Obituary: Stanley Jones

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The Independent Culture
WILLIAM HAZLITT was perhaps the greatest reporter that ever lived. His mind was wide-ranging, his sympathies liberal, and it is fitting that his prime exponent should have been Stanley Jones.

It was said of Jones that, if you asked him, for example, where Hazlitt was at 6pm on 2 May 1812, he would be able instantly to reply that the author was at Charles Lamb's talking to Wordsworth about Tasso's influence on Spenser. Such specificity may indicate the reputed scholarship of the former Reader in French Language and Literature at Glasgow University. To a wider audience, Stanley Jones may not have been a familiar name, but his single published volume, Hazlitt, a Life: from Winterslow to Frith Street (1989), was a popular success.

Jones was born to a Welsh-speaking nonconformist family. His father was a carpenter employed in industrial processes, and the young Stanley had to make his way through scholarships. His interest in Hazlitt arose, he said, when a Hazlitt essay happened to be the prescribed text the year he became ("proud title") Junior School Fives Champion. He arrived at University College, Cardiff, where English was his primary interest. However, looking impish, he would say, "Do you blame me?" when he spoke of being attracted at the age of 20 by the prospect of studying for a year in Paris.

It was when in Paris again, in 1939, that he met a young Canadian violinist called Dorothea McLaughlin. The Second World War interrupted both his studies and his courtship. He spent the duration mostly in Salisbury, attached to the Intelligence Corps. Stanley resumed his doctoral research, a study of Proust, at Cambridge, but managed to second himself to McGill University for the purpose of marrying Dorothea and bringing her back to England as a British citizen.

Neither Stanley nor his wife wanted to go to Glasgow, which was uncharted territory, but Professor Alan Boase appointed him to a full lectureship in 1947, when such permanent posts were rare. The Joneses remained in Glasgow for the rest of Stanley's life, and brought up three daughters. In his amiable way, Stanley accompanied Dorothea, a cradle Catholic, to Mass each Sunday, and eventually joined her church. That a lifelong nonconformist should, in his last decade, become a Roman Catholic was only part of the enigma surrounding Stanley Jones.

When a brash post-structuralist gave an inaccurate talk on Joyce, Jones asked a colleague sitting near him for a text of Ulysses, unerringly turned to the relevant page, and - with characteristic urbanity - demolished the speaker's argument. He was a keen opera-goer, and knew the original Italian from which the libretti had - not always satisfactorily - been translated.

It is a mystery that, with his range of scholarship, Jones chose only to publish on Hazlitt, and that from the vantage-point of a Department of French. There is no doubt that this caused some consternation in his university. When Jones was found in another department lecturing on his favourite author, an elderly Professor of English was heard to exclaim, "This is impugning our departmental integrity!" Certainly Jones was never accorded the Chair which his erudition warranted.

His final years were warped by the advance of the rheumatoid arthritis that eventually killed him. He was industrious to the end. Friends would receive notes from hospital, written painfully on the obverse of old menus, saying how the leisure of retirement had eluded him. "However, life is still full of interest; it would be dreadful to be solicited by nothing at all."

Apart from his biography of Hazlitt, Jones contributed some 50 articles and notes to learned journals. Many of these contain material not to be found in his life of Hazlitt, or, if found there, only in a condensed form. For example, his W.D. Thomas Memorial Lecture of 1981 (published as The Second Mrs Hazlitt, 1982) gives an account of the research methods employed in ascertaining the background of the second Mrs Hazlitt, Isabella Bridgewater, nee Shaw. These are as astonishing as the biographical detail to which they led. It is to be hoped that a university press will bring such dispersed materials together in a single book. This would show, beyond doubt, that Stanley Jones was not only the godfather of contemporary Hazlitt studies but also among the most resourceful scholars of his time.

No one knew more about the life and works of Hazlitt than Stanley Jones, writes Duncan Wu. But there was nothing dry about him. Stanley combined his passion for things Hazlittian with an equal love for those things which once inspired his hero: good theatre, good wine, good music, and good company.

He had a seemingly indefatigable knowledge of his subject. Ask him how Hazlitt spent his brief time in Glasgow, who he met and what he did, and Stanley would know, usually without consulting his notes. He would astonish by producing such details as how much Hazlitt had spent on his lunch on a particular day. This would be an impressive enough trick in the case of writers whose lives are well documented, but it was staggering in the case of Hazlitt, of whom so little is recorded.

I came to know Stanley during the three-year period of my editing of Hazlitt's selected writings, for a new edition published earlier this year. All scholarly paths, I discovered, led to his door. It was opened without hesitation. In truth, he should have produced the edition, as he had been examining the extant manuscripts for decades before I began work. On visiting libraries in America, Canada and the United Kingdom, I always found that Stanley had been there before me.

My final visit to him was shortly before the launch party for my edition. He showed me his collection of photographs of the places in France where Hazlitt had once stayed. He had found, often with the minimum of evidence, Hazlitt's lodgings in the depths of the French countryside, only years, or in one case months, before their demolition. Those photographs comprise important pieces of scholarly evidence in themselves.

His biography of Hazlitt is a milestone in literary studies. Stanley Jones was the first to tell the world about the family from which Hazlitt's second wife came, and provided a vast amount of new evidence about Sarah Walker (with whom Hazlitt fell disastrously in love). He opened up new avenues of research into Hazlitt's relations with other journalists of the day, such as Theodore Hook, Leigh Hunt, and William Gifford. His work has set the agenda for Hazlitt studies for many years to come.

Stanley Llewellyn Jones, French and English scholar: born Swansea 2 March 1916; Lecturer in French Language and Literature, Glasgow University 1947-78, Reader 1978-81; married 1946 Dorothea McLaughlin (three daughters); died Glasgow 11 March 1999.