George Watson (scholar)

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George Grimes Watson
Born(1927-10-13)13 October 1927
Brisbane, Australia
Died2 August 2013(2013-08-02) (aged 85)
Cambridge, United Kingdom
OccupationWriter, scholar
Alma materUniversity of Queensland
Trinity College, Oxford

George Grimes Watson (13 October 1927[1] – 2 August 2013)[2] was a scholar, literary critic, historian, a fellow of St John's College, and professor of English at Cambridge University.[3][4][5][6]

Early life[edit]

Watson was born in Brisbane, Australia, on 13 October 1927.[1] He was educated at Brisbane Boys' College and the University of Queensland, where he graduated in English in 1948. He secured a scholarship for a second degree and graduated in English from Trinity College at Oxford University in 1950.[1]


A talented linguist, he worked for the European Commission, both as an interpreter and checking its publications. Watson became a lecturer of English at Cambridge University in 1959 and a Fellow of St John's College in 1961.[1]

Watson met C. S. Lewis at Oxford's Socratic Club in 1948 and attended his lectures. Later, he counted him among his finest professors and, after Watson joined Cambridge, among his colleagues.[1] Among Watson's English students at St John's was Douglas Adams.[7]

Politics and views[edit]

Watson was an active member of the Liberal Party, and he was a member of Liberal Party co-ownership committee from 1951 to 1957.[8] He stood in Cheltenham in the 1959 United Kingdom general election. In the 1979 European Parliament election in the United Kingdom, he fought the Leicester European Parliament constituency. He was senior treasurer of the Cambridge University Liberal Club from 1978 to 1992.[9] In his will, Watson left £950,000 to the Liberal Democrats[10] and the painting Rocky Landscape with Saint John the Baptist by Joos de Momper to the National Gallery, London.[11]

Watson contributed to Encounter, a Cold-War intellectual journal, and published material arguing that Adolf Hitler was a Marxist and that socialism promoted genocide.[12] He was featured in the film The Soviet Story in 2008, where he argued that Karl Marx was responsible for coming up with the idea of genocide.[13] For this, he was criticised by Ivars Ījabs[14] and Robert Grant,[15] who argue that Watson's views are based on mistranslation and distortion reflecting his ideological bias. The translation of Völkerabfälle as "racial trash" lay at the centre of this, with defenders of Marx and Friedrich Engels saying that a proper translation would be "residual fragments of peoples".[13]

In the Lost Literature of Socialism (1998), Watson cited an 1849 article written by Engels called "The Hungarian Struggle" and published in Marx's journal Neue Rheinische Zeitung,[16][nb 1] stating that the writings of Engels and others show that "the Marxist theory of history required and demanded genocide for reasons implicit in its claim that feudalism, which in advanced nations was already giving place to capitalism, must in its turn be superseded by socialism. Entire nations would be left behind after a workers' revolution, feudal remnants in a socialist age, and since they could not advance two steps at a time, they would have to be killed. They were racial trash, as Engels called them, and fit only for the dung-heap of history."[17] Watson's claims have been criticised by Robert Grant for "dubious" evidence, arguing that "what Marx and Engels are calling for is ... at the very least a kind of cultural genocide; but it is not obvious, at least from Watson's citations, that actual mass killing, rather than (to use their phraseology) mere 'absorption' or 'assimilation', is in question."[18] Talking about Engels' 1849 article and citing Watson's book, historian Andrzej Walicki wrote: "It is difficult to deny that this was an outright call for genocide."[19]

In the 2008 documentary film The Soviet Story, Watson stated at minute 16:37 that Engels is "the ancestor of the modern political genocide." While confirming the use of the term Völkerabfälle in Marx's daily newspaper to describe several small European ethnic groups, Latvian political scientist and cultural commentator Ivars Ijabs responded: "To present Karl Marx as the 'progenitor of modern genocide' is simply to lie."[20]



Watson's works, many of them reprinted, in the Library of Congress include:

  • Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, Vols. 1–5 (1969–1977)
  • Unservile State, essays in liberty and welfare (1957)
  • Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1958)
  • British Constitution and Europe (1959)
  • "Dryden :'Of Dramatic Poesy' and other critical essays " 2vols (1962)
  • Literary Critics, a study of English descriptive criticism (1962)
  • Literary Critics, a study of English descriptive criticism (1964)
  • Concise Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, 600–1950 (1965)
  • Coleridge the Poet (1966)
  • Is Socialism Left? (1967, 1972)
  • Study of Literature (1968)
  • New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature, edited by George Watson (1969)
  • Literary English since Shakespeare, edited by George Watson (1970)
  • The English Ideology, studies in the language of Victorian politics (1973)
  • Literary Critics, a study of English descriptive criticism (1973, 1986)
  • Politics and Literature in Modern Britain (1977)
  • The Discipline of English: A Guide to Critical Theory and Practice (1978, 1979)
  • Castle Rackrent by Maria Edgeworth, edited with an introduction by George Watson (1980, 1995, 2008)
  • Shorter New Cambridge Bibliography of English Literature (1981)
  • Idea of Liberalism: Studies for A New Map of Politics (1985)
  • Writing a Thesis: A Guide to Long Essays and Dissertations (1987)
  • Certainty of Literature: Essays in Polemic (1989)
  • Biographia Literaria, or, Biographical Sketches of My Literary Life and Opinions by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, edited and with an introduction by George Watson (1991)
  • Critical Essays on C.S. Lewis, edited by George Watson (1992)
  • Lord Acton's History of Liberty, a study of his library, with an edited text of his History of Liberty Notes (1994)
  • Lost Literature of Socialism (1998, 2002, 2010)
  • Never Ones for Theory?: England and the War of Ideas (2002)
  • Take Back the Past: Myths of the Twentieth Century (2007)


  • "Were the Intellectuals Duped?", Encounter (December 1973)
  • "Millar or Marx?", The Wilson Quarterly (Winter 1993)[21]
  • "The Messiah of Modernism: F. R. Leavis (1895–1978)", The Hudson Review, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Summer 1997), pp. 227-241.[22]
  • "Hitler and the Socialist Dream", The Independent (November 1998)[12]
  • "Remembering Prufrock: Hugh Sykes Davies 1909–1984", Jacket (Fall 2001)[23]


