Feb 28, 2007

Obituary: Anthony David Nuttall

At Oxford, I wrote my M.Phil. thesis on the antinomian elements in the poetry of William Blake under the supervision of Tony Nuttall. He was an exceptional tutor and, as one of my friends memorably commented, the Funes Memorious we had known. I still remember him quoting passages from the Aeneid during his stupendous lectures on the roots of (European and British) Romanticism.

I was introduced to Nuttall some years before I actually went up to Oxford. My teacher at Jadavpur University - after an engaging conversation on Herbert's poetry - had lent me Nuttall's book Overheard by God. It was a compelling read that made a fascinating argument about Puritan poetics. Few years later, within the confines of his office at New College (and with a dash of embarrassment), the author himself would recommend his Alternative Trinity: Gnostic Heresy in Milton, Marlowe and Blake to me. It was an intellectual thriller. It was the start of one of the most intellectually stimulating phases of my Oxford student-life.

I remember Tony Nuttall from my Oxford days as a demanding tutor who expected me to fight him "with [my] intellectual sleeves rolled up" (his words). And he was extremely generous with his learning.

In many ways an epitome of the idea of an Oxford don, Nuttall was a staunch humanist who stood apart from the dour exemplars of human erudition for his extremely quirky sense of humor. For instance, not many Oxford dons would - to drive home the point about the Gnostic elements in Blake's poetry in an academic publication - compare the poet to Hugh Heffner. Or veer off from a passionate discussion on antinomianism with his student to deliberate whether the Ranter Abezier Coppe preached in Oxford fully clothed or in the buff?
Tony Nuttall passed away on 24 January, 2007.

These are his obituaries from a few UK newspapers:
The Guardian
The Times
The Daily Telegraph
The Independent