THE CENTRE of Ronald Grimsley's scholarly activity throughout his career was French 18th-century literature. He established himself as the leading British authority on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to whom he devoted three major studies, all of them very influential (Jean- Jacques Rousseau: a study in self-awareness, 1961, Rousseau and the Religious Quest, 1968, and The Philosophy of Rousseau, 1973) together with important and impeccable critical editions of Rousseau's religious writings and of the Contrat social.
But Grimsley's academic interests and publications ranged widely. His first book, in 1955, bore the title Existentialist Thought. He also wrote on Romanticism, modern philosophy and on comparative ideas. Most notably he developed a special interest in the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, the subject of two books, Soren Kierkegaard: a biographical introduction (1966) and Soren Kierkegaard and French literature (1973), and a dozen articles.
The brilliant and prolific scholar was also a superb lecturer. Former colleagues have a shared memory of Grimsley lecturing on Existentialism to final year students. Because word had got around, some of us would be there as well. He would perch on the edge of a table, quite informally, and without any notes would deliver a perfectly crafted, eloquent discourse which made difficult concepts clear and comprehensible (albeit without over-simplification) to an audience most of whom had little if any grounding in philosophy. At exactly the appointed hour, to the minute, the lecture would reach an elegant conclusion.
Ronald Grimsley was born in Leicester in 1915, and it was to the then University College of his native city that he went in 1934 as a Senior Scholar to read for the External BA degree in French of London University. His course included a period of study at the Sorbonne. He graduated with first class honours in 1937 and then went to Oxford, where a year later he was awarded the Diploma in Education, the ancestor of the modern PGCE.
The Second World War then caused a five-year interruption in his academic career. From the Royal Artillery he moved to the Intelligence Corps, seeing service notably in France and Germany. Following demobilisation he returned to Oxford where, to adopt his own choice of expression, he "sat at the feet" of the great Gustave Rudler. He completed his DPhil in 1948, having also found time to acquire the Licence-es-Lettres of the University of Lille.
For the next 16 years he was to remain a member of the Department of French at the University College of North Wales, Bangor, moving swiftly from Assistant Lecturer to Senior Lecturer and in 1962 to the status of University Reader.
In 1964 he was elected to the newly established second Chair of French at the University of Bristol. In 1966 he spent a semester as Visiting Professor of French Literature at Yale University before succeeding to the senior Chair at Bristol as Professor of French Language and Literature. During the academic year 1968-69 he was Visiting Professor of French and Comparative Literatures at Harvard. It is not perhaps widely …