Obituary: Professor James Cross

James Cross was one of the great Anglo-Saxon scholars of his generation. For 20 years he was Baines Professor of English Language at Liverpool University, but continued an active research career after his retirement in 1985.

He had a wide range of scholarly interests in the early period, from Old Swedish to late Middle English literature, but his principal contribution was in the study of what might be called the intellectual underpinning of Anglo-Saxon writing: the use of motifs from Isidore, images from St Augustine, exotic details from neglected Irish Latin writers. He was an indefatigable researcher who could never believe that others might not share his boundless enthusiasm for the latest discovery, and would daily arrive in the senior common room in Liverpool to tell of the significant reading which would trace a detail to this authority rather than another.

The channels by which knowledge passed in the early Middle Ages were a particular passion with him. His forte was not the massive scholarly book, decades in the making, but the short article or monograph that was almost work in progress, turned out at the rate of three or four a year and with the ink barely dry; editors became used to Cross's need to rewrite in proof because he had continued to turn up new evidence since submitting an article. His discoveries were always provisional because he worked with material that had seldom been investigated, and there was no false embarrassment about returning to a subject and acknowledging that an earlier piece had been overtaken by his own subsequent research.

In his early years he worked on identifying the influence of leading patristic authors and themes on Anglo-Saxon poetry; but increasingly his interest turned to prose - and to the influence of lesser-known Latin texts or particular versions of them known in England. He made a major contribution to the understanding of the sources for lfric of Eynsham's work, and more recently produced a series of studies which demonstrated the range of learning which lay behind the ninth-century text the Old English Martyrology. A particular interest of recent years was the influence of little-known Irish writing on the Anglo-Saxons.

Cross was born in 1920 in the Forest of Dean, and went to Bristol University in 1938. After Second World War service in North Africa and Europe, he returned to Bristol and graduated in 1947, with first class honours in English. A further year at Bristol studying for the Diploma in Education was followed by two years in Sweden, teaching at Lund University, and he then returned to Bristol as a lecturer in English, being promoted to Reader in 1962 (a year which also saw his award of a doctorate by Lund University for his collected publications).

Then in 1965 he became Baines Professor of English Language at Liverpool University, in succession to Simeon Potter. There, as head of the English Language department, he worked in mostly amicable partnership with the head of the English Literature department, Kenneth Muir; and subsequently negotiated the combination of the two departments with Muir's successor, Philip Edwards. He was passionately committed to the work of the Language department in all its manifestations, determined to encourage appointments in Old Norse and Linguistics as well as the mainstream activities in Old English and Middle English. He taught Old English and Chaucer with particular enthusiasm, and had an unshakeable belief in the importance of encouraging the young.

As a head of department he was generous and positive, especially in encouraging research, and widely trusted as a fair and honest university administrator who always spoke his mind - even if at times it occurred to him afterwards that it might have been better not to.

Liverpool offered few opportunities for Cross to build up a significant research school, and his impact might have been greater if he had found himself working in a larger research community. But he compensated by his own assiduous participation in international projects and conferences, and by his enthusiasm for enlisting colleagues in collaborative ventures. The verbatim transcript of discussion at the Toronto meeting which launched the new Old English Dictionary in 1971, subsequently published in the proceedings, includes a delightful record of Cross's interventions, apercus, and thoughts-in-progress.

More recently he played an important part in the early development of twin projects on the inter-relationships of Anglo-Saxon writings and their Latin antecedents - the American-based project, Sources for Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture, and the British-based Fontes Anglo-Saxonici. In 1982 he produced in collaboration with Tom Hill of Cornell University an edition of two esoteric collections of Anglo-Saxon lore, Solomon and Saturn and Adrian and Ritheus, with voluminous commentary on sources and analogues for the stranger details, and in the same year, this time in collaboration with Joyce Bazire of his own department, an edition of anonymous Old English Rogationtide homilies.

With retirement, in 1985, he became a full-time researcher and his output increased further. In 1987 he published an analysis and partial edition of a Latin homiliary preserved in a Pembroke College, Cambridge manuscript, whose importance as a source-collection for anonymous Old English homilies he had been the first to identify. In 1993 he produced, in collaboration with Jennifer Morrish Tunberg, a facsimile edition of a Copenhagen manuscript containing a range of texts associated with Archbishop Wulfstan. A month before his death he published an edition of two more anonymous Old English texts with their manuscript sources, having identified for the first time the actual manuscript of a Latin source used by an Anglo- Saxon writer. And he was working on another important collection of Anglo-Saxon texts when he died.

His distinction and achievements were increasingly recognised abroad: in 1996 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Jaume in Spain, and the International Congress of Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo included a symposium in his honour.

Jimmy Cross owed much to the support of his wife, Joyce, and his excursions were in recent years restricted by his concerns over her own ill-health; but with her encouragement he continued the total commitment to research in Anglo- Saxon literature and learning which had marked the whole of his career.

James Edwin Cross, Anglo- Saxon scholar: born Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire 20 July 1920; Baines Professor of English Language, Liverpool University 1965-85 (Emeritus); married 1944 Joyce Bower (one son, one daughter); died Birkenhead, Merseyside 18 December 1996.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
One Direction's Zayn Malik gazes at a bouquet of flowers in the 'Night Changes' music video
'Free the Nipple' film screening after party with We Are The XX, New York, America - 04 Feb 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May