- Charles E. Robinson (1941–2016)Scholar, Critic, Editor, Teacher, Colleague, Dynamo
Generous, gracious, kind, energetic, rigorous, meticulous: these words populate our testimonies. Nothing tells more of our sudden, shocking loss than the scramble to fill the many vacancies on conferences and lectures planned with Charlie's participation, especially for the bicentennial arc of Frankenstein. We are so used to Charlie being everywhere. One site is the Keats-Shelley Journal, on whose editorial board he served for 20 years. He was honored with our Association's Distinguished Scholar Award in 1995, with a tribute from Betty Bennett (another great loss to us) in K-SJ 1996—this, with twenty years of major work to go!
Charlie earned his Ph.D. at Temple University in 1967 with a dissertation that developed into Shelley and Byron: The Snake and Eagle Wreathed in Fight (1976). In what would become a pattern, one devotion spun off another—in this case, identifying Mary Shelley as the author of an amusingly confabulated discussion in New Monthly Magazine 1829, "Byron and Shelley on the Character of Hamlet." Although he couldn't nail it, Charlie's pursuit uncovered a forgotten tale by this Shelley, "Roger Dodsworth" (the eponym said to have frozen to death crossing the Alps in the 1600s, and thawed out in 1826). This seeded his debut in editing, Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories (also 1976). Then he and Betty produced the Mary Shelley Reader (1990), followed by Charlie's facsimile edition of Mary Shelley's Mythological Dramas: Proserpine and Midas (1992).
These projects were forerunners of his immortal Frankenstein Notebooks (1996), a stunningly important, two-volume folio edition, with photographs of the manuscripts, painstakingly lucid transcriptions of the two Shelleys' hands, a gorgeously detailed chronology, and a coordination with the printed pages of the 1818 publication. Editors, critics, scholars, teachers: we all rely on this resource. Not resting on this landmark, Charlie went on to redact The Original Frankenstein (2008): a verso transcription of Mary Shelley's manuscript of 1816–1817, and recto, a transcription showing Percy Shelley's contributions, along with some new discoveries about the novel's development. "I recently worked closely with him when we put the Frankenstein MSS online in the Shelley-Godwin Archive" (for open access at the Bodleian library), wrote Neil Fraistat, President of the Keats-Shelley Association of America. "He gave us all his files, carefully corrected, with several changes in his earlier attribution of hands. He was meticulous to a fault, the model of an engaged scholar." Even one dissenter on Charlie's conclusions about authorship, John Lauritsen, expressed admiration of his characteristic "courtesy" in correspondence and public discussions of the matter. James Rovira speaks for us all: "throughout his career Charlie has given [End Page 25] even the most unpopular of positions a fair hearing." In the same key, Doucet Fischer remembers Charlie as a reader at the old Pforzheimer Library, when he was famous for his tact with other "aggressive" scholars on site.
Another passion for Charlie was the correspondence of William Hazlitt—with research at sites near and far, familiar and arcane. Delving into the Murray archives, he came across an incredibly important document with a reference to a letter from Shelley to Byron, written in 1814, two years before what everyone believed was their first acquaintance in 1816. Already noted for such foundational discoveries, Charlie produced a pamphlet (1987) with holographs of 28 new Hazlitt-letters and corrections to existing editions. In the wake of this, venerable Hazlitt editor Stanley Jones, hoping for a fresh edition of the correspondence, commented to emerging Hazlitt scholar Duncan Wu, that he thought the ideal person to take this on would be Charlie. "Stanley had not met Charlie, but knew him as one of the most careful, meticulous, and trustworthy scholars in our field. When I came to know him," adds Duncan, "it was a joy to find that he was not only that, he was a man with a generous heart. He would help anyone who came to him, and went out of his way to do good turns for those who were in need. He was very close to being a saint...