Articles About (from Medium Ævum)
|Medieval Studies for J. A. W. Bennett Aetatis Suae LXX, by P. L. Heyworth||Medium Ævum Vol. 51, No. 2 (1982), 234-237||
|NORMAN DAVIS and JOHN STEVENS, J. A. W. BENNETT (1911-1981)||Medium Ævum Vol. 50, No. 1 (1981), 1-4||
J. A. W. BENNETT (1911-1981)…
THE name of J. A. W. Bennett as editor of Medium Ævum appeared on the cover for the first time, in succession to that of Dr C. T. Onions, in the first number of Volume XXVI, published in 1957. He had already prepared the previous number, the third of Volume XXV, which was designated the Anniversary Issue.
This, containing commissioned articles, marked the twenty-fifth year from the foundation of the journal by the Society for the Study of Mediæval Languages and Literature in 1932, and was presented by the Executive Committee and the Editorial Board to Dr Onions, who had edited it from the beginning and had now, at the age of 83, asked to be relieved of the task.
Jack Bennett had been since 1947 a fellow and tutor of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he had come to know Onions well and to form a high regard for his 'astringent yet humane scholarship', as he put it in the prefatory note to the Anniversary Issue. As a tutor he had the gift of inspiring enthusiasm and affection, and many scholars who were his pupils owe him a great deal. He had served for a long time as a member of the editorial board of Medium Ævum, to which he had contributed frequently over many years - his earliest review was published in 1936. He was admirably suited to assume the editorship, which calls not only for high standards of scholarship and judgement but for a sympathetic understanding of a range of studies in language, literature and history so wide that few single individuals can compass it. In that first number of 1957 he quoted an appreciation of Medium Ævum published by The Times Literary Supplement on the occasion of the anniversary: 'a meeting ground for astringent scholarship and humane learning, a place where academic barriers between subjects disappeared, and where criticism was careful and untrammelled'. These qualities he strove to maintain, and did so with great success in the face of a good deal of recurring anxiety about material resources. When at the end of 1976 the Society was obliged to change its publishing and printing arrangements, it was mainly due to the editor that a new system was found and put into effect with less upheaval than might have been feared. His editorial responsibilities included supervision of the new series of Medium Ævum monographs, which now contains ten titles.
Exacting as these duties were, and important in their influence, they were only  part of the services that Jack Bennett gave to mediæval studies. He was elected to the professorship of Medieval and Renaissance English in Cambridge, in succession to his old Magdalen colleague C. S. Lewis, in 1964, and held it with distinction until his retirement in 1978. He established the notable Clarendon series of editions of mediæval and Tudor texts, and acted as general editor in addition to contributing a volume of selections from Gower and a learnedly annotated edition of Piers Plowman Passus I- VII. He wrote three distinguished books about Chaucer - for which he was awarded the Sir Israel Gollancz Memorial Prize by the British Academy in 1980; edited, with G. V. Smithers, Early Middle English Verse and Prose; wrote many articles and reviews, lectured in many places, and served on the council of the Early English Text Society. He had long been working on a volume on ME literature for the Oxford History of English Literature, and had completed a substantial part of it.
He had decided some time ago that he would like to relinquish the editorship of Medium Ævum when he had held it for twenty-five years, and would be in his seventieth year. The present number was therefore to mark his retirement, and it is a sad loss that he did not live to see it. A collection of essays in his honour by friends and colleagues, intended to honour his seventieth birthday, is in the press. It will now be a memorial volume; but a greater memorial will remain in his own published work, in his immense contributions as editor in forwarding the publications of others, and in the limitless generosity with which he shared his vast learning and his rare understanding.
