School of English and Drama

Professor Graham Rees OBE (1944-2009; at QM 1998-2009)


Graham Rees was a historian of science, a scholar of early modern bibliography (both of manuscript and the printed book), and – above all – an editor and interpreter of the works of Francis Bacon (1561–1626).  In all of these fields he was internationally renowned, as was recognised widely during his lifetime (not least by the OBE for services to scholarship which he was awarded in the year of his death).  His work continues to set a benchmark for those who follow in his footsteps.  The lasting monument to Rees’s learning and wisdom is the Oxford Francis Bacon edition (1996– ), of which eight of a projected 15 volumes have been published to date – four of them edited by Rees himself.  These books distil his thinking about the great early modern polymath whose work became Rees’ own life’s work; in terms both of their textual scholarship and their interpretative insights they have established standards which other editions of early modern writers aspire to emulate.  From his earliest work, Rees appreciated, and argued for, the need to attend to both the immaterial and the material nature of the texts of the past; that is, to understand what they were arguing and to understand how they were produced and disseminated.  His research on the former gave rise to quite new interpretations of Bacon’s thought, which showed that far from being exclusively, or even primarily, a scientific theorist, Bacon was a serious scientific thinker with a quite remarkable cosmology and theory of matter.  His work on the latter produced discoveries of previously unknown Bacon manuscripts and underpinned the monumental project of editing all of Bacon’s works for a new generation – replacing the standard but in many ways unreliable nineteenth-century edition by James Spedding.  As Rees investigated, in painstaking detail, the processes by which Bacon’s writing moved from composition to print, he became fascinated by the operations of one printing house in particular: that of the King’s Printer, which produced a range of prestigious works in the early seventeenth century.  The Arts and Humanities Research Council funded a project on the King’s Printers led by Rees and his wife and long-term scholarly collaborator, Dr Maria Wakely, and the fruits of their research were published shortly after Rees’s death (Publishing, Politics, and Culture).  One of the common themes of the many tributes to Rees was that in an academic field often characterised by dryness, he combined profound knowledge and dedication to accuracy with warmth, generosity, and wit – qualities to be found in the mass of learned, illuminating, but also at times genuinely funny commentaries to his volumes of the Oxford Francis Bacon.

Graham Rees was educated at St Alban’s School and the University of Birmingham.  After working for some years at Wolverhampton Polytechnic, he was appointed in 1998 to a Chair in the Department of English at Queen Mary.  In 2005 he was elected Fellow of the British Academy.  He taught undergraduate and postgraduate modules in the Department, as well as supervising PhD students.  The Graham Rees Prize, for the highest mark in a final-year dissertation, was established in 2010, following his untimely death in July 2009.

Select Publications

(with Christopher Upton), Francis Bacon’s Natural Philosophy: A New Source.  A transcription of manuscript Hardwick 72A with translation and commentary (Chalfont St Giles, 1984)

(ed.), Francis Bacon, Philosophical Studies c. 1611–c. 1619 (Oxford, 1996) [The Oxford Francis Bacon, vol. VI]

(ed.), Francis Bacon, The Instauratio magna: Last Writings (Oxford, 2000) [The Oxford Francis Bacon, vol. XIII]

(ed., with Maria Wakely), Francis Bacon, The Instauratio magna Part II: Novum organum and Associated Texts (Oxford, 2004) [The Oxford Francis Bacon, vol. XI]

(ed., with Maria Wakely), Francis Bacon, The Instauratio magna Part III: Historia naturalis et experimentalis: Historia ventorum and Historia vitæ & mortis (Oxford, 2007) [The Oxford Francis Bacon, vol. XII]

(with Maria Wakely), Publishing, Politics, & Culture: The King’s Printers in the Reign of James I and VI (Oxford, 2009)

‘Francis Bacon’s semi-Paracelsian Cosmology and the Great Instauration’, Ambix 24 (1975), 81-101

‘Francis Bacon’s semi-Paracelsian Cosmology and the Great Instauration’, Ambix 24 (1975), 161-73

‘The Fate of Bacon’s Cosmology in the Seventeenth Century’, Ambix 24 (1977), 27-38

‘Matter Theory: a Unifying Factor in Bacon’s Natural Philosophy?’, Ambix 24 (1977), 110-25

‘Francis Bacon on Verticity and the Bowels of the Earth’, Ambix 26 (1979), 202-11

‘Atomism and “Subtlety” in Francis Bacon’s Philosophy’, Annals of Science 37 (1980), 549-71

‘An Unpublished Manuscript by Francis Bacon: Sylva Sylvarum Drafts and other Working Notes’, Annals of Science 38 (1981), 377-412

‘Bacon’s Philosophy: Some New Sources with Special Reference to the Abecedarium novum naturæ’, in Marta Fattori (ed.), Francis Bacon, terminologia e fortuna nel XVII secolo (Rome, 1984), 223-44

‘Francis Bacon’s Biological Ideas: a New Manuscript Source’, in Brian Vickers (ed.), Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge, 1984), 297-314

‘The Transmission of Bacon Texts: Some Unanswered Questions’, in William A. Sessions (ed.), Francis Bacon’s Legacy of Texts: The Art of Discovery Grows with Discovery (New York, 1990), 311-23

‘Bacon’s speculative philosophy’, in Markku Peltonen (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Bacon (Cambridge, 1996)

‘Reflections on the Reputation of Francis Bacon's Philosophy’, Huntington Library Quarterly 65:3/4 (2002), 379-394

(with Maria Wakely), ‘Folios Fit for a King: James I, John Bill, and the King's Printers, 1616–1620’, Huntington Library Quarterly 68:3 (2005), 467-495