Having completed his studies at Oxford after military service in the war, Derek Brewer took up a lectureship at the University of Birmingham in 1949. He joined there with Geoffrey Shepherd and, two years later, Eric Stanley to form a remarkable medieval triumvirate. During the years in which they worked together, Birmingham was a power-house of Old English and Middle English Studies, perhaps second to none in its day. Derek Brewer, who left for Cambridge in 1964, taught across the medieval syllabus, including Anglo-Saxon, but Chaucer, even in those earliest days, was the principal focus of his interest. He soon took over the Chaucer lectures from Margaret Galway, a scholar of the old school whose principal interest was in speculations about the details of Chaucer's life at court and the identity of his ‘Muse’. Derek Brewer's ambition, by contrast, was to share with students his love and understanding of Chaucer, not as a subject of biographical speculation nor as a repertoire of linguistic data, nor as a ‘set text’ to be hammered through remorselessly and translated line by line, but as a full member of the European community of poets and of the English poetic tradition. It was a revelation to those of us who were privileged to be his students at that time to hear Chaucer talked about as if he were important to us now, and important in the same way as Shakespeare or Milton or T. S. Eliot. We had heard of the New Criticism: we thought this was it.
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