Obituary: Professor George Cushing

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The Independent Online
George Cushing will probably be remembered as the scholar who in his time did more for Hungarian studies outside Hungary than anyone else.

The son of a Methodist minister, he was educated at Nottingham High School as a Foundation Scholar before going up to read Classics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 1942. He finished his studies only in 1947 because during the Second World War years he served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and was stationed in the Middle East. It was the war that gave this talented linguist the opportunity to expand into Oriental languages - as Classics scholars frequently do - and take up Arabic, Turkish and Hungarian.

Cushing's military service included the Hungarian course at the School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES), at London University. This was the institute to which he returned as a lecturer in 1947 to spend a lifetime in academic work. He retired as a professor in 1986.

George Cushing acquired deep knowledge in a very wide area: his mastery of the Hungarian language, most periods of its literature and the country's whole history and culture was a source of astonishment in Hungary, which he frequently visited and where he had many close friends. His affinity with Hungarian culture was not however that of the proverbial Englishman who, besotted with a faraway nation, could find no fault with it. He possessed a sharp, detached, critical mind. He spoke Hungarian, a "hard language", on a native level, a considerable feat for an Englishman.

His scholarly contribution included linguistics; his 1963 paper "The Desiderative in Hungarian" is one example. The Finno-Ugrian Languages and Peoples (1975), an adaptation of Professor Peter Hajdu's Hungarian work of 12 years previously, but partly based on original research, is a standard work of reference. Cushing's studies in literary history mainly concerned the modern periods. He wrote his doctorate on national Classicism in the context of Szechenyi's and Kossuth's politics in the mid-19th century.

This work spawned fine essays that appeared in the Slavonic and East European Review and a major biography of Hungary's greatest 19th- century poet, Sndor Petofi (again an adaptation). English travellers' writings on the Habsburg monarchy, Hungarian memoirs and cultural traditions in Transylvania were particularly close to Cushing's interests. His writing was never facile; it was based on reflective judgement and the subject was presented in concise, lucid prose.

George Cushing had many rather old-fashioned and daring academic and personal qualitites. He was an enthusiastic teacher, most generous with his time (a rare quality among today's academics) to students and visitors wanting to find out something on which he possessed a storehouse of knowledge.

A college man, clubbable, kind, helpful and amusing, Cushing had absolute integrity. In an interregnum between two directors at SSEES he was the natural choice to be Acting Director for the 1979-80 academic session. Although essentially a private man, he served on a large number of public and social bodies, ranging from learned societies in Hungary to Bromley Education Committee and the British Association for Central and Eastern Europe. He was president of the British-Hungarian Fellowship and of the British Hungarian Society. A religious man, he was an elder of the Methodist Church; his recreation was organ playing.

Lszl Peter

George Frederick Cushing, Hungarian scholar: born Sheringham, Norfolk 17 February 1923; Assistant Lecturer in Hungarian Language and Literature, School of Slavonic and East European Studies, London University 1947-53, Lecturer 1953-67, Reader 1967-78, Professor 1978-86 (Emeritus); died Sydenham 12 April 1996.