An appreciation of Peter Cochran (1944–2105)

…And Glo­ry long has made the Sages smile;
‘Tis some­thing, noth­ing, words, illu­sion, wind,
Depend­ing more upon the Historian’s Style
Than on the name a per­son leaves behind,
Troy owes to Homer what Whist owes to Hoyle;”

Don Juan, Can­to III, verse 90
(Cochran edi­tion)

Peter Cochran is awarded his PhD from Glasgow

I nev­er met or cor­re­spond­ed with Peter Cochran, who died last week. But his writ­ing was wit­ty, well-informed and opin­ion­at­ed so that it was impos­si­ble after read­ing quite a lot of it not to imag­ine a per­son­al­i­ty and voice.

Dr Cochran’s schol­ar­ly work on the text of every Can­to of Don Juan, his 20-year labor on the Hob­house diaries from the Byron years and his pre­cise edi­tions of Byron’s cor­re­spon­dence with Hob­house, Lady Mel­bourne, Dou­glas Kin­naird and John Mur­ray and sev­er­al of his crit­i­cal essays have been enor­mous­ly help­ful to me in prepar­ing to read and to annotate/illustrate Don Juan.

Peter Cochran pro­duced an eru­dite, anno­tat­ed text of the poem based direct­ly on the man­u­scripts and the fair copy (super­vised by Byron) rather than on the emen­da­tions or approx­i­ma­tions of Byron’s ear­ly edi­tors as so many lat­er edi­tors have done. The result, as he argues, is more flu­id (much less ortho­dox in punc­tu­a­tion) and some­times more ambigu­ous in mean­ing. But the Cochran text gives the impres­sion of being all the more faith­ful to Byron’s own voice than the ‘cor­rect­ed’ ver­sions pro­duced by John Mur­ray or even lat­er schol­ars such as E.G. Ste­fan and Jerome McGann. (I also con­sult the Stef­fan text).

Bet­ter, for all its schol­ar­ly val­ue, Cochran’s edi­tion of Don Juan is a lot of fun. PC’s anno­ta­tions — like his essays — often extract or fill-out rel­e­vant details of Byron’s life, or read­ing (or pets) not found, or passed over, even in Leslie Marchand’s mon­u­men­tal 3-Vol­ume biog­ra­phy or (select­ed) Jour­nals and Let­ters. Best of all, PC appre­ci­ates Byron’s humour, tem­per and (many) foibles to an extent that many of his — chiefly Amer­i­can — edi­tors appar­ent­ly do not.** It would not be too much to say that Byron’s mod­ern glo­ry may owe some­thing to Peter Cochran’s ‘Historian’s Style’.

He gen­er­ous­ly made all this work — and much more — avail­able on his web­site in PDF for­mat. His daugh­ters, who seem to be his lit­er­ary execu­tors (and Twit­ters) say they will main­tain his site; for which I am grate­ful. I expect to rely on it for some time to come as I work through this project to nar­rate and illus­trate Don Juan.

Hail and farewell.

** I make one excep­tion to this obser­va­tion: the spec­tac­u­lar Isaac Asi­mov Anno­tat­ed Don Juan, illus­trat­ed by Mil­ton Glaser. IA is an anno­ta­tor rather than an edi­tor whose com­men­tary on the poem some­times seems to skirt the sen­si­bil­i­ties of his 1970’s Amer­i­can audi­ence. But Asi­mov, like Peter Cochran, got the com­ic genius and the sin­gu­lar scope of Byron’s great work.

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Byron fan (not fanatic); poetry lover (not tragic); doctor of melancholia (not gloom).

One thought on “An appreciation of Peter Cochran (1944–2105)”

  1. Thank you for this post regard­ing Peter Cochran. I very much appre­ci­at­ed his aca­d­e­m­ic work on Byron. What a ter­ri­ble shock to hear that he has died. A great con­trib­u­tor to all those who love Byrons work.

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