Jack Bennett was everyone's idea of a don. To tourists as they wandered inquisitively through the courts of Magdalene (or Magdalen) he must have seemed, with his slight stoop, splendid head of white hair, preoccupied look, spectacles perched on forehead, like a vision especially vouchsafed of the life of academe. To undergraduates, the note-shuffling, the hesitantly allusive delivery, the massive learning, produced at their first introduction to University life a mixture of awe and bewilderment. To his companions in Hall, were they old friends or casual visitors, the range of his interests and knowledge was always a delight, a stimulus and even, mildly (though he could never have intended it), a reproof - to one's own sluggish, grey thoughts. To his colleagues, fellow-professionals so to speak, he was a fount of information, one who could be relied upon to know the answer, or to know where it could be found, a scholar sans pere, a book-lover (the reading of a newly-arrived book-catalogue should always, he maintained, take precedence over any other business) and a man of learning. The order and incisiveness of his mind seemed often to be at odds with the disorder and disarray of his papers. It was a common experience to call upon him in his College rooms and to find him  rummaging. He had recently written a lecture on —, he knew he had, and now it was nowhere to be found. Or he might be standing, as he liked to, at his high desk sorting over (if that is the word) Medium Ævum letters and articles, enquiries, minutes, publishers' lists. But even at moments of crisis in such affairs, he was never too busy to lend a friendly ear or a necessary book. His library in College was an impressive affair. Some undergraduates observing it as they passed by for the first time must have wondered that so many books yet remained in private hands; and yet this was only a small part, if the most 'professional' part, of his collection. I recall observing to him soon after he came to Cambridge, and whilst his home and family were still in Oxford, how he must miss his library during the vacations. 'I don't know', he replied, in a most natural manner, 'I have a fair number of duplicates'. (One of these was The Oxford English Dictionary in 13 volumes). He told another friend that a scholar really should not have to rely on other libraries. His books were a delight to those who were privileged to borrow them - he was always most generous, and most patient about their return. But the delight in finding them so well annotated was tinged with frustration because the old envelopes, invitation cards and strips of paper with which they bulged contained almost without exception bafflingly illegible comments. He admitted to having the same difficulty with them himself.
JAWB was about 53 when he took up the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance English in Cambridge and migrated to another Magdalene. One cannot help wondering whether he in the end regretted it. On the one hand he was released from the very heavy burden of teaching which he had been carrying, and this set his redoubtable energies free for the books of his later years, amongst which Chaucer at Oxford and at Cambridge was, appropriately enough, one of the most individual and indeed personal. But, on the other hand, there was no obvious outlet in 'Cambridge English' for approaches, enthusiasms and priorities which had been developed, it seemed, with the needs of the far more highly specialised Oxford philological courses in mind. With the integrity of the purest scholarship and with a belief in undergraduate readiness (even in the troubled 1960s) to accept its postulates, he did not agree with those who felt that interest had to be wooed, that therefore an 'unscholarly' enthusiasm for Troilus and Criseyde might have to precede a proper study of the text of Sir Orfeo. As JAWB became more distant from the actual needs, and ignorances, of present-day undergraduates, so his formal lecturing (he insisted on doing his full share and more), which even in his Oxford days, one hears, was richly recondite, became for most undergraduates a medium of impenetrable difficulty. In this he was markedly different from his Magdalen predecessor, C. S. Lewis, the first holder of the Cambridge Chair. Lewis was of course a populariser of genius and a lecturer who enjoyed finding where he could meet the minds of his audience. But, perhaps more important even than that, he liked a battle and was happy to take Cambridge on, as it were, challenging its assumptions and attacking its complacencies. JAWB, by contrast, was at his best as  a soloist; and in such single performances as his lectures on Past and Present, 'From Casaubon to Mr Casaubon', the T. S. Eliot papers and Gibbon he showed his virtuoso powers of scholarship, his elegance of expression, his mastery of sustained and subtle argument in a way that those who were privileged to hear him will never forget.
If there was one aspect of JAWB's presence in Cambridge that caused sadness it was that so few undergraduates had an opportunity to encounter his enthusiasm. When he was stirred in conversation to an encomium of one of his favourite authors, such as Herbert, the verve and conviction of his praise, the quotations tumbling out, the apt and unexpected comments amazed and warmed. Such occasions were, in private, not rare, and many graduate research students shared them. So also did fortunate undergraduates at College feasts. One, I recall, owed an interest in Edith Wharton to such an encounter; Jack continued to foster it and it blossomed out into an extended study.
