Centre for the History of the Book

Obituary: Dr Jonquil Bevan

The Centre for the History of the Book is saddened to learn of the death of Jonquil Bevan, founding co-director of the Centre. In this tribute her colleague, Bill Bell, remembers her life and her contributions to the University throughout her career.

Jonquil ‘Quilly’ Bevan was born in Brecon in 1941. She taught in the Department of English Literature at Edinburgh University for many years, having studied at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Known throughout her professional life for her important work in bibliography and textual editing, she was originally appointed to teach Shakespeare at Edinburgh, where she found her true calling as the convenor of the Postgraduate Bibliography and Research Methods course, in which capacity which she was to influence generations of students.

Throughout her teaching, Quilly combined a traditional regard for scholarly standards with a remarkable intellectual curiosity. At school she developed an early appreciation for the works of T.S. Eliot, an enthusiasm she was to harbour for the rest of her life. At Oxford, she was to serve as research assistant to the Merton Professor of English Literature, Helen Gardner, with whom she shared her interest in Eliot. From Dame Helen she was encouraged in her research in the seventeenth century. While she went on to publish important works on Donne and his circle, Ben Jonson, and much more, she was best known for her 1983 Oxford Clarendon edition of the hitherto neglected Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler. By the 1980s Quilly had embraced the then emerging field of scholarly computing, later to become ‘digital humanities’. She was one of the first to recognise the importance of Book History, just then emerging from the productive combination of cultural history and bibliography.

She was admired by the many students, particularly postgraduates, who came under her tutelage at Edinburgh, whom she would always refer to as her ‘pupils’. (If you encountered her in those years, you were always one of her 'pupils'.) Among her former students was the scholar-collector, Bill Zachs, who encountered a first edition of Tristram Shandy in one of her seminars, something that had life-changing implications. Joseph Marshall, now Head of Special Collections at Edinburgh, was one of many PhD candidates supervised by Quilly, finding in her a generous and tolerant guide, an encounter that laid the groundwork for a career in special collections. Like many of us, he has happy memories of time spent in her London Street home, the scene of many congenial evenings. 

Outside of teaching and research, Quilly lived a full life, her passions including a love of music and walking, both of which she enjoyed with her partner, the mathematician Christopher Shaddock. With Christopher she was a member of a group that organised a regular programme of early music in Edinburgh long before the Early Music Revival in Britain. Together they brought many of its pioneering practitioners, now well-known musicians, to delighted audiences. Another of her great passions was for hand printing. In the 1970s she began to form a collection of type and printing equipment, eventually setting up with infectious enthusiasm, the Drummond Press in Edinburgh University Library, a teaching press on which she spent many memorable hours making beautiful printed objects with her students.

After having studied at Edinburgh I was employed to teach alongside Quilly. With her it was my pleasure to draw up the prospectus for the multi-volume Edinburgh History of the Book in Scotland and in 1995 to establish The Centre for the History of the Book of which we were the first co-directors. Her influence as a first-rate bibliographer lives on in the colleagues who worked alongside her and the students who came through her hands. Her quiet, kindly regard for the young endeared her to us all. As a colleague she was the model of scholarly rectitude and a good friend in a tight spot.

Jonquil died on December 4, 2018. She is survived by her sister Chloe.