Ronald Dyce Sadler Jack, Professor of Scottish and Medieval Literature at the University of Edinburgh from 1987–2004, died on 14 December 2016 at the age of 75.
Ronnie was a native of Ayr, where he was born on 3 April 1941. He was educated at Ayr Academy and the Universities of Glasgow (where he first studied Law, then switched to English) and Edinburgh. As a schoolboy he met the legendary Samuil Marshak, translator of Burns into Russian for Stalin, visiting from the USSR to get a sense of the birthplace of the heroic Scottish peasant, and recited Burns to him so that Marshak could get the feel of Burns's Scots. Ronnie remained an enthusiastic Burnsian all his life, and a welcome speaker at Burns events and suppers: he was a natural performer with a great sense of humour. As a student at Glasgow he remembered an early lecturer describing with great imprecision how Geoffrey Chaucer 'was born between 1340 and 1342'. 'Pair Mrs Chaucer!' shouted out a Glasgow voice from the back row to an audience of three hundred, with that sense of egalitarian irreverence that Ronnie himself appreciated and was never to lose.
Ronnie moved from Glasgow to Edinburgh to research his Ph.D., and was appointed to a Lectureship in English Literature at the University of Edinburgh in 1965. He spent the rest of his career there, his uncompromising and exhibitionist west coast style in lectures alternately fascinating and puzzling Edinburgh's increasingly cosmopolitan student body. Ronnie was a passionate advocate of Scottish Literature at a time when it was unfashionable to be so: but Ronnie's view of Scottish Literature was far from parochial and self-congratulatory, for he saw it as a national literature in relationship to other literatures across the world. Scottish literature for him was literature by Scottish writers: he did not have much time for a definition of it limited to those texts which explicitly promoted Scottish identity. [End Page 147]
Ronnie became one of the foremost Scottish literature scholars of his generation. His brilliant Ph.D. thesis was published in much truncated form as The Italian Influence on Scottish Literature in 1972, which remains the standard work on the subject. Ronnie also produced the only book-length study of Alexander Montgomerie (1985) and edited the 1660–1800 volume of the Aberdeen History of Scottish Literature in 1988 as well as books on mediaeval drama and a student guide to William Dunbar, among a welter of editions, collections (such as The Art of Robert Burns, edited with Andrew Noble in 1982) and anthologies. But his reputation will chiefly rest on his pioneering scholarship on J. M. Barrie, in The Road to the Never Land (1991) and Myths and the Mythmaker (2010) among extensive other work. Ronnie was very much of the view that Barrie was a major Scottish writer, largely marginalised in the national canon because of his establishment wealth and status, extensive residence in London and 'kailyard' associations. Some of Ronnie's scholarly work is perhaps prophetic: the work on Barrie may in years to come seem even more definitive and important than it does now.
Ronnie's career flourished at Edinburgh, where he moved through the ranks to a personal chair in Scottish and Medieval literature in 1987, serving twice as head of department and also as associate dean; Glasgow awarded him a D.Litt., the highest degree available in arts and letters, in 1990, and he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2000. He was also prominent in external positions, being director of the Universities Central Council on Admissions, governor of Newbattle Abbey College and a member of the Scottish Universities Council for Entrance, among many other bodies. He was a scholarly leader too, jointly directing the immensely important and valuable Bibliography of Scottish Literature in Translation for some years from 2000, a major project which demonstrated beyond doubt to all but the determinedly ignorant the global footprint of Scottish writing. Ronnie was also internationally recognised, holding visiting appointments at the Beinecke Library at Yale, as Neag Distinguished Chair of...