His scholarship crossed many boundaries without diluting its influence or excellence. His skill as a linguist made him an equally skilled legal comparativist, and he was elected to Oxford’s chair of Comparative Law in 1970. He never took that chair up as he was promptly (and by a somewhat mysterious process) offered the Regius Professorship of Civil Law, which he preferred. As Regius Professor, based at his beloved All Souls College, he was best known for his research into Roman law and its institutional history, on which he published seven books across 50 years. The methodological innovations of Tribonian (1978), Emperors and Lawyers (1981), and Ulpian (1982) did not go unresisted by critics but also attracted many defenders and have stood the test of time. Honoré was also a major figure in the development of South African private law, most notably from 1966 onwards as author (later co-author with Edwin Cameron) of The South African Law of Trusts. These specialities were not, however, at the expense of a wide-ranging mastery of English law, displayed to best effect in the encyclopaedic work Causation in the Law (1959, 2nd ed. 1985). This book, co-authored with H.L.A. Hart, also inaugurated the career of Honoré the distinguished philosopher of law. His philosophical writings on property, rights, justice, and (especially) responsibility are very widely read and set the main course of his post-retirement career. His work is cited under fourteen headings in the current Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, sometimes bearing the name ‘A.M. Honoré’ which he used on his published works until 1980.
These and other great names of the era tell us that this was a period when the Oxford Law Faculty was intellectually on the rise, and Honoré was one of those who drove it onwards and upwards. That trend continued once he became Regius Professor. Sixteen years later, on retirement from his chair, he was Acting Warden of All Souls for two years, and in that role he pushed through difficult reforms that changed the balance of the college in favour of more full-time scholars. At around the same time, he took an active interest, and a measured role, in the politics of his adopted homeland of South Africa. He was an influential public advocate of the plan for a Constitutional Court that was subsequently taken up by Nelson Mandela and that has played a major role, mostly very constructive, in the country’s recent history.
Honoré was a much-loved teacher and his continuing to teach into his 90s was a source of much amazement and admiration, not least on the part of this obituarist (who was his co-teacher for 30 years, 1988 to 2017). One former BCL student writes: ‘He was a generous teacher and always had a rare twinkle in his eye when engaging in legal discussion.’ One Oxford colleague writes: ‘Although a giant in his field, Tony's most striking quality was his humility. Having taught until a year ago, he retained always the most profound intellectual curiosity.’ He took an extremely serious attitude to both scholarship and teaching which did not, however, stand in the way of his irreverent sense of humour or his ability to conjure up the most charming turns of phrase. Even within the last year of his life he could be found at occasional conferences and workshops, at which he could still be relied upon for a perfectly-timed and perfectly-formed intervention. Many of us in Oxford, and in the wider intellectual world, will miss his kindly but definite way with people, and his self-deprecating wit, as much as his polymathic brilliance.
All Souls College
27 February 2019