Articles About (from Medium Ævum)
|OLIVE SAYCE, LESLIE SEIFFERT (1934-1990)||Medium Ævum Vol. 59, No. 2 (1990), 189-190||
LESLIE SEIFFERT (1934-1990)
The untimely death of Leslie Seiffert, with so many activities and scholarly projects still in hand, is a severe blow both to his university and college and to the world of learning. The presence of friends and colleagues in such numbers at his funeral, filling the church to overflowing, was testimony alike to the general esteem in which he was held and to the many different capacities in which he was known and valued: as University Reader in German and latterly Chairman of the Sub-Faculty, as Fellow and Tutor of Hertford College, as editor of Medium Ævum, as long-standing Treasurer of the Philological Society, as a committed member of the United Reformed Church, active in forging exchange links between the Oxford Council of Churches and its counterpart in Bonn, in the context of the municipal twinning arrangements. He was not only mediaeval German and Latin editor of Medium Ævum, but also had overall responsibility for printing and publication, an exacting task to which he brought the same scrupulous care and attention which characterized all his work: the journal owes him a very great debt of gratitude. He played an instrumental part in the introduction of linguistics into the Modern Language course and regularly organized the intercollegiate arrangements necessary for its teaching. He was a founding member and Chairman of the Henry Sweet Society for the History of Linguistic Ideas and a member of the standing committee of the International Conference on the History of the Language Sciences. Colleagues in each of these separate spheres may well not have been fully aware of the whole range and diversity of the many activities which his personal and scholarly life encompassed.
A graduate of the University of Sydney, with a Munich doctorate, he taught first at the University of Birmingham from 1959 to 1973 as Lecturer and later Senior Lecturer in German, before being elected to the Oxford Readership. His teaching and research covered an unusually wide range: the history of the German language, the sociolinguistics of contemporary German, structural linguistics and the history of linguistic ideas, mediaeval  and Renaissance literature, the history and theology of the Reformation. He combined to an exceptional degree linguistic and literary expertise, and was equally at home in speech and writing in both German and English. The breadth of his interests is reflected in his published work, which spans the whole spectrum from Old High German and mediaeval literary texts to modern linguistic thought. His Munich dissertation, published under the title Wortfeldtheorie und Strukturalismus. Studien zum Sprachgebrauch Freidanks (1969), set the direction which his later work would take in its application of the theory of lexical fields to the work of a mediaeval author. Thereafter he published a substantial series of articles on both linguistic and literary topics: in the latter his distinctive achievement is the indissoluble fusion of linguistic and literary analysis, carried out in such a way that the one sheds light on the other. A characteristic example is the paper on Hartmann von Aue - a favourite author to whom he constantly returned - which he contributed to a London symposium ('On the language of sovereignty, deference and solidarity: the surrender of the accusing lover in Hartmann's Klage', in Hartmann von Aue: Changing Perspectives (Göppingen, 1988)). At one level the article is a subtle and densely argued literary analysis of the adversarial debate between the lover and his heart which forms the substance of the text, tracing the shifting arguments of the participants which lead to the resolution of the conflict and the lover's final submission. At another level the thematic progression is mapped out against the incidence of specific types of modal verbs, so that the key themes of sovereignty, deference and solidarity alluded to in the title are shown to be correlated with semantically distinct groups of verbs in such a way that the configurations of modal verb usage mirror the social and moral norms implicit in the work. Highly characteristic too is not only the depth, but also the breadth, of learning, encompassing inter alia unexpected but enlightening references to linguistic and moral philosophy. The succession of articles continued unabated up to the time of Leslie Seifferťs final illness - on the Tristan of Gottfried von Strassburg, on kinship structures in the Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach, on loan words, on modal verbs in Old High German and their treatment by German grammarians of the past - but it is a source of the greatest regret that his book on the history of German vocabulary, for which he had been collecting material for some twenty years and which he was uniquely qualified to write, had not been completed. It was no doubt sacrificed to the number of other pressing commitments which his sense of duty urged upon him.
Leslie Seiffert was a man of great kindness and goodness, entirely devoid of narrow personal ambition and any sense of self-importance. He spared himself in nothing that he undertook, and was a supportive and utterly dependable colleague, giving unstintingly of his time and energy in the service of his pupils and the many scholarly and other causes in which he was engaged. His death leaves gaps in many areas which will not be easily filled.
Oxford OLIVE SAYCE