Obituary: Professor Andrew Rutherford
Thursday 29 January 1998
Andrew Rutherford had a career in two parts. In the first, Scottish part, he became an outstanding teacher and scholar of English literature, occupying the Regius Chair of English at Aberdeen University from 1968 to 1984, having been appointed at a remarkably early age. In the second, English part, he moved effortlessly into senior academic administration, becoming Warden of Goldsmiths' College, London, in the period 1984-92 and Vice-Chancellor of London University from 1994 until his retirement in the summer of 1997.
He was born in 1929 in Helmsdale, a small coastal town in Sutherland in the far north of Scotland. Initially educated in the local school, he moved to George Watson's College in Edinburgh before proceeding to read English at Edinburgh University. In 1951 he graduated with a First in English, a prize and scholarship winner.
At this stage in his career he made a crucial decision, undertaking National Service with the Seaforth Highlanders (a regiment with strong links to the north of Scotland), and subsequently being seconded to the Somaliland Scouts. Army service made a lasting impression and its influence is apparent in different aspects of his career as scholar and academic.
In 1955, after BLitt studies at Oxford, he was appointed to the Edinburgh English Department. It was at this stage in his career that I first met Rutherford. At the beginning of the 1960s I was fortunate to join Professor John Butt's English department when it was emerging as the most exciting in Scotland - due partly to Professor Butt himself but also to the young men who had been appointed: Ian Gregor, Mark Kinkead-Weekes, and, above all, Rutherford. I recall with great vividness my own initial assumption that Rutherford had to be a very senior member of the department; he seemed to be at the heart of every aspect of the department's life, the professor's right-hand man in every sense. I was amazed to learn that his normal rank was that of a quite junior lecturer.
Butt's young men made great efforts to transform the Edinburgh department into a less stuffy, more student-friendly place; there were reading parties, end-of-year entertainments and staff cabarets (one with Rutherford in his army uniform in the role of Gunga Din). But these efforts were not always able to overcome the dourness of Scottish students. Rutherford loved to tell the story of his inviting a group of first-year students round to his house for a glass of sherry with his wife, Nancy, and himself; a hand went up, and a doubtful voice said, "Please sir, do we hev' to come?"
The early sense of Rutherford's potential as an academic leader was soon borne out by events. In 1964 he left Edinburgh to be Senior Lecturer in Aberdeen and, in almost no time at all, Professor, Head of Department, and the occupant of a Regius Chair. His skills as an outstanding academic administrator now came fully into view. He ran what many of us called a tight ship (a military metaphor might have been more appropriate), extremely well-organised, every detail attended to, nothing left to chance. There was no question of who was in charge, but equally one knew that every issue would be handled with scrupulous fairness and absolute straightness.
In his later years at Aberdeen, Rutherford became increasingly involved in university administration - and this was the path he was going to follow in the second half of his career. But from the beginning he had been a committed teacher and scholar, and he never lost his enthusiasm for those authors he prized most dearly. His scholarly output focused above all on two authors with whom he seems to have felt some kind of kinship: Byron and Kipling.
His first book, Byron, A Critical Study (1961), makes it clear that the Byron he admired was the witty, satirical Byron, the author of "Beppo" and the other ottava rima poems, rather than the self-indulgent Romantic poseur. Byron: the Critical Heritage volume followed in 1970, and one of his last publications was Byron: Augustan and Romantic (1990), a collection of essays by leading contemporary Byron scholars which Rutherford, as a vice-president of the Byron Society, brought together and edited.
Back in 1964, Rutherford had published Kipling's Mind and Art, a collection of essays by established figures such as George Orwell, Lionel Trilling, and Edmond Wilson, alongside younger critics like Wallace Robson, Mark Kinkead-Weekes, and Rutherford himself. This volume did much to stimulate the interest in Kipling that has made him a writer worthy of serious critical and scholarly attention. The furthering of this achievement one feels must have given Rutherford his greatest sense of satisfaction. Kipling was his kind of writer.
Kipling appears as one of the authors discussed in Rutherford's The Literature of War (1979), a challenging study that revivifies ideas of honour and heroism in modern literature, rejects simplistic notions of the nature of the experience of war, and characteristically records the author's gratitude for what he learned from the officers and men of the Seaforth Highlanders and the Somaliland Scouts.
In the 1980s Rutherford's scholarly energies were devoted to editing his favourite author. He had become general editor of Oxford World's Classics Kipling, preparing and publishing two collections of stories and poems himself. However his major achievement in this context has to be his Clarendon Press volume Early Verse by Rudyard Kipling 1879-1889 (1986) - an exhaustively researched and definitive work of outstanding scholarship. That he could find the time and energy for work of such distinction, while simultaneously providing academic leadership at the highest levels, is an enormous tribute to a man of exceptional purpose and integrity. Many will regret that Andrew Rutherford was not allowed to enjoy the active retirement he so richly deserved.
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