Portrait of William Paton Ker, oil on canvas by Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson
Portrait of William Paton Ker, oil on canvas by Sir Johnstone Forbes-Robertson

William Paton Ker, FBA (usually referred to as W. P. Ker; 30 August 1855 – 17 July 1923), was a Scottish literary scholar and essayist.


Born in Glasgow in 1855, Ker studied at Glasgow Academy, the University of Glasgow, and Balliol College, Oxford.[1][2]

He was appointed to a fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, in 1879. He became Professor of English Literature and History at the University College of South Wales, Cardiff, in 1883, and moved to University College London as Quain Professor in 1889.[2] However he retained his links with Oxford and was there almost every week during the 1910s, and available to keen students there. He was later the Oxford Professor of Poetry from 1920[2] to his death, at 67, of a heart attack whilst hill-climbing in Italy. A W. P. Ker Memorial Lecture is held at Glasgow University in his honour.


He is referred to repeatedly in J. R. R. Tolkien's essay Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics. W. H. Auden's discovery of Ker was a turning point:

"... what good angel lured me into Blackwell's one afternoon and, from such a wilderness of volumes, picked out for me the essays of W. P. Ker? No other critic whom I have subsequently read could have granted me the same vision of a kind of literary All Souls Night in which the dead, the living and the unborn writers of every age and tongue were seen as engaged upon a common, noble and civilizing task. No other could have so instantaneously aroused in me a fascination with prosody, which I have never lost."[3]



  1. ^ "Brilliant Scholar. Death of Professor W. P. Ker". The Glasgow Herald. 19 July 1923. p. 9. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Ker, William Paton" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 31 (12th ed.). London & New York: The Encyclopædia Britannica Company. p. 680.
  3. ^ Auden, W. H. "Making, Knowing, and Judging". The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays. p. 42.
  4. ^ ISBN 9780198880431 ISBN 0-19-888043-X