Obituary: The Rev Edmund Colledge
Friday 26 November 1999
He was born Eric Colledge (Edmund was the religious name he took up later in life) in 1910, entered Liverpool University in 1929 and graduated, with first class honours in English, in 1932. His MA followed in 1935, preceded by a studentship at Munich in 1932-33. He became an assistant lecturer in the Department of English Language and Philology at Liverpool in 1937. He was an excellent linguist (English medievalists usually are not) and with his competence in French, German and Dutch it is not surprising that the years of the Second World War saw him occupied in military intelligence and later the Allied Control Commission for Germany. In 1945-46 he was a member of the commission to supervise the reopening of German universities in Berlin.
He returned to Liverpool and academic life in 1946 as Lecturer in English, Senior Lecturer in 1952 and Reader in 1961. He was, by all accounts, an entertaining and inspiring teacher, yet a demanding one too, who expected his classes to work hard and prepare properly. He lectured not only on medieval literature but also on the history of the English language and could more than hold his own with philologists of the old school. Some of his graduate students hold chairs (in Old English as well as in Middle English) in Britain, the United States and Australia.
He was an enthusiastic member of the Dramatic Society as both actor and director of a variety of plays (Sophocles's Electra, Dr Faustus and Huis Clos). There he met Patricia Routledge, an English graduate, whom he persuaded to take up acting as a career; they remained in touch all his life. His sartorial elegance - canary or tomato-coloured waistcoats and spats (no less) - was legendary in those years.
A good cook himself, he retained his love of fine food. He had as well a lively appreciation of antique furniture and of fabric and design. One of his most prized possessions was a beautiful Gillow chair which moved with him from one community to another. He was also knowledgeable about pre- and post-war society and literature, the world of the Woolfs, the Sitwells and the Mitfords.
He had been taught at Liverpool by J.W.G. Gratton, who recommended him as a recruit to the Piers Plowman editorial team. But Langland's loss was the mystics' gain, for it was in the field of medieval spiritual writing, English and continental, that his chief contribution to scholarship lay. His earlier work often consisted of translations, with critical introductions of Jan van Ruysbroeck, Tauler and Eckhart, and his 1962 anthology The Medieval Mystics of England is still used.
In 1957, however, appeared the critical edition (with Joyce Bazire) of the Middle English The Chastising of God's Children. Colledge's major work is the monumental edition, with the late Fr James Walsh SJ, of A Book of Showings to the Anchoress Julian of Norwich, published by the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies in Toronto, in 1978. Several years' work on Margaret Porete, who was condemned for heresy and burnt in Paris in 1310, culminated in his Notre Dame edition (with J.C. Marler and Judith Grant) of her Mirror of Simple Souls, a work which had circulated in English, French, Latin and Italian, published last summer.
Colledge seems to have had an affinity for "difficult" women mystical writers, although he had little time for Margery Kempe. There are several articles, especially in Mediaeval Studies, but much of his work on Capgrave and on the Golden Legend sadly remained unpublished. Those who consult Adolar Zumkeller's Augustine's Ideal of the Religious Life (1986) will find, in smaller print, "Translated by Edmund College, OSA", a labour undertaken as a tribute to his order.
For in 1963, Colledge had resigned from Liverpool University and entered the order of Augustinian Friars at Clare Priory in Suffolk. Those who knew him mainly as a scholar are perhaps apt to undervalue his work as a priest. As an older man, the novitiate at Clare cannot have been easy - after studies in Rome he was ordained in 1967 - but if you have been brought up in Tynemouth and lived in Liverpool, perhaps that, and an early stint as assistant priest in Horton, fell into perspective.
Even in what were probably his happiest years, holding a professorship at the Pontifical Institute in Toronto and surrounded by scholars, he went out of the city at weekends to help in a parish. When he returned to England, he settled for a time at Austin Friars' School, Carlisle, where Fr Benignus O'Rourke was headmaster and Fr Benedict Hackett (with whom he had collaborated in work on the Augustinian mystic William Flate) was a member of the community.
Later years in Kent were rather quieter. There he developed a surprising enthusiasm (Colledge was always an enthusiast) for cultivating roses and vegetables in the community garden. Whenever possible he continued to visit a large circle of friends, both in England and in Europe, circulating as easily and as readily as had several of his medieval Carthusian manuscripts. And he was a most meticulous and courteous correspondent.
Edmund Colledge could be strong-minded, both where he detected injustice and neglect and where he thought others fell short of his own impeccable scholarly standards. But his generosity, his sparkling conversation, his deeply held beliefs and his rigorous scholarship - these are qualities which we can ill afford to lose.
Edmund College was buried at Clare Priory, the Augustinian mother house, on 25 November.
Eric Colledge, medieval scholar and priest: born Tynemouth, Northumberland 14 August 1910; Assistant Lecturer, Department of English Language and Philology, Liverpool University 1931-39, Lecturer 1946-52, Senior Lecturer 1952-61, Reader 1961-63; entered the order of Augustinian Friars, assuming the religious name of Brother Edmund 1963; ordained priest 1967; Assistant Professor, then Professor, Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto 1968-77; died Deal, Kent 16 November 1999.
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