Professor Harold Love

Wide-ranging English scholar
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The Independent Online

Harold Halford Russell Love, English scholar: born Brisbane, Queensland 4 August 1937; Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in English, Monash University 1964-73, Reader, then Professor of English 1973-2003 (Emeritus); married 1961 Lucille King (one son, three daughters); died Melbourne, Victoria 12 August 2007.

Harold Love will be long remembered as the author of one book in particular: Scribal Publication in Seventeenth-century England (1993). It was a revelation to most people whose interests lay in this period, and its influence will prove permanent. It dismantled the assumption, based on centuries of tradition, that by the late 16th century the printed word had all but taken over from manuscript.

Love demonstrated that the habit of manuscript publication lived on for generations – not just in coterie circles of poets, but also in politics, news, music and satire: that, in his words, scribal publication "had a role in the culture and commerce of texts just as assured as that of print publication". Others who have followed in his wake have shown how this applied no less to religion and other activities, and there is much still waiting to be discovered.

This revolutionary book was followed six years later by his long-awaited edition of Rochester (The Works of John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester), in which he deployed his knowledge of scribal collections to effect a transformation of our understanding of relationships between public and private, the printed world and the underworld, in publishing in manuscript.

Love took both these projects forward when he was Munby Fellow at Cambridge University Library in 1986-87. For him this was a return to Cambridge. Born in Brisbane in 1937, he had taken his first degree at the University of Queensland and then had a temporary post in New South Wales before he came to Pembroke College for his postgraduate work in 1960.

In Brisbane, he was a friend of the poet John Manifold, former Communist, student of Australian folk music, and a keen recorder player. At Cambridge, he got to know Tim Munby, Librarian of King's, who was then giving classes to graduate students on sources of information. No less importantly, he arrived at Pembroke in the same year as Christopher Hogwood, the harpsichord player. The early music advocate David Munrow came up as an undergraduate a year later, and shared Love's passion for the recorder. They brought in Simon Carrington, then a choral scholar at King's, and gave concerts in the old library at Pembroke.

By 1964, when Love took his PhD, Cambridge musical life had been transformed as these friends explored baroque composers and earlier ones. The much wider musical world was changed almost as rapidly as audiences took with enthusiasm to repertoires, instruments and playing techniques whose riches had been all but forgotten.

Harold Love returned to a post in the English faculty at the new and rapidly growing Monash University in Melbourne. He remained there for the rest of his career. His The Penguin Book of Restoration Verse appeared in 1968 and a summary of the great Jonathan Swift collection then being formed at Monash (1969) gave clear indications of how some of his interests were developing. But then came others. Chinese opera in the goldfields developed into a more general study of the 19th-century impresario W.S. Lyster (The Golden Age of Australian Opera, 1981) and a collection of documents on the history of the Australian stage (The Australian Stage, 1984).

Pursuing his exploration of early music, he learned to play the viol. His knowledge of Purcell and his contemporaries was deployed in an edition, with R.J. Jordan, of the Restoration playwright Thomas Southerne (The Works of Thomas Southerne, 1988). A similarly magisterial edition of the works of the second Duke of Buckingham came out in 2007, edited with Robert D. Hume (Plays, Poems and Miscellaneous Writings Associated with George Villiers, Second Duke of Buckingham).

Underpinning this was a deep understanding of the problems of how books were made, how authors related to printers and to booksellers. His strong sense of humour about human frailty of all kinds helped in this. In England, he had contributed to some of the earliest discussions on the application of computing to bibliographical and textual questions; and when the Bibliographical Society of Australia and New Zealand was founded in 1969 he took on the tasks of both Secretary and Editor of the Bulletin. In 1980-82 he served as President.

From this it seemed almost a natural move to consider questions of attribution, how they can be determined, and how much remains uncertain. This resulted in another book, Attributing Authorship (2002), wide-ranging both chronologically and in its examination of different kinds of evidence external and internal. It was the fruit of a lifetime's sceptical reading, and he was still busily engaged in public debates on this even a few days before he died.

David McKitterick