Professor David Purdie: David Daiches - a life

Event date: 
Wednesday 5 October
Location: 
The Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, 2 Hope Park Square

Professor David Purdie: David Daiches - a life. 

One of the finest literary scholars of the 20th century, David Daiches combined mastery of the history and practice of literary criticism with wit and eloquence both at the podium and on the printed page. He produced creative literature of his own, not least in Two Worlds his memoirs of a Jewish childhood in Edinburgh and, in A Third World, his later academic life in the US. He made his mark, however, as a teacher, critic and historian of English literature. The son of Rabbi Salis Daiches, he was educated at George Watson’s College and Edinburgh University before going south to a Fellowship at Balliol where he later completed his Doctorate on the Hebrew sources of the King James Bible. In 1937, having gone to Chicago University as assistant professor of English, he left for New York in 1943 to work for the British Information Service (an arm of MI6) before becoming 2nd Secretary at our Embassy in Washington DC. Here has was a colleague of Sir Isaiah Berlin under the coldly patrician gaze of Lord Halifax. After the war, Daiches and his family went to Cornell University, in Ithaca, NY as Professor of English, before returning to the UK in 1951 as Lecturer in English at Jesus College, Oxford. He produced a stream of literary biographies on such as Milton, R.L. Stevenson, Scott and Robert Burns – as well as his masterly A Critical History of English Literature. He retired to Edinburgh in 1977 after more than a decade as Head of English at Sussex University and became an early Director of IASH at his alma mater. He died in 2005, full of years and honours having rounded off his remarkable career with such works as A Companion to Scottish Culture - and on one of its more sobering ingredients; Scotch Whisky… In this lecture, Professor David Purdie will review the life and works of David Daiches, drawing out his contributions to literary scholarship as well as to the development of the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities