, who introduced most of the classics of Chinese
literature to the West. He never went to the East
, but taught himself both languages as part of his work as assistant keeper of prints and drawings at the British Museum
He was born Arthur David Schloss in Tunbridge Wells on 19 August 1889. In 1914 the family took on his mother's name, Waley, because of anti-German feeling. He was educated at Rugby and King's, where he was a fine classical scholar. He worked at the BM from 1913 to 1929, and after that lectured at the School of Oriental and African Studies. At the BM he catalogued their Chinese and Japanese paintings, and in acquiring their languages he began the study of their great literary masters, such as Li Bai (Li Po), Bo Juyi (Po Chü-yi), Du Fu (Tu Fu), Lady Murasaki, and Wu Ch'eng-en. His publications included:
Arthur Waley was elected an honorary fellow of King's in 1945, received the CBE in 1952, the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1953, and the CH in 1956.
For forty years he lived in Bloomsbury, and had friends in the Bloomsbury group whom he'd met at Cambridge, but he was not part of it. In all this time he was involved with the anthropologist Beryl de Zoete. On her death in 1962 he moved to Highgate in north London, where he died on 27 June 1966. His house there now has a blue plaque.
When younger he had met the New Zealand poet Alison Grant, and they had had a love affair. She already passionately admired the famous Arthur Waley, and on accidentally meeting the real person she was entranced with him even before learning who he was. But his attachment to Beryl de Zoete overcame this, and they parted. Alison married and had a son, but the unhappy marriage did not last. On Beryl's death she returned to him in Highgate. They were married in 1966 shortly before his death.
Alison Waley became a much-loved figure in Highgate, and would often sweep into one or another of its pubs, to be followed twenty minutes later by a social worker or attendant relative who had noticed she had escaped the house. She preserved her faculties very late into life, and when I spoke with her she made vastly more sense than her social worker did. Alison died in May 2001 at the age of 100. She was a beauty when young, with very distinctive commanding bone structure. She still had it to the end, did Alison. We'll miss you.