John Gross - the best-read man in Britain
John Gross / Image: Wikimedia Commons
John Gross, who has died, was encouraged by the security and happiness he experienced as he grew up in wartime England. Before the bombs began to fall on the East End, his father sent John, his mother and baby brother to Sussex, and then Egham in Surrey, where he attended Mrs Gittins's private school, then Egham Grammar School, and imbibed 'a certain idea of England' which included fair play, the King's English, trial by jury, the Magna Carta – and virtues that would lead South American traders 'to seal their bargains on the word of an Englishman'.
He did not experience anti-Semitism in England.
From City of London School, Gross won a scholarship, aged 17, to read English Literature at Wadham College, Oxford. He went on to an extraordinary career as the Literary Editor of the New Statesman and TLS, senior book editor and book critic of The New York Times, and a regular contributor to the Spectator, the New York Review of Books, Commentary and The New Criterion. He seemed to know everything there was to know about English literature, and had real sympathy for 'the more obscure toilers at the literary coal face'.
He wrote The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters: English Literary Life since 1800 (1969); Shylock: Four Hundred Years in the Life of A Legend (1993); and A Double Thread: A childhood in Mile End – and beyond (2001). He edited After Shakespeare (2002), 'a superb anthology of writings about and inspired by Shakespeare' and the 'Oxford' books - the Oxford Book of Aphorisms (1983); Comic Verse (1996); English Prose (1998); Essays (2002); Literary Anecdotes (2006); and Parodies (2010).
John Updike wrote about the Oxford Book of English Prose - 'I wonder if there has ever been an anthology quite like it – with so vast a field – the virtually infinite expanse of English-language prose – for the anthologist to roam. . .I have been rapturously rolling around in John Gross's amazing book for days'.
John Gross often criticised 'the hypocrisies and damaging policies of the bien pensant Left'. He was a person of erudition, sense and 'transparent integrity'.
Ave atque Vale.