OBITUARY: PROFESSOR D. R. SHACKLETON BAILEY ; Latin Scholar Whose Edition of Cicero's Letters Is a Monument of 20th-Century Classical Scholarship
E. J. Kenney, The Independent (London, England)
D. R. Shackleton Bailey was a classical scholar of the 'severe and thorough' sort approved by A. E. Housman, those, to quote his own words, 'who like hard facts and the logic of facts and prefer results that last'. That, for him as well as for Housman, defined his life's work, the establishment and explication of Latin texts.
David Roy Shackleton Bailey " 'Shack' to friends " was educated at Newcastle Royal Grammar School, where his father was headmaster and where (as I learned many years later from a schoolmate) he was known as 'Boffles', and at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. After a predictable first class, with distinctions in Greek and Latin Verse Composition, he changed to Oriental Languages, offering Sanskrit and Pali, and was again placed in the first class.
One suspects that the change of subject reflected a wish to avoid the history and philosophy required in Part II Classics and concentrate on language. He may however already have been aware that Housman's university career had been shipwrecked by his neglect of those parts of the Greats, for the story had been told in A.S.F. Gow's memoir (A.E. Housman: a sketch, 1936) published during Bailey's first year at Cambridge. Of that dbcle he was later to remark that 'had he [Housman] gone to Cambridge, things might have turned out differently'. He perhaps preferred to run no such risk.
After wartime service at Bletchley Park, Bailey returned to Cambridge and to a Fellowship at Caius. In 1948 he was appointed University Lecturer in Tibetan, a post which he held until 1968. It was generally believed that he discouraged intending students by telling them to go away and come back when they had learned Sanskrit. Certainly a trawl through the class-lists of those years yields the names of only three candidates offering Tibetan in the Tripos.
In 1951 he published a critical edition of two first- or second- century AD Buddhist hymns, The Satapancasatka of Matrceta. The complex editorial techniques involved are described in an article of 1975, 'Editing Ancient Texts'. This deserves to be better known than it probably is, for taken with the articles on Housman of 1984 quoted above, it can be read as Shackleton Bailey's critical credo.
Meanwhile he was being drawn back to Classics, and specifically to Latin. The return to allegiance was signalled by translation in 1955 to Jesus College as Director of Studies in Classics, and by the publication in the following year of Propertiana. The book was offered, in Propertius' words, uilia tura damus, in humble tribute to the shade of Housman 'as a contribution to the improvement of Propertius' text'.
The dedication and the choice of poet are pointed, for by this time he certainly would have known from Gow's account that Housman had designed to edit Propertius and that a transcript of a text and apparatus criticus was found among his papers at his death and was destroyed in accordance with his instructions. Bailey's words foreshadow the monumental achievements of the next 50 years, which were to be devoted to the editing, translation and interpretation of an astonishingly wide range of Latin authors.
Propertiana is an unpretending book, a collection of notes on selected passages of critical interest, with an appendix of parallel and illustrative passages unnoticed by recent commentators. It is important as implicitly refuting a commonly held notion that textual criticism is synonymous with emendation, the correction of texts. Textual criticism begins with accurate interpretation. As Bailey points out in 'Editing Ancient Texts', 'A great many supposedly corrupt passages have finally been vindicated by intelligent and informed interpretation.' Repeatedly in Propertiana it is shown that the most satisfactory solution to a textual problem is not a new conjecture, but a defence of one already proposed or of the transmitted text. …