Professor D. R. Shackleton Bailey

Latin scholar whose edition of Cicero's letters is a monument of 20th-century classical scholarship


David Roy Shackleton Bailey, Classics scholar: born Lancaster 10 December 1917; Fellow, Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge 1944-55, 1964-68, Praelector 1954-55, Bursar 1964, Senior Bursar 1965-68; University Lecturer in Tibetan, Cambridge University 1948-68; Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics, Jesus College, Cambridge 1955-64; FBA 1958; Professor of Latin, University of Michigan 1968-74, Adjunct Professor 1989-2005; Professor of Greek and Latin, Harvard University 1975-82, Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature 1982-88 (Emeritus); Editor, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 1978-84; married 1967 Hilary Bardwell (marriage dissolved 1975), 1994 Kristine Zvirbulis; died Ann Arbor, Michigan 28 November 2005.

D. R. Shackleton Bailey was a classical scholar of the "severe and thorough" sort approved by A. E. Housman, those, to quote his own words, "who like hard facts and the logic of facts and prefer results that last". That, for him as well as for Housman, defined his life's work, the establishment and explication of Latin texts.

David Roy Shackleton Bailey - "Shack" to friends - was educated at Lancaster Royal Grammar School, where his father was headmaster and where (as I learned many years later from a schoolmate) he was known as " Boffles", and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. After a predictable first class, with distinctions in Greek and Latin Verse Composition, he changed to Oriental Languages, offering Sanskrit and Pali, and was again placed in the first class.

One suspects that the change of subject reflected a wish to avoid the history and philosophy required in Part II Classics and concentrate on language. He may however already have been aware that Housman's university career had been shipwrecked by his neglect of those parts of the Greats, for the story had been told in A.S.F. Gow's memoir (A.E. Housman: a sketch, 1936) published during Bailey's first year at Cambridge. Of that débâcle he was later to remark that "had he [Housman] gone to Cambridge, things might have turned out differently". He perhaps preferred to run no such risk.

After wartime service at Bletchley Park, Bailey returned to Cambridge and to a Fellowship at Caius. In 1948 he was appointed University Lecturer in Tibetan, a post which he held until 1968. It was generally believed that he discouraged intending students by telling them to go away and come back when they had learned Sanskrit. Certainly a trawl through the class-lists of those years yields the names of only three candidates offering Tibetan in the Tripos.

In 1951 he published a critical edition of two first- or second-century AD Buddhist hymns, The Satapancasatka of Matrceta. The complex editorial techniques involved are described in an article of 1975, "Editing Ancient Texts". This deserves to be better known than it probably is, for taken with the articles on Housman of 1984 quoted above, it can be read as Shackleton Bailey's critical credo.

Meanwhile he was being drawn back to Classics, and specifically to Latin. The return to allegiance was signalled by translation in 1955 to Jesus College as Director of Studies in Classics, and by the publication in the following year of Propertiana. The book was offered, in Propertius' words, uilia tura damus, in humble tribute to the shade of Housman "as a contribution to the improvement of Propertius' text".

The dedication and the choice of poet are pointed, for by this time he certainly would have known from Gow's account that Housman had designed to edit Propertius and that a transcript of a text and apparatus criticus was found among his papers at his death and was destroyed in accordance with his instructions. Bailey's words foreshadow the monumental achievements of the next 50 years, which were to be devoted to the editing, translation and interpretation of an astonishingly wide range of Latin authors.

Propertiana is an unpretending book, a collection of notes on selected passages of critical interest, with an appendix of parallel and illustrative passages unnoticed by recent commentators. It is important as implicitly refuting a commonly held notion that textual criticism is synonymous with emendation, the correction of texts. Textual criticism begins with accurate interpretation. As Bailey points out in "Editing Ancient Texts", "A great many supposedly corrupt passages have finally been vindicated by intelligent and informed interpretation." Repeatedly in Propertiana it is shown that the most satisfactory solution to a textual problem is not a new conjecture, but a defence of one already proposed or of the transmitted text. These verdicts are supported by notes which are a rich source of information on Latin poetic usage.

