In memoriam: Fred C. Robinson, scholar of Old English language and literature

Fred C. Robinson, the Douglas Tracy Smith Professor Emeritus of English, died at home in New Haven on May 5. He was 85 years old.

Fred C. Robinson
Fred C. Robinson

Robinson was renowned as a philologist gifted at tracing the shape of texts and as a critic sensitive to Old English words and names and syntax. He was the author of major books in his field: “Old English Literature: A Select Bibliography” (1970), “A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the End of 1972” (with Stanley B. Greenfield, 1980), “‘Beowulf’ and the Appositive Style” (1985), “Old English Verse Texts from Many Sources” (with E.G. Stanley, 1991), “The Tomb of Beowulf” (1993), “The Editing of Old English” (1994), and “Beowulf: An Edition” (also with Bruce Mitchell, 1998). Robinson’s “A Guide to Old English” (with Bruce Mitchell, third through seventh editions, 1982-2007, and an eighth edition in 2012 after Mitchell’s death) has become a standard text in university classrooms.

Born on Sept. 23 September in Birmingham, Alabama, Robinson earned his B.A. from Birmingham-Southern College and his M.A. and Ph.D. in English and comparative linguistics from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.  He came to Yale in 1972, after teaching at Stanford, Cornell, and Harvard.

Robinson served the Medieval Academy of America as its president in 1984. Among his notable awards were a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Haskins Medal from the Medieval Academy, and the Sir Israel Gollancz Prize from the British Academy. In 2010, the University of North Carolina awarded him an honorary degree. He was for decades a devoted member of the International Advisory Committee of the “Dictionary of Old English,” and served on the editorial boards of several distinguished series and journals. In 1998, Yale awarded him the William Clyde DeVane Medal for undergraduate teaching.

Robinson is survived by his wife of 56 years, Helen, and by his children Lisa and Eric. He is also survived by four grandchildren.

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