Monday, 3 September 2012

RW Chambers on the Venerable Bede


I have been reading a wonderful book of literary history by RW Chambers called Man's Unconquerable Mind, published in 1939.

I came to Chambers via Tolkien. Chambers was an older contemporary and friend of Tolkien, a philologist (one of the best Old English English philologists), a Professor at University College London, and a Roman Catholic+ (best remembered for a wonderful biography of Thomas More).

[+Note added - This is a mistake. Chambers was an Anglo Catholic - that is a member of the Catholic wing of the Church of England.]

(Indeed, it was Chambers late withdrawal from the shortlist for Professor of Anglo Saxon at Oxford that gave Tolkien that Chair at an unusually early age - and despite being, on paper at least, inferior to the other remaining shortlisted candidate, Tolkien's ex-Tutor, Kenneth Sisam.)


I would count Chambers as a considerable discovery in my reading, although I have so far only read two and a half of his books: he is wise, creative, a fine writer and a true scholar who immediately won my trust.


Man's UM begins with The Venerable Bede, who is a 'local hero' in these parts, and I often visit the museum on the site of his old monastery, with a re-created Saxon farm. 

And Bede is a towering figure in the history of the West. But how important?

Chambers (agreeing with George Sarton) states :

During a period of 500 years, from AD 600 to AD 1100, Bede is the only master mind of Christendom...