Much could be written about this remarkable and complex personality. What one does even now, even so soon, tend to forget is that most of his working life he was in ill health, often severe. One tends to forget it because he never obtruded it, unless in some extremity he had to. He carried on working, teaching, writing, in conditions which would have incapacitated lesser men. In all this his wife Gwyneth supported him in countless ways which, if she had been spared, might have spared him longer for us.
|DOUGLAS GRAY, A TRIBUTE TO J. A. W. BENNETT (1911-1981)||Medium Ævum Vol. 50, No. 2 (1981), 205-214||
A TRIBUTE TO J. A. W. BENNETT (1911-1981)*…
JACK Bennett ended his Cambridge Inaugural Lecture, The Humane Medievalist, by quoting one of C. S. Lewis's favourite couplets from Dunbar:
Man, pleis thy makar and be mirry
And sett not by this warld a chirry.
I recall it here at the beginning because I do not think that Jack would have wanted this occasion to be a melancholy one. The text of his Requiem Mass handed out to the congregation of family and friends in Cambridge had on the outside cover, as a kind of motto, the words 'Be not sorrowful as men without hope: Vita mutatur non tollitur'. He was a man who had come to terms with the change and variance of the world and with the insistent whispers of Death. He fully shared C. S.
Lewis's delight in 'the chiaroscuro of what Chaucer called "earnest" and "game"', and, if his frailer constitution meant that he could not match Lewis's hearty rumbustiousness, nonetheless he was a 'merry' man. When the news of his death came, one of his oldest friends remarked wryly, 'How infra dig to die in Los Angeles'. The spirit of the remark was entirely Bennettian, though he might have added an allusion to Browne: 'but who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried?'. Jack was a marvellously entertaining companion, endlessly inventive in conversation, spontaneously witty. And he had a taste for the occasional outrageous piece of word-play, as when we heard in his Inaugural - introduced by a pause and a characteristic stammer - '... Pächt and Panofsky, the Warburg and - if I dare play lightly with a Reith Lecturer's name - the Wind who bloweth us where he listeth'. You always felt heartened and uplifted in spirit
*This tribute to the late editor was given by Douglas Gray, J. R. R. Tolkien Professor of English Literature and Language, at the Open Meeting of the Society for the Study of Mediæval Languages and Literature on 14 March 1981 in St Edmund Hall, Oxford.
 whenever and wherever you met him. I am not sure that it is not the chance meetings that I remember with the greatest delight: you might meet him in Duke Humfrey, just come across from Cambridge, where, with a sweep of his hand round the room, he would say in a stage whisper, 'Isn't it splendid? You can feel the scholarship. There's nothing like this in Cambridge!'. And there were others, which I recall almost as apparitions. I once came upon him emerging from the river Cherwell, looking unbelievably bronzed and fit, to be met upon the towpath by Gwyneth, like an attendant nymph, with towel at the ready. And, even more surprisingly, on television. When Magdalene had a television film made about it, I remember wondering if the college would be bold enough to present Jack. As 'typical' scene succeeded 'typical' scene, interspersed with informative talks from various college men of authority, it seemed increasingly unlikely. But almost at the end, when the cameras were showing us that delightful court in which he used to have his room, from the side there emerged that well-known white-haired figure, which passed directly in front of the camera, suddenly stopped in its tracks, gazed directly at the lens with a mixture of surprise and horror, mouthed what appeared to be the words 'O goodness!', and fled just as rapidly, like an elderly startled faun. I am sure that we all share similar affectionate memories. Jack was a man who inspired enormous affection in that large and heterogeneous crowd of those who were proud to call themselves his friends. He was totally without venom, and, I think, without enemies; if there were any, they must have been either singularly curmudgeonly, or dull, or both. And that brings us to the rub - that this is a profoundly sad occasion, because it is still almost impossible to believe that his fine spirit has been extinguished. Moreover, the death of a great man almost inevitably makes us think that an era has come to its close.
