A Tribute to the Work of Dr William Marx by Professor Jane Cartwright
As well as coming along this evening to listen to Harriett’s superb paper, we’ve also got together (unbeknown to William) to celebrate William Marx’s illustrious career and a really lovely volume that has been published by Brepols in honour of William. So without wishing to sound too much like Eamon Andrews (for those of you who remember This is Your Life), I’d like to say a few words about William, his publications and his major contribution to the University at Lampeter, as well as refer to this splendid book. William, as we all know, is far too modest to have drawn anyone’s attention to the publication of the Festschrift and although he knows about the volume, he hopefully wasn’t expecting this event tonight.
William, believe it or not, has been lecturing in Lampeter since 1979 (the year I had a Cindy doll and soda stream for Christmas and Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister). Since then, of course, William has made a major contribution to all aspects of life at the University and lectured on a host of different courses including the BA and MA in English, the BA and MA in History, the MA on Word and the Visual Imagination and the BA and MA in Medieval Studies, not to mention all the M Phil and PhD students he’s nurtured who’ve benefited from his expertise in Old and Middle English. We are in fact very lucky to have attracted William to Lampeter, since at one point, Janet informs me, he did display unusual entrepreneurial talent at a particularly young age. William was born in Toronto in Canada and his father and uncle kept a market garden growing and selling vegetable produce. When William was a toddler, having only just learnt how to walk, he filled his push-along stroller full of nice juicy tomatoes and pushed it around the neighbourhood successfully selling every last one of them to his neighbours. Being Canadian, William is an expert Canadian canoeist and, you might not know that he also plays excellent folk guitar. He moved to Britain in 1974 to study for his D Phil at the University of York having completed his Masters at the University of Toronto. Apparently he arrived with the intention of returning to Canada but just a year later in 1975 he met Janet and the rest, as they say, is history – they’ll be celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary next year and we all wish them well.
William’s thesis (supervised by Elizabeth Salter and Derek Pearsall) was on a fifteenth-century Middle English text called The Devil’s Parliament and he published a monograph discussing this and the vernacular reception of the doctrine of the Redemption with Boydell and Brewer as well as a scholarly edition of the text in the Middle English Texts series. William has been at the forefront of discussions on editorial methodology and has published editions of the Harrowing of Hell and the Destruction of Jerusalem, An English Chronicle, The Complaint of Our Lady and the Gospel of Nicodemus, as well as the Devil’s Parliament. Three of these texts were produced for the prestigious Middle English Texts series and since 2000 William has played a crucial role as Joint General Editor of the series generously contributing his time and expertise to ensure that other important and, often little-known, Middle English texts see the light of day. He’s worked with scholars from the UK, Japan, Tenerife, Italy, Canada, Scandinavia and the USA – assisting both senior academics and early career researchers with their editions. Between 2000 and 2010 William was also Editor and Joint General Editor (with Janet) of Trivium, an academic journal that was one of the most significant publications to be associated with the University at Lampeter. Attending international conferences, even now, when people discover that you’re from Lampeter, they’ll enquire about particular volumes of Trivium and whether they’re still available and William very kindly recently reprinted copies of the Life of St Padarn because this was often being requested.
William is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Learned Society of Wales, as well as a member of Council on the Early English Texts Society and Member of the Early Book Society. His publications in the field of Old and Middle English prose and poetry, religious and hagiographical narratives, medieval politics of power in secular Chronicles, as well as studies in iconography and manuscript transmission are too numerous to outline here in detail, but if you purchase a copy of the book tonight, you’ll find a list of all his publications near the back of the volume. Although it’s extremely difficult to select which particular works to highlight, I think it’s worth emphasizing that William has always enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the National Library of Wales. One of the very first things he did when he arrived in Wales was procure a reader’s ticket – apparently stopping off in Aberystwyth en route to Lampeter to get this even before he took up his post. Since then he has spent many hours in the National Library uncovering hidden gems. Although the treasures in medieval Welsh manuscripts are widely known, William worked tirelessly on his pioneering volume for the Index of Middle English Prose series exposing the range of texts extant in Middle English in the National Library’s holdings. In the course of this he discovered much fascinating material that he would go on to study in detail such as an unusual extended account of the Middle English Brut Chronicle and the bilingual English-Welsh manuscript Peniarth 12, an important witness to the interplay between Welsh-language and English-language culture in late medieval Britain.
Given William’s significant contribution to uncovering, editing and analysing Middle English texts, it’s particularly fitting that the volume of essays produced in his honour is a volume entitled Editing and Interpretation of Middle English Texts. The volume, admirably edited by Margaret Connolly (from the University of St Andrews) and Raluca Radulescu (from Bangor University), contains fifteen essays on religious texts and chronicles – two of William’s main interests – and discusses a range of issues relating to the processes of editing and interpreting medieval texts. Covering a variety of texts from Piers Plowman to Middle English prayers, prose and verse, the volume considers issues such as medieval punctuation, rubrication, dealing with variant readings, the translation, adaptation and transmission of medieval texts and foregrounds the many and varied matters of interpretation that confront the editor of Middle English texts. The book is on sale tonight at a reduced price of £72 for anyone who would like to obtain a copy. If you would like a copy tonight, you’ll need to fill in one of the forms provided and leave the form on the table for me to send to Brepols. There’s no need to pay tonight as Brepols will invoice you later. You can then either take a copy of the book with you or tick that you haven’t had one and Brepols will send you a copy.
William is cherished not only by his fellow colleagues at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, but also by his current students as well as generations of his former students. Like me, you could be given for not having noticed in fact that William retired in 2015, since he continues to teach on campus and support students at all levels: indeed his module on Anglo-Saxon Heroic Literature remains so popular that students regularly ‘elect’ William as their dissertation supervisor. And so I thought it was fitting that the last words should go to some of William’s students. I asked a few of them how they would describe William and here are some of the responses:
(Eleanor Watson, year 3)
William is the kind of academic that everyone should aspire to be. He treats all of his students as equals yet is always willing to offer support and knowledge where needed, no task is too small, and as a student of his, I know that he truly always wants the best for his students and wishes them nothing but success!
Rhian Rees (MA in Medieval Studies)
William’s teaching style is modest and self-deprecating, and he wears his learning very lightly. His enthusiasm for his subject shines through, and he is always encouraging and supportive. Somehow, in his company, tentative, half-formed ideas spring to life and flower!
Aaron Tripp (PhD)
I am exceedingly grateful for the guidance I received from Dr Marx during my time at Trinity Saint David. His sagacity as well as his steady encouragement were essential to my success. His scholarly depth and deliberate guidance was invaluable, but he gave more than that – he gave the care and attention of a true mentor and friend.
Paul Watkins (another research student)
For many years I have looked to William not just as an inspirational teacher and supervisor, but also as a friend with a gentle nature, a big heart and an unassuming intellect to match – equal to any.
Most apt of all was the fact that one of the students ended the email not with anything that was intended to be read out, but simply with the words: ‘William is rather special’ and I’m sure that you’d all agree that ‘William is rather special’, so before we celebrate his career over a glass of wine I’d like to ask the Assistant Dean, Kyle Erikson, to present William with a copy of the book as we show are appreciation.