Peter Cochran, 1944-2015

An independent scholar who became one of the world’s leading authorities on Lord Byron has died

June 11, 2015
Peter Cochran, 1944-2015

Peter Cochran was born in Edinburgh on 9 February 1944 and grew up in London and then Ipswich, where he attended the Northgate Grammar School for Boys (1955-62) and developed a passion for the theatre. He went on to both undergraduate (1962-65) and postgraduate studies in English at Clare College, Cambridge, serving as secretary of the Footlights and appearing frequently on stage.

It was during a Cambridge production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dr Cochran later recalled, that a fellