Old English Newsletter


Back  |  Print


In Memoriam: Angus Cameron (1941-83)


A Remembrance by John Leyerle

Angus Fraser Cameron, Professor of English and Editor of the Dictionary of Old English, died of cancer on May 27, 1983. His career, although shortened by his untimely death, was one of uncommon accomplishments. He was warmly admired by his many students and by colleagues all over the world.

Angus Cameron was born in Nova Scotia in 1941. He graduated from Mount Allison University in 1961 and was awarded the Tweedie Medal for highest standing in arts. He was also awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, which he held at Jesus College, where he read the Final Honours School of English Language and Literature with specialization in early English studies and took a second B.A. in 1963. In 1965, after two years of teaching at Mount Allison, he returned to Oxford to complete a B. Litt.; his thesis was "The Old English Nouns of Colour, A Semantic Study" He defended the thesis in 1968 and accepted an appointment that year in the Department of English at University College, University of Toronto. Within weeks of his arrival he proposed the preparation of a dictionary of Old English to replace the one edited in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by Bosworth and Toller.

The proposed dictionary was planned in consultation with many of the leading Old English scholars at a conference in March of 1969. The proceedings of that conference, Computers and Old English Concordances (1970), provided a preliminary sketch for the project; from the very beginning the project reflected Angus Cameron's innovative approach by incorporating computer processing as a central part of its design. In 1973 a companion volume appeared, A Plan for the Dictionary of Old English, which set out the organization of the project in considerable de tail. In the ten years following, Angus Cameron assembled all of the materials necessary for the writing of the Dictionary, built an editorial team, and supervised the drafting of entries for the letter d.

Some measure of his stature in the field can be seen in two recent letters to him. On April 15, 1983 Dr. R. W. Burchfield, Chief Editor of the Oxford Dictionaries, wrote that Angus Cameron's name was already in that "list of revered names, Bosworth, Toller, Sweet, and others, who have carried Anglo-Saxon lexical scholarship forward in an indispensable manner." On April 19, 1983, Professor Dr. Helmut Gneuss of the University of Munich expressed his admiration in the form of a question; "Who would have thought," he wrote, "when we first met twelve years ago, that so much could be done in such a short time, and that the DOE's office would become a place of pilgrimage for Anglo-Saxonists?" From 1969 onwards the project received major support from the Canada Council and its successor, the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. One of the assessors for the SSHRC remarked of the Dictionary of Old English that it "... is the most important single scholarly project now in progress in the field of Old English studies." So highly was it regarded that it became the prototype of the Negotiated Grants Program of the SSHRC. In recognition of his stature as a scholar, Angus Cameron was elected in 1982 as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Angus Cameron's major focus was the Dictionary, but his work and influence were far-reaching in the University of Toronto and beyond. He served on many important committees of the Department of English and of the Centre for Medieval Studies. He played a key role in establishing the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research between 1979 and 1981. During the 1982-83 academic year, although his illness was becoming progressively more severe, he chaired the President's Working Group on the Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering; he completed the report of that group only a few weeks before he died.

During the 1982-83 academic year he was selected by a search committee to be the next Director of the Centre for Medieval Studies beginning on July 1, 1983; he accepted the appointment in hope that a period of remission would allow him to direct the Centre that he had done so much to foster and strengthen, but he did not live to take up that appointment.

Angus Cameron was always concerned to reach out from the academic community to the world beyond, interpreting his work so that a larger audience could understand it. He made a number of videotapes, spoke in schools and on the radio, and was never too busy to show someone around the Dictionary offices. He was a deeply religious man, and in the last weeks of his life gave a series of four lectures interpreting Northrop Frye's book on the Bible, The Great Code, to his congregation at the Rosedale United Church. At a memorial service for Angus conducted on May 30, 1983, the minister of the church, the Rev. Robert Wallace, remarked about the deep faith Angus had and the way in which it was interwoven with the early literature he loved:

Finally, he came to depth early in life, through a deep love of God, begun before memory in his parents' home, but owned as an adult faith as he matured. This faith carried him over the last few fearful months, with gallantry. He had learned to say, with Boethius,

  From Thee, great God, we spring,

   To Thee we tend,

  Path, motive, guide,

   Original, and end.

It seems to me we would want to say what Hrothgar said to Beowulf on seeing him, words which Angus knew well. "The wise God sent these words into your mind. I never heard a man so young in age speak more knowingly. You are strong in might, prudent in mind, and wise in words. The longer I know you, dear Beowulf, the better your character pleases me."

Angus is survived by his wife, Wendy, his daughters Susannah and Claire, his mother, Mrs. Graham Cameron, his brother, Ian, and his sister, Mrs. Jean Mason.

There are few in full career who have made so great a contribution to their discipline, to their university, and to their colleagues, and hardly any in a career cut short before reaching even its normal midpoint. Angus Cameron was perceptive and thorough as a scholar, effective yet gentle as an administrator, possessed of steady good judgment and an awe-inspiring capacity to take everything in stride, even his last illness. All who knew him will remember especially his good-humored laughter and his undiminished optimism.

OEN 17.1 (1983), 18-19.