John Wilders, a dear friend and colleague passed away this week. He was also my teacher for Shakespere’s History Plays at the Bread Loaf School of English, Lincoln College, Oxford. When John retired from teaching at Middlebury College, my husband wrote the following minute in his honor:
Faculty Minute for John Wilders (5/11/98):
Oscar Wilde divided people thus: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever they go.” John Wilders most definitely belongs in the first category, for he and his wife Benedikte, have by their gracious presences, by their many contributions to the community of Middlebury, improved the tone of the place immeasurably.
John Wilders, graduate of Cambridge University, has taught at many colleges and universities: at Bristol, at Oxford for many years, even at such remote corners of the empire where strange versions of the mother tongue are intoned, such as Australia and California, but none where his heart, I know, has so well resided as at Middlebury. John began his association with Middlebury by teaching at the Bread Loaf School of English; shortly thereafter he was appointed professor of humanities at Middlebury college, and has now taught in the English Department for the last several years. During those years, John has been the most helpful and collegial of colleagues. He has made available generously his un-matched knowledge and understanding of Shakespeare to innumerable students and teachers. Colleagues from other departments have sought him out to give lectures on Shakespeare and Religion, Shakespeare and Philosophy–perhaps even Shakespeare and Economics or Shakespeare and Chemistry, for all I know. As a scholar, John is mightily admired far and wide, for his work on Shakespeare: his book on the history plays, The Lost Garden; his best-selling New Prefaces to Shakespeare, a collection of his introductions to each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, which John prepared for the BBC television productions of all Shakespeare’s plays–a monumental project for which John served as literary advisor. Most recently, he has published the prestigious Arden edition of Antony and Cleopatra, and he is currently at work on a book about the Scottish tragedy, but I think when he arrives at the pearly gates, as some of us will also–eventually–the seraphic scribe will welcome him by saying, “Are you the John Wilders who did that splendid edition of Samuel Butler’s Hudibras? Allow me to shake your wing, sir!” And as a teacher, he is almost too much loved by his students–certainly he makes things awfully hard for the rest of us.
John has in his life played many parts: he has been a concert announcer on BBC radio, a religion panelist and actor on BBC television, a member of the board of governors of the Royal Shakespeare Company, a guest at Buckingham palace, a recruit of her majesty’s navy, and on and on–I cannot list them all here. I have been fortunate enough to have been lunching with John once or twice a week for the time he has been teaching at Middlebury. In fact, we now preface every anecdote with the disclaimer, “I’m sure I’ve told you this before.” Actually, in all these years, he has never repeated a one to me, and I marvel anew during each lunch, at his fund of encounters, literary and theatrical, as he reveals some remarkable experience or other–the time Tom Stoppard painted his staircase for him, or when Joyce Carey, the actress, invited him to what he thought would be a romantic luncheon, or when he saw Richard Burton’s stage debut.
If I may end on a personal note: I knew John Wilders before I knew John Wilders. At the age of 12 or so I bought a recording of Julius Caesar performed by the Marlowe Society of Cambridge University in order to learn Julius Caesar’s speeches from the play properly. Little did I know that the actor reciting Julius Caesar’s lines on that recording–whose every inflection and modulation I taught myself to mimic–would become a dear friend and colleague. One of John’s line readings I best remember is “I am constant as the northern star.” And that has been true of John Wilders, he has been constant as the northern star, constant as a personal friend, constant in his principles, constant as a teacher to his students, constant as a colleague to the faculty, constant as a friend to the community.
Dear John, what we owe you is incalculable. Thank you.
Submitted by: John Bertolini, Ellis Prof. of the Liberal Arts