Peter Cochran 1944-2015: a brief appreciation

The effects of the loss of Dr Peter Cochran on 20 May 2015 on Byronists and Byron studies worldwide will be immeasurable.

Peter himself had for many years given up trying to summarise the huge range of his contributions, and his entries in the programmes for Byron events yield only bland overviews such as ‘Peter Cochran edits the works and correspondence of Byron on the International Byron Society website’ (London, 2013) and ‘Peter Cochran has written innumerable articles on Byron, edited Byron’s text for Garland and others, edits the Newstead Abbey Byron Review and is Research Fellow of the School of English of Liverpool University. He is currently working on an edition of Michael Rees’s translation of Teresa Guiccioli’s Lord Byron’s Life in Italy’ (Liverpool 2003). At Dublin in 2005 he mentioned that he had become a Senior Research Fellow at Liverpool and ‘hosts the celebrated Hobby O website’.

Such descriptions are of course woefully inadequate  in representing Peter’s work, and  it is characteristic of his generosity of spirit and his wish to share everything he wrote with everyone possible, and also the fact that he was an early and enthusiastic pioneer of information technology, that it is to Peter’s own website that we must go to see something of the great extent of his expertise, his huge industry in transcribing and editing Byronic texts (including the diary of Hobby O - John Cam Hobhouse), and  his deeply knowledgeable but fiercely independent commentary on almost all aspects of matters Byronic.

The task of writing Peter’s obituary will be demanding (though one he would have relished himself, and perhaps there is an autobiography waiting to be unearthed in his house in Cambridge, among the hordes of material there on Byron and his other enthusiasms, which included a boundless knowledge of film and television drama). I assume that Peter had his first taste Byron’s work during his undergraduate degree in English at Cambridge, but it was not until after he had established successful careers, first as an actor (including for the Royal Shakespeare Company) and then as teacher and Head of Drama at the Hertfordshire & Essex High School for Girls, that Peter began to study for his PhD on Byron with Professor Drummond Bone at the University of Glasgow, preparing a ground-breaking edition of The Vison of Judgment. He went on to edit (almost always from the original sources) most of Byron’s verse and prose, as well as many collections of letters to Byron, and to publish commentary on many aspects of Byron’s life and times, including book reviews which became a touch-stone for Byron criticism. Characteristically, he made all these available online in easy-to-use formats to anyone who was interested, and his website became the source for Byron scholars, critics and enthusiasts worldwide.

While the website shows the depth and range of Peter’s work, it cannot represent his great and inimitable personality. All of us will have our own memories of his ebullience, his wit and humour, his enthusiasm, his strong likes and equally strong dislikes, and the powerful sense of his presence in a room, which was perhaps related to his abilities as an actor and director. He was at his most stimulating when often also at his most combative, and the individuality of his ‘take’ on Byron (which was often painfully critical for many of us) gave an edge and excitement to what otherwise might be bland or over-academic debates. I have sometimes thought the effect of Peter’s presence may have been a little like that of Byron himself – intelligent, generous, funny, enthusiastic, challenging and always interesting and exciting , although sometimes also a little alarming.

Through his scholarship, energy, friendship and exceptional generosity, Peter has helped to bring countless people into the Byron ambit, and to make us all better Byron scholars and critics, and his work and his memory will live on through the Byron community in that most positive of ways. In the last few weeks we have been privileged to receive his daughter Abi’s touching and sensitive accounts of his final illness and death, and these have reminded us that he was also a dearly-loved father and grandfather, and we share our great sorrow at his early death with his family and all those who have been close to him.

Dr Christine Kenyon Jones

Research Fellow, King’s College London