The Times/1931/Obituary/Charles Harold Herford

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Obituary: Professor C. H. Herford, English Literary Studies (1931)
348268Obituary: Professor C. H. Herford, English Literary Studies1931

Professor Herford

English Literary Studies

Professor C. H. Herford, F.B.A., Litt.D., Emeritus Professor of English Literature in the University of Manchester, died on Saturday at his home at Oxford at the age of 78.

Professor Herford's death makes another gap in the little group of scholars who gave the young University of Manchester its place in the world of learning. Though his tenure of a Manchester Chair was shorter than Tout's or Lamb's, or Dixon's, or Alexander's, yes in a peculiar sense his life's work belong to Manchester. He came of a Manchester family known for its devotion to the public good, and he began as a youth in Owens College the academic studies which afterwards, when continued at Cambridge, earned for him the eighth place in the Classical Tripos in 1879, when he was bracketed with the late Sir A. W. W. Dale, afterwards Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool University. He also won the Member's prize for an English essay on the "The Romantic and Classical Styles," and divided the Harness prize for an essay on the First Quarto of Hamlet with the late W. H. Widgery. In 1887 he was elected to the Chair of English in the University of Aberystwyth, but in 1901 he returned to Manchester and held its first independent Chair of English Literature until his retirement in 1921.

Though in Herford's personality and habits there were many traits which recalled the convention notion of a professor, he himself regarded his academic office as one side only of his larger responsibility as a citizen, and also as a citizen of the world. His weapon was always his pen, and his letters and articles in the Manchester Guardian and other journals showed how deeply he was stirred by whatever seemed to him social injustice and political tyranny. He never regarded scholarship as an end in itself; it was the implement of criticism with which to interpret the speculations of master minds. By preference he gave himself to the study of Shakespeare and the Wordsworth circle, Lucretius and Dante, Goethe and Browning, and it was on his work on these that his reputation in both Europe and America was based. But his books generally were the fruit of research as conscientious, extensive, and solid as the strictest academic discipline in scholarship could exact.

Of his more recent work, "the Post-War Mind of German, and other European Essays" (1927), largely composed of his annual lectures at the John Rylands Library, and perhaps also "The Case of South Tyrol against Italy" (1926), are more characteristic than the two first volumes of the Oxford Ben Johnson, in which he collaborated with Mr. Percy Simpson. The Jonson shows Herford the scholar, but it gave his mind less scope than the book on Germany, which ranges over topics as apparently diverse as Dante, Milton, Shakespeare on the Continent, and the culture of Bolshevist Russia. It expresses Herford's passionate belief in the efficacy of the things of the mind to lay the foundations of perpetual peace. A research Chair of Comparative Literature would perhaps have been the ideal appointment for him. Nature did not grant him too richly the physical assets of a teacher and lecturer, and he was indifferent to small matters of routine. Organization committees bored if they did not stupefy him, and he taught best, not in formal lectures, but when a phrase or two of casual talk gave him the necessary incentive.

In the field of professional English studies Herford's influence counted greatly in the formation of a liberal tradition. He was remarkable in that, on leaving Cambridge, he continued to work for some years in Germany, where English studies were already well established in the academic tradition, but he came back untainted by the Teutonic heresy that English studies mean primarily Old English and pure philology. Always he maintained the superiority of mind over fact, of literature over language, as elements of a vital curriculum. The ideal he set before his pupils was to be first of all scholars, and then citizens of the world. Herford's industry was extraordinary. He was Taylorian lecturer at Oxford in 1897 on "The Influence of Goethe's Italian Journey on his Style," and he helped to found the English Goethe Society. He produced various editions of Shakespeare; he translated Ibsen's Brand and Love's Comedy in the original metres; and he was the biographer of Dr. J. E. Carpenter, W. H. Herford, Julia Wedgwood, and P. H. Wicksteed. He delivered the Warton lecture to the British Academy, and was Percy Turnbull lecturer at John Hopkins University in 1900. In addition, he frequently examined for the Civil Service Commissioners, and also for the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and London. He received honorary degrees from Cambridge, Manchester, and Wales. Mrs. Herford, who was a daughter of the late Herman Betge, chief postmaster of Bremen, died last December. He leaves an only daughter, who is the wife of Professor G. E. K. Braunholtz, Professor of Comparative Philology at Oxford.

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