WILLIAM EDWARD COLLINSON. A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE
Post on 03-Oct-2016
WILLIAM EDWARD COLLINSON. A BIRTHDAY TRIBUTE
JANUARY 4th, 1969 marked the eightieth birthday of William Edward Collinson. His career reflects the history, since the early years of this century, of German studies in England and represents a signal contribution to them.
Cohson was born in 1889 in Birmingham, but his family soon moved to London, where he received his education at Dulwich College. His an- cestry would seem unlikely to have inclined him towards the metropolis. During a recent foray into Essex parish registers he traced his family back to 1561 and 1594 in their graves at Bocking near Braintree. Writing to a friend, Collinson speculated on the possibility that his ancestors fought in the Wat Tyler rebellion and joined in the march on London.
London must have possessed some forces of attraction, however, for Collinson went on to study at University College, under the tutelage of Robert Priebsch and J. G. Robertson. He graduated with First Class Honours in 1910. Collinson next proceeded abroad, becoming English tutor at the Handelshochschule in Cologne (stepping into the shoes of L. A.Wi1- loughby) and remained there for three years while working also for his doctorate, which he obtained at Heidelberg in 1914 summu cum luude; the subject of his dissertation, the St. Catherine Legend in German, already revealed his deep interest in medieval German studies.
Leaving Cologne in 1913, Collinson was appointed Assistant Lecturer in German at Liverpool, under Robert Petsch. A year later, shortly before the outbreak of war and in consequence of Petschs acceptance of a chair in Germany, Collinson was awarded the Chair of German, which he was to hold for the next forty years. At the age of twenty-five he was probably the youngest professor in Britain. The other applicants included Karl Holl (subsequently famous for his history of German comedy, previously a Iec- turer at Liverpool and at that time in charge of the German Department at Reading) and Franz Zinkernagel.
The teaching of German at Liverpool had hitherto been entrusted to German hands. As early as 1882 the phonetician Wilhelm Vietor had held the lectureship in German. He was succeeded by Kuno Meyer, the famous Celtic scholar, and Robert Petsch, pioneer in the field of comparative litera- ture. Collinson had himself considerable German experience, for during his three years as Lektor in Cologne he had also attended lecture-courses at Bonn, rising regularly at 5.30 a.m. to catch a train and arrive for a 7 a.m. lecture. The medievalist von Kraus, interested in Collinsons doctoral thesis, obtained comments on it from his father-in-law, the great Severs himself. For the oral part of his examination Collinson was interviewed by Braune
304 WILLIAM E D W A R D COLLINSON: TRIBUTE
(on Gothic and the Mimesang) and Hoops (on Beowulf>. Names to conjure with indeed!
The German Department at Liver 001 was never large, but under Collin-
occupy university posts themselves. The main emphasis was naturally on language and medieval studies. However, Colbons concern was not just with Gothic, Old High and Middle High German; his lectures embraced the wider spectrum of comparative philology and general lrnguistics from earliest to modem times. The Scandinavian languages and Dutch also featured as special options. And since he saw German studies as an integral whole, Collinson included the history of German institutions in his pro- gramme. Often he would lecture for ateen or sixteen hours in a week. In 1931, following upon his own mastery of-Esperanto, he was also appointed to an honorary lectureship in that subject:
Collinsons relationship with his students was a happy one. Whether one was reading a Dutch newspaper together, translating Pickwick Pa cts, or
scri t, life was never left outside the door, and one never quite knew when Cof;msons massive frame would be convulsed by an onset of mirth, f l u s h his face a deep red and bringing a sparkle to his eyes. He was a pragmatist in his approach to German usage, and though authoritative books might condemn a students version, it was not unknown for Collinson to seek the verdict of a native speaker on its acceptability. Those whom he wished to know more closely were invited to accompany him on one of his walks in the country-and to bring their sandwiches : Collinson was no mean walker.
Busy though he made himself with teaching and administration (in 1947, with Sir Walter Moberley, he joined a committee of German academics who were phnning the future ofthe German universities: he also served on the U.G.C. from 1943 to 1948) Collinson did not ne lect the claims of research. Together with his old master, Robert Priebscf, he published, in 1934, the basic historical study of German, The German Language. For Hutchinsons University Library Collinson has since written The German Language Today (1953), a comprehensive survey of presentday German. In 1954, in collaboration with Hanna Connell, Collinson published a Penguin dictionary of German, which represented an attempt not only to list the latest vocabulary (especially of the war years) but also to produce a reference book for those with only a working knowledge of German. About a dozen smaller books, and a host of articles in most European languages bear testimony to his interest in linguistic developments in many fields. In 1962 he delivered the Bristol University Public Lectures, on The Development 4 Literary German-and characteristically went on immediately to a meeting of the Esperanto Society.
son it produced some distinguishe B graduates, not a few of whom now
examining the pros and cons of a particular reading of a mediev J fnanu-
WILLIAM EDWARD COLLINSON: TRIBUTE =os ~ ~-
Though no lover of controversy, Collinson could be determined when defending a cause. Thus, when Priebsch was cheaply attacked for including a chapter on German palaeography in The German Language, Collinson fred off a broadside which conclusively demolished the opposition.
Retirement in 1954 brought no slackening of effort. He rose phoenix-like fiom the discarded professorial chair in the guise of assistant lecturer at Manchester, where the German Department was without a medievalist. He also undertook a study of Merseyside place-names: their etymology had always interested him, and his students had long been familiar with the derivation of Thingwall, Irby and Thurstaston.
Collinsons health did not always match up to his intellectual vigour, and there were a number of occasions when his life itself was gravely endangered. Yet strength of will and basic physical robustness each time pulled him through. Here, the devoted ministrations of his wife were an enormous help and encouragement to him. We wish them both every happiness and the continued enjoyment of each others company.
Bristol. s. RADCLIFFE
THE MIRACLE IN DER A W E HELNIUCH
BY HILDA SWINBURNB
THOUGH critics continue to analyse Der arme Heinrich and to discuss details of Hartmanns treatment, the wording of the passage which records the actual miracle seems to have attracted little attention.
It is surely important that the miracle does not follow immediately after Sir Henry changes his mind and surrenders himself whole-heartedly to Gods will. This change of mind is recorded explicitly (1z34-40), explained further in the knights thoughts to himself (1243-56), and expressed to the surgeon (1273-80).~ Next follows a description of the girls reaction to it, a reaction of uncontrolled grief (1281-1304). When grief does not help, she turns to abuse (1308-32), which Sir Henry bears with model patience (1337-41). He then helps her to dress, he gives the promised payment to the doctor, he arranges for them to start out on the journey home. Thus more than eighty lines have intervened since the stopping of the operation, and the talk and the actions contained in these lines demand the passage of some time, at least some hours. This not only shows that Sir Henrys decision is permanent; it also makes clear that it is not the case that Sir Henrys change of heart immediately draws from God the reward of the miraculous cure.