R.M. Dawkins – The most eccentric professor (ever)

Osbert Lancaster

Found in Osbert Lancaster’s With an Eye to the Future (John Murray, 1967)– this account of Oxford professor R.M. Dawkins (1871-1955):

No eccentric professor of fiction could possibly hold a candle to the reality of Professor Dawkins whose behaviour and appearance placed him, even in an Oxford far richer in striking personalities than it is today, in a class by himself. Ginger-moustached, myopic, stooping, clad in one of a succession of suits which he ordered by postcard from the general store of a village in Northern Ireland, he always betrayed his whereabouts by a cackling laugh of great carrying power. (Once when passing alongside the high wall of Exeter, startled by this extreme sound, I looked up and saw the professor happily perched in the higher branches of a large chestnut tree hooting like a demented macaw.)

Richard MacGillivray Dawkins was an archaeologist and a scholar of classical and modern Greek. After studying  engineering, a windfall enabled him at the age of twenty-six to enter Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read classics.  After graduating he became associated with the British School at Athens, eventually becoming its director. He studied Greek dialects and was involved in excavations in Crete, at Sparta and elsewhere. From 1916 to 1919 he served as an intelligence officer in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, in eastern Crete. In 1920 he was appointed to a chair of Byzantine and modern Greek at Oxford, and in 1922 he became a fellow of Exeter College (from which he retired in 1939, continuing to hold rooms there until his death) and an honorary fellow of his old college, Emmanuel. He had known Evelyn Waugh, Ronald Firbank and was very generous to his friend the difficult and impecunious genius Baron Corvo. He was also an early collector of watercolours by Edward Lear. Most of this info and a portrait by the British Vorticist William Roberts can be found at English Cubist. Lancaster illustrated his piece with a drawing of the professor perched in the tree.

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