Obituary: Professor P. A. M. Clemoes
Monday 25 March 1996
His leadership of the Depart-ment of Anglo-Saxon, Norse, and Celtic at Cambridge University, from 1969 to 1982, was inspired. His view was that small subjects such as his were under potential threat; his strategy was to build up the strength of the Department by appointing younger scholars who would secure its reputation for the foreseeable future. He characteristically appointed scholars whose expertise spanned several languages and disciplines, and it is as a result of his vision that the Department is now internationally regarded as a centre of outstanding excellence in all fields of its activity.
Clemoes' interdisciplinary approach to his subject determined the orientation of the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), of which he was a founding member, and for which he hosted a highly successful conference in Cambridge in 1985 (which, happily, coincided with the presentation to him of a Festschrift to which many of the world's most distinguished Anglo-Saxonists had contributed). More recently, in his role as Director from 1985 to 1993 of the project Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, which holds a register of written sources used by authors in Anglo-Saxon England, he was able to bring his interdisciplinary perspective and organisational skills to the development of an international project which has become increasingly vital to the field.
Clemoes was born at Southend-on-Sea, Essex, where his father was a banker with the Bank of New Zealand. After completing his schooling at nearby Brentwood School, his earliest ambition was to be an actor (his gifts for this calling could be glimpsed, even late in life, in his commanding physical presence and his resonant recital of Old English poetry). He had just won a place at RADA when the Second World War intervened.
During the war he served in the Signals Corps, first in Egypt, then latterly with the occupy- ing forces in Germany. This wartime experience inevitably altered his perspective, so that at the end of his military service, like many war veterans, he went to university as a mature student. In 1947 he entered Queen Mary College, London, to study English, where he was particularly inspired by the Old English teaching of Benno Timmer; after graduating in 1950, he resolved to pursue the subject at a higher level in Cambridge.
In those years, the growth of palaeography as a discipline, and the study of Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in particular (especially in the work of scholars such as Kenneth Sisam, John Pope and Neil Ker), was beginning to open new vistas in the field. Under the guidance of Bruce Dickens, then Professor of Anglo- Saxon at Cambridge University, Clemoes undertook the daunting task of editing the first series of Catholic Homilies by lfric, one of the most intelligent and voluminous Old English prose authors, whose work is preserved in large numbers of manuscripts which, at that time, had scarcely been looked at.
He completed this edition as his PhD in 1956, but in the meantime had won a research fellowship at Reading University, followed by an appointment there as Lecturer in English in 1955. Meanwhile, at Cambridge, his mentor Bruce Dickens had retired from the Chair, to be succeeded by Dorothy Whitelock. Shortly after coming to Cambridge, she was able to create a new lectureship in Old English, to which Clemoes was appointed in 1961 (a fellowship at Emmanuel College followed soon after in 1962). Subsequently, on Dorothy Whitelock's retirement in 1969, Clemoes himself was appointed Professor of Anglo-Saxon, a post which he held with distinction until his own retirement in 1982.
Throughout his years of teaching and research, Clemoes became increasingly aware of the potential of studying Old English literature from an interdisciplinary perspective (a number of his early publications seek to explain Old English poetry by reference to sculpture and manuscript illumination, for example); furthermore, having produced Festschriften for his two predecessors, he acquired exceptional experience in the editing of scholarly publications. This, in combination with his interdisciplinary orientation, led to the founding in 1972 of the journal Anglo-Saxon England, published by the Cambridge University Press, which, after nearly a quarter-century of existence, is indisputably the premier journal in the field. As its founder and chief editor (vols 1-18) he was able to attract and sponsor work on all aspects of Anglo-Saxon studies - literary, philological, historical, archaeological, numismatic, art- historical - and to encourage younger scholars to develop, by bringing his own meticulous scholarly standards to bear on the publication of their work. Anglo-Saxon England is one of his greatest legacies to the scholarly world.
During the years in which he was chief editor of Anglo-Saxon England, he had very little time for his own research (the editorial task which he performed single-handedly is now carried out by three executive editors), though several of his publications - for example on the chronology of lfric's writings, or on liturgical punctuation in Anglo-Saxon manuscripts - have been classics in the field for over 40 years, and have been reprinted several times. But it was only after his retirement that he was able to devote his energies to two long-cherished projects: a monograph on Old English poetry, and the preparation for publication of his edition of lfric's Catholic Homilies I.
After more than a decade's work the first of these came to fruition with the publication in 1995 of his massive Interactions of Thought and Language in Old English Poetry, at 525 pages probably the longest monograph ever devoted to the subject of Old English poetry; it is the highly personal result of a lifetime's reflection on the symbolic meanings of Old English poetry. Some of its arguments, for example concerning the cultural context in which Beowulf was composed, are sure to influence thinking in the field for many years. He did not live to see the publication of his edition of lfric; but he was working on the first proofs at the time of his death, and publication by the Early English Text Society is scheduled for 1997.
Peter Clemoes was not a flamboyant man; but in his calm and modest way he achieved far more for the field of Anglo-Saxon studies than many of his more flamboyant (and less determined) colleagues. In personal terms he was a kindly man of utter probity and honesty, never given to making rash or exaggerated statements (perhaps his most characteristic expression was "Steady on"). He was venerated by the members of his Department for his commitment to the advancement of Anglo- Saxon studies. He was deeply loyal to the Department, as well as to Emmanuel College and his colleagues there (with whom he habitually enjoyed a game of postprandial bowls), and was a devout Christian who participated fully in the activities of his local church in Chesterton.
Peter Alan Martin Clemoes, Anglo-Saxon scholar; born Southend-on-Sea, Essex 20 January 1920; Lecturer in English, Reading University 1955-61; Lecturer in Anglo-Saxon, Cambridge University 1961-69, Elrington and Bosworth Professor of Anglo-Saxon 1969-82 (Emeritus); Official Fellow, Emmanuel College, Cambridge 1962-69, College Lecturer in English 1963-69, Director of Studies in English 1963-65, Assistant Librarian 1963-69, Tutor 1966-68, Professorial Fellow 1969-82, Life Fellow 1982-96; Fellow, Queen Mary and Westfield College, London 1975-96; married 1956 Jean Grew (two sons); died Cambridge 16 March 1996.
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