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In Memoriam: Rowland Lee Collins (1934-85)


A Remembrance by James P. Carley, Milton McC. Gatch, and William P. Stoneman

Rowland L. Collins died in Rochester, New York, on May 17, 1985, as a result of complications arising from encephalitis. His death was unexpected and leaves a great gap in the field of Old English scholarship. He will be sadly missed by his many students, colleagues, and friends all over the world. Rowland is survived by his wife Sarah and his children Robin Kilburn, Michael, and Catherine.

Rowland Collins was born in Bristow, Oklahoma in 1934. He received his A.B., cum laude from Princeton University in 1956, his M.A. from Stanford University in 1959, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1961. He was a fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation in 1956 and 1959. Before finishing his thesis, he began teaching at Indiana University, where he remained until 1967 when he moved to the University of Rochester. In 1965-66 he was a fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation. After three years at the University of Rochester he became Chairman designate, and then was Chairman from 1972-81, a task which he fulfilled with unusual energy, political finesse, and generous thoughtfulness.

Intellectual curiosity, meticulousness, and unusual energy characterized Rowland in all aspects of his life. When he first went to Indiana, he found a fragment of Ælfric's Grammar, which he was later able to link with another fragment in England. This ultimately led to an important article (with Peter Clemoes) on "The Common Origin of Ælfric Fragments at New Haven, Oxford, Cambridge, and Bloomington." Meanwhile, Collins had met William Scheide, who owned the only complete Anglo-Saxon codex in North America. He had also examined the Blickling Psalter and several other Anglo-Saxon manuscripts of North American provenance, and he decided to bring together as many as possible in exhibition. For the exhibition he also produced his major catalogue on Anglo-Saxon Vernacular Manuscripts in America. For an individual who had become the expert on Anglo-Saxon manuscripts in this country, it was particularly appropriate that he turn his considerable skills as editor to the manuscripts of The Blickling Homilies, which now resides in the Scheide Library, Princeton, New Jersey. Rowland Collins was himself an active Episcopalian, a fine preacher, and concerned with questions of theology. In his edition of The Blickling Homilies, then, he was able to combine his personal enthusiasms with his intellectual talents. The edition, so close to completion at the time of his death, would have been more than a diplomatic text: Collins was planning to show how the Blickling text fit into a wider context as a preacher's book on its own terms.

The readers of Old English Newsletter will acutely feel the loss of Rowland Collins. He was the one of the founding editors of The Year's Work in Old English Studies, ultimately became its sole editor, and never wavered in his devotion to it. Contributors all remember the careful checking, the attention to detail, and the imagination which he put into each section. Rowland was a member of the Grolier Club in New York and was a dedicated bibliophile. Over the years he put together an impressive set of Tennyson materials and during his last stay in England (Spring, 1984), he and his wife began to assemble collection of books from the period of the Anglo-Saxon revival. For Rowland the book was the key to all aspects of his scholarship; he was an old-fashioned and serious textual critic.

This is not the context in which to celebrate Rowland Collins' many other talents – his interest (and publishing) in opera, his work on Victorian cemeteries (and, in particular, his commitment to Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester), his accomplishments as a preservationist and local historian, his productive friendships with young and old alike (including thoughtful editing of volumes of memoirs for various friends), his role as a mentor to graduate students (many of whom were not writing dissertations in his field), his gifts as a father and husband. As we lament his untimely death, as we must do, perhaps it would be well to remember the words of Rowland's own mentor, the Blickling Homilist: uton gemunan hu uncuþ bið æghwylcum anum men his lifes tid, æghwæþer ge ricum ge heanum, ge geongum ge ealdum, hwilce hwile hine wille Drihten her on worlde lætan. Geseo we þæt oft swiþe manegum men færlice gelimpeþ þæt he hine wið þas world gedæleþ....

OEN 18.2 (1985): 19.