Obituary: Professor C. P. Magill

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The Independent Online
The German scholar Charles Philip ("Peter") Magill was the son of an Irish civil servant, and one of his early memories was of being escorted to school by a British soldier with a fixed bayonet. This experience played its part in the development of his constant adult desire to see literature in its social and historical context.

Physically he was wiry and compact, and his scholarship - one might say accordingly - was unfussy, economical and, above all, lucid. He hinted in conversation that far too many publications in his field were characterised by other virtues. Like many truly erudite men, he claimed to know little, but wrote informatively on 19th-century German literature and its reading public, and on the 18th-century classics.

Studies of German and Austrian comedy, Goethe, Schiller, J.P. Hebel and Heine are prominent in his output, which was mostly in the form of essays in academic journals. His German Literature, a survey from the Middle Ages to the present century, was published in 1974. As a co-editor of the academic journal German Life and Letters over 20 years he did much to guide and encourage younger colleagues. His advice was always perceptive and valuable.

Magill's First in the Modern Language Tripos at Cambridge in 1932 was followed by three years as a schoolmaster at Haberdashers, and then by some years spent in research, leading to appointment to the staff of the German Department at University College London in 1938. He spent the war years with the Royal Artillery, the London Irish Rifles, the Intelligence Corps and the British Military Mission to Yugoslavia.

After a period back on the staff of London University he was appointed to the Chair of German at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, in 1952, where he also served as Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Vice- Principal of the college. His tact and discretion made him an excellent head of department, and students and colleagues alike enjoyed generous hospitality from him and his beloved wife Kathleen.

During his 19 years in office, Aberystwyth was struggling to come to terms with the fact that its pre-war nonconformist ethos would have to change as new generations of emancipated students arrived to rebel against the Old Order. Magill did much to ease the inevitable developments, and frequently defused potentially difficult situations by a humorous remark, causing indignant moralists to find their rage turning to laughter. The Festschrift presented to him in 1974 commented, appositely, on his "shrewdness of judgement and exemplary diplomacy".

He could always see the best in everyone, without being blind to the worst. One did not mess with "CPM", as those who attempted anything less than honest and fair found to their cost. Be four-square with him, however, and he was kindness itself.

Charles Philip Magill, German scholar: born Dublin 11 December 1910; Professor of German, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth 1952- 71 (Emeritus); married 1934 Kathleen Thomson (died 1990; one son, one daughter); died Croydon 10 January 1997.