Christopher Rowe (1949-2015)
Christopher Rowe, who was Head of English at QEH from 1982 to 1996, died on 26 July 2015. David Hopkins, Emeritus Professor of English Literature at Bristol University, offers the following thoughts about Christopher as scholar, teacher, and friend.
Chris was one of my oldest and closest friends. We were at both school (Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury) and university (St Catharine’s College, Cambridge) together. BWS had a rich musical tradition, and we were both lucky enough to win, two years apart, Choral Exhibitions to Cambridge. After university we lost direct touch for a few years, only keeping up with one another’s progress via our families at home. Chris went on to take a PGCE at Exeter University, combined with a Choral Scholarship at the Cathedral, and then moved to Norwich, where he taught English at Norwich School, tutored for the Open University, and sang as a lay clerk in the cathedral choir. During the same period I was teaching and working for a PhD in Leicester. In 1976 I was appointed to a Lectureship in English at Bristol University, and when, a few years later, Chris came to take up his post at QEH, we were able to renew our friendship in earnest. We saw each other on a regular basis from that time onwards. When Chris had to retire early from teaching through ill health (he had contracted the painful and debilitating condition, Crohn’s Disease), Sandra and I were regular visitors to Chris’s and Andrea’s homes in Yorkshire and Devon.
As the social media communications to QEH since his death have testified, Chris was regarded by his pupils with quite exceptional admiration and affection. Like many, perhaps most, fine teachers, he was inspired by those to whom he owed the better part of his own education. One of his English teachers at BWS was the novelist William Golding, a future winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. But Golding’s considerable talents were not, on his own admission, displayed to their best advantage in the classroom (it is reported that he sometimes made his pupils conduct word-counts in class of his own work-in-progress), and Chris’s main inspiration at school, like my own, came from the school’s remarkable Head of English, Terence (T. R.) Barnes. Barnes, a graduate of King’s College Cambridge, and author of two distinguished books on English poetry, was a man of rare intellectual qualities. In every lesson, he illuminated classic poems and novels with extraordinary eloquence, clarity, and insight, and suggested their larger humane importance in a way that held us spellbound. To us grammar school sixth formers Barnes made the Life of the Mind something both exciting in itself and of vital importance in our lives. We wanted to be able to emulate something of his intelligence and perception in our own talk and writing about literature and life.
At Cambridge, Chris found another teacher who was able to encourage more of his many talents. At St Catharine’s, Chris encountered Richard Luckett, a prodigiously erudite scholar who was later to become Pepys Librarian at Magdalene College. From his schooldays, Chris had, with the encouragement of his father, a talented amateur local historian, developed an interest in Charles 1 and the English Civil War, a topic which he was later able to research in greater depth as a Schoolmaster Student at Christ Church, Oxford. Luckett encouraged Chris’s antiquarian interests, and stimulated his love of old books, old documents, and a whole variety of related topics, from the history of landscape gardening to early musical performance practice – all subjects about which (together with such very different matters as fishing, cooking, and football) Chris could talk with great enthusiasm and knowledge. Much later, in a short remission from his illness, Chris actually began a PhD at the University of Leeds (sadly unfinished at his death) on the seventeenth-century publisher Humphrey Moseley, many of whose publications formed part of Chris’s remarkable collection of old books. In the testimonies from his pupils, Chris is described on several occasions as ‘a scholar and a gentleman’. Though that phrase has become something of a cliché, it actually characterizes Chris very well. It became something of a standing joke between us that he would have perhaps found his ideal historical incarnation as one of those learned eighteenth-century clergymen who did so much to research and preserve the country’s cultural and literary heritage.
Chris, as his pupils’ testimony confirms, was able to inspire his students because he genuinely believed in, and manifested with a vibrant and contagious relish, the value and delights of scholarship and intellectual enquiry, engaged in, unashamedly, ‘for their own sake’. Chris had a positive genius for friendship and for home-making. The Yorkshire and Devon homes which he shared with Andrea were furnished with a remarkable eye for detail, and were full of splendid paintings, furniture and antiques. He was a keen and resourceful garden designer. But Chris’s and Andrea’s homes were far more than mere displays of ‘fine taste’. They were centres of human warmth. One always came away from a visit to Chris intellectually and emotionally refreshed and invigorated, with beautiful music to remember, new ideas to think about, and new books to read. For Chris, intellectual and artistic concerns were never merely a rarefied or academic affair, but an integral part of an exuberantly savoured and deeply humane life. Chris’s pupils knew that. So did his close friends. He will be sorely missed.