Obituary: Jeremy Griffiths

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The Independent Online
Jeremy Griffiths was one of the the most colourful and engaging figures in English manuscript studies. His death cuts short a career of great, if largely unfulfilled, promise.

But there were substantial achievements, particularly the journal English Manuscripts Studies 1100-1700, which he founded in 1990 with Peter Beal and which has come to provide a crucial link between medieval and renaissance manuscript study. Equally important was the collaborative history Book Production and Publishing in Britain 1375-1475 (1989), which he co-edited with Derek Pearsall, the first major comprehensive study of this period and already established as a standard work.

Griffiths was born in 1955 and educated at Canford School, Dorset, and Leamington College. In 1973 he went up to Bangor to read English, graduating in 1976 with a First and the John F. Danby Memorial Prize. He stayed on to complete an MA and then went up to Oxford in 1977 to begin research for a DPhil on 15th- century English manuscript production. He quickly established himself as a figure of precocious authority, particularly gifted at identifying scribal hands and keenly interested in English manuscript illumination. He gave a number of provocative scholarly papers during this period; but they, like his thesis, remain unpublished at his death.

In the early 1980s he was employed as a lecturer at Lincoln and then St John's College, Oxford. In 1984 he became lecturer at Birkbeck College, London; he held this position until 1988. For some time before this he had been engaged in buying and selling manuscripts and acting as adviser to various individuals and dealers. In 1988 he resigned to become a freelance manuscript consultant and entrepreneur. He had brief incarnations as a publisher and dealer in prints and towards the end of his life managed his father's engineering firm. In many ways his instincts were those of the businessman and prevented him from taking the narrow world of academe too seriously.

The range of Griffiths' interests was so wide - they included a stint as war correspondent in Bosnia for the Independent - that his scholarly career inevitably suffered. There were a handful of excellent articles in scholarly journals, a couple of introductions to facsimiles and a few reviews. More substantial undertakings remained incomplete at his death, notably the collaborative Catalogue of the Manuscripts of John Gower's Confessio Amantis which he had in hand with Kate Harris and Derek Pearsall. He also left incomplete catalogues of the medieval manuscripts at St John's College, Oxford and at Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

Jeremy Griffiths was never simply an academic. The diversity of his interests was matched by an equally wide-ranging gift for friendship. The affection he inspired came from the generous concern he always showed and the unforced generosity of his hospitality, always buttressed by his love of good food and wine. In scholarly terms he had a gift for asking the right questions. If he did not always stay to answer them he usually could prompt someone to do so. His company was constant stimulus, both intellectually and personally.

Anthony Edwards

Jeremy John Griffiths, manuscript consultant; born Aberdare, Glamorgan 5 June 1955; married (marriage dissolved); died Oxford 14 August 1997.