Like earlier miscellanies such as J.N. Madvig's 1871 Adversaria, the book immediately became, apart from its value for future editors of Propertius (whom Bailey himself never edited), a standard work of reference. It was also an earnest of what was to come. As F.R.D. Goodyear, himself a severe critic of other editors, was to write, in one of a series of magisterial reviews of Bailey's magnum opus, his edition of Cicero's Letters to Atticus (1965-70), "The author . . . was already an outstanding critic, who showed exceptional insight, lucidity of judgement and versatility."

In the decades following Propertiana there appeared an imposing series of critical editions of Latin prose and verse texts, including Horace, Lucan, Martial, part of the so-called Anthologia Latina, Valerius Maximus, and the declamations falsely ascribed to Quintilian, supported by a copious flow of relevant notes and articles.

It was, however, Cicero who principally came to engross Bailey's interest, and his edition of the letters in 10 volumes - which brought him, among numerous other distinctions, the Kenyon Medal of the British Academy, to which he had been elected in 1958 - immediately took rank as one of the great monuments of 20th-century classical scholarship. It displayed all the qualities to be expected of an editor who believed that scholars who " omitted to steep themselves in Housman's works" had not equipped themselves to do their job. (Words which a reviewer of Latin texts of 50 years' experience can only echo.)

However, in one important respect Bailey's approach differed from his mentor's. Housman was concerned almost exclusively with determining what his author had written. His chef-d'oeuvre, the great edition of Manilius' poem on astrology, includes a commentary, written in tersely elegant Latin, which is a fundamental source of enlightenment (something not as widely known as it should be to editors of Latin texts) on Latin poetic usage. Manilius himself, whose principal talent he described as an aptitude for doing sums in verse, what he had to say and why it may have mattered, did not interest him.

Bailey chose an author in whose character and in the part that he played in the history of his times, like him or loathe him, it is impossible not to be interested, and Cicero the man and statesman is the central focus of the commentaries. The enormously improved text of the letters was accompanied by translations, a valuable aid to interpretation and a medium in which Shackleton Bailey excelled. The translations are not the least useful and attractive feature of his Loeb editions, and those published in the Penguin series offer Cicero to the wider reading public in a pleasing and accessible literary guide.

In 1964 Bailey left Jesus to return to Caius as Deputy, subsequently Senior, Bursar. He was indeed known to be extremely careful with money. His learned works were usually written on the backs of proof sheets or old examination scripts, which in those days, after retention of four months in case of enquiries, became the property of the examiner. Written as they then were on one side of paper only, they formed a useful perquisite for the frugally inclined, and Bailey always took care to get his fair share.

However, only four years later he moved again to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and thence in 1975 to Harvard, where he eventually attained the position by which he was known to set great store, of Pope Professor of the Latin Language and Literature. On retirement from Harvard in 1988 he returned to Ann Arbor as adjunct professor. The series of Loeb editions which he pronounced there ended with the declamations of pseudo-Quintilian, completed in last year of his life and bringing the number of volumes edited by him in that series to a total unmatched by any other contributor in its almost century-long history.

Shackleton Bailey was not always easy to get on with, but shyness and a sometimes unwelcoming manner masked an emotional and aesthetic sensibility most evident in his response to romantic classical music: "The next one" - a Brahms song being put on the turntable - "is particularly jammy."

He became a cat lover on acquiring Donum, so called because he was the gift of Frances Lloyd-Jones, and displayed his affection to the classical world in the dedication of his magnum opus to DONO DONORVM AELVRO CANDIDISSIMO, "The gift of gifts, whitest of cats". It was indeed generally and credibly believed in Cambridge that his departure from Jesus and return to Caius was occasioned by the refusal of the Master of Jesus, Sir Denys Page, a dog man, to sanction the cutting of an entrance for Donum in the ancient oak (outer door) of his rooms. At Ann Arbor there were to be other cats, but Donum was special: there comes to mind an evening in those rooms in Jesus when the company suddenly became aware their host had disappeared, and discovered him and Donum in silent communion beneath the floor-length tablecloth.

The choice of Cicero as the principal focus of his scholarly life was not solely due to the fact that his writings offered a rich source of historical and philological problems which he was extraordinarily well qualified to solve. It was Cicero as a human being, whose life and character are better and more intimately documented than any other figure from the ancient world, Socrates not excepted, that attracted him and that displays Shackleton Bailey himself to best advantage. It is this for which he chiefly deserves to be remembered.

E. J. Kenney

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