Professor Roger Lonsdale

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We are deeply saddened to hear of the death of Professor Roger Lonsdale on 28 February. A pre-eminent figure in the study of eighteenth-century literature, Roger Lonsdale was one of the greatest scholars in the history of the Oxford Faculty of English – though as a man of notorious self-deprecation he would certainly have demurred at any such praise. 

He was born in 1934 and educated at Lincoln College; following national service in the RAF and two years at Yale, he joined Balliol College in 1960, first as a Research Fellow and then as a Tutorial Fellow. Here he stayed until his retirement in 2000, a much-loved member of the Common Room and a wry, discerning observer of the Oxford scene.

His publications were numerous: among the most celebrated was an unrivalled edition of Gray, Collins, and Goldsmith for the Longman English Poets (1969). His monumental edition of Johnson’s Lives of the Poets (Oxford, 2006) won several awards, including the Distinguished Scholarly Edition Prize from the MLA, and was described by Frank Kermode as “quite simply a marvellous scholarly performance”. He also edited two major, extraordinarily comprehensive anthologies—The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse (1984) and Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Anthology (1989)—which effectively re-defined a whole period of literary history.

Roger Lonsdale was deeply musical, an interest reflected in his life of Charles Burney (1965) as well as in much dedicated concert-going. He was a man of great modesty and kindliness whose immense scholarly generosity was valued by innumerable students of the subject; his distinction was recognised by elections to the Fellowship of the British Academy and the Royal Society of Literature. Everything he said was graced with a wonderfully dry, self-directed humour that belied the quite unrivalled authority of his scholarship. His loss will be lamented by very many friends and admirers across the globe.