Last Updated: 25 February 2022
As late as 1983, when I was an undergraduate, the posthumous collection of A. P. Rossiter’s Shakespeare lectures, Angel with Horns (1961) was on the required reading lists in Cambridge. I came across him again a few years later when editing I. A. Richards, Rossiter being an early adopter of Basic English in teaching, due perhaps to his five years in Japan in the early 1930s. Indeed, he is thought to be the first person to use Basic in Japan, having been trained in the method personally by C. K. Ogden. Rossiter also seems to have known Richards well, and there are several references in Mrs Richards’ diary for 1932, both to Rossiter and to his wife, Phyllis, the author, as P. M. Rossiter, of Basic for Geology (Kegan Paul Trench Trubner & Co Ltd: London (1937). He came up on my radar again when I read his essay “Poetry as a Gagagram” (1935) as part of my study of syntactic and dictional chaos in verse.
But at this time A. P. Rossiter was merely an empty name on a handful of very interesting pieces of writing, and even today he is one of the few people in the Ogden–Richards–Empson circle that remains more or less mysterious to me both biographically and intellectually. It is true that one can infer much from his early and curiously impressive but almost completely unknown novel (Rossiter called it a "satire") of student life, Poor Scholars (1932), set in 1920s Cambridge and written, I think, while he was in Japan, but otherwise, there is very little data in the public domain, and almost nothing available electronically. Rossiter has no entry, yet, in the Dictionary of National Biography. Hence this short account and checklist of publications.
Due to public health restrictions, I have not yet been able to consult Graham Storey’s obituary in the Cambridge Review (2 February 1957), but in the meantime have assembled a few details from various online sources, including the obituary in The Times (9 January 1957), the biographical note that appears in the 1943 Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1939), and Christine Jenning's biography of Rossiter's friend Sir Robert Jennings, as well as my own library and archive of notes on Richards and his associates.
Arthur Percival Rossiter was of a West-country family, educated at Bristol Grammar School and Selwyn College, Cambridge where he was a Scholar, reading at first Natural Sciences and then English, taking honours in both with a 1st in English. He appears to have been an active and notable member of the Selwyn College Boat Club, in which he was known as “Tishy”, rowing at number 7 in 1926, and Bow in 1927. After graduation he taught for a while in Cambridge, married, and then in late 1928 moved to Japan (the letter to the TLS of November 1928 listed below was sent from Hirosaki), and was appointed as an Instructor at the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy at Etajima in Hiroshima, a post to which he may have been recommended by Richards, who had recently travelled widely in both China and Japan and was well known there.
In 1934 he moved back to England and to Durham University, where he taught for ten years. During the war he served as a sergeant in a Home Guard battalion affiliated to the Durham Light Infantry. In 1945 he was elected to a Fellowship of Jesus College, Cambridge, and admitted in July of that year, subsequently serving as Tutor and Director of Studies in English, remaining there until his death in a motorcycle accident on the 7th of January 1957.
At some point unknown to me his marriage to Phyllis ended, and he married again, on the 25 May 1947, his second wife being Barbara Bloch, the daughter of the German expressionist painter Martin Bloch. Barbara Rossiter was pregnant at the time of her husband's death, giving the accident a particular poignancy that persisted in Cambridge legend for long afterwards. – I myself remember it as current in the 1980s. Rossiter is buried in the Ascension Burial Ground near Histon, just to the north of Cambridge, the grave being marked with a plain yet magnificent slate headstone.
A collection of his papers is held in the Jesus College Archives, and also includes the righthand photograph below, the best of only a very few available online. Rossiter is in battle-dress uniform and equipped for rock-climbing, at which he was considered an expert. On the left is the image of Rossiter reproduced in the short autobiography provided in the Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1943). Though undated, it seems likely to have been taken in the late 1920s or earlier 1930s.
Left: Portrait photograph of A. P. Rossiter in the late 1920s or 1930s, reproduced in the Pelican edition of The Growth of Science (1943), 232.