No-one would disagree with the Times obituary when it says, 'his death robs the country of one of its most distinguished literary medievalists'. I would be inclined to go further, and say that if the word literary is given its full stress, then the sentence is something of an understatement. Jack Bennett really was a great man. If I attempt - as I shall - to explain his pre-eminence in the field of mediaeval English literary studies, I must admit that there are some fundamental qualities - his original talents, the characteristic vigour and subtlety of his mind - that defy historical explanation or analysis. However, there are some things which may be said. I am inclined to say, immediately, that one reason for his pre-eminence as a mediaevalist was that he was much more than a 'mediaevalist'. Jack Bennett the scholar and author was never kept in a separate compartment from Jack Bennett the man. For such a self-effacing person, he had a remarkably powerful personality. An eloquent testimony to this is the way one can pick up in his old pupils echoes of his speech and stylistic mannerisms. He was certainly a man of charisma, or, I should perhaps more appropriately say, a man of great mana, of spiritual power and authority. Probably his appearance helped. He looked like a scholar, and I imagine he was one of those fortunate enough to be transformed almost overnight from a  good-looking young man into a good-looking old man. One of his earliest New Zealand friends, Charles Brasch, recalls him in Auckland in the early 1930s:
...If in the conditions of a particular society men are born to be one thing rather than any other, Jack was a born scholar, one whose sympathies were wide and humane in inverse proportion to a narrow nonconformist background which it took determined courage for him to break away from. He was tender and generous and loved whatever is beautiful and excellent; unassertive, easily wounded, but with a quiet toughness of fibre as strong as his principles. He looked delicate and underfed, his pale brownish parchment skin went with weak eyesight and a slight scholarly stoop. But his brown hair grew thick and his fine voice came surprisingly deep and strong at times; his beautifully formed face with its perceptive generous mouth and candid glance showed delicacy but no weakness - a face to love and trust implicitly.
Jack also had some of the traditional characteristics of the scholar - and they were more than surface mannerisms. He was genuinely forgetful. I seem to remember Gwyneth saying that he even forgot to post his application for the Cambridge Chair, and it might never have gone at all if it had not been discovered in his jacket pocket. He was uneasy with machines, and the mechanical side of the modern world. He never learned to drive a car; and I recall vividly the first time that I went to visit him in his rooms in Magdalen, when he attempted, in the absence of Gwyneth, to boil a kettle and make a pot of tea. But more fundamental qualities are involved. It is easy to recognise in Brasch's description of the young Bennett the transparently good man whom we knew later in his life. Quid est scolaris? Est homo discens virtutes cum solicitudine... . He was what Dunbar adjured the clerks 'grytest of constance' of Oxford to be:
To us be mirrouris in yowr governance
And in owr dirknes be lampis in schining,
Or thane in frustar is yowr lang lerning.
He was a man of wisdom, to whom people turned for advice, and not only in matters of books and learning. His own scholarly work involved the whole man (there are traces, for instance, in his books of his own long religious quest). The whole achievement of his life shows in fact a remarkable coherence. The title 'humane medievalist', which he used of C. S. Lewis, fitted Jack exactly. He was 'humane' both in the strict sense, and also in a larger one, in that he had no small measure of that humanity which does not come from books. Much, however, did come from books. And of these he had thousands, shelved, stacked, piled, spilled on the floor among his notes, tucked everywhere in his various perches and roosting places. He obviously appreciated Gibbon's remark: 'laugh at the bookworm if you please, but excuse the nature of the animal'. From books came a humanitas, a lively sense of the worth of civilisation and of literary culture, and a profound enthusiasm for 'the inexhaustible wealth of the past'.
