Friends and colleagues of the late James Henry Weldon Morwood, 1943 – 2017, gathered in Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre to remember this great classicist. Click here for readings and tributes from the service. https://www.wadham.ox.ac.uk/news/2018/february/remembering-james-morwood
James Morwood (1943-2017)
It is with very great sadness that I write to say that James, the editor of CfA’s website ad familiares who will be known to many of you, died on holiday in northern Greece on September 10th.
James read Classics and English at Peterhouse, Cambridge, and for thirty years taught both subjects in Harrow as an assistant master and then head of classics, until 1996. During that time he wrote a book about Sheridan as well as a school Latin reader (with Maurice Balme), The Oxford Latin Course (with Balme, now in its second edition and with an American version adapted for the undergraduate market), a book about the roots of Latin and Greek in English (with Mark Warman) and the Oxford Pocket Latin Dictionary (revised 2005).
In 1996 James had built up a distinguished record as a teacher and scholar, and as a tireless worker for the Joint Association of Classical Teachers, both advocating classics and developing the JACT annual Greek summer school, where he taught since 1970 and which he often directed. As a result he was appointed Grocyn lecturer and fellow of Wadham College, Oxford, to run beginners’ language teaching across the university. He retired from that position in 2003, and became an emeritus fellow of Wadham in 2006 after serving in a variety of college roles as well as teaching undergraduates, a work he loved, which did not stop in ‘retirement’.
During this period he continued to publish widely across the classical field: translations of Euripides for Oxford World’s Classics, a Dictionary of Latin Words and Phrases, a grammar and pocket dictionary of classical Greek (with John Taylor), a revision of the Balme-Lawall beginners’ Greek course Athenaze, and commentaries on Propertius Book 3 and Virgil’s Aeneid Book 3 (both with Stephen Heyworth) (all Oxford), as well as a commentary on Iphigenia in Aulis (with Chris Collard), books on the Teaching of Classics and (with Carol Handley and John Taylor) A Greek Anthology, Virgil, Writing Latin, Sophocles, and Hadrian. These illustrate clearly the breadth and depth of James’ scholarship and his eagerness to co-operate with others on joint endeavours, each bringing their different skills and insights into the job.
On top of all this, he became deeply involved in teaching classics and English literature at Madingley Hall, the home of the Cambridge University Institute of Continuing Education.
First impressions count, and what struck one about James was his warmth, kindness and generosity. He was terrific company, with a wide range of friends, always ready to go out of his way to ensure everyone felt at home. While he enjoyed a good gossip, he never said an unkind word about anyone, and was selfless in putting himself forward when a job needed doing or someone needed help. His death brought an outpouring of affection from all who knew him. He was also a highly cultured man, with a particular passion for opera and the theatre, which he visited with friends all over Europe and the USA.
James died at the peak of his abilities, a man truly ποθεινὸς τοῖς φίλοις.
in memoriam JHWM
Multis ille bonis flebilis occidit
It was in 1984 that I first met James, as it happens here in Oxford, at a meeting of the Heads of Classics at what another friend of us both, and of many here, Ian McAuslan, used to call ‘our great schools’; James was present to represent Harrow, and I had just taken over the department at Winchester.
It may indeed have been on that very occasion, or perhaps it was at another such meeting – certainly a long time ago – that in immediate response to something I had said, James leapt to his feet and regaled all present with the words, ‘Winchester is of course entirely sui generis’. The tone of this comment, you must understand, wasn’t entirely friendly; he was essentially saying that they’re all a bunch of reactionary weirdos down there in Winchester, and that nobody need heed a single word I said! Such was the man’s personal authority that I knew when I was beaten, and gave up trying to make my point. The same thing, too, happened the next year, and the next, and indeed quite regularly up until James left Harrow for Oxford. By then, however, we had become firm friends, and the jibe had lost its sting; latterly, reference to it had become a sort of joke between us.
It was also round about then, or probably, actually, a little later, again in Oxford, or at least near it, at Radley, at another meeting of classical teachers, from prep schools and public schools, that Ian, James and I (Eton, Harrow and Winchester) were ranged beside each other on an ancient chest to face questions from the multitude. In the silkiest of tones Ian dismissed the prep school masters’ queries and concerns, one after another, whereupon James eagerly leapt in to try to pour oil on the waters thus troubled; and I, well, by this time I was so terrified of showing either my school or myself to be sui generis, that I largely sat in silence, completely overawed by my Olympian companions. I still can’t quite believe that I’m the only one left of that august triumvirate.
