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In Memoriam: Roy Francis Leslie (1922-92)


A Remembrance by A.S.G. Edwards, University of Victoria

Roy F. Leslie died on 30 December, 1992, after a long illness. He was born in Scotland and received his early education there. In 1946, after service in the Royal Air Force, he went up to the University of Manchester graduating in 1949 with First Class Honors in English Language and Literature. In the next fifteen years he developed the ties with the University that ensured it a constant place in his affections. In 1950 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer; he became Lecturer in 1953 and Senior Lecturer in 1960. While engaged in full time teaching, he completed both his graduate degrees there, the MA. in 1951 and the Ph.D. in 1955.

In 1964, he was called to the University of Wisconsin where he was Professor until 1968. In that year, he accepted an invitation to become Head of the English Department at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. The years that followed were demanding ones: he had to preside a massive expansion of his Department and to develop a graduate program from scratch. In later years he must have looked back with satisfaction on his achievement, particularly on the fact that many of the people he appointed have gone on to distinguished scholarly careers. But the burdens of his position were very great. In 1973 he resigned, although he continued to serve the Department unstintingly until his retirement in 1986.

Roy's achievement rests centrally on his two major editions of Old English poetic texts: Three Old English Elegies: The Wife's Lament, The Husband's Message, and The Ruin (1961), a revision of his M.A. thesis, and his edition of The Wanderer (1966), a revision of part of his doctorate. Both demonstrate the range of his scholarly strengths: sensitive literary analysis combined with meticulous philological and textual scrutiny. Examination of individual cruces was never divorced from a larger sense of literary structure of meaning. Apart from these editions, his other major work was his edition (with G.L. Brook) of Layamon's Brut, He did not write many articles – his scholarly scrupulousness made him reluctant to publish until what he had to say fully met his own exacting standards. But his early "Analysis of Stylistic Devices and Effects in Anglo-Saxon Literature" (Stil-und Formprobleme in der Literatur [1959]) was a pioneering study of aspects of Old English poetic style; it has been several times anthologized. Roy's later papers on "The Editing of Old English Poetic Texts: Questions of Style" (1979) and on "The Meaning and Structure of The Seafarer" (1983) are authoritative studies of the relationship between textual and literary problems in Old English poetry that testify to the consistency of his scholarly concerns and the quality of his literary insight. Elsewhere this insight found expression in his defence of "The Integrity of Riddle 60" (JEGP, 67 [1968]) or in his early, characteristically astute "Textual Notes on The Seasons of Fasting" (JEGP, 52 [1953]). The development of his illness thwarted the execution of a number of long-meditated projects, including plans for a new edition of Beowulf.

Ill health forced Roy to take early retirement. During his very difficult final years his dignity and essential sweetness of nature remained unchanged. Throughout his illness he was sustained, as he was for more than forty five years, by the devoted support of his wife, Erika.

OEN 26.1 (1992): 16.