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JOHN GORNALL in 1988 JOHN GORNALL (1932-2003) Jane Whetnall Queen Mary, University of London Barry Taylor The British Library A rare gentleman scholar who made a unique contribution to British Hispanism, John Gornall was born in December 1932, the eldest of three children of Dr. Richard and Emma Mildred Guest Gornall, descended from a long line of Lancashire professional men and Yorkshire squires. From an early age John made clear his disinclination to follow four generations of the family into the medical profession.1 Was he an infant prodigy or an enfant terrible} His family remember stories of a prep school master hired especially to cope with his precocious advances in Greek and Latin; they were amazed by his prodigious memory (he could recite great lengths of verse) and his huge collection of books. At Stowe School he blossomed under the tutelage of a sympathetic housemaster, and headmaster J.F. Roxburgh's informal classes on French and Latin poetry. He went up to King's College, Cambridge, as an Exhibitioner in 1950. There he took a degree in History, graduating in 1954. Like so many Hispanophiles of his and earlier generations, John came late to Spanish. A trip to Santiago de Compostela with schoolfriend Simon Digby in the summer vacation before going up to Cambridge, half pilgrimage, half language course, effected the 1 For many details ofJohn's life we are indebted toJohn Gornall 1932-2002 [sic] Bibliography with a Memoir by Simon Digby (Rozel: Orient Monographs, 2002. For this booklet John supplied both biographical information and his bibliography.) We are grateful to Mr. Anthony Guest Gornall for a copy ofthe valedictory tribute used in the address atJohn's funeral. La corónica 32.1 (Fall, 2003): 344-55 346Jane Whetnall and Barry TaylorLa coránica 32.1, 2003 conversion.2 On graduatingJohn took a variety ofjobs before settling down to the serious business of studying for a career in law. His intellectual gifts served him well -he came top in the law exams of his year (circa 1956)- but he found the profession uncongenial. After a few years he escaped to San Sebastián, where from 1961 to 1963 he taught English for a living and became proficient in Spanish. But the real world called him back. He qualified as a solicitor in 1967, working first for a firm in Chester, evidenüy even then with bemused disaffection . At about this time, Digby recalls, John told him that he had to keep two secretaries, "because if I keep only one she will be lonely and will have no one to talk to". For twenty-two years he continued to work as a solicitor in a succession of country practices. However, according to his brother, "his interests were more literary and scholarly, and he had little ambition in the material sense". He made his home in the pretty Cheshire countryside, living in modest seclusion at Moss Cottage , and "becoming a familiar figure on shopping expeditions to the neighbouring villages, with the basket of books that accompanied him on most occasions". An introduction to Colin Smith in 1976 was the spur. Colin encouraged his scholarly bent and set him finally on the right track. As John was later to tell Digby, "He gave a focus to my miscellaneous literary interests". This encounter, which bore fruit almost immediately , was crucial toJohn's career as a Hispanist. Henceforth he somehow managed to alternate research with the law until the death of his father relieved him, as he said, of the necessity of scraping a living. From 1976 he became a regular attender at Association of Hispanists of Great Britain and Ireland conferences, driving in his little car to most corners of the UK, drawing the line at any venues that lay across water. Here we came to know a convivial personality, a distinguished figure, friendly and unbowed by the cut-and-thrust of university politics, with no affiliation except a loyalty to Cambridge and a ready devotion to the establishment figures who had welcomed him in from the cold, in particular Colin Smith. His perception of himself as an outsider in this august company, which perhaps he cultivated as a front, meant...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-4261
Print ISSN
0193-3892
Pages
pp. 344-355
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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