Obituary: Richard David
Thursday 29 April 1993
IT SEEMS entirely fitting that Richard David, a publisher by profession but far more than that by inclination, should have died while taking part in a crocus-hunting expedition in Corsica.
Educated at Winchester, where he was a scholar, and at Corpus Christi, Cambridge, he joined the University Press in 1936, rising, after distinguished naval service during the war, to the key positions of Secretary to the Syndics and Publisher to the University, and presiding with characteristic selflessness over a major change in the Press's organisation, one which braced it to resist the effects of mounting inflation and to achieve a commanding position among the world's publishing houses. He was held in high respect in the profession at large, serving as President of the Publishers' Association from 1959 to 1961.
David was an active scholar as well as the leader of a scholarly press. Even before joining the Press he had published his Harness Prize Essay on Shakespeare as The Janus of Poets (1935), a pioneering study of the dramatist's poetic style, and it was while working as a publisher that he edited for the Arden Shakespeare Love's Labour's Lost (1951), producing what for long stood as the standard edition of the play, and delivered his British Academy Annual Shakespeare Lecture 'Shakespeare and the Players' (1961). Shakespeare was an abiding passion. As a young man he had acted with the Marlowe Society, and throughout his life he remained the friend and counsellor of players.
His relatively early retirement, in 1974, permitted him to pursue a variety of interests with constant and fruitful enjoyment and enthusiasm. From 1971 to 1976 he gave the annual critical survey of the season's productions for the Royal Shakespeare Theatre Summer School; members of the company were appreciative both of his praise and of his criticism, which could be trenchant but was invariably constructive, courteous, and elegantly turned. From these lectures emerged Shakespeare in the Theatre (1978), not merely a collection of reviews but a mature meditation on the complexity of the situation facing a director of a Shakespeare play in modern times, followed by a series of studies of particular productions which illuminate the range of interpretative possibilities that lie within a single text, while also insisting that the plays should be presented in their own terms. His descriptions of plays in performance succeed brilliantly in being both simultaneously objective, in that he mentions only what actually happened on stage, and subjective in that every detail he mentions is a significant one. Criticism such as this conveys the effect of performance far more satisfyingly than mechanical recordings.
But his interests were not confined to the arts. A naturalist of professional standing, he made many field trips in pursuit of rare plants, served for three years as President of the Botanical Society of the British Isles and published important studies of the flora of Cornwall, where he had a seaside home, and of the sedges of the British Isles. Music, especially opera, was another passion on which he was able to write with authority and understanding.
Handsome, tall, elegant, softly spoken and charming, Dick David was a complete man. He knew his own mind well enough to state it without dogmatism, and could always acknowledge the validity of points of view other than his own with a self- deprecatory chuckle. Memories of him are entirely happy: whether he was speaking with discriminating appreciation of acting that he had enjoyed, or pulling on his waders before setting off to catch crabs in Cornwall, or explaining how agreeable it was to be addressed as 'My lord' when accompanying his wife Nora, the Baroness David, in the House of Lords or chatting without condescension to children 70 years younger than him, or gently suggesting to Nora - a wonderful companion and complement - that perhaps she had just a little overstated her case.
Smiles and quiet laughter were the element in which he lived. Though his fine features grew rugged, he never seemed old; he valued even the simplest forms of life, and pursued his pleasure in them to the end.
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