Obituary: Professor W. W. Robson

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Wallace Robson was appointed to the Masson Chair in 1972, in succession to John MacQueen, Edinburgh gained a professor of English already very well known, writes Ian Campbell.

He was more; he was very much liked and respected throughout the world where his students - over 20 years of them during his long Oxford fellowship at Lincoln College - remembered the same kindness, consideration, loyalty and openness which he brought to his new department, in the event his last.

Till his retirement through ill- health in 1989, Robson was frequently called on to lay aside his scholarly writing to give his full-time attention to the affairs of a department he led through difficult years, though his flow of books and particularly of scholarly essays, neatly turned, well crafted and always illuminating never ceased. What he wrote could become a standard point of reference for discussion of an author, as people found during the Stevenson celebrations in Edinburgh a few years ago.

During recent weeks he had returned to his typewriter with new energy, the later years of the 19th century (where he had already amassed a formidable list of published essays and introductions) his subject.

To outward appearance a shy man, Wallace Robson rarely led in conversation, always followed with illumination and wonderfully indirect penetration. His undergraduate teaching was listening to the student and giving back the unexpected: his postgraduate supervision was hardworking and informed by an extraordinary erudition. He knew his books, and also his modern authors, having in a long scholarly lifetime known many and taught a few.

He loved to travel, and the sight of his unaffected pleasure at international symposia, listening to all sorts of papers (many of which must have held little for him) with undimmed good nature and enjoying the social life to the full, is good to remember. He had a gift for friendship, and Edinburgh's English Literature department enjoyed that gift for over 20 years, even after he had formally retired.

(Photograph omitted)