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David Masson

Colleagues will be sorry to learn that David Masson, former sub-librarian in charge of the Brotherton Collection, who retired in 1979, died on 25 February.

David Masson was born in Edinburgh in 1915, the son of Sir Irvine Orme Masson, Vice-Chancellor at Sheffield, chemist and bibliographer. His grandfather was Sir David Orme Masson, who, having emigrated, became one of the most distinguished figures in the history of Australian science; and his great-grandfather, another David Masson, was the great Victorian biographer of Milton and close friend of Carlyle, J.S. Mill, and other writers. Steeped in scholarship from an early age, David went up to Merton College, Oxford, in 1934, where he read English Language and Literature, although he was also proficient in Greek, Latin, French and Italian. His connection with the University of Leeds began in October 1938, when he was appointed assistant librarian, but was interrupted by war service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, chiefly around the Mediterranean and in Africa.

On demobilisation David was appointed to a post in the Library of the University of Liverpool, as Curator of Special Collections with particular responsibility for the rare book and manuscript collections. His knowledge and expertise in this field was quite exceptional, and as well as proving an energetic and highly competent archivist and administrator, he also enhanced the academic reputation of the Library at Liverpool through his own scholarly publications.

David Masson then returned to Leeds in 1956 with his wife, Olive, to accept a position as sub-librarian in charge of the Brotherton Collection. The most distinguished of the Universitys collections, it consisted at that time of over 50 000 books and pamphlets and a large quantity of manuscripts, including four Shakespeare folios; over 200 incunabula; and a growing collection of sixteenth and seventeenth century poetry; and an outstanding Romany collection. David had an enviable reputation for his skills in selecting and acquiring manuscripts and early printed books, and under his care the Collection increased in size by about a quarter necessitating an extension to the original suite of rooms. Throughout the twenty-three years he spent with the University he retained an enthusiasm and respect for the Collection which was contagious and, in particular, for its role in the development and acquisition of scholarship, never seeing it merely as a museum of relics requiring preservation. His approach to his work could occasionally be idiosyncratic but was always overwhelmingly scholarly, and whilst he remained necessarily protective of the Collection and its treasures, he treated all those who crossed the drawbridge with unfailing courtesy and sympathy, giving generously of his time to provide help and information to inquiring minds.

As well as the energy he devoted to his work, David retained a range of other interests. One of the most enduring was poetry, and he published many articles between 1951 and 1991 on the functions and effects of phonetic sound-patterning in poetry (especially in the work of Rilke). He was a keen and adept amateur stoneware potter, an interest he also maintained after retirement, and would often surprise colleagues who were leaving the University with the gift of a vase or other pot that he had made. He also had a strong interest in scientific questions, in particular environmental issues and the Gaia theory, but which also found expression in his vivid and experimental science fiction stories, collected in the recently re-issued The Caltraps of Time, which were noted for their sound scientific precepts as well as his unusual and persuasive narrative style, including the 17th-century language used in his story, A Two-Timer.

David Masson was a true individual. He approached each task he undertook in his own inimitable style, but always with the utmost care, attention to detail, and concern for colleagues and friends alike. He will be remembered with enormous affection and respect by all those who were fortunate enough to work alongside him and to benefit from his inspirational stewardship of the Brotherton Collection.