I’ve been meaning to write about this ever since Glyn sent me the link some days ago: John Simmons, the Oxford librarian who built their Slavic collection, died Sept. 22 at the age of 90. I hadn’t known of him, but the Times obituary makes him sound well worth knowing:

After war service and three more years at Birmingham, Simmons was invited to Oxford to fill the post of librarian-lecturer in charge of Slavonic books, created for him by Konovalov. His buccaneering spirit showed itself in August 1953 when he flabbergasted the director of the Lenin Library, Moscow, by turning up unannounced, armed with a list of desiderata and the catalogues of Oxford University Press, to propose a book exchange. In return for OUP publications, scientific material and two runs of Punch, Oxford received thousands of valuable, out-of-print Russian publications.

Simmons’s proudest achievements were his part in building up the retrospective collections of Russian books in the Taylorian and Bodleian libraries and the creation in Bodley of the only specialised Slavonic reading room in the country. He considered, with justification, that it was these library collections, together with the remarkable group of Russian academic teachers recruited by Konovalov, Maurice Bowra and Isaiah Berlin, that led to the establishment of Oxford as a unique centre for Slavonic studies…

At All Souls, which became his second home, he was a genial host, an inspiring guide, and a fount of knowledge on college history, Oxford’s libraries, and a host of other subjects which he gladly put at the disposal of resident and visiting Fellows. He was a regular visitor to the Codrington Library; he sometimes came in to read The Times, and would inquire of former colleagues: “Has anybody interesting died recently?” His hundreds of publications are listed in his Autobibliography (1975, with two later supplements), one of several samizdat publications composed on his typewriter and reproduced in limited editions.


  1. I love the obituary pages of the British newspapers — you’re right, you keep discovering these amazing characters whom nobody usually hears about when they’re still alive. it’s a great nation indeed — they seem to lose amazingly interesting people every week

  2. and of course, thanks for the post, L-Hat!

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