David Masson

DAVID Masson, who has died at the age of 91, was a former sub-librarian in charge of the Brotherton Collection at Leeds University and had a brief, brilliant spell as a science fiction writer.

He had a strong interest in scientific questions, in particular environmental issues and the Gaia theory by James Lovelock, which proposes that living and non-living parts of the earth are a complex, interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.

Out of Masson's interest came vivid and experimental science fiction stories, collected in the recently re-issued The Caltraps of Time, which were noted for their sound scientific precepts as well as his unusual and persuasive narrative style, including the 17th century language used in his story A Two-Timer.

David Masson was born in Edinburgh in 1915, the son of Sir Irvine Orme Masson, chemist, bibliographer and Vice-Chancellor of Sheffield University. His grandfather was Sir David Orme Masson, who, having emigrated, became one of the most distinguished figures in the history of Australian science; and his great-grandfather, another David Masson, was the great Victorian biographer of Milton and close friend of Carlyle, J.S. Mill, and other writers.

Steeped in scholarship from an early age, he went to Merton College, Oxford, in 1934 and read English language and literature, although he was also proficient in Greek, Latin, French and Italian. His connection with the University of Leeds began in October 1938, when he was appointed assistant librarian, but was interrupted by war service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, chiefly around the Mediterranean and in Africa.

On demobilisation, Masson was appointed to a post in the library of the University of Liverpool, as curator of special collections with particular responsibility for the rare book and manuscript collections. His knowledge and expertise in this field was quite exceptional, and as well as proving an energetic and highly competent archivist and administrator, he also enhanced the academic reputation of the library at Liverpool through his own scholarly publications.

He returned to Leeds in 1956 with his wife, Olive, as sub-librarian in charge of the Brotherton Collection.

The most distinguished of Leeds University's collections, it consisted at that time of more than 50 000 books and pamphlets and a large quantity of manuscripts, including four Shakespeare folios, over 200 incunabula, a growing collection of 16th and 17th century poetry, and an outstanding Romany collection.

Masson had an enviable reputation for his skills in selecting and acquiring manuscripts and early printed books, and under his care the collection increased in size by about a quarter – necessitating an extension to the original suite of rooms. Throughout the 23 years he spent with the university he retained an enthusiasm and respect for the collection which was contagious and, in particular, for its role in the development and acquisition of scholarship, never seeing it merely as a museum of relics requiring preservation.

As well as the energy he devoted to his work, Mason retained a range of other interests. One of the most enduring was poetry, and he published many articles between 1951 and 1991 on the functions and effects of phonetic sound-patterning in poetry.

He was a keen and adept amateur stoneware potter, an interest he also maintained after retirement, and would often surprise colleagues who were leaving the university with the gift of a vase or other pot that he had made.

David Masson was a true individual. He approached each task he undertook in his own inimitable style, but always with the utmost care, attention to detail, and concern for colleagues and friends alike.

He will be remembered with enormous affection and respect by all those who were fortunate enough to work with him.