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In Memoriam: James E. Cross (1920-1996)


A Remembrance by Thomas D. Hill, Cornell University, and Charles D. Wright, University of Illinois

Professor James E. Cross, known to his friends and colleagues as Jimmy, died on December 18, 1996. Born in the Forest of Dean region of southern England in 1920, his primary and secondary education took place in local schools and he proceeded to the University of Bristol in 1938. His education there was interrupted by the war, during which he served as an artillery officer. He saw combat in North Africa and was part of the invasion force on D-day, going ashore on day one. He was wounded in action, but returned to service before the war's end. After the war Jimmy returned to the University of Bristol, where he earned a first class honors degree in English, making it possible for him to consider a teaching career in a university. His first appointment was at Lund University in Sweden in 1947, but he returned to England and the University of Bristol in 1949, where he taught until his appointment as Baines Professor of English Language at the University of Liverpool in 1965. Apart from visiting appointments in America at Yale University in 1974 and at Cornell University in 1975, Jimmy taught at the University of Liverpool for the rest of his career.

Jimmy's scholarly career can be roughly divided into three phases. His first publications were mostly concerned with Old English poetry – though with some attention to vernacular homilies, notably those of Ælfric – and it was this work which earned him his Professorship at Liverpool. In the seventies and eighties, Jimmy began to focus on Old English prose, editing The Prose Solomon and Saturn and Adrian and Ritheus (in collaboration with Tom Hill), Eleven Old English Rogationtide Homilies (in collaboration with Joyce Bazire), and publishing an extensive series of papers on the sources of the Old English Martyrology and of various anonymous homilies. In the final phase of his career, Jimmy began to work directly with manuscript sources, making a number of major discoveries. He identified, for example, the Carolingian sermonary in Cambridge, Pembroke College MS 25 as an important source for Old English anonymous homilies, including the Vercelli Homilies, and helped to clarify the relation between various manuscript witnesses to Wulfstan's "Commonplace Book," culminating in a facsimile edition (with Jennifer Morrish Tunberg) of The Copenhagen Wulfstan Collection: Copenhagen Kongelige Bibliotek Gl. kgl. sam. 1595 (Copenhagen, 1993). In Two Old English Apocrypha and their Manuscript Source: "The Gospel of Nichodemus" and "The Avenging of the Saviour" (Cambridge,1996), a book which appeared (on this side of the Atlantic at least) posthumously, and which made a fitting coda to his life's work as a source scholar, Jimmy identified for the first time ever the actual manuscript source of an Old English prose text.

The work that Jimmy produced in any one of these phases of his career would have been enough to establish him as an important and productive Anglo-Saxonist; collectively it is an extraordinary body of original scholarship. If one were to ask the question, "Who was the most important Anglo-Saxonist in modern times?," there would inevitably be difference of opinion. But if one were to rephrase the question to ask, "What modern Anglo-Saxonist has done the most to uncover the Latin sources of Old English literature?", Jimmy Cross would be the obvious candidate. The collaborative projects Sources of Anglo-Saxon Literary Culture and Fontes Anglo-Saxonici, which he did so much to help establish, are a continuing legacy of his impact on source scholarship in Anglo-Saxon studies.

Jimmy was not just a great and productive scholar; he was also a wonderful companion, and an inspiration to younger scholars to whom he was always especially generous and encouraging. Jimmy was unpretentious and friendly, but he was, in his own words, "keen" on his subject, and also exacting in his standards. He taught us all by both example and precept, and he will be sorely missed.

OEN 30.1 (1996): 13.