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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future