Smith, James (1904–1972), literary critic

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Smith, James (1904–1972), literary critic

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1904–1972

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James Smith, the son of a schoolmaster, was born in 1904 and educated at Batley Grammar School and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he passed examinations in English and Modern and Medieval Languages. After spending several years in academic research and travel he worked successively as a teacher of European languages and an inspector of schools. In the early thirties he began contributing articles to Scrutiny, the journal associated with the influential Cambridge critic F. R. Leavis, and in 1938, under the influence of this connection, he returned to Cambridge, where he undertook various academic work, including the supervision of some Leavis’s students at Downing College. Shortly after this move Smith was received into the Catholic church, and from this time onwards his connections with Catholics and members of Leavis’s circle became important elements in his life. From 1940 to 1946 he worked in Venezuela as a teacher and administrator for the British Council, and in 1947, after a brief return to Cambridge, he was appointed Professor of English at the Catholic University of Fribourg in Switzerland, where he remained for the rest of his working life. In 1968, after a serious illness, he gave up his allegiance to the Catholic church, and a year later he retired and returned to Cambridge, where he died in 1972. Smith had planned at least two monographs, but the only book to appear in his name was a posthumous collection of shorter pieces entitled 'Shakespearian and Other Essays'. Nevertheless, within his own circle his reputation was high. The Spanish scholar A. A. Parker, for example, who attributed to Smith the most important elements of his own training, declared that he was ‘the most brilliant linguist and had the widest literary culture and the finest critical mind that I have ever come into contact with’.

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