Papers of William Paton Ker, 1855-1923, literary scholar

Scope and Content

Diaries, notebooks, sketch books and letters undated

Administrative / Biographical History

William Paton Ker was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 30 August  1855 , the eldest son of William Ker, merchant, by his wife, Caroline Agnes Paton. He was educated at Glasgow Academy and was a student at the  University of Glasgow from  1870-1874 , when he proceeded with a Snell Exhibition to Balliol College, Oxford. He obtained a first class in classical moderstions (1876) and a second class in Literae Humaniores (1878). He was awarded the Tayloian scholarship in the latter year and was elected to a fellowship at All Souls College in Novemebr 1879. In 1878, he took up the position of assistant to William Young Sellar, Professor of Humanity at the  University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In  1883 , Ker was appointed Professor of English Literature and History in the new University Colege of South Wales, Cardiff. Six years later, in  1889 , he succeeded Henry Morley in the Quain Chair of English Language & Literature in University College London. When the University of London was reorganised in 1900, Ker was appointed chairman of the Modern Languages board, and later of the English board, and he took the leading role in moulding English studies throughout the University. He threw himself into the general work of the University, as a member of the Senate, the Academic Council, the Faculty of Arts and the professorial board of his college. He was conservative in politics but his conservatism was combined with a readiness for any development upon sound lines. His eagerness for new adventure was shown by the energy with which, even during the distractions of the European War, he undertook the work of organising Scandinavian Studies in the University of London. He has been teaching Icelandic to his students for years and largely through his initiative, a department of Scandinavian Studies was founded in  1917 , of which he became its first director.

Ker retained his fellowship of All Souls for forty-four years until his death. In  1920 , he was elected to the Chair of Poetry at the University of Oxford, a post which he held until his death in 1923, along with his directorship of Scandinavian Studies. Ker was slow to publish: he was forty-two when Epic and Romance appeared in 1897. Other works included: In the Dark Ages (1904), English Literature: Medieval (1912) and Collected Essays of W P Ker (1925). He died of heart failure on 17 July  1923 . The W P Ker lectureship founded at the University of Glasgow in 1938 in memory of William Paton Ker. The foundation originally provided for a lecture on some branch of literary or linguistic studies and was still being given in 1995.


The arrangement of this material reflects the original order in which it was received

Access Information


Acquisition Information

Unknown : ACCN 4235

Other Finding Aids

Item level descriptions are available via the department's online manuscripts catalogue available at the  University of Glasgow Library, Department of Special Collections, searching by the call number MS Gen 1300.

Alternative Form Available

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Archivist's Note

Fonds level description compiled by Andrew Thomson, Hub Project Archivist, 24 November 2004.

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