Bertrand H. Bronson, English: Berkeley

Professor Emeritus

The members of the Berkeley Department of English have lost by the death March 14, 1986 of Bertrand Harris Bronson, at the age of 83, a colleague whose style and grace, wit and wisdom, utterly dominated their imaginations almost from the time of his arrival in 1927 until his retirement in 1969, and long after during his emeritus years. His figure in our midst was unique, an important element in shaping our collegiality, and his disappearance casts in perspective the historical development of the English faculty whose present position in the very first rank nationally is so intimately connected with his tenure. Bronson was an extraordinarily wide-ranging scholar, whose work has a permanent place in several domains of English studies as well as in musicology. He was a “natural aristocrat,” of the sort Jefferson hoped would be at the center of national life.

He was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan (A.B., 1921), took a master's degree at Harvard (A.M., 1922), and the doctorate at Yale (Ph.D., 1927). Early in these studies he was marked out as a person who would have a role beyond the national scene when he was named a Rhodes scholar at Oriel College, Oxford, 1922-25, where he received first class honors, taking the B.D. degree in 1924 and the M.A. in 1929. In the course of his career at Berkeley, he was three times a Guggenheim Fellow, received honorary degrees from Laval University of Quebec (docteur des lettres, 1961), the University of Chicago (L.H.D., 1968), University of Michigan L.H.D., 1970), University of California (L.L.D., 1971) and honors from Yale University (Wilbur Cross Medal, 1970), Rice University (Medal of Honor, 1962), and the American Council of Learned Societies (Humanities Award, 1959).

His many literary studies in Chaucer and Johnson, in aspects of eighteenth-century literature and culture, and in the ballad and its music are widely known and valued. During his 20 years as an emeritus professor he continued his scholarly and critical activities, his last book, Johnson on Shakespeare, having been published only days after his death.


As a teacher he had, as he liked to say, four quills in his quiver, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Johnson and his age, and the musicology of the ballad, and he had devoted students in each of these domains. They honored him by two festschriften, The Ballad Image: Essays Presented to B. H. Bronson, edited by James Porter, Center for Comparative Study of Folklore and Mythology, UCLA, 1983; and Essays in Honor of B. H. Bronson, edited by Robert Maccubbin and Oliver Sigworth, Eighteenth Century Life, vol. 10, no. 3.

He married Mildred Sumner Kinsley in 1927, the year he received his doctorate from Yale and joined the Berkeley faculty. She survives him. Among the best known of his works are the following:

Joseph Ritson, Scholar-at-Arms, 1938; editor, That Immortal Garland, 1941; Johnson Agonistes and Other Essays, 1946; Music and Literature in England in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (with James E. Phillips), 1953; compiler, Catches and Glees of the Eighteenth Century, 1955; editor, Samuel Johnson: Rasselas, Poems and Selected Prose, 1958; Printing as an Index of Taste in the Eighteenth Century, 1958; editor, The Traditional Tunes of the Child Ballads: with their Texts, according to the extant records of Great Britain and America, four volumes, 1959-1972; In Search of Chaucer, 1960; The Singing Tradition of Child's Popular Ballards, 1975; Facets of the Enlightenment, 1968; The Ballad as Song, 1969; The Bronson Database, a comparative musical analysis of the Child song collection, 1982, and Johnson on Shakespeare, 1986.

J. Barish C. Muscatine J. Kerman J. Hart J. Traugott