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Boyd, James [Jimmy] (1891–1970), German scholar, was born on 27 December 1891 in Gardiner's Close, Lockerbie, Dumfries, the only son of Peter Boyd, master blacksmith, and his wife, Mary, née Tennant. His schooling was at Lockerbie Academy and in 1909 he was awarded an open scholarship to the Athenaeum School of Music, Glasgow (forerunner of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) to study the violin. In 1910–11 he pursued his musical studies in Berlin, as a pupil of Goby Eberhardt, and it was there that he met his future wife, a Dutch fellow student, Anna Maria Geertruida Josephina Smulders (1893–1978). They married in 1915. Theirs was a happy union. She remained enamoured of him and was heard describing him, in her thick Dutch accent, as looking like a ‘creek cod’ (private information, M. Ewert). Meanwhile, in 1911 and 1912 Boyd performed as a soloist with the Hamburg Orchestra at the Conventgarten. He was then appointed a teacher of the Mittelklasse at the Vogt'sches Konservatorium für Musik in Hamburg and in the vacations continued his violin studies in Vienna.

In August 1914 Boyd happened to be in the United Kingdom and on the outbreak of the First World War he volunteered for the army, serving with the Durham light infantry. In 1916 at the second battle of the Somme he received a wound which completely severed the nerve of his right forearm and he spent more than a year in hospital recuperating from this. He afterwards volunteered for war work which occupied him until the summer of 1918. The long-term consequence of his injury was that his promising career as a professional violinist was irrevocably ended and he was obliged to cast a new future for himself.

In 1919 Boyd matriculated as an undergraduate at Oxford at the delegacy of non-collegiate students. He chose to study German, though it is said that he also considered English or mathematics. He was awarded a first class in the final honour school in 1921, with a distinction in the spoken language. From 1921 to 1923 he was at Heidelberg University as the first post-war lektor in English. While there he continued his study of German and added Old English, comparative philology, and Latin. He was awarded a BLitt from Oxford University in 1923 for his study, ‘Goethe's Knowledge of English Literature’, and in 1927 a doctorate from Heidelberg University for his work, ‘Ulrich Fuetrers Buch der Abenteuer’. In 1923 came his first academic appointment in German when he became professor of German at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. In 1926 he returned to the United Kingdom to take up a post as reader and head of the department of German at the University of Bristol. Five years later, in 1931, he returned to Oxford as reader in German and from 1938 to 1959 he served as the second Taylor professor of the German language and literature at Oxford, successor to H. G. Fiedler. In connection with this post he was a fellow of the Queen's College, curator of the Taylor Institution, and chairman of the faculty of medieval and modern languages.

Boyd's academic publications were largely devoted to Goethe: his BLitt thesis, Goethe's Knowledge of English Literature, was published in 1932, followed by his German doctoral thesis, Ulrich Fuetrers Parzival: Material and Sources, in 1936, his edition of Goethe's Poems in 1942, and in the same year Goethe's Iphigenie auf Tauris: an Interpretation and Critical Analysis. Between 1944 and 1949 appeared his Notes to Goethe's Poems. The paucity of German publications in the immediate post-war years inspired Boyd in collaboration with Sir Basil Blackwell to produce some forty volumes in a series entitled Blackwell's German Texts, which became an enduring standard collection of representative German authors. He also played a major role in reviving and editing the periodical German Life and Letters, originally founded in 1936 but in abeyance during the Second World War. Boyd's interests also extended to Dutch and Afrikaans: he examined for the University of London and for several years between 1934 and 1937 compiled the annual listing of publications on Dutch studies for the Year's Work in Modern Language Studies. In 1949 he represented Oxford at the Goethe centenary celebrations in Frankfurt and in the same year he was instrumental in inviting Thomas Mann to lecture at the Taylor Institution in Oxford on the subject of ‘Goethe und die Demokratie’. On that occasion Mann received an honorary DLitt from the University of Oxford.

In addition to his Oxford duties, Boyd was president of the Modern Language Association of Great Britain in 1940, vice-president of the English Goethe Society from 1945 to 1970, and chairman of the Annual Conference of Teachers of German in Great Britain and Ireland. In 1959 he was presented with a festschrift, The Era of Goethe. He died at his home, 36 St Margaret's Road, Oxford, on 30 October 1970 of cancer of the tongue, and was cremated at the Oxford crematorium. He was a substantial figure in the field of German studies and with his work on Goethe and as editor of the Blackwell's German Texts and the journal German Life and Letters made a significant contribution to the post-war revival of the subject.

Jill Hughes


The Times (2 Nov 1970) · German Life and Letters, 24/2 (Jan 1971), 205–6 · WWW · private information (2013) · b. cert. · d. cert.

Wealth at death  

£18,272: administration with will, 25 March 1971, CGPLA Eng. & Wales