Readers of English Language Teaching Journal will have learned with deep regret of the sudden death of Simeon Potter early in August 1976 in his 78th year. Born in London, he became an exhibitioner of St John's College Oxford, took part in the First World War in France, and occupied, from 1925 and on the recommendation of Sir William Craigie, the first ‘lectorate’ of English at the Masaryk University in Brno. He remained there until 1932, when he was appointed to the staff of University College Southampton, from which he was called to the University of Liverpool as the fourth Baines Professor of English and Philology (1946). As early as the twenties he had gained a personal reputation in Czechoslovakia as a teacher and the joint author of the graded Czech textbook of English (1926-8) and was pursuing his philological studies, as his PhD from the Caroline University of Prague and MA from London University, as well as his scholarly monograph On the Relation of the Old English Bede to Werferth’s Gregory and to Alfred’s Translations (Prague 1930), bear witness. His later papers, e.g. on Lancashire place-names, the etymology of plough, and English phrasal verbs (1965), reviews contributed chiefly to MLR between 1958 and 1973, and especially his Our Language (1950) and Modern Linguistics (1957), made his name widely known, to both linguists and general readers. The former book is a lucidly written account of the history of the English language and is also full of information about its contemporary aspects and tendencies, the latter a survey of what was going on in the world of linguistics. It gives ample evidence of the wide range of the author's interests and of his impartiality, and it also reflects his cautious attitude toward certain new linguistic theories and the proliferation of technical terms. His firm belief was that the quest for universal categories had been unprofitable in linguistics and that the modern linguist has always to be an empirical scientist. Simeon Potter's healthy pragmatism and predilection for clear language and strict terminology has helped his readers greatly to keep abreast of the presentday mass of published material, and made his book a popular manual for both students and the general public.
The teaching of English to foreign students was a lifelong preoccupation for Simeon Potter. Apart from his fruitful collaboration on the textbook provided for Czech and Slovak secondary schools, he also wrote, while in Brno, Everyday English for Foreign Students, which reflected, partly at least, his teaching experience in the country with whose language and culture he began then to be thoroughly acquainted. With its three complementary volumes (An English Grammar, English Vocabulary, and English Verse) it belongs, I believe, among the best books of its kind. The clear style of its subject-matter and the use of the Craigie pronunciation marks make it more or less unnecessary for the learner to consult pronouncing and other dictionaries. In recent years many students have benefited from the clear explanations of English usage he has contributed to 'Question Box' in this Journal.
Simeon Potter was never tempted—to my knowledge—to write about the theoretical aspects of foreign-language teaching, but he was always ready to discuss with his colleagues the various problems of the subject. His friends and students, both in this country and abroad, will always remember him as an excellent and sympathetic teacher whose time and work were entirely devoted to their service.
Caroline University, Prague