Arthur Augustus Tilley francophile and academic

Found in a copy of The Romantic Movement in French Literature - Traced By a Series of Texts (C.U.P. 1924) this obituary of A.A. Tilley by his co-author H.F. Stewart - also a distinguished Cambridge academic and francophile, but so far rather neglected on the web. It appeared in The Cambridge Review 6/3/1943. It is a model of its kind and gives a glimpse into a vanished world..


Arthur Augustus Tilley - December 1, 1851 - December 4, 1942.No one who visited Arthur Tilley in the evening of his long life but must have felt himself standing on hallowed ground, in the presence of a veteran who, having fulfilled his course, was quietly, serenely, awaiting his call. "Le vent de l'éternité le frappait au front." Not that there was anything pietistic about his conversation. He would speak with grave simplicity of things deep and high, and pass easily to current events upon which he commented with shrewdness and vigour, or to the sometimes affectionate, sometimes caustic, review of men and their doings in the past. And what a range, and how varied, his memory covered! He was the favourite nephew of Anthony Trollope, whom as a boy he adored and as a mature critic he greatly admired. He had known everyone worth knowing i the University for 70 years, and his recollections were sometimes starling. A propos of a picture card of the Puy de Dôme he said to me the last time I saw him, "I took Bradshaw up there; I shouldn't have done so if I had known his heart was bad."

That must have been during the Librarian's last trip abroad in 1884, the year after Tilley exchanged the leisure of a briefness barrister for the business of a college officer. He had graduated in 1875 as second classic, between Peskett of Magdalene and James Gow of Trinity. Next year he was elected Fellow of King's and left Cambridge for London and the Bar. Then after seven years' absence (the only absence of all his career) he returned to King's as Junior Tutor, and after another seven years became a college Lecturer. It is important to note that his lectureship was in classics, for it is in French literature and history that he earned his high reputation. He could not have handled Rabelais and Montaigne and the great men of 17th century, nor indeed those of the 19th, with such consummate mastery, if he had not his feet planted on a firm basis of humane letters. He changed the subject of his lectureship from classics to modern languages in 1894, but he continued examining in the classical tripos until 1898.

Tilley will be best remembered as the historian of the French Renaissance, its literature, art, and architecture; but his interest was by no means confined to that period. His book From Montaigne to Moliere, his studies on the Great Comedian, on Racine, Mme. de Sévigné, Saint Simon, are all of first-rate quail it and importance, while his work on the Romantic School has approved itself to generations of young students. And not only to the young. I remember the excitement of Friedrich von Hügel over Tilley's Selections from Sainte-Beuve, and the Baron's eager desire to meet their author.

Without claiming to be an expert on Old French (though he had examined in Provençal), Tilley had a grasp of the whole range of things French: witness his complete editorship, with the help of a band of experts, home and foreign, of the two volumes entitled Mediaeval and Modern France. Manchester University saluted his erudition by a doctorate honoris causa in 1919.

Briefly, his affection for France was as sincere as his loyalty to Britain, to King's, to Eton (he was Newcastle Scholar in 1871); and the dreadful month of May, 1940, tried him as sorely as any one on this side of the Channel. But he was an optimist, and he never lost faith in the final recovery of the lovely and loveable land to which he devoted his great learning and his unremitting diligence.

His knowledge of the language was complete, his writing of it correct and elegant; but he never took the rouble to master the pronunciation, and he was satisfied to speak French, as he said, like an English gentleman.

As you would expect in a scholar of his calibre, his literary taste was impeccable; there was probably no one in Cambridge whose critical appreciation was purer. Beauty in all its forms appealed to him, and he tok especial delight in his garden even when his eyesight failed (about 1937) he knew and could point out where his favourites were in bloom. That failure of sight was a grievous trail, but he bore it with the same fortitude as he showed under the attacks of headache and neuralgia which had seriously hampered his earlier years. Fortunately he had at call a reader in his wife, whose devolution in this and in other respects was a reflection of his own loyalty and patience. He had married Miss Margaret Clutton-Brock in 1894, and the only cloud on their their partnership of half a century was the loss of their gallant only son. John Tilley was entered for King's but he went straight from Marlborough into the Norfolks and was killed, a captain, near Arras on November 28, 1916.

I could continue in a vein of eulogy for more space than the Review can offer me, and I must content myself with offering to Arthur Tiller's friends, his widow and daughters, a sprig of rosemary, "That's for remembrance, pray, love, remember."

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