Copyright 1999 Newspaper Publishing PLC

The Independent (London)

March 11, 1999, Thursday


LENGTH: 245 words


BYLINE: Professor James Burns


YOUR EXCELLENT obituary of David Daube (by Lord Rodger of Earlsferry, 5 March) rightly refers to his "light, sometimes almost flippant, style", but it does not explicitly mention the impish sense of humour which accompanied Daube's immensely impressive scholarship, writes Professor James Burns.

He and I were at one time both members of the Aberdeen Senatus Academicus.

At one meeting I pointed out to him sotto voce that the clear implication of an item on the agenda was that all degrees awarded by the university for a considerable number of years were technically invalid. "Say it! Say it!" he whispered urgently. To my regret and subsequent shame, I lacked - as a very junior "non-professorial member" - the requisite nerve; and David would not steal my thunder by saying it himself. The pigeons remained undisturbed by that particular cat. Again, the "Humpty Dumpty" piece Alan Rodger mentions was even better when heard rather than read. No typography can capture the characteristic intonation and emphases, in that distinctive German accent, of "Humpty Dumpty is not an egg; Humpty Dumpty is a TORtoise!"

Finally, I think the gratitude Daube felt towards Aberdeen for having given him his first professorial appointment was accompanied by a genuine regret at leaving the city and its university. As he said to me at the time, however, the summons to the Regius Chair in Oxford was not the kind of thing that any scholar could easily refuse.