetry, possessed an insight into the political and cultural history of the early Germanic peoples that has never properly been followed up.” Patrick Wormald, ‘Bede, Beowulf and the Anglo-Saxon Aristocracy’, in S. Baxter, ed, The Times of Bede: Studies in Early English Christian Society and its Historian (Oxford, 2006), 30 -105, at 69.

“Chadwick was truly learned.” James Campbell, ‘The Impact of the Sutton Hoo Discovery on the Study of Anglo-Saxon History’, The Anglo-Saxon State (London, 2000), pp. 55-84, at 56.

Born at Thornhill Lees, Yorkshire, in 1870 Chadwick went up to Cambridge in 1889. He never left. A lectureship in Scandinavian was created for him in 1909, and in 1913 he followed Skeat as the Elrington and Bosworth chair of Anglo-Saxon. from which he stepped down in 1941. He became an FBA in 1925. He died in January 1947. Further biographical information: DNB entry (W. Telfer, rev. J.D. Haigh); J.M. De Navarro, ‘Hector Munro Chadwick, 1870-1947’, Proceedings of the British Academy 33 (1947), 307-30. A. Frantzen, ‘By the Numbers: Anglo-Saxon Scholarship at the Century’s End’, in A Companion to Anglo-Saxon Literature, eds, E. Treharne and P. Pulsiano (Oxford, 2001), pp, 472-95, at 478-80. Glyn Daniel’s autobiography - a finely printed volume by Thames and Hudson, a publisher that Daniel worked closely with for many years - is a rich source of material on Cambridge from the 1930s onwards, and its archaeological and Anglo-Saxonist circles (de Navarro, T.C. Lethbridge, Chadwick).  More from and about HMC in future posts, but here is his masterpiece:  

H.M. Chadwick, Studies on Anglo-Saxon Institutions (Cambridge, 1905). 

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