Right: A. P. Rossiter. Place and date unknown (Durham, 1939-1945?). Jesus College Archives.
Though he barely figures in the standard accounts of the Cambridge English school, Rossiter’s place in that story perhaps deserves more emphasis. His students included several of the most notable names of subsequent decades, and his reputation as a lecturer, both in Cambridge and at Stratford-upon-Avon, was sufficiently high to justify the publication of Graham Storey's posthumous collection. Rossiter is also credited, though not certainly, with being responsible for overcoming resistance to the momentous appointment of F. R. Leavis to the Faculty Board in 1956, suggesting that his character was distinguished by openness of mind and a commendable absence of risk aversion.
Anonymous, "Mr. A. P. Rossiter: English at Cambridge", The Times (9 January 1957), 10. Obituary.
Christine Jennings, Robbie: The Life of Sir Robert Jennings 1913–2004 (Matador: Kibworth Beauchamp, 2019), 64.
R. Y. J., [Sir Robert Jennings], "Mr. A. P. Rossiter", The Times (11 January 1957), 11. Letter supplementing the Times obituary.
Jesus College Cambridge, One Hundred and Ninth Annual Report (2013), 184.
A. P. McEldowney, A Personal History of Selwyn College Boat Club (1973).
Ian Mackillop, F. R. Leavis: A Life in Criticism (Allen Lane: Harmondsworth, 1995), 299.
Pers. Comm., 10 Nov. 2021, Peter Rossiter.
Checklist of the Writings (1928–1961) of A. P. Rossiter (1903–1957).
“Tottel’s Miscellany and Wyatt”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 1397 (8 November 1928), p. 833.
Poor Scholars: A Novel (Chatto & Windus: London, 1932).
The Gold Insect. (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., London, 1932). Basic English version of Edgar Allan Poe's “Gold Bug”.
“Character Writing”, Durham University Journal 28/5 (March 1934), 354–360.
“An Experiment in Verse”, Durham University Journal 29/1 (December 1934), 31–39. Reprinted in Our Living Language (1953).
Statement and Suggestion: The Basic English System as an Instrument for Reading Verse (Psyche Miniatures General Series) (Kegan Paul Trench Trubner: London, 1935).
“Poetry as Gagagram: An Inquiry into Meaning”, Psyche 15 (1935), 174–187. Reprinted in a revised version in Our Living Language (1953).
“The First English Geologist: Robert Hooke (1635–1703)”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 172–181.
“The Ur-Faust at Neville’s Cross”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 210-211.
“The Durham Colleges Dramatic Society in ‘The Critic’”, Durham University Journal 29/3 (June 1935), 211–212.
“Hooke as Geologist”, Nature 137 (1936), 455.
“Julius Caesar: A Shakespearean Speculation”, Durham University Journal 30/2 (March 1937), 111–131.
“Written in ‘Portrait of an Age’”, Durham University Journal 30/2 (March 1937), 154. [Verse.]
“The Tragedy of King Lear”, Durham University Journal 30/6 (June 1938), 464–473.
"The Structure of Richard the Third", Durham University Journal 31/1 (December 1938), 44–75.
The Growth of Science: An Outline History in Basic English with Notes on all Words specially used in the Sciences (Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons: London, 1939). Reprinted as a Pelican (Penguin Books: Harmondsworth, 1943), with a new introductory "Note" dated 1942, and an autobiographical account illustrated with a portrait photograph.
“Line-Division in ‘Julius Caesar’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 1956 (29 July 1939), 453. Letter to the Editor. R. B. Mckerrow replied: “Line Division in “Julius Caesar’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 1959 (19 August 1939), p. 491.
“Tower of Brass”, Durham University Journal 32/1 (NS Vol. 1) (January 1940), 52–54. [Verse.]
“Two Poems: ‘Chorus from a Pageant Play’; ‘Electra’”, Durham University Journal 33/1 (New Series 2/1) (December 1940), 46–47, 47.