James the Teacher
Perhaps first and foremost James was a teacher, and it was Harrow School that first had the benefit of his skills. There he taught, English as well as Classics, for some 30 Years; his style was collaborative and inclusive, and I well remember how much my eyes were opened at a Teachers’ Day at Harrow, when I was part of a group doing a Latin prose with him: we were immediately put at our ease and made to feel that we were all learning together – quite the best dynamic between pupil and teacher!
After Harrow, then, came Oxford, as Grocyn Lecturer and a Fellow of Wadham: there are literally generations of Oxford classicists who will testify to how much James taught them, and to how much they enjoyed his instruction; and the more they enjoyed it, the greater the gratitude they feel.
Retirement, too, was something pretty meaningless as far as he was concerned; his teaching went on as before. It was, I think, something which informed his whole existence: part of the point of his knowledge and experience was sharing it with others; ‘the cause’, as he liked to refer to the study of classics, had to be supported, and the torch passed on from generation to generation. And it wasn’t just at Harrow and at Oxford: he had a long and fruitful connection with the JACT Greek Summer School, both in the early days at Cheltenham and later at Bryanston, and also with Cambridge University’s adult education programme at Madingley Hall.
James the Scholar
James had already begun publishing at Harrow – quite a lot indeed, and perhaps most notably a book on Sheridan, a Latin Reader Cupid and Psyche, and the Oxford Latin Course, a beginners’ course, more grammatically structured than the Cambridge Latin Course (as a response to which it was written), and now existing in an American version as well, for undergraduate beginners.
At Oxford the publications for teacher and pupil continued, grammars, dictionaries, prose composition books and readers, often written in collaboration with others. In one or two cases I was lucky enough to be the collaborator, and, of course, painlessly learned a great deal about the whole business of textbook production.
Going hand in hand with this, moreover, there were now more serious, scholarly publications as well (again often in collaboration with others): Greek drama was a particular speciality, and the world is the richer for James’s translations of Euripides, books on Sophocles and Euripides, and two major editions, one of Euripides’ Supplices, and the other, recently, with Chris Collard, of Iphigenia at Aulis. And it wasn’t just tragedy: there’s a book on Hadrian as well, and editions of Propertius and Virgil with Steve Heyworth, his Wadham colleague. There are, in fact, far too many books and articles to be enumerated on an occasion like this: all show the depth and range of James’s scholarship and learning, a monumentum aere perennius, or, if you prefer it, a κτῆμα ἐς αἰεί.
James the Friend
James had an easy knack of making friends, and picked up a huge number of them, of all shapes, ages and sizes, throughout his life. All present today, and the many more who will come to the Memorial in Wadham, will readily testify to the man’s kindness and generosity, to his good company and love of a good party, to his enjoyment of a good dinner before, after or during a trip to the theatre or to the opera.
He particularly enjoyed, I think, the combination of the academic with the convivial, witness the Deipnosophists, a group which he founded about a decade ago, meeting a couple of times a year at the Athenaeum for a good dinner and the discussion of a classical paper; or again his long and happy membership of the Flaccidae, a similar group meeting at the Garrick to dine and discuss all things Horatian.
James was one of my closest friends for over 30 years; and so it was that I came to be privileged to spend his last days with him, in Greece last month. I’ll say only that until that fateful Sunday morning we’d been having a terrific holiday, and James, with lots of laughs, was on top form, having a wonderful time. Mind you, getting there hadn’t been entirely plain sailing: I won’t go into the details now; but suffice it to say that on the day we were scheduled to travel, we contrived between us to miss the plane, and had to spend the whole of our first day taking in the sights and delights of Gatwick Airport: if any of you ever find yourselves in a similar position, let me recommend to you the shuttle train which travels between North and South Terminals: endlessly diverting!
As a member of the Management Committee at the Greek Summer School, it sometimes fell to James’s lot to deliver the final stirring address to the departing students. I once heard him do this, taking as his text Callimachus’s famous epigram on the death of his friend Heraclitus, a poet. It’s a moving poem and has a famous English translation by William Johnson Cory:
They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.
There are many things we could pick up on here, not least James’s favourite phrase, for late-night gossip, ‘had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky’; but the point I want to make is this: Callimachus speaks of Heraclitus’ nightingales, his poems, which live on and escape death’s greedy grasp; James too has left his nightingales, not only all his books, which will last indefinitely, but also countless happy memories in the hearts and minds of us all, nightingales indeed, ‘on which Death who snatches all will not lay his hand,’ ᾖσιν ὁ πάντων ἁρπακτὴς Ἀίδης οὐκ ἐπὶ χεῖρα βαλεῖ.
In conclusion, perhaps I can’t do better than turn James’s own words back on himself: he was truly sui generis, one of a kind; we will not see his like again.
New College, Oxford
9th October, 2017