Neil Keeble is an emeritus professor of English Studies at the University of Stirling, and an expert on early modern English literary and religious history.
Keeble studied at St David’s College Lampeter, from 1963 to 1966. Like every applicant in those days, he was interviewed by the Principal, J.R. Lloyd Thomas. For Keeble, the journey from London by overnight steam train was much the most adventurous trip he had undertaken thus far. He remembers being surprised on his arrival to hear railway station staff speaking Welsh! He was also impressed by Lampeter’s extraordinary situation in what appeared to him to be Arthurian hills. The College was small and precariously placed financially, with only around a couple of hundred students. In Keeble’s third year, the three students in his final year honours class would meet in Professor Stanley Boorman’s home in Lampeter High Street. Taken together, the location, the size and the staff-student ratio constituted a unique experience of higher education, and one that Keeble himself describes as ‘pretty well ideal’.
And for him, ideal in another way too: at the start of Keeble’s last academic year (1965), the College admitted female students for the first time. Lloyd Thomas was rumoured to have promised each of them ‘a good degree and a good husband!’ Despite the college’s attempt to ban the different sexes meeting in each others’ rooms, half the first intake of women met their future spouses at Lampeter! These included Jenny Bowers, a leading member of the College’s Dramatic Society, dramsoc. She and Neil married in 1968. They went on to have two sons, Oliver and Owen, and a daughter, Sophie.
Having graduated with a first class degree in English, Keeble moved to Pembroke College, Oxford to work on a DPhil. His thesis, entitled Some literary and religious aspects of the works of Richard Baxter, examined the most influential and (after John Bunyan) best-selling 17th century Puritan clergyman and religious writer. Although Keeble was later to work on early modern English literary and religious history more widely, he maintained his particular interest in the Puritan tradition and nonconformity throughout his career.
In 1969, Keeble moved to Denmark to teach English at Aarhus University. Five years later he returned to Britain and to the University of Stirling, where he spent the rest of his career. He gradually went up the career ladder, rising from lecturer to reader to professor and then deputy principal. He spent the last seven years of his working life as senior deputy principal.
Alongside teaching and university senior management, Keeble managed to pursue an active research career. His book Richard Baxter: Puritan man of letters, (Oxford University Press, 1982), was a thorough study of Baxter’s voluminous writings, (over 140 titles!). He outlined the course of Baxter’s career as author, the aims and methods of his work, and his view of the purpose of writing. McGree described the book as ‘most welcome’ and fulfilling ‘its purposes admirably.’ He felt Keeble had produced ‘a convincing, perceptive portrait of the mentality and sensibility of an extraordinary man.’
In his major work The Literary Culture of Nonconformity in Later Seventeenth-Century England (University of Leicester Press, 1987), Keeble meticulously explained the context of the work of Baxter, Milton, Bunyan and many lesser-known nonconformist writers, including Quakers. He argued that nonconformist writing was ‘quite as interesting and innovative’ as that of the Restoration playwrights and poets, and more enduringly influential. Backscheider described the book as seminal.
Keeble’s The Restoration: England in the 1660s was part of Blackwell’s ‘History of Early Modern England’ series, (each volume of which covered a specific decade.) Keeble examined the Restoration of Charles II to the monarchy and its consequences, political, religious and cultural, during the years immediately following. Spurr commented ‘N.H. Keeble’s vivid study of the public unfolding of the process [of regime change] and its political and cultural implications can be heartily recommended to readers new to the period and those already acquainted with it.’
Keeble’s interest in Richard Baxter has continued throughout his career. In 1974 he edited Baxter’s Autobiography in the Everyman’s Library series. With Geoffrey F. Nuttall, he compiled a Calendar of the Correspondence of Richard Baxter (1991), the first attempt to record systematically and chronologically all the 1200 or so extant letters. More recently, he was the general editor and one of the four editors of the first scholarly edition of Baxter’s autobiographical papers, Reliquiae Baxterianae, (five volumes published by Oxford University Press, 2020). This was based on the folio published posthumously in 1696, as well as on Baxter’s original manuscript, much of which survives in Dr Williams’s Library and the British Library in London. Covering Baxter’s life and times from the 1620s to the 1680s, this is one of the most important contemporary historical sources, and also a key document in the development of life writing and the genre of autobiography.
Keeble has edited (either solely or jointly) five volumes of original essays: – on John Bunyan, the writing of the English Revolution, the ‘Great Ejection’ of 1662, and on eighteenth-century book history. He also edited The cultural identity of seventeenth-century woman, (Routledge, 1994), an anthology of early modern texts. The volume contains 200 passages by contemporary authors, considering different aspects of the cultural construction of womanhood. Keeble wrote introductions to the seventeen sections. Sharpe described the book as ‘a most useful research aid for early modern studies’ and ‘invaluable for seminar teaching on early modern women.’
At a more popular level, Keeble has edited John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress in the World’s Classics series and Lucy Hutchinson’s Memoirs of the Life of Colonel Hutchinson in Everyman’s Library. He has also edited two works by Daniel Defoe in Pickering & Chatto’s Complete Works, by Andrew Marvell in Yale University Press’s Prose Works, and (with Nicholas McDowell) by John Milton in Oxford University Press’s Complete Works.
Keeble has written over seventy essays and articles for journals, reference works and symposia. These include twelve articles for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, including a long piece on Richard Baxter. Keeble was also an associate editor of ODNB. He is a fellow of the English Association, the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. In 2000, he was inducted as an honorary fellow of what was then the University of Wales Lampeter.
Loaring, J. (2017). Love at Lampeter (new instalment). The Link. Retrieved November 23 2020 from https://www.uwtsd.ac.uk/media/uwtsd-website/content-assets/images/news-and-events/2017-2/Lampeter-LINK-Darren-(1)-(1).pdf
University of Stirling. (n.d.). Professor Neil Keeble. Retrieved November 27 2020 from https://www.stir.ac.uk/people/256431
Lewalski, B. (1987). [Review of the book Richard Baxter: Puritan man of letters, by N.H. Keeble] The Yearbook of English Studies, 17, 283-284. doi:10.2307/3507698
McGee, J.S. (1983). [Review of the book Richard Baxter: Puritan man of letters, by N.H. Keeble] Journal of Church and State, 25(3), 566-567. Retrieved November 26 2020 from https://www.jstor.org/stable/23916590
Backscheider, P.R. (1988-1989). [Review of the book The literary culture of Nonconformity in later seventeenth-century England, by N.H. Keeble] Eighteenth-Century Studies 22(2),261-264. doi:10.2307/2738879
Spurr, J. (2003). [Review of the book The Restoration: England in the 1660s, by N.H. Keeble] English Historical Review, 118(478), 1057-1058. Retrieved November 27 2020 from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3491179
Sharpe, P. (1996). [Review of the book The cultural identity of seventeenth-century woman: a reader, edited by N.H. Keeble]. Continuity and Change, 11(1),135-136. doi:10.1017/S026841600000312X