Muriel Agnes Arber (1913-2004)

by Rudolf Schmid and Mena Schmid. Published in August 2004, Taxon 53:861.

Muriel Agnes Arber, the only child of renowned botanist Agnes Arber, née Robertson (23 Feb. 1879-22 Mar. 1960) and geologist-paleobotanist Edward Alexander Newell Arber (5 Aug. 1870-14 June 1918), died of the infirmities of age on 10 May 2004 in Hope Nursing Home in Cambridge, England. She was born on 21 July 1913 in Cambridge in the family home at 52 Huntingdon Rd. Except for two unhappy years at a boarding school in Kent, she lived entirely in Cambridge, initially at 52 Huntingdon with her mother until shortly after her death, then in a nearby flat at 18 Sherlock Close, and, finally, from July 2003 onward in various residential and medical facilities. She never married.

A graduate of Newnham College, Cambridge University (B.A. 1935, M.A. 1938), Muriel Arber did her thesis work on strophomenid brachiopods, taught high school until her retirement in 1973, and while teaching and after her retirement did research on the valleys, cliffs, and landslips of coastal southwestern England. Her honors include the R. H. Worth Prize of the Geological Society (1970) and two presidencies of the Geologists' Association (1972-73, 1973-74).

Muriel Arber wrote two books: The old mermaid and other poems (1951) and Lyme landscape with figures (1988, with a two-page foreword by the noted British author John Fowles). She is known to botanists by virtue of bibliographies of her mother, father, and Ethel Sargant (M. Arber, J. Soc. Bibliogr. Nat. Hist. 4: 370-384, 1968, 5: 70, 1968; R. Schmid & M. Arber, Ibid. 8: 180-183, 1977) as well as prefaces to four reprints of her parents's books: her mother's Monocotyledons (1925, 1961 reprint), Herbals, 2nd ed. (1938, 1970 reprint), The natural philosophy of plant form (1950, 1970 reprint), and her father's The coast scenery of North Devon (1911, 1969 reprint, with Muriel Arber's commentary only on the dust jacket).

Muriel Arber was a very kind and exceptionally cheerful person, was very sharp-minded, and had a superb recall of dates and names of people and places. She possessed a sly sense of humor, to wit: in 1912 her father did consulting work on the Kent coal fields and the family was better off financially; thus "I owe my existence to the Kent coal fields" (this and the next quote are from a 11 June 2003 interview). She said she "inherited" her father's "love of places," but was unable to be so succinct about her mother, although it is clear both had a photographic memory. It was an immense pleasure for us to hear Muriel Arber reminiscence about her parents and Ethel Sargant (1863-1918), her mother's mentor, research colleague, and close friend. Muriel Arber's death truly ends an era.

Muriel Agnes Arber in University Center, Cambridge.
(photo 11 June 2003 by Mena Schmid)

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