In memoriam: Cyrus Hamlin

Yale Professor emeritus Cyrus Hamlin, an internationally recognized authority on European Romanticism and literary theory, died peacefully in New Haven on Jan. 19, after several years of declining health, family members report.

Born in New Haven, Hamlin was professor of German and comparative literature at Yale and served as chair in both departments. His long and distinguished academic career began at Yale, where he received his doctorate in 1963, and included 12 years teaching English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto (UT) before he returned to Yale in 1982.

In addition to his two long-term appointments at Yale and UT, Hamlin was throughout his career in great demand as a lecturer and visiting professor. A cross-section of universities where he held guest positions includes Boston University, Oxford, Harvard, the Free University in Berlin, and the Universities of Heidelberg and Bologna. He was invited to lecture in Heidelberg on the 800th anniversary of the city.

While his teaching mainly focused on the Age of Goethe, he also taught courses on theater and opera, with particular emphasis on Richard Wagner and Bertolt Brecht. His scholarship also embraced classical and biblical traditions, and the theory and practice of hermeneutics.

“He very much enjoyed teaching the ancient literatures of the Bible and Classical Greece, which he did in Directed Studies as well as in courses team-taught with Yale colleagues Hans Frei and Louis Dupre,” notes his son Hannibal Hamlin.

His early publications focused on the poetry of Friedrich Hölderlin, on Goethe’s “Faust” and on the poetics of European Romanticism. He was the general editor of the Suhrkamp edition of Goethe in English in 12 volumes, and the editor with commentary of the Norton Critical Edition of Goethe’s “Faust.” His essays on the poetics of Romanticism are collected in a volume titled “Hermeneutics of Form” (1998), and most recently he co-edited “Symbolic Forms and Cultural Studies: Ernst Cassirer’s Theory of Culture.” A passionate Wagnerian, he also wrote and lectured widely on Wagner’s operas.

Among his other recent projects were conducting a study of major cultural institutions founded in Berlin from 1810 to 1830, and writing a series of essays on the Bible as literature.

Hamlin had a number of administrative appointments, ranging from chairing the graduate program in comparative literature at UT to directing the Special Programs in the Humanities to chairing committees for language studies and theater studies at Yale College. He also co-founded the undergraduate Program in Literary Studies. He served as president of the Elizabethan Club and the Manuscript Society, chair of the board of Jonathan Edwards Trust, and a member of the Beinecke Library Faculty Advisory Committee. His interest in theater led to his landing the role of coordinator and moderator for the Stage-Talk Forums at Long Wharf Theater.

Hamlin was born in New Haven in 1936. He attended Phillips Exeter and Harvard College, where he graduated magna cum laude. As a graduate student at Yale, he counted among his teachers and mentors I.A. Richards, Cleanth Brooks and William Wimsatt. The renowned literary scholar René Wellek was his advisor for his dissertation on “Romantic Studies of Greek Tragedy.” He retired from teaching in 2006.

He leaves his wife of 52 years, Rosamond Greeley Hamlin, and his children: son Hannibal (and wife Cori Martin) of Columbus, Ohio; daughter Sarah, of West Hartford, Connecticut; and son Charles, of New Haven; as well as two adored grandchildren, Sophie and Cyrus. He also leaves his brother, Dr. Charles Hamlin (and wife Linda) of Denver, Colorado, and his sister Ellen Hamlin Reynolds, of Manchester, New Hampshire.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, Feb. 19, at 1 pm in Battell Chapel, corner of Elm and College streets. A reception will follow, hosted by Jonathan Edwards College, where he was a devoted fellow for many years. A private committal service will be held next summer in Maine, where he spent many family summers, and which he considered his spiritual home. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Somesville Library, P.O. Box 280, Mount Desert, ME, or the Mt. Desert Nursing Association, P.O. Box 397, 12 Summit Rd., Northeast Harbor, ME, 04662.

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