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Peers, Edgar Allisonlocked

(1891–1952)
  • W. C. Atkinson
  • , revised by John D. Haigh

Peers, Edgar Allison (1891–1952), Hispanic scholar and educationist, was born at Leighton Buzzard on 7 May 1891, the only son and elder child of John Thomas Peers (1860–1944), civil servant, and his wife, Jessie Dale (1865–1951), daughter of Charles Allison. In the years 1892 to 1903 his father made frequent moves, and Edgar Allison attended several elementary schools, at the last of which he was drawn to the study of Spanish. At fourteen he went to Dartford grammar school, and after study abroad proceeded to Christ's College, Cambridge, of which he was a scholar and prizeman, his first interests being English and French literature. In 1910 he obtained an external BA degree at London, with second-class honours in English and French, and in 1912 at Cambridge a first class in the medieval and modern languages tripos. He shared the Winchester reading prize (1912), and won the Harness (1913) and the Members' English essay (1914) prizes. He obtained a first class with double distinction in the teacher's diploma at Cambridge in 1913. From 1913 to 1919 he taught successively at Mill Hill, Felsted, Essex (for five years), and Wellington as modern languages master. His first publications still concerned English and French literature (Elizabethan Drama and its Mad Folk, 1914, and The Origins of French Romanticism, with M. B. Finch, 1920), but his attraction to Spain deepened, and in 1920 he was appointed (despite internal opposition) to the Gilmour chair of Spanish at Liverpool, where he remained thereafter. On 19 March 1924 he married Marion (b. 1895/6), daughter of James Frederic Young, secretary to the Devon education committee. They had no children.

Peers was among the first to realize the importance and the potentialities of Spanish studies in Great Britain after the First World War. Through lectures, visits to schools, teachers' conferences, vacation courses in England and in Spain, and the editing of a steady stream of textbooks, anthologies, and study aids (notably Spain, a Companion to Spanish Studies, 1929; A Handbook to the Study and Teaching of Spanish, 1938; A Critical Anthology of Spanish Verse, 1948) he laboured indefatigably and with great effect to further them at both school and university level.

Peers was always keenly interested in the methods and aims not merely of modern language teaching but of higher studies in general, and he wrote under the pseudonym of Bruce Truscot three books: Redbrick University (1943), Redbrick and these Vital Days (1945), and First Year at the University (1946). Until his death their authorship was a well-kept secret. They popularized the terms ‘Redbrick’ and ‘Oxbridge’, urged the primacy of research, and made a major contribution to the discussion of university problems and policies at the close of the Second World War.

Peers's talent for organizing was expressed in many ways. He founded the Modern Humanities Research Association in 1918, and was its honorary secretary for eleven years and its president in 1931–2; founded in 1923 and edited until his death the quarterly Bulletin of Spanish Studies (from 1949 Bulletin of Hispanic Studies); founded in 1934 at Liverpool the Institute of Hispanic Studies; and was educational director from 1943 to 1946 of the Hispanic Council.

These manifold activities were matched by a record in scholarship impressive both in its scope and in its originality. Two fields in Spanish letters, nineteenth-century Romanticism and the sixteenth-century mystics, Peers made particularly his own while they were still comparatively little known and studied, even in Spain. Especially ground-breaking was his History of the Romantic Movement in Spain (2 vols., 1940) and his Studies of the Spanish Mystics (2 vols., 1927–30). The latter, along with the masterly translations of the complete works of St John of the Cross (3 vols., 1934–5) and of St Teresa of Avila (3 vols., 1946, and her Letters, 2 vols., 1951), caused Spanish mysticism to be known and appreciated by English readers as never before. His achievement here, which received the imprimatur of the Roman Catholic church, was the more remarkable in one who was neither a Roman Catholic by persuasion nor a theologian by training. A number of his critical works on Romanticism and the mystics were republished in Spanish translation in Spain. Peers's other great enthusiasm was Catalonia and its medieval splendours: of Ramon Lull he translated much, including Blanquerna (1926), and wrote a full-scale biography (1929), while in Catalonia infelix (1937) he traced a sympathetic picture of the Catalan people and their history.

Peers's interest in Spain was always warm and personal. There over many years he spent some four months out of every twelve, and he produced a number of travel volumes, chief among them Spain, a Companion to Spanish Travel (1930) and The Pyrenees, French and Spanish (1932). A close student no less of contemporary events, he analysed these for nearly a quarter of a century in 'Spain week by week', a regular feature of the Bulletin of Spanish Studies. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 thus found him admirably equipped to interpret to the English-speaking world its underlying causes. This he did in The Spanish Tragedy which, written with striking prescience, appeared within three months of the outbreak of the conflict, and was many times reprinted. The Spanish Dilemma (1940) and Spain in Eclipse (1943) provided a similarly penetrating guide to the war's aftermath. Himself an Anglican of deep religious conviction, he wrote in Spain, the Church and the Orders (1939) a warm defence of the record of the Roman Catholic church in Spain.

Peers received the honorary degree of LLD from Glasgow University in 1947. Foreign distinctions included visiting professorships of English literature at Madrid University (1928 and 1929), of modern comparative literature at Columbia University (1929–30), and of Spanish at the universities of New Mexico and California (1930). He was Rede lecturer at Cambridge (1932), Centennial lecturer at New York University (1932), and Taylorian lecturer at Oxford (1939), and was a member and medallist of the Hispanic Society of America, and honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and of the Institute d'Estudis Catalans.

Peers lived single-mindedly for his subject, and in part accomplished so much through meticulous planning and use of his time, down to the shortest train journey. Apart from a keen delight in music (in his early years he played the organ) he confessed to no recreations; he could seem brusque, though he was affable and a good mimic when with intimate friends. Peers died of congestive heart failure on 21 December 1952, at the Northern Hospital, Liverpool.

Sources

  • Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 30/117 (Jan–March 1953) [incl. sel. bibliography]
  • personal knowledge (1971)
  • private information (1971)
  • A. L. Mackenzie and C. Byrne, eds., E. Allison Peers: Redbrick University revisited: the autobiography of ‘Bruce Truscot’ (1996)
  • WWW, 1951–60
  • The Times (24 Dec 1952)
  • m. cert.
  • d. cert.

Archives

  • Modern Humanities Research Association, London, archives
  • U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp. and papers
  • U. Lpool L., papers, mainly relating to Spanish mystics

Likenesses

  • photograph, repro. in Mackenzie and Byrne, eds., E. Allison Peers

Wealth at Death

£42,053 6s. 2d.: probate, 20 April 1953, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]
(1920–)