Obituary: Professor Malcolm Smith

Malcolm Crawford Smith, French scholar: born Bagshot ,Surrey 15 November 1941; Assistant Lecturer, then Lecturer, in French, Leeds University 1964-73; Lecturer in French Literature, Bedford College London 1973-74, Reader in French Literature 1975-84, Head of French Department 1984-86; Professor of French and Head of Department, Royal Holloway and Bedford New College (Royal Holloway) 1986-94; died 26 October 1994.

Malcolm Smith was a great, a loved and a colourful scholar. How many are the librarians who will remember with affection that gangly ginger-haired man with the mischievous grin who had cycled from afar to consult their rarest books. Smith was not simply an outstanding Renaissance scholar, he was an excellent teacher, a man given to warm friendships, to happy laughter and to a gentle sense of fun. He was also deeply and joyfully religious: Christianity finely tinted everything he did.

As an undergraduate at University College London he had sought out the distinguished scholar DP Walker to study the works of Pierre de Ronsard as a special subject: a handful of undergraduates - in this case two - followed a three-hour seminar with Walker every Friday for four terms, plus a year abroad. Walker introduced him to the ideals of the cultural breadth and depth of the Warburg Institute in London. After a brilliant First in 1962 he came to me for his thesis: he had little to learn and much to contribute. He was regularly in the North Library of the British Museum, surrounded by rare books, notes bulging out of an army gas-mask case, as he followed some learned trail.

The fruits of his Ronsard scholarship include the standard editions of the Sonnets pour Helene (1970) and the Discours des Miseres (1979). They are models of the exacting art of editing Renaissance texts in French. (Isidore Silver, the leading Ronsard scholar of his day, immediately greeted Smith as his equal and successor.) Smith threw new light on to the Regrets of Joachim Du Bellay - no mean feat. Recently French colleagues, in my presence, judged him to be the foremost British scholar of his generation. His work on Michel de Montaigne and his circle led him, as did Ronsard, into theology. He enjoyed Renaissance Latin literature; however his scholarly articles and papers show that he remembered those who had less Latin than he or no access to the riches of the British Library.

He loved cycling. As a postgraduate in London, when he found he needed to consult works in Italy, he jumped on his bike and did so. He was happily lecturing at Leeds University when in 1974 he was elected to Bedford College London, declining expenses since he had bicycled down for the interview. He was tireless.

Smith soon became a Reader, and after Bedford College was merged with Royal Holloway College he rose to the challenge, becoming Professor and Head of Department in 1986. His colleagues admired him: generous and just, he influenced through example. Those who knew only his writings, which give precedence to philology and history, were in for a surprise when they heard him teach, evoking the beauty and music of Ronsard - truly for him le prince des poetes - or showing how Montaigne or his friend Estienne de La Boetie mattered as artists.

His Oeuvres Completes de La Boetie for the Editions de la Pleiade was submitted last December when he already knew that his cancer was terminal.

His edition of Du Bellay's Antiquitez de Rome with Edmund Spenser's Ruines of Rome was printed and bound in America days before he died.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us