William Rose papers

Scope and Content

Correspondence and papers of Professor William Rose, comprising: material relating to Rose's education, career, academic research, war service, and wide-ranging literary and other interests.

Administrative / Biographical History

William Rose was educated initially at the Birmingham Hebrew School from where he entered the King Edward VI Grammar School, Birmingham, with the aid of a Piddock Trust Scholarship. He went on to attend Birmingham and London Universities. During World War One, and until 1920 he served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, the Machine Gun Corps and then with the R.A.F. He obtained his doctorate from London University with a thesis on Goethe and Byron, which was published in 1924. Among his tutors were Professor A Wolff, Professor J G Robertson, Professor Robert Priebsch and Professor Wilson-Law. In 1926 he married Dorothy Wooldridge, who shared his work and interests. They had a son and a daughter.

After his discharge from the Army in 1920, Rose took up a post as lecturer in the Department of German at King's College London and was appointed Reader in 1927. In 1935 he became the Sir Ernest Cassel Reader in German in the University of London and in that same year was appointed Head of the Department of Modern Languages at the London School of Economics and Political Science of the University of London. In 1949 he was appointed to a Chair of German Language and Literature in the University of London while keeping his post as Head of Department at the LSE.

During World War Two Rose served in the Intelligence Corps (1939-1944) and was one of the dedicated band of British German-language specialists who worked on code-breaking and the Enigma project at Bletchley Park. After 1933, he took a personal interest in the fate and welfare of German exiled intellectuals, and figures such as Franz Werfel and Stefan Zweig were frequent and welcome visitors to his house. He made his support public by being a member of the PEN-Club and joining in the public condemnation of the Nazi regime with regard to the treatment of Jews, intellectuals and cultural life generally in Germany. He was involved in the 'German Library of Burned Books' scheme (1934, under the presidency of Heinrich Mann) whose British committee was headed by H G Wells. André Gide was among the honorary presidents.

He was an active member of the Council of the English Goethe Society and gave strong support to the journal German Life and Letters both at its inception and its renewal after World War Two. Rose was scholar, editor, translator and critic. The core of his research interests lay in the work of Goethe, Heine and Rilke, but he also worked on the modern German lyric and the Expressionists. As one of the growing band of 'Germanisten' in British universities who were not German-born, he was an articulate and vigorous proponent of a new approach to German studies. He believed that the connection between literature and life should never be forgotten and pioneered the introduction of the psychoanalytical approach to the study of German literature, vigorously upholding his belief in its sociological implications. He was regarded by some of his peer group as a populariser.

In his last years he had to contend with the onset of blindness but did not allow this to interfere with his interests. His lectures and speeches were written in extra large print as opposed to a cursive hand or typewritten. He was active right up to the time of his death, having delivered a characteristically interesting and lively address at a dinner the previous evening. He was Chairman of the Committee of Management of the Institute of Germanic Literatures and Languages in the University of London (now the Institute of Germanic Studies) and had planned to spend the next year (1962) as a visiting professor at McGill University, Canada. He died as a result of head injuries sustained in a fall after the dinner mentioned above.


General papers arranged according by period of Rose's life (education, war service, academic career), with correspondence and ephemera in separate series. Papers arranged into the following series: early years (WRO.1); war years (WRO.2); academic career (WRO.3); news-cuttings (WRO.4); general correspondence (WRO.5); miscellaneous (WRO.6).

Access Information

Open for research. Access to individual items in the Institute of Germanic and Romance Studies archival collections may be restricted under the Data Protection Act or the Freedom of Information Act. Researchers should apply to consult material at least forty-eight hours in advance by letter, facsimile, e-mail or telephone; the Library staff need a name and contact number, a concise and clear idea of the nature of the enquiry and a date and time for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Presented to the Institute of Germanic Studies by the Rose family in 1962-1963 and 1972-1973.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued online (click on the "contains" icon below). A pdf copy is also attached to this description. Handlist available in the Insitute of Germanic Studies Library; copy deposited at the National Register of Archives (NRA 29443).

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies may be made, although this is at the discretion of the Librarian and is dependent on the nature and condition of the material.

Related Material

A collection of Rose's 'non-German' papers was sold at Christie's, South Kensington, in 2001. The collection included leters from T S Eliot, A E Housman, Bertrand Russell, Max Beerbohm, Hilaire Belloc, E M Forster, J M Keynes, Siegfried Sassoon, Vita Sackville-West and Sir Ernest Shackleton.