Sir Howard Colvin
Thursday 03 January 2008
Richard Hewlings says that Howard Colvin [obituary, 1 January] "will be most remembered for his scholarly output",
writes Andor Gomme. It is certainly for the range, depth and accuracy of his scholarship that the wider public will know him. But I believe that his many colleagues and friends will remember above all the unstinting warmth of his generosity and, especially towards younger scholars, his care to help them into fruitful paths of discovery. No request for advice ever went unanswered carefully considered replies came back as often as not by return of post and though the more ambitious proposals might be met with cautions, these always took the form of encouragements to try what his so much wider knowledge and experience would suggest as a more promising line.
I was myself deeply indebted to him when, many years ago, I became interested in the work of the prominent 18th-century master-builder Francis Smith of Warwick. Not knowing that Colvin was himself thinking of a book on Smith, I wrote to him for advice: his response was not only to resign his proposal in favour of mine but to hand over to me all the material which he had already gathered. My book took so long to be written and finally published that he must sometimes have pondered the wisdom of his gift, but he never ceased to ply me with encouragement and new discoveries of his own. The essential thing for him was that the truth should be told, whoever was the teller.
Howard Colvin was personally a shy man, and though his respect for truth was absolute, he did not enjoy public controversy, especially not where strained personal relationships might be involved. On the only occasion on which I was present when he was asked to comment on what he plainly felt to be a mischievous attack on another scholar, though his severity was patent, so were his reserve and care to minimise the distress of those concerned. He was a man in whose emotional as well as intellectual integrity everyone who knew him will have had total trust.
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