It seems fortunate, in retrospect, that the events of his life (less spectacular and less disrupted than that of some of his contemporaries) seem to have conspired to develop and to bring to fruition his distinctive talents. Of central importance were  his formative years in New Zealand, and especially the years he spent as a student at what was then called Auckland University College. Here it was the custom for the first-year English students to sit in alphabetical order, and Bennett, J. A. W., found himself next to man called Bertram, J. M. It was a fortunate and significant meeting. The two became lifelong friends. James Bertram was a dominant and creative figure in student literary circles. He later made his name as a writer, a critic, a war correspondent in China, and eventually returned to New Zealand to become a professor of English. Through him Jack Bennett met other writers, such as Charles Brasch, later to become a distinguished poet and editor of an influential New Zealand literary periodical, Landfall, and he became involved in various literary ventures. With James Bertram he edited Open Windows for the Auckland Student Christian Movement. The first issue was in fact suppressed by the professorial board, a decision which (according to Jack) 'exemplified the philistinism as much as the prudery of New Zealand in the thirties'. Another periodical edited by James Bertram, Phoenix, also had J. A. W. Bennett among its first contributors. It was a forum for original writing. Its title came from D. H. Lawrence; it paid spiritual homage also to John Middleton Murry, Katherine Mansfield and T. S. Eliot. 'Phoenix', says Brasch, 'gave notice, at a time of social and political unrest, that a group of able young people from all over the country were aware ... of the place of literature and the arts in the life of a civilized land - of their social implications and responsibilities'.
To those of us who knew Jack only in his later and more obviously 'donnish' days, this involvement with 'advanced' journals may at first sight seem strange. However, even when one has made allowance for the way which Time has of eroding early enthusiasms, there are still some very clear connections. Of the importance of 'the place of literature and the arts in the life of a civilized land' he never had any doubt; and some of his later causes, though very different - like the defence of the Latin Mass - were taken up and urged with the old fire. Most important, though, for his later work as a mediaeval scholar was this very intense involvement with literature and with literary discussion. Jack was a profoundly 'literary' man. He was immensely well-read - and not only in his 'olde bokes'. The seventeenth century was, of course, especially his period, and he revelled in its antiquarians, its preachers and its minor poets, but he went beyond that to the eighteenth (his Essays on Gibbon have just been published), the nineteenth, the twentieth centuries, and to American and New Zealand writing. I have no doubt at all that he was by far the best-read of contemporary English mediaevalists. An easy, unforced, and invariably illuminating range of reference is characteristic of all his writing. When he discusses the slow 'decay’ of Romantic love he takes us not only to Anna Karenina but also to The Great Gatsby; the sudden shock of love in The Kingis Quair reminds him of an analogous incident in La Chartreuse de Parme. This vast range of reading gave his work an extraordinary density and depth - it is especially this, I think, that accounts for the way in which any one of his books, or  indeed his articles, illuminates much more than its immediate subject. The discoveries of his reading were put before you with a typical excitement and enthusiasm. And yet it was never an uncritical enthusiasm. He was not afraid to say that in the middle of The Kingis Quair 'there is undoubtedly a weakening of the poetic pressure at this point'. And I wonder if all those who have written on Henryson's Testament of Cresseid have pondered sufficiently over his strictures on that poem, which he called 'a flawed masterpiece'.
His pieces - short, and typically intelligent - on New Zealand writing illuminate another aspect of the man that was important for his scholarly work on the Middle Ages. It is probably not surprising that he should single out as specially characteristic of modern New Zealand poetry that it is 'finely chiselled, complex, sometimes bookish and sophisticated, elegiac rather than epic (and worlds away from Australian balladry and backslapping)'. But it is often the subject of the poetry - the landscape itself - that engages his interest (and in this he sees Gibbon's 'extremes of wild and civilized life'):
Yet outside the towns the primeval conditions remain much as they were. On the surrounding hills, forest and fern stand as if ready to resume dominion at the drop of a hatchet. Beyond them lie range after range of Erewhonian mountains, forbidding and majestic; desolate passes, peaks and glaciers; and even when far inland, we never lose the sense of that encircling and estranging sea that brought Cook and Wakefield hither.
Jack's very Romantic attachment to places, as well as his ability to evoke a sense of place (he had a particularly strong visual sense), becomes quite comprehensible in the light of the inner intensity which a passage like this reveals. Europe as well as New Zealand aroused these emotions, and especially some of his favourite haunts in Oxford. I remember hearing him say that he had come over for a Magdalen feast and that when very late at night he had walked round the cloisters in bright moonlight he had been moved to tears.
