It is with great sadness that we share with you the news of the death of Professor of English and John N. Bergstrom Professor of Humanities Bertrand A. Goldgar. The longest-serving full-time member of the faculty in Lawrence history, Professor Goldgar passed away the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 14. He was 81 years old.
Born in Macon, Georgia, Goldgar joined the Lawrence English department in 1957. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and an M.A. and Ph.D. from Princeton University. Over the course of his 52-year teaching career, he established himself as one of Lawrence’s greatest scholars. Known for his reverence for the written word, he was admired as a literary historian and editor.
His expertise focused on 18th-century literature, including Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, and he was considered one of the world’s leading scholars of Henry Fielding. He was a key participant in the authoritative Wesleyan edition of Fielding’s works, editing several volumes to great acclaim. His 1976 book, “Walpole and the Wits: The Relation of Politics to Literature, 1722-1742,” remains a standard work for historians and literary scholars alike. His scholarship was recognized with fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Last October, Goldgar was among the guests of honor at a major conference in Dublin to celebrate the inauguration of the 15-volume Cambridge University Press edition of the complete works of Swift, for which he served as co-editor of the first volume, “English Political Writings 1711-1714: The Conduct of the Allies and Other Works.” He was nearly finished with a second volume for the edition at his death. He was one of only three American editors working on the Swift project.
Goldgar was considered by some to be the “academic conscience” of Lawrence for the seriousness of his approach to scholarship and to liberal arts education, and for his unabashed opposition to anything that would diminish the academic standards and integrity of the institution.
He was widely regarded as one of Lawrence’s most dedicated teachers and was much beloved by several generations of students, both for his classroom style and for his near round-the-clock availability to students. He remained in regular contact with scores of former students after their graduation.
He reveled in his reputation as a “curmudgeon,” but those who knew him best knew he was a kind and beloved curmudgeon. His wit and humor were familiar both to students – he was often ribbed in The Lawrentian – and to friends and colleagues in the Union Grill, where he was a lunch-hour fixture.
In honor of his 50th year of teaching, more than 60 alumni and friends attended a surprise golden anniversary “Bert-Day Party” in September 2007 and presented him with “The Berton Anthology,” a collection of satirical writings in 18th-century style by former students about Goldgar and the Lawrence English department.
At the 2008 commencement, Goldgar was presented the college’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship in recognition of his sustained scholarly excellence and for exemplifying the ideals of the teacher-scholar. He also was the recipient of Lawrence’s Award for Excellence in Teaching in 1976. He was appointed to the endowed John N. Bergstrom Professor of Humanities chair in 1981.
He is survived by his wife, Corinne, two children, Ben, 52, Chicago, and Anne, 50, London, and two grandchildren, Sarah, 21, and Leah, 17.
If you would like to make a gift in memory of Professor Goldgar, an endowed fund in his name has been established by a group of his former students. Gifts in Professor Goldgar’s memory can support this endowed fund by sending a check to: Lawrence University Office of Development, 711 E. Boldt Way SPC 18, Appleton, WI 54911-5699, or online.
A memorial service for Professor Goldgar will be held Saturday, Jan. 9, 2010 at 2 p.m. in Stansbury Theatre of the Music-Drama Center. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Jill Beck, President
David Burrows, Provost and Dean of the Faculty