- Peter Bayley (1944–2018)
Peter Bayley, former Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge, was born at Redruth in Cornwall on 20 November 1944. Educated at Redruth Grammar School, he went up to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, to read Modern and Medieval Languages (French and Spanish) in 1963, graduating with a First in 1966. In 1969, he was elected to a Research Fellowship at Emmanuel, and in 1971 was awarded his PhD for a thesis on seventeenth-century sermons supervised by Richard Sayce. That same year he was appointed to a College Lectureship at Gonville and Caius College and elected to a Fellowship there. In 1974 he became a University Assistant Lecturer in the Department of French, and in 1978 a University Lecturer. He held various College offices, being a Tutor from 1973 to 1979, and Praelector Rhetoricus, presenting candidates for degrees, from 1980 to 1986.
In 1980, he published French Pulpit Oratory, 1598-1650: A Study in Themes and Styles with a Descriptive Catalogue of Printed Texts with Cambridge University Press (reviewed, very favourably, by Terence Cave, in French Studies, 35 (1981), 70-71). This was a very remarkable work of historical literary criticism. As Peter noted, recent scholarship had made early seventeenth-century poetry and drama available for critical enjoyment; he himself aimed to enlarge critical horizons by doing the same for pulpit eloquence, in its surviving printed form. The work set itself against the dominant trends in French literary history: it refused to depict a steady progress towards a supposed ideal of classical perfection and to treat statements of literary doctrine in isolation from oratorical practice. It participated in the revival of interest in the history of rhetoric exemplified, in French studies, by the work of Gérard Genette, Peter France, and Aron Kibédi-Varga; it also drew on recent related work in the domain of English literature. Peter showed very clearly that you could not hope to understand the work of early modern preachers by studying them either in terms of a progress towards classicism or as so many free-standing individuals. To appreciate the achievement of the individual orator, we had to be able to see him against a 'background of trends, conflicts, fashions and obsessions' (French Pulpit Oratory, p. 6). To reconstruct this background was the objective of the book, which combined deep erudition with a critical seriousness that was only enhanced by the lightness of touch of the writing. It analysed both general rhetorical treatises and manuals specifically devoted to pulpit oratory; in particular, it pointed to the effect on prose style of the use of commonplace books, recommended especially in the manuals. By close attention to the way in which different writers selected, developed, and arranged their material, Peter was [End Page 649] able to make subtle and original distinctions between different oratorical styles, sometimes, but not always, correlated with confessional allegiances. (He had, and displayed in his work, a rare imaginative sympathy for both Catholic and Protestant religious cultures.) He brought out the tensions produced by the coexistence of different structural models within a single text. He highlighted the great themes of pulpit oratory especially through the stock of images with which writers explored the clash between illusion and reality, time and eternity, life and death. He reconstructed the vision of nature as a manifestation of God from which sermon-writers drew so much of their material, and traced the gradual divergence of religious and scientific approaches that in time erased the idea of correspondences between the physical and the spiritual worlds. Throughout the book, the scholarly reconstruction of discursive conventions enabled, rather than impeding, fine critical perceptions of those writers who used the conventions with originality or whose style departed in subtle or striking fashion from the established norms. The Descriptive Catalogue was pronounced by Cave 'an indispensable instrument de travail for future research'. The volume was complemented by an edition of Selected Sermons of the French Baroque (1600-1650) (New York: Garland, 1983).
The study of sermons was particularly appropriate for someone who was a superb oral communicator. Peter's lectures were memorable and inspiring. He took his audience on a voyage of discovery. Although the depth...