Obituary: William Anderson

Article excerpt

William Anderson was a man of immense creative energy, generous wit and courtesy, a raconteur, linguist, philosopher and traveller, a European as much at home in Italy, France or Germany as at his own fireside.

He was a man of renaissances, and his visionary mind turned naturally to the great renaissances of the 12th and 15th centuries. He would not have been out of place planning the rebuilding of St Denis with Abbot Suger; he could have discoursed with Dante. In a sense he was doing just that in his profound book Dante the Maker, awarded the International PEN Club Award in 1981. Yet he was also a man of the 20th century, with an understanding of science, mathematics and technology seldom found amongst contemporary poets.

At Exeter College, Oxford, he read History and established the foundations of much of his later writing. The renaissance he cared about above all, however, was the emergent, potential renaissance of our own day - the realignment of science, religion, political philosophy and art as complementary facets of human living. He did all he could to foster this ideal as head of publications of the Nuffield Foundation Science Teaching project and, from 1985, as Research Fellow of the Centre for Educational Studies at King's College London, and as originator and first editor of the Bridge, the journal of the Study Society. It is implicit in his poetical writings (Haddow Sonata, 1980, Humans, Beasts and Birds, 1981, The Waking Dream, 1983, and What I Am Is Stillness, 1992) and it recurs in a succession of distinguished books, Castles of Europe (1970), Cathedrals in Britain and Ireland (1978), Dante the Maker (1980), Holy Places of the British Isles (1983), The Rise of the Gothic (1985), Cecil Collins (1988), Green Man (1990), and above all in the comprehensive work The Face of Glory, published nine months ago. Bill Anderson grew up in the shadow of war, his father, Newton Edward Anderson MC, soldier and architect, having died of wounds in the Normandy campaign. His outlook and values were shaped by the rending of Europe and the long process of healing its wounds. He saw peace not simply as the absence of war but as a time of opportunity. Writing flowed from him. Books, periodicals and jottings littered every room in his house, mingling with wine, good food and tobacco, and friends. Yet out of this chaos emerged a stream of poems, completed books, articles, lectures and projects for workshops and conferences. …