Robert Pring-Mill, scholar and critic, was born on September 11, 1924. He died on October 6, 2005, aged 81.
Hispanist whose interests ranged from the drama of Spain's 'Golden Age' to Latin American protest verse.
ROBERT PRING-MILL was a figure of great distinction in the world of Hispanic studies. The range of his scholarship and critical expertise was remarkable: the 13th-century Majorcan religious philosopher Ramon Llull; the literature of Spain in its "Golden Age" of the 16th and 17th centuries; and Spanish-American poetry in the 20th century.
His interest was in Pablo Neruda above all, but also, more widely, in the oral as well as written "committed protest poetry" produced by -and for -the deprived and exploited of that continent. To each of these fields Pring-Mill brought a power and subtlety of analysis, an imaginative sensibility, and a scrupulously controlled engagement that together resulted in a contribution to Hispanism as outstanding for its quality and significance as for its scope, dedication and volume. (He habitually started work long before breakfast.) The only child of Scottish parents, Robert Duguid Forrest Pring-Mill moved with them from Essex, where he was born in 1924, to France and then Majorca, where they settled in 1931, seeking a benign climate for his father, a professional soldier who had suffered in the First World War.
Pring-Mill attended the Jesuit school of Montesion in Palma de Mallorca. The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War forced the family briefly to Italy; the Second World War brought them back to Britain, where, at 17 and under-age, he enlisted in the Army in 1941.
He served as an intelligence officer in India, Burma and (shortly after the Japanese defeat) Malaya. Here he published his first -cyclostyled -work: Outline of a Background to the "Chinese Triad Societies", its preface signed "R.
Pring-Mill, Captain, The Black Watch, Royal Highland Regiment, Kuala Kangsar, 12 Oct '46."
Written "as much to entertain the compiler of a dull evening as for the edification of anyone else," its interest in "ideology and metaphysics" and "the importance of number in the Chinese conception of the Universe" already pointed forward to topics and approaches that would be characteristic of much of his weightiest work on Llull and Calderon.
Entering New College, Oxford, in October 1947, he took the shortened, ex-servicemen honours course in Spanish and French. His first in finals in December 1949 led on to a senior demyship at Magdalen, and in 1952 he was appointed to a university lecturership in Spanish. This he held until his retirement in 1988, together with a tutorial fellowship at St Catherine's College (1965-88) and college lecturerships at New College (1956-88) and Exeter College (1963-81).
Pring-Mill was a dedicated teacher whose lectures -vehicles of his own investigations of issues but with the character of sophisticated conversations - sought to draw undergraduates into a shared exploration of complex and multilayered texts.
In his tutorials he encouraged his pupils to have a sense of the worth of their own ideas even while tactfully, as discussion proceeded, turning what were often sow's ears into silk purses. He was the embodiment of pedagogic values desperately under pressure in universities now. His nurture of graduate students set many on the way to distinguished academic careers, while authors and translators who submitted their drafts to him likewise received limitless (and even -to him - costly) care.
Llull was perhaps the principal intellectual focus of Pring-Mill's earliest professional years as he traced in numerous studies and with manifest fascination the complex multiplicities and patterns within an overall unity that this medieval Majorcan writer saw as intrinsic to a universe issuing forth from the divine nature. Pring-Mill brought, in various respects, a similar approach to his studies of Spain's Golden Age drama, of Calderon above all, whose own capacity in both his secular and sacred works to give powerfully dramatic and richly imaginative poetic expression to tightly structured argument drew from Pring-Mill many masterly and finely organised analyses that established him as one of the foremost Calderon scholars of his time.
He had an abiding interest in the complexities of the relationship between the way a writer looks at the world and the methods adopted not only to represent it, but to engage and deepen by various challenging means the vision of the reader's "discerning eye". This resulted in brilliant studies of emblem and metaphysical wit in Golden Age poetry and also one of the most richly suggestive essays on 17th-century Spanish prose. That he never produced the book-length study promised there is a great loss.
In 1967 he undertook an extraordinary journey by Land Rover from Montreal to Puerto Montt in central Chile, risking perils from man and nature together in South America and finding his way to mining communities to record the expression of their lives in song. Over the years he built up an archive of more than 1,000 taped recordings of such things.
In 1972 he was in Nicaragua, staying on the island of Solentiname with the community headed by Ernesto Cardenal, poet, priest, disciple of Thomas Merton and political engage on behalf of the downtrodden. Pring-Mill translated his poems and gave moral support in a situation where it was much needed since both the post-Somoza regime and figures in the church hierarchy looked askance at Cardenal's liberation theology.
It was, however, with Pablo Neruda that he had the longer and closer relationship, down to the time of Neruda's death in 1973, a few days after the military coup in Chile that brought Pinochet to power.
Pring-Mill counted Neruda as "one of the half-dozen greatest poets in the Spanish language", and helped to get him an honorary DLitt from Oxford in 1965 -which no doubt helped towards Neruda's Nobel prize in 1971.
Echoing Neruda's own words at the Nobel award ceremony, Pring-Mill found in his work a continuing movement to and fro between the "solitude" of the individual and "solidarity" between human beings in their personal, social and political relationships. He judged it "at its best when neither dominates to the exclusion of the other" but together find expression in "a richly textured web of highly charged symbolic correspondences".
These words appear in a tribute to Neruda presented by the London-based Chile Committee for Human Rights in the Pinochet years, and point to the reasons for Pring-Mill's devotion to a poet whose communist politics he was far from sharing. He himself remained a faithfully practising (though not uncritical) Roman Catholic.
Pring-Mill received many honours, among them an Oxford DLitt in 1986, fellowship of the British Academy in 1988, the Cross of St George of the Generalitat de Catalunya and appointment as Comendador de la Orden de Isabel la Catolica, both in 1990. In 1992 he became an Oficial de la Orden de Bernardo O'Higgins, of Chile.
He remained a rather private man, not given to idle chatter. His life was centred on home and family. In 1950 he married Maria Brigitte Heinsheimer, whom he had met as a fellow undergraduate. Colleagues and friends could not think of them apart.
He is suvived by his wife and by a son and daughter.