OBITUARY : Martin Taylor

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The Independent Online
Martin Taylor was a keen advocate and an informed and sensitive critic of First World War literary studies. A few weeks ago, as he lay gravely ill in the Middlesex Hospital, he put the finishing touches to his edition of the collected war poetry of Edmund Blunden which is to be published by Duckworth this autumn to mark the centenary of the poet's birth.

Taylor was born in Ashington, a small mining town outside Newcastle, where his father was a baker. He attended the grammar school there before studying English Literature at Hull University, and at Birkbeck College, London where he took his MA in Victorian Studies under Michael Slater. In 1979 he joined the Department of Printed Books at the Imperial War Museum, and remained there until October 1994 when illness forced him to retire early.

He was a talented lecturer, who often took part in performances of the war poets, with the actor David Goudge, at the museum and at venues like the Voice Box on the South Bank. An insatiable reader, he was a fount of knowledge about the First World War in particular, and earned the gratitude of many of the hundreds of academics and members of the general public who research in the museum's library each year.

As General Editor of the Arts and Literature Series, Taylor was responsible for a programme of facsimile reprints from the museum's collection which was intended to illustrate in poetry, fiction and autobiography the individual's response to 20th-century conflicts, and which attracted scholars of the calibre of Jon Silkin and Dominic Hibbard as individual editors.

Works by such names as Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and Vera Brittain were among those reprinted, as well as lesser-known titles, including an account of the death of Rupert Brooke which had a personal significance for Taylor, as his maternal grandfather had been a member of the Hood Battalion, and had been a bearer at Brooke's burial on Skyros.

In 1989 Martin Taylor published Lads: Love Poetry of the Trenches, an anthology of First World War "comradeship" with a lengthy introduction praised by Andrew Motion in the Observer as "a model of tactful evocation and historical sensitivity". Following the work of Paul Fussell in The Great War And Modern Memory (1975), Taylor attempted to calibrate the various kinds of feeling aroused in young men in the trenches, from the more ambivalent "homoerotic" impulses to actual homosexual elements. His anthology testified "to the flowering of an extraordinary emotion, conceived and sustained in the most unlikely of circumstances", and although he conceded that the quality of much of the verse was variable, he concluded that its power was undeniable, and that "the spectacle of men trying to manage almost unmanageable emotions" was a moving one.

For the past few years, Taylor had been working on a biography of the publisher and editor John Lehmann. But as he became increasingly ill he concentrated his efforts on the Blunden edition for which he enjoyed the full co-operation of Blunden's widow, Clare. With almost superhuman singlemindedness, which drew the admiration of everyone who nursed him, he surmounted pain and discomfort to complete this book which will now stand in part as his own memorial.

Mark Bostridge

and Peter Parker

Martin Taylor, writer and editor: born Ashington, Newcastle-upon-Tyne 12 June 1957; died London 16 June 1996.

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