Raymond Wilson Chambers
Raymond Wilson Chambers (12 November 1874–23 April 1942) was a British literary scholar, author, and academic; throughout his career he was associated with University College London (UCL).
Chambers was educated at University College; he was Librarian at that institution from 1901 to 1922, and Assistant Professor in the English Department, 1904-14. He served in World War I, with the Red Cross in France, and in Belgium with the YMCA/B.E.F. Chambers became Quain Professor of English at UCL in 1922. Chambers wrote on a wide variety of subjects relating to English literature, history, and culture; notably, he worked on the Shakespearean additions to the play Sir Thomas More, with Alfred W. Pollard and other scholars. His acclaimed 1935 biography, Thomas More, was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
Chambers was a friend of J.R.R. Tolkien and their careers parallel each other at many points: both were Catholics, scholars of Old English literature, both experienced the horrors of trench warfare in World War I (Chambers was too old to be an enlisted man, however), and both wrote brilliantly on Beowulf (Chambers’ writings were one of the inspirations for Tolkien’s “Monsters and Critics.”) Thomas Shippey described R.W. Chambers as “a patron and supporter of Tolkien in his early years.”
John Garth writes that the title of The Book of Lost Tales “recalls R.W. Chambers’ reference “to the lost Tale of Wade,” in a chapter of his study of the Old English poem Widsith that focuses on the old sea-legends of the ancient Germanic tribes of the north-western European coastlands (and which also deals with Éarendel). Chambers criticized the Romans for disdaining the illiterate Germans and failing to record their songs and tales, and laments the fact that, despite King Alfred’s love for the old lays, the Anglo Saxons wrote too few of them down.
“‘So this world of high-spirited, chivalrous song has passed away,’ says Chambers. ‘It is our duty then to gather up reverently such fragments of the old Teutonic epic as fortune has preserved in our English tongue and to learn from them all we can of that collection of stories of which these fragments are the earliest vernacular record.’” This passage suggests that Chambers’ work had inspired the broad outlines of Tolkien’s original project — the piecing together of a mythology for England.
Selected Chambers works
- Widsith: A Study in Old English Heroic Legend, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1912.
- Recent Research Upon the Ancren Riwle, London, Sidgwick & Jackson, 1925.
- Ruskin (and Others) on Byron, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1925.
- On the Continuity of English Prose from Alfred to More and His School, London, Early English Text Society/Oxford University Press, 1932.
- Chapters on the Exeter Book, London, Percy Lund, Humphries & Co. Ltd. 1933
- Thomas More, London, Cape, 1935.
- The Place of St. Thomas More in English Literature and History, London, Longman, 1937.
- Man’s Unconquerable Mind, London, Cape, 1939.