Obituary: Professor Ronald Peacock

Ronald Peacock, scholar of German: born 22 November 1907; Assistant Lecturer in German, Leeds University 1931- 38, Lecturer 1938-39, Professor 1939-45; Henry Simon Professor of German Language and Literature, Manchester University 1945-62, Dean of the Faculty of Arts 1954-56, Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1958- 62; Professor of German Literature and Comparative Literature, University of Heidelberg 1960-61; Professor of German, Bedford College, London 1962-75 (Emeritus); Professor of Modern German Literature, University of Freiburg 1965, 1967-68; books include The Poet in the Theatre 1946, The Art of Drama 1957, Criticism and Personal Taste 1972, married 1933 Ilse Freiwald; died Wexham Park, Buckinghamshire 1 June 1993.

RONALD PEACOCK had a long and full life as one of the most distinguished practitioners of German studies in Britain and as a literary scholar with a vast knowledge of European literature of the last three centuries. He was a man whose prodigious academic career and ever youthful zest for life entitled him to be described, even at the age of 85, as 'ein Wunderkind'.

After a Double First in German and French at Leeds University, Peacock studied in Berlin and Innsbruck and gained a doctorate at Marburg, on one of the first theses ever to be written on Thomas Mann. Returning to a Lectureship at Leeds University in 1931, he was before very long, and at the ripe age of 32, appointed to the Chair of German there. In 1945 he crossed the Pennines to take up the Henry Simon Chair of German at Manchester University, and in 1962 he moved to the Chair of German at Bedford College, London, from which he retired in 1975. During these years he was frequently invited to lecture at European and American universities and held visiting professorships at Cornell, Heidelberg and Freiburg. Academic distinctions followed him into retirement, as Manchester University conferred on him an Honorary Doctorate of Letters (1977) and Bedford College elected him a Fellow (1981).

Those who worked with Peacock, whether as colleagues or as students, reaped the benefit of the philosophy of academic life which he himself expressed, with characteristic modesty and straightforwardness, as being 'interested in the whole job - not just a part of it'. Such interest meant active membership of a number of college and university committees and of professional organisations, national and international, as well as wholehearted devotion to his successive departments, which flourished accordingly. Many of his research students are now in university posts in Britain and abroad. The 'whole job' meant not only engaging in scholarship but also enabling others to do the same. Thus, as editor of the Proceedings of the Leeds Philosophical Society (locally known as 'the Phil and Lit') he provided many young academics with the chance of publishing their first papers. At Manchester he served on the University Press Committee and was instrumental in establishing a new Department of Drama. In London he chaired the German Academic Exchange Service for 13 years.

Peacock's own research was both wide-ranging and central, and his publications have proved lastingly influential and repeatedly reprinted. His book on Holderlin (1938) was the first major study in English of this poet; it won the JG Robertson Prize. Goethe's Major Plays (1959) was awarded the Gold Medal of the Goethe Institute. He wrote on Novalis and Schopenhauer, on Buchner and Wedekind and many others, always with the Uberblick, or vision of the whole European context, which was his hallmark and which took him naturally into comparative literature. There are essays on Eliot, Yeats and other English poet-playwrights, as well as on German drama, in The Poet in the Theatre (1946); and with The Art of Drama he moved into general dramatic aesthetics. The references in his last book, Criticism and Personal Taste (1972), range from Arnold to Zola.

The spirit which informed Peacock's life and work seems to me epitomised in the inaugural lecture which he gave at Bedford College under the title 'Much is Comic in Thomas Mann'. He reminded his audience that Mann had a higher regard for 'das heraufquellende Lachen' - 'the warm surge of laughter from the heart' - than for 'the thin smile of intellectual irony'. The warm surge is now stilled, but its effects continue to be felt by students in and beyond the countries and institutions where Ronald Peacock lived and served.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower