Obituary: Jeremy Maule

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The Independent Culture
JEREMY MAULE was a prodigy. His learning simply beggared belief, not only in the literature and history of early modern Britain in which he specialised. He would grimace at the thought of being known as "The Man Who Knew Everything" (which he was); he was easier in the role of a man passionately curious about everything and everybody. He was self- forgetful to a fault in his readiness to serve other people's plans, whether they were close friends, colleagues, students or virtual strangers. He had an exceptional sense of direction, for others if not always for himself.

He spent his earliest years in Germany where his father was working for the Foreign Office. A fine treble voice won him a choral award at St Paul's Choir School - he was proud to have sung at Churchill's funeral in 1965 - before a scholarship took him to King's School, Canterbury. Early English music and old churches remained a delight to him, preferably in combination. He went up to Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a First in History, and seemed set for a high-flying career in the Civil Service.

He spent the next seven years working mainly in London as a Clerk to the House of Lords. The experience left him with a sharp nose for the workings of large and powerful institutions. To the two ancient universities where he would later work he brought diplomatic skills of high and low cunning that served him well on committees and in corridors.

It was a brave and financially near-calamitous decision to return, via an MA in Medieval Studies at Birkbeck, to the academic world that was his natural habitat. He went back to Oxford in 1981 to embark on a DPhil in English on the poetry of praise in the 17th century. His failure to complete it became in due course the stuff of legend. Meanwhile his developing reputation as a remarkable teacher of undergraduates won him short-term appointments at Christ Church and Trinity College, Oxford.

When asked for their views in the mid-1980s on aspiring young scholars in English, Oxford dons would usually conclude with a rueful, mysterious smile - "and then there's Jeremy Maule".

Friends from this era say that his move to a teaching fellowship at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1986 did him a world of good. The feeling was mutual. He hurled himself into teaching with a zeal that could leave diffident undergraduates pale with dismay and the urgent desire to switch to an easier subject like law. His reading lists seemed endless.

He was an inspiring teacher of undergraduates, but he was at his very best with the numerous graduate students over whose work he took an infinity of pains. He rapidly established himself, in college and faculty alike, as an indispensable member of the intellectual community, not only through formal lectures, classes and papers, wonderfully learned and thoughtful as these invariably were, but also by virtue of continuous conversation, suggestion, advice and hints, "higher gossiping" as he himself called it.

His own work suffered, as he came to acknowledge. Not that he was unproductive: recent publications included The Oxford Book of Classical Verse in Translation (1995), to which his expertise in Latin made an invaluable contribution, and a fine essay on "Donne and the past". He was a tireless participant in conferences, organising and speaking and responding all over Britain, the Continent and North America. But for reasons no one ever quite fathomed, including Maule himself, he shied from the ordeal of publication.

I learned from my own collaboration with him that the only fool-proof method of getting his work into the public domain was brute larceny when his back was turned. He loved nothing better than to trawl through archives, across Europe, Britain and North America. He was a master of the postcard announcing with triumphant illegibility the discovery of an unknown manuscript or the correction of a misattribution.

None the less, his findings were substantial and he was gaining in confidence about seeing them into print. In particular there were forthcoming contributions to the new Yale edition of Andrew Marvell's prose works, an essay on "Crabbe and the lower orders", editions of previously unknown verse and prose by Thomas Traherne, collections of critical essays on Elizabeth Cary, Robert Boyle, Donne and Traherne.

Especially characteristic were his plans to edit the afflicted conversations of one "Mr Briggs" with unseen powers after his failed suicide attempt in 1574. He had started up his own small press for the publication of Renaissance texts in manuscript, and was, as ever, in cahoots with collaborators actual and potential all over the world. It heartened him to know that there would be innumerable friends, colleagues and ex-students eager to see so many of his good intentions through, as they will.

Books and manuscripts were his great passion, but his friends will remember him for many other things, not least for his endless capacity for making new friendships and nurturing old ones. They will remember his appetite, his sorrel soup, his jam, his plants, his postcards, his love of lists. He had a strong domestic impulse reflected in his affection for old-fashioned recipes, gardens and dogs. They will remember his kindliness, his moodiness, his scorn, his patience, his owlishness, the bulk of his physical presence with its powers of intimidation and tact, his dignity, his sense of justice, his big-heartedness.

Jeremy Maule had a disconcertingly abrupt way of ending conversations, on the phone or in the street, as if he had suddenly remembered he was late for someone else. In later years he softened this, on the remonstrance of friends, by inventing an idiosyncratic and rapidly swallowed exclamation - "Prosper!"

None of us was prepared for the speed of his last parting.

Jeremy Frank Maule, English scholar and teacher: born Wuppertal, Germany 11 August 1952; Fellow and Lecturer in English, Trinity College, Cambridge 1986-98; died Cambridge 25 November 1998.

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