Julius Caesar: A Basic English Expansion (Basic English Publishing Company: Cambridge, 1941).
“Prognosis on a Shakespeare Problem”, Durham University Journal 33/2 (New Series 2/2) (March 1941), 126–139.
“Three Poems: ‘Beyond Lugnasad’, ‘Pliny A.D. 79’, ‘Beati Nimium’”, Durham University Journal 34/3 (New Series 3/3) (June 1941), 154-156, 157–158, 158.
“Sidelights on the Spens Report”, English in Schools 2/1-2 (1944-1945). Reprinted as “The School Child as Critic” in Our Living Language (1953).
“Prolegomenon to the Anonymous Woodstock (alias 1 Richard II)”, Durham University Journal 37/2 (New series 6/2) (March 1945), 42–51.
“Four Poems: Translated from Louis Aragon”, Durham University Journal 37/3 (New Series 6/3) (June 1945), 91–94.
Woodstock: A Moral History. Edited with a preface by Rossiter. (Chatto & Windus: London, 1946).
“Hall and Shakespeare”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2365 (31 May 1947), p. 267. Letter to the Editor. Replies to a letter by Alan Keen (26 April). Keen reacted in letter published on the 29th of November, and Rossiter replied to that in a letter published on the 10th of January 1948.
“Yewbarrow Revisited”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 15/1 (No. 41) (1947), 18–24.
Rock-Climbing Guides to the Lake District: Great Gable, Green Gable, Kirkfell, Yewbarrow, Buckbarrow (Fell and Rock Climbing Club of The English Lake District). Ed. H. M. Kelley. Co-authored with C J Astley Cooper and W Peascod. Illustrated by W. Heaton Cooper.
“On Climbing Alone”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 15/2 (No. 42) (1948), 135–142.
“Hall and Shakespeare”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2397 (10 January 1948) p. 23. Letter to the Editor.
“Troilus and Cressida”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2414 (8 May 1948), p. 261. Letter to the Editor.
“The Spoken Word in Education”, The B.B.C. Quarterly 4/2 (July 1949). Abbreviated text of a lecture given on the 9th of April 1949, at the National Conference on School Broadcasting. Full text printed in Our Living Language (1953)
“A Passage in ‘Henry the VIII’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2476 (15 July 1949) p.459. Letter to the Editor.
English Drama from Early Times to the Elizabethans: Its Background, Origins and Developments (Hutchinson's University Library: London, 1950). Reprinted 1950, 1958, 1966, 1969.
“Coriolanus”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2542 (20 October 1950), p 661.
“Coleridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sunrise’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2591 (28 September 1951), p. 613. Letter to the Editor.
“Coleridge’s ‘Hymn Before Sunrise”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2595 (26 October 1951), p. 677. Letter to the Editor.
“Note on ‘First Ascents’ (Scafell)”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 16/2 (No. 46) (1952), 198.
“Coleridge’s ‘Soother in Absence’”, Times Literary Supplement, No. 2675 (8 May 1953), p. 301. Letter to the Editor.
“Dusty Answer” [Letter to the Editor], Spectator (21 August 1953), 16.
Our Living Language: An Englishman looks at his English. (Longmans: London, 1953).
“Ambivalence—the Dialectic of the Histories”, in John Garrett, ed., Talking of Shakespeare (Hodder and Stoughton with Max Reinhardt: London, 1954).
“Notes from a Little-Known Coleridge”, The Journal of the Fell & Rock Climbing Club of the English Lake District 17/1 (No. 48) (1954), 30–38.
"Reviews", [Review of John Crow and F. P. Wilson, eds, Jacob and Esau (Malone Society Reprints: 1956)],The Modern Language Review, 52/3 (July 1957), pp. 413-415
Angel with Horns: and other Shakespeare Lectures. Edited by Graham Storey. (Longmans: London, 1961). Reissued by Longman in 1989 as a paperback with an introduction by Peter Holland.