However, another major event at Auckland meant that - in the end - he would not return to New Zealand. 'The medieval world caught him early' (Brasch). In fact he was seduced by Dame Philology. The Genius of this learned goddess in the Auckland English department was P. S. Ardern, known to all as 'Pip' Ardern, a most remarkable man and a most remarkable scholar. When I sat at his feet in Wellington some twenty years later, he was a small, wizened man, of what seemed an incredible age. His personal eccentricities, then very marked, were by all accounts there in the 1930s. He had come to Oxford (to Exeter) in 1903 - this was seven years before Kenneth Sisam arrived at Merton - and there had imbibed the great German philological and editorial tradition of the nineteenth century. He was - as Jack said in an obituary - 'probably the most precise, acute, and self- effacing scholar that has come out of - and returned to - New Zealand'. There he worked away 'without benefit of large libraries or learned colleagues, even lexicons (OED was not finished until he was 50)'. Jack found - as I did at the very end of Pip's career - that his teaching was a revelation of what exact scholarship could be.  Pip Ardern's lectures consisted of a commentary on texts, a commentary which deployed an enormous range of philological learning, was meticulously detailed, and was often convincingly critical of the views of the earlier editors. They were delivered from large tomes of notes written out in a clear and distinctive hand (and with idiosyncratic abbreviations, often used by his pupils - for favoured students were allowed, rather like scribes in a mediaeval scriptorium, to borrow them and make notes or copies from them, or even to keep them if a revised version existed). P. S. Ardern was, as Jack says, 'a standing refutation of the fallacy that attention to detail makes a dry-as-dusť. There was a generous breadth to his scholarship, and a 'sympathetic understanding of medieval life, thought and religion that made his exposition of a ME text such a rewarding experience'. Jack records his debt to Pip Ardern at the end of the preface to his edition of Piers Plowman with the words Redde quod debes. I am sure that it was P. S. Ardern who turned his thoughts to the Middle Ages and affected him profoundly. The clearest symptom is that same careful attention to detail. Jack could write a lovely note - there are dozens of examples in his Langland, and in all his editions, as well as in the pages of the periodicals (on 'Why men cry "Seynt Barbara" ', or on Dunbar's Birth of Antichrist, etc., etc.). Everything he wrote is full of pieces of learned information - he will allude in passing to 'a great Cambridge poet who narrowly escaped becoming Warden of All Souls' or pause to tell us that Gibbon twice links Pride with Prejudice. He was an antiquarian, but never a pedant.
By now the road to Oxford was open. The later period of Jack's life from 1933 on is well known, and I do not propose to attempt to chronicle the effects on him of Merton, the English School, Tolkien, Lewis and other members of it. The lines of his development were confirmed, and his scholarship was deepened. I think it is worth pointing out, however, the significance of his choice of a D.Phil, subject: 'A History of Old English and Old Norse Studies in England from the Time of Francis Junius till the End of the 18th Century'. Not only did this give him the opportunity to work in a favourite period, with some very congenial literary and antiquarian figures, but from it came a very deep interest in the history of the study of early English and of mediaevalism in general. (One notable example later is a delightful paper he gave at the Reading Centre for Medieval Studies on 'Carlyle and the Medieval Past', which begins by drawing attention to the visual images involved - Ely Cathedral and the St Ives workhouse: 'the stark antithesis of the beautiful and spacious past and the harsh and grinding present' - and praises Carlyle's selection of 'scenes'. Carlyle, he says approvingly, 'though he dramatises and enlarges on Jocelin, does not embroider nor treat him with the superior archness that a modern writer might employ'). From this study of the Saxonists he acquired a historical view of the contemporary scholar's task, which he could use in a salutary way: 'by a kind of over-compensation the earlier American nostalgia for the Middle Ages has now developed into a stern anti-romanticism, a more than scholastic orthodoxy',  etc. The thesis ends, significantly, with a look forward to the nineteenth century, when Old Norse becomes an increasingly independent area of study, and a glance back to the earlier scholars with their encyclopaedic range:
Everywhere there has been increasing specialization, in which there have been losses as well as gains. It is to the Thesaurus ... that we must turn if we wish to recapture the co-ordination and breadth of interest which are the distinguishing features of OE and ON studies in their early stages, and which are essential if scholarship is to flourish and continue.
