George K. Hunter, Emeritus Professor at the Department of English and Literature at Yale University, visited the Modern Records Centre (MRC) at Warwick last week to view some old books. However, the books weren’t any old books they were important antiquarian books which form part of a collection that Professor Hunter donated to the University. Four of the books have recently been rebound and Professor Hunter and his wife Sheilagh were invited to see the end result A founding Professor of the English Department at Warwick, George has donated over 100 antique volumes which date from the 17th and 18th Centuries. The oldest book in the collection is Dictionarium Geographicum Poeticum per Nicolaum LLoydium which was published in 1606.
Talking about the importance of George’s donation, Professor Peter Mack, Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies, said “It is very important for the University to have these books as Warwick is a young university and therefore has not been able to amass a large collection of antiquarian books in the same way as Oxford and Cambridge has.” He added, “These books are also of special interest because of the link between the person who has donated them and the University. George founded the English Department at Warwick and even now the syllabus, which he initially devised, stills bears his influence.”
Christine Woodland of the MRC speaking of the binding process said “It is important to have books of this age rebound in as close to the original binding as possible. Having an original binding not only preserves the look of the book but makes for an even better experience for the reader”. Christine added “Because of the age and rarity of these books they will be kept in the MRC strong room in carefully controlled storage conditions which meet with British standards for temperature, humidity and light”.
Professor Hunter was born in 1920 in Glasgow and served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War. When the war was over he returned to his studies and gained his DPhil at Oxford. He then went on to his first teaching post at Hull University, after which he held positions at Reading University and Liverpool University prior to arriving at Warwick in 1963.
George joined Warwick as a Professor of English and helped found the English Department. While at Warwick he created an innovative department which required all students to have a working knowledge of at least one other language moving away from the "literary history" approach. He left Warwick in the late 70s for an appointment at Yale University. At this time Yale had the strongest English department in the world. He remained at Yale until retiring in 1993. He is still active at Yale as Emeritus Professor in the Department of English and Literature.
George enjoyed referring to his collection not only for general reading purposes but also as a source of information for some of the books he has written which include: The English Drama, 1485-1585 (1969) and The English Drama, 1586-1642 (1997) for the Oxford History of English Literature. George has also written important books on John Lyly and has edited a number of plays by Shakespeare and John Marston.
When asked would he miss his collection George expressed mixed feelings in his reply:“I will miss the collection because although I still have many books, the books I have donated were certainly the oldest. However, I am very happy that my books are at Warwick as they will be looked after and it is very heartening to know that the books will be available to view by anyone who wishes to see them.”
George has one abiding memory of his time at Warwick, in his own words:
“I can certainly remember the mud, lots and lots of mud. I also remember that in those early days there were very few professors, probably only a handful".
Speaking of the development of the institution he recalled:
“In the very early days we were too busy with work to think about anything else. Certainly at that time we could not envisage Warwick becoming the University it is today in terms of its standing in relation to Oxford and Cambridge”.
George will be heading back to the USA happy in the knowledge that his book collection will be kept safe at Warwick. We hope that everyone who views the books will appreciate their literary and historical worth as well as their link with the history of the University. Our thanks go to Professor George Hunter for his generous donation.Visit the Modern Records Centre online at www2.warwick.ac.uk/services/library/mrc/