Jerome H. Buckley, the Gurney Professor of English Literature Emeritus, died Jan. 28 at Massachusetts General Hospital at the age of 85. The cause of death was respiratory failure following a series of strokes. An authority on the poets and novelists of the Victorian era, Buckley helped to revive interest in those writers at a time when their reputation had sunk to its lowest ebb. His many books and articles include “The Victorian Temper” (1951), “Tennyson: The Growth of a Poet” (1960), and “The Triumph of Time: A Study of the Victorian Concepts of Time, History, Progress, and Decadence” (1966). He was a member of the Harvard faculty from 1961 until his retirement in 1987.
Robert Kiely, the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of English, said, “A Tennysonian with Arnoldian learning and a Dickensian sense of the absurd, Jerry was a dear colleague and friend, encouraging to young scholars and ever a reliable colleague to his peers. He possessed the best of Victorian virtues – curiosity, compassion, a firm belief that things could be improved, loyalty to friends, and deep devotion to his family. He lived what he taught.”
Michael Shinagel, senior lecturer on English and dean of continuing education and University extension, said, “My knowledge of him dates from 1962, when he served as one of my three examiners on my doctoral orals in the English Department. He was a formidable examiner, but a kind and caring person. Students admired him as a teacher and mentor.”
Born in Toronto, Canada, Buckley earned a bachelor’s degree in 1939 from the University of Toronto and master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard in 1940 and 1942, respectively. His doctoral dissertation on the poet William Henley eventually became his first book, “William Ernest Henley: A Study in the Counter-Decadence of the ‘Nineties” (1945).
Buckley became a U.S. citizen in 1948. Before coming to Harvard, he taught at the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University. Many of his students remember him as a kind and accessible mentor always willing to listen to the ideas of others. They also mention his eccentric sense of humor and his animated readings in class. The hospitality of Buckley and his wife Elizabeth was well known, particularly their Thanksgiving dinners at which many international students were welcomed.
Buckley was a Guggenheim fellow twice, in 1946-47 and 1964, and a winner of Phi Beta Kappa’s Christian Gaus Prize in 1952. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Board of Syndics of Harvard University Press. He served as acting master of Leverett House from 1969 to 1970.
He leaves his wife, Elizabeth J. (Adams) Buckley, and three children: Nicholas Buckley, Victoria Buckley, and Eleanor Sugarman. He also leaves a sister, Mary Buckley, and seven grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to the Salvation Army Finance Dept., 147 Berkeley St., Boston, MA 02116.