The War removed him from Oxford to what must have been a wearisome job with British Information Services in New York. (From this time comes a nice story which deserves to be true - that Jack was approached by the FBI, who were investigating the credentials of a British academic teaching in an American university. He had apparently been a member of the Left Book Club, and Jack was asked about this organisation. 'Left Book Club', he is alleged to have said, 'It's a club where you buy books that have been left by people who have finished with them'). As always he turned experience to advantage: he extended his reading of American literature, extended his contacts with American academics and his knowledge of American universities. I suspect that it was in this period that his opinions on education and especially on 'research', with its increasing specialisation, took final shape. His views were published later in a number of forthright talks and articles (e.g., 'Research: the Tyrant'). A typical remark is 'I think we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that research is the goal to which education must aspire. Otherwise, before long we shall be identifying culture with PMLA or the Review of English Studies'. He never achieved his plan for a kind of Erewhonian graduate centre in New Zealand, but he enjoyed some happy times at similar institutes in Toronto and Canberra (backslapping and balladry notwithstanding). He did, however, achieve a lasting educational memorial in the Oxford English Faculty in the B.Phil, degree in Medieval English Studies. From these years of exile comes a splendidly nostalgic account (1944) of a visit to wartime Oxford. His eye was caught by the bizarre effect of a security rule that erased placenames and had therefore 'blotted the central word in the goldlettered sign that advertises to every visitor "Cooper's ... Marmalade"'. 'Marmalade', he continues, 'is like a word out of a dim mythology ... the roses in the Fellows' Garden have given place to a hen-run, and the lawns to a reservoir..'. Only H. W. Garrod 'had somehow managed to retain pre-war ritual, and toasted buns for me by his own fire'.
However, Jack did return - to another happy period at Queen's and Magdalen, which saw the fulfilment of his early promise as a scholar. In 1964, he left us for Cambridge. This was a move which aroused in his friends a mixture of delight that his distinction of mind had achieved recognition, and a little trepidation, since Jack seemed so quintessentially an Oxford man. Our alarm increased when he proposed to start off by lecturing on John Gower - 'Gower', we said to one another: 'you  could get an audience for Gower in Oxford, but in Cambridge they've never even heard of him'. However, he survived the move, bearing the early burden of commuting with a characteristic cheerful resignation ('I can manage to read some cantos of Dante in the coach'); and Cambridge heard of Gower. I doubt whether he ever came to love the Cambridge English Faculty in toto, but he came to love the place, and especially his new college. Witticisms of the type of 'Oxford is interested in learning, but at Cambridge they're only interested in education' never entirely ceased, but they became less common. And from Cambridge he produced much of his best work.
Looking back over Jack's achievement, one is chiefly struck by two things - its uniform level of distinction and originality, and its coherence. His stature as a scholar of the Middle Ages probably first became obvious to the academic world at large in his study of Chaucer's Parlement of Foules (1957). This is notable in several ways. First, and most importantly, it showed the full extent of Jack's literary range and sensibility, the eloquence of his writing (with its echoes sometimes of the mannered cadences of the seventeenth century) and, especially, the quality of his imagination, in the scope and the bold conception of the whole book. Jack took Chaucer seriously, as a 'philosophical' poet, but without being heavy-handed. In particular, he made us see the importance and the autonomy of Chaucer's work outside Troilus and the Canterbury Tales. (The general tradition in the English- speaking academic world - Wolfgang Clemen's Der Junge Chaucer of 1938 is a notable European exception - had been to treat Chaucer's early poems and dream visions simply as a first, and extremely humble and inadequate, step in a gradually ascending pattern of development which culminated in the Canterbury Tales). He showed himself to be especially at ease in his discussion of the way the poem handled 'ideas'; but his sensitivity to its literary texture and tone meant that his analysis never degenerated into one of those clod-hopping exercises in the so-called 'History of Ideas'. He wrote particularly well on Nature (Jack shared Chaucer's delight in the variety and the 'thisness' of created things) and at the end of the book in an Envoy he boldly - and triumphantly - attempted to state in brief compass Chaucer's 'own maturing doctrines of love' - 'a view of the place of love in human life which is balanced, harmonious, and satisfying, yet which does not ignore the paradoxes and dilemmas that are as old as human society'. The book was original, too, in the way it made illuminating use of Jack's long interest in the visual arts and in iconography. Finally, it suggested a whole method of approach to mediaeval authors, which had the co-ordination and breadth of interest he saw in Hickes, which avoided the crude cataloguing of the older Quellenforschung, and which illuminated the creative and imaginative use that a great poet made of his reading. Jack's heroes among earlier English mediaevalists were W. P. Ker and C. S. Lewis; this book showed that he was worthy to be ranked with them.
