Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Arthur Henry King
At the top of the hill overlooking the Smith Fieldhouse at Brigham Young University is a little faculty office building known as, well, of course, the Faculty Office Building, or FOB, a unique little building where every office has an outside view. Many students might pass by it on their way down the steep steps to the Fieldhouse to work out in the early morning hours. They might bicycle past it on their way to yet another class. If they blinked twice, they missed it.
I had the great privilege of having an office in it.
One of the singular experiences of my college life was having an assistantship with Dr. Marion J. Bentley, a well respected and very talented theater and drama professor at Brigham Young. I'd first become aware of him as one of the directors of the BYU Honors Program, in which I participated, but at the time I came to work for him, he was Dean of General Education and Honors, or as we casually called it, "GE." At that time Dr. Bentley also taught Honors Seminars in Theater, periodically directed operas and plays for the Fine Arts Department, was writing a book on period costuming, all while crafting and fine-tuning a newly devised set of General Education requirements for the university.
Down the hall from my office was the office of a snowy haired wise owl of a man, a Shakespearean scholar who'd been recruited to help in the General Education re-envisioning process. He seemed out of place, both in GE and in Utah, but certainly wouldn't have been in the enchanted halls of Cambridge. He seemed dressing for a grander stage, his own quirky version of Innocents Abroad. He was, as people are wont to say, a character. A character larger than life who in many ways shrunk to life, he made his quiet way down the hall, despite a quick wit and a golden tongue. He was articulated, measured.
One would have to wonder, really, what he was doing there. I found him quite enchanting. Like Arthur's Merlin. Luke's Yoda.
Arthur Henry King.
Dr. Arthur Henry King grew up far from the provincial campuses of Provo, in the town of Gosford, Hampshire, England, son of Quaker parents. The Society of Friends was quick to come to his aid after his father died when Arthur was only nine, making sure he got the education he might not have otherwise. As World War II was raging across the European continent, Arthur was studying in Sweden, after completing his studies at Cambridge, and was awarded his doctorate of Literature in stylistics in Lund, Sweden, before the end of the war. For his involvement in writing anti-Nazi material, he was blacklisted, yet was able to continue teaching in Sweden.
In 1966, a widowed Dr. King married a second cousin, Patricia, who happened to be of a different faith, and persuaded him to convert to hers, Mormonism, a religion as unique to America as jazz and Dixieland that reached across Atlantic shores to attract converts from the British Isles and Scandinavia in its formative years in order to populate the American West with those for a yearning for a new and different Zion amid the seagulls and sagebrush.
Eventually, it pulled him, too, and in 1971 he left an esteemed job as Assistant Director of the British Council in charge of Education, a position that had taken him throughout Europe, Persia and Pakistan in order to accept a teaching position in the English department of the LDS Church's flagship university named after Mormon prophet Brigham Young, an hour south of Salt Lake City in Provo, Utah. There he became an icon, an institution, a singular scholar in Shakespeare, a legend of linguistics.
He was twice decorated by the Queen of England for his service to crown and country, as Officer of the British Empire (OBE) and Commander of the British Empire (CBE). He was a published poet of some considerable renown, whose primary influences were claimed to include Eliot, Yeats, and primarily, Andrew Marvell. He distingished himself as a leader instituting programs teaching English as a second language abroad. He was a founding member of the Vetenkaps Society in Sweden and longtime member of the British Atheneum Club.
I think of him in his little office down the hall from mine, quoting Shakespeare. An owl in his tree.
Dr. Arthur Henry King retired from teaching at Brigham Young University in 1997 due to increasing ill health from Parkinson's disease. He died in 2000 at the age of 89.
Painting of Arthur Henry King by Nathan Florence, oil on canvas, hangs in the Humanities Reference Department, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.