Bruce Mitchell (scholar)

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Raymond Bruce Mitchell (8 January 1920 – 30 January 2010) was a scholar of Old English.


Early life, Australia[edit]

Mitchell was born in Lismore, New South Wales. He won a free place at the University of Melbourne but was unable to take it up and instead after leaving school at 15, worked as a student teacher while studying part-time. He earned a general Arts degree.[1]

He was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1940 and served as an intelligence officer in the Australian Imperial Force from 1941 to 1946. He then ran a printing company before returning to the university, again part-time while working as a gardener, builders' labourer and railway porter, and tutoring English at the university. He took Firsts in English Language and Literature in 1948 and in Comparative Philology in 1952.[1]

Scholarly career, Oxford[edit]

He entered Merton College, Oxford, on a scholarship in 1952, the same year he married Mollie Miller,[2] who had accompanied him from Australia. They received permission to be married from Mitchell's supervisor, J.R.R. Tolkien.[3] He received a doctorate in 1959 with a thesis entitled Subordinate Clauses in Old English Poetry.[1][4] In 1986 he gained the degree of D.Litt (Oxon) for his contribution to Old English studies.

Mitchell was a Fellow and a Tutor at St Edmund Hall, Oxford from 1954[2] to 1987, and after retirement was elected an emeritus fellow.[1][5] Though he spent his entire life in Oxford since age 32, he never lost his Australian accent, and displayed his heritage by having an Australian flag and a eucalyptus tree in his garden.[3]

His specialty was Old English language and literature and particularly Beowulf; his textbooks on Old English language are considered classics in the field, as is his edition of Beowulf, which he published with Fred C. Robinson.[6] His "magisterial" and "phenomenal" book on Old English syntax is still the standard reference work in the field.[3]

Mitchell was Terry Jones's tutor and believed he was the inspiration for the Monty Python "Bruces" sketch; he was disappointed to find out Eric Idle had written it and it was not based on him.[1]


Works authored[edit]

Selected articles[edit]


Walmsley, John (2006). Inside Old English: Essays in Honour of Bruce Mitchell. Oxford, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4051-1483-7. 


  1. ^ a b c d e "Bruce Mitchell". The Daily Telegraph. London. 9 February 2010. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 437. 
  3. ^ a b c Godden, Malcolm (31 March 2010). "Bruce Mitchell: Anglo-Saxon scholar who wrote the definitive work on Old English syntax". The Independent. London. Retrieved 31 March 2010. 
  4. ^ Walmsley, John (2006). Inside Old English: Essays in Honour of Bruce Mitchell. Oxford, Malden: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 19. ISBN 978-1-4051-1483-7. 
  5. ^ "News: Dr Bruce Mitchell, Emeritus Fellow, St Edmund Hall". St Edmund Hall, Oxford. 1 February 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Bukowski, Elizabeth (11 January 1999). "The Anglo-Saxon Who Took Hollywood". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2 February 2010.