The antiquarian side of Jack and his intense attachment to places perhaps found  their most delightful expression in his Alexander Lectures, of 1970, published as Chaucer at Oxford and at Cambridge. With great learning and enthusiasm he expounds the particularities of mediaeval gown and town life (was the smithy of Gervase in The Miller's Tale, where the fateful coulter was heated, in Smithgate, 'a small gate closing a foot-passage near the North end of Catte Street?), and evokes the scenes of Oxford streets and Cambridge mills, and just as enthusiastically and convincingly argues how ill the label of 'fabliau' fits these tales and how they look forward to later things:
But the wheels of fiction that his tale sets in motion will turn to different effect. Simkin will give place to a miller and maltster called Tulliver (who yet talks the Reeve's language: ‘Wakem knows meal from bran; the gray colt may kick like his black sire'). And in the fullness of time the mill on the Cam will give place to the Mill on the Floss.
Jack wrote on a great range of topics, but in all we can see this creative convergence of the various strands of his interests - antiquarian, bibliophile, man of letters, philologist.
Possibly nothing brought them together quite so effectively as the editing of Medium AEvum from 1957 to 1980. It is a matter of especial sadness that he is not here himself - in Hearne's college - to speak on the journal's first 50 years. Both the process and the achievement of Jack's editing were remarkable. No-one who helped him with it is ever likely to forget the experience. It was a kind of liberal education in itself (though one did tend to pick up some of his more wicked practices, like leaving corrections to the proof stage). But the whole thing sometimes seemed like a sort of inspired chaos - a sea of notes addressed to himself and others in that incredible script which his assistants and his printers had to learn to read, the bulging file stuffed with letters to and from scholars all over the world. As the time of going to press approached, crises proliferated, but they were always with us. Notes were blown away by the wind down Hinksey Hill, books were lost, reviews were lost - and on one occasion we even lost a reviewer: he had rashly sent in an unsigned review, and the file seemed to have devoured without trace all indication of his existence and the book's. Jack brooded for some time on the question of whether it was ever intended for us in the first place. Having decided regretfully that it probably was, he said, 'There's no need to worry. He'll get agitated and write to me'. As far as I know he never did. Others did, however, and I suspect that any tiffs Jack had were usually over contributions to Medium AEvum. He was a firm editor, and was quite prepared to correct and change. He also did not always move quite with the dispatch of some of his colleagues in Fleet Street; but when a number finally appeared it was good. He maintained and indeed raised the very high standards set by C. T. Onions. He said in a tribute to C.T.O. in 1957 that Onions had made Medium AEvum 'a meeting ground for astringent scholarship and humane learning, a place where academic barriers between subjects disappeared,  and where criticism was careful and untrammelled'. I think that we may say with pride that, thanks to them both, Medium AEvum is just that.
Jack Bennett was certainly a 'grete clerke'. But, like other clerks, Death brought him to a short conclusion. And in Los Angeles - though perhaps in the end it was not altogether unfitting that he should die in America on a return journey to New Zealand. Death has taken the man, but his work will remain, and so will his memory in all those of us who knew him:
Howevir this warld do change and vary,
Lat us in heart nevir moir be sary
But evir be reddy and addres
To pas out of this frawdfull fary:
For to be blyth me think it best.
Lady Margaret Hall, DOUGLAS GRAY
Theses in Medieval Studies
J.A.W. Bennett, 'The history of Old English and Old Norse studies in England from the time of Francis Junius till the end of the eighteenth century ' (Thesis type: doctoral, awarded 1938 ; University of Oxford ; University of Oxford )