  1. ^ a b c d e Lewis, Clive Staples (14 July 2009). The Collected Letters of C. S. Lewis, Volume 3: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950–1963. HarperCollins. p. 1100. ISBN 9780061947285.
  2. ^ "George Watson 1927-2013". St. John's College. Cambridge University. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  3. ^ "Cambridge Fellow Professor George Watson" Archived 5 July 2020 at the Wayback Machine. Cambridge News. Cambridge University. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  4. ^ Watt, Holly (13 November 2014). "Liberal Democrats receive £950,000 bequest from Cambridge don". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2016.
  5. ^ Smith, Ed. (6 February 2014). "How a gift for puncturing fads left one academic lonely but right". New Statesman. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  6. ^ "College profile for George Watson". St John's College of Cambridge University. Archived from the original on 6 July 2013. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  7. ^ Watson, George (Winter 2004). "The Cosmic Comic (Douglas Adams, 1952-2001)". Michigan Quarterly Review. XLIII (1).
  8. ^ The Times House of Commons, 1959
  9. ^ "Senior Treasurers". Keynes Society. 3 February 2010. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  10. ^ "Cambridge don leaves Liberal Democrats £950,000". BBC News. 13 November 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2020.
  11. ^ "Joos de Momper the Younger | Rocky Landscape with Saint John the Baptist | NG6657 | National Gallery, London". National Gallery. Retrieved 12 September 2016.
  12. ^ a b Watson, George (22 November 1998). "Hitler and the Socialist Dream". The Independent. Retrieved 9 May 2013.
  13. ^ a b The Soviet Story. Minute 16:37.
  14. ^ Ījabs, Ivars (23 May 2008). "Cienīga atbilde: Soviet Story". Latvijas Vēstnesis (in Latvian). Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  15. ^ Grant, Robert (November 1999). "Review: The Lost Literature of Socialism". The Review of English Studies. New Series. 50 (200): 557–559. doi:10.1093/res/50.200.557.
  16. ^ Engels, Friedrich (13 January 1849). "The Magyar Struggle". Neue Rheinische Zeitung (194). In Marx/Engels Collected Works. 8. p. 227. Retrieved 12 November 2020 – via Marxist Internet Archive.
  17. ^ Watson, George (1998). The Lost Literature of Socialism. Lutterworth Press. p. 77. ISBN 978-0-7188-2986-5.
  18. ^ Grant, Robert (November 1999). "Review: The Lost Literature of Socialism". The Review of English Studies 50 (200): 558.
  19. ^ Walicki, Andrzej (1997). Marxism and the Leap to the Kingdom of Freedom: The Rise and Fall of the Communist Utopia. Stanford University Press. p. 154. ISBN 978-0-804-73164-5.
  20. ^ Ijabs, Ivars (23 May 2008). "Cienīga atbilde: Soviet Story". Latvijas Vēstnesis (in Latvian). Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 15 June 2008.
  21. ^ Watson, George (Winter 1993). "Millar or Marx?". Wilson Quarterly. Retrieved 9 May 2013.[permanent dead link]
  22. ^ Watson, George (Summer 1997). "The Messiah of Modernism: F. R. Leavis (1895–1978)". The Hudson Review. 50 (2): 227–241. doi:10.2307/3852750. JSTOR 3852750. Retrieved 11 October 2021.
  23. ^ Watson, George (Fall 2001). "Remembering Prufrock: Hugh Sykes Davies 1909–1984". Sewanee Review. Retrieved 9 May 2013.


  1. ^ The quote of Watson's interest reads: "Among all the large and small nations of Austria, only three standard-bearers of progress took an active part in history, and still retain their vitality — the Germans, the Poles and the Magyars. Hence they are now revolutionary. All the other large and small nationalities and peoples are destined to perish before long in the revolutionary world storm. For that reason they are now counter-revolutionary. ... There is no country in Europe which does not have in some corner or other one or several ruined fragments of peoples, the remnant of a former population that was suppressed and held in bondage by the nation which later became the main vehicle of historical development. These relics of a nation mercilessly trampled under foot in the course of history, as Hegel says, these residual fragments of peoples always become fanatical standard-bearers of counter-revolution and remain so until their complete extirpation or loss of their national character, just as their whole existence in general is itself a protest against a great historical revolution. Such, in Scotland, are the Gaels, the supporters of the Stuarts from 1640 to 1745. Such, in France, are the Bretons, the supporters of the Bourbons from 1792 to 1800. Such, in Spain, are the Basques, the supporters of Don Carlos. Such, in Austria, are the pan-Slavist Southern Slavs, who are nothing but the residual fragment of peoples, resulting from an extremely confused thousand years of development. ... The Magyars are not yet defeated. But if they fall, they will fall gloriously, as the last heroes of the 1848 revolution, and only for a short time. Then for a time the Slav counter-revolution will sweep down on the Austrian monarchy with all its barbarity, and the camarilla will see what sort of allies it has. But at the first victorious uprising of the French proletariat, which Louis Napoleon is striving with all his might to conjure up, the Austrian Germans and Magyars will be set free and wreak a bloody revenge on the Slav barbarians. The general war which will then break out will smash this Slav Sonderbund and wipe out all these petty hidebound nations, down to their very names. The next world war will result in the disappearance from the face of the earth not only of reactionary classes and dynasties, but also of entire reactionary peoples. And that, too, is a step forward."

External links[edit]

  • Reisz, Matthew. "Obituary". Times Higher Education.