Fathers and sons. Never easy. We started well and finished badly, and most of the in-between was pretty difficult. But last week I found myself in a funny situation about his legacy which I think he would have enjoyed.
Charles Henry Salter (1918-2008)
university lecturer and author, pictured in 1946
Dad should have been one of the great minds of his generation. His academic path to Oxford University was golden. His peers there included Tony Benn, Iris Murdoch and Mary Warnock. And in his first year he won two of the nine prizes awarded annually by the Chancellor of Oxford, for which every single student in the university was eligible. It was an unprecedented achievement.
In the end, that promise was not fulfilled. He spent his whole working life trying to teach English Literature to Scottish students as a lowly lecturer at Glasgow University. His published output was minimal even by ordinary academic standards – a handful of articles and just one book.
Good Little Thomas Hardy (Macmillan, 1981)
Good Little Thomas Hardy was his iconoclastic reappraisal of Hardy, one of his favourite novelists. The title was a remark by Henry James, an earlier Hardy critic and another favourite of Dad’s. It was overlooked at the time of its publication, although it has appeared in the occasional PhD bibliography since. Its dense scholarly text is not for general readers such as me, although I was always rather hurt that Dad didn’t even give me a signed copy!
I was doing some research in the National Library of Scotland last week. It’s one of the four legal deposit libraries of Great Britain – libraries entitled legally to a copy of every book published in Britain. In a moment between “proper” research tasks I idly searched the catalogue for Charles Henry Salter: no copy of GLTH turned up. Instead, to my delight, there was a pamphlet containing the long piece of Latin verse which he composed to win one of the Chancellor’s Prizes back in 1939.
The New Bodleian
He wrote [this]
and in the Sheldonian Theatre
Charles Henry Salter,
New College student
Published by Basil Blackwell
Published by Basil Blackwell
It was the happiest day of Dad’s life, the encaenia, or awards ceremony, in the Sheldonian at which he recited his verse. He basked in his success that day and never forgot the details of the occasion: his proud parents and girlfriend in the audience, and PG Wodehouse too, there to receive an honorary degree from the university. More than sixty years later he wrote about it in A Day to Remember, an essay which I only found, folded away, after his death.
Of course I called it up from the vaults – six pages of unbroken Latin verse, 171 lines, in praise of the New Bodleian Library, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and still under construction in 1939. The building, across the road from the Sheldonian, was not formally opened (by King George VI, in whose hand the ceremonial silver key broke in the lock) until 1946, when Dad and many others returned to Oxford to resume their studies after the war.
I went to the information desk and asked to photocopy the entire pamphlet, six double-page spreads including cover and title page. I was met with a sharp intake of breath. Hifffff. Did I know the date of death of the author?
On this I was fairly confident. “Yes, I do as it happens. 2008.”
“Ah, well, you see, it’s still in copyright.”
“Yes, I’m afraid it can’t be copied without the permission of the copyright holder for seventy years after the author’s death.”
“But he’s my father.”
“Oh. Well I suppose that makes you the copyright holder.”
“I suppose it does!”
“Do you give permission for this work to be photocopied?”
"Do I give permission for this work to be photocopied - by me?"
Reader, I did. The New Bodleian is closed at the moment for refurbishment. It will reopen next year as the Weston Library, housing the Bodleian’s special collections. Now that I have a copy of Bodleiana Nova, I am prepared to recite it – should anyone ask me – at the reopening, exactly 75 years after my father Carolus Henricus Salter first recitavit.
The New Bodleian, soon after its construction