Professor Stanley Hussey

Medievalist, editor of Walter Hilton and pillar of the young Lancaster University
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The Independent Online

Stanley Hussey was a medievalist most at home in the 14th century. He wrote tellingly on the three great English poets of that period - on Chaucer, on Langland's Piers Plowman, on Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight - and on the history of style, but it was to one of the great 14th-century English mystics, Walter Hilton, and his The Scale of Perfection, that Hussey devoted the largest part of his research career, completing a definitive edition of Part II of this important but neglected work only this May. He also took an important role in developing a university founded in 1964 - the University of Lancaster.

Stanley Stewart Hussey, medievalist and English scholar: born Trowbridge, Wiltshire 14 May 1925; Assistant Lecturer in English, Queen Mary College, London 1952-55, Lecturer 1955-66; Senior Lecturer in English, Lancaster University 1966-68, Reader 1968-74, Professor of English Language and Medieval Literature 1974-90 (Emeritus); married 1952 Joyce Harlow (one son); died Lancaster 18 October 2004.

Stanley Hussey was a medievalist most at home in the 14th century. He wrote tellingly on the three great English poets of that period - on Chaucer, on Langland's Piers Plowman, on Sir Gawain and the Grene Knight - and on the history of style, but it was to one of the great 14th-century English mystics, Walter Hilton, and his The Scale of Perfection, that Hussey devoted the largest part of his research career, completing a definitive edition of Part II of this important but neglected work only this May. He also took an important role in developing a university founded in 1964 - the University of Lancaster.

Born in 1925 in Trowbridge, Hampshire, where his father worked at the Town Hall, he was educated at Trowbridge High School and joined the RAF in 1943, serving in Egypt and Cyprus. When demobbed in 1947, he took the ex-servicemen's route to university, and completed a first class degree in English at University College London in 1950.

Stan Hussey's first post was at Queen Mary College, London, in 1952, which was also the year of his marriage to Joyce Harlow, herself a graduate in English of University College London, to share many years enlivened by their enthusiasms for theatre, literature and literature teaching. Moving to Lancaster University in 1966, when it was virtually a brand-new campus, he joined the Department of English and developed the historical study of language and medieval literature, so that, by 1974, he was chair of a flourishing department of these subjects. He was also part of a group of distinguished Early Modern scholars who established Lancaster's reputation for that literary period.

In 1971-72, the English Department at Lancaster had been riven by academic strife. Divisions on the young campus reached the national headlines, with sit-ins, marches, and hundreds of extraordinary meetings. Hussey, with his humane tolerance and integrity, was a calming influence. He was never known to get angry - and others found it impossible to be angry with him. When the university, as part of the solution to the "infelicities in the English Department", decided to set up a new and grander structure, a School of English, it was only natural that Hussey should become head of one of its departments, and afterwards chairman of the newly created school.

There was virtually no major university body at Lancaster on which he did not serve. To mention a few: he was Chairman of the Undergraduate Admissions Committee, the Examinations Committee, and the Committee for the Creative Arts; he was a member of the university's top bodies (including Senate and Council), of the Board of Associated Colleges, and also governor of St Martin's College. His common sense, his wide sympathies, his sense of balance and justice were great assets.

Hussey will be most remembered, however, for his achievements in research. Even before his move to Lancaster, he was known for his work on Piers Plowman and Walter Hilton (whose dates almost exactly coincide with those of Chaucer). Later his reputation spread more widely through his books Chaucer: an introduction (1971), The Literary Language of Shakespeare (1982) and The English Language: structure and development (1995).

On reaching retirement in 1990 he was presented with a volume of essays in his honour: Langland, the Mystics and the Medieval English Religious Tradition. This Festschrift contains many learned contributions by leading scholars - but most appealing is an essay by Douglas Gray on cats: "Notes on some Medieval, Mystical, Magical and Moral Cats". Hussey's domestic life had been dominated by a succession of three memorable magisterial cats. One of them, named after the "fiery Tybalt" and "king of cats" in Romeo and Juliet, is given a Latin footnote all to himself.

Hussey undertook the large enterprise of a scholarly edition of Hilton's great devotional classic The Scale of Perfection Part II, with its voluminous texts in many different manuscripts. (Three previous editors of the first part died on the job.) Its completion shortly before his death was a suitable culmination to his life of research. A monument to his scholarship and perseverance, this posthumous magnum opus is to reach print in 2006, as a publication of the Early English Text Society.

After Hussey's many years of sharing evenings and weekends with Walter Hilton, it is not surprising to find that he shared some characteristics with that 14th-century man of God. Hilton was not a fervid zealot, but a man with the common touch of humanity, an exponent of a middle way, seeing that devotional life cannot be separated from an active life of service in the world. Stan Hussey like him was a dedicated teacher, a churchman, a man of the middle ground, and a great user of the English language.

Geoffrey Leech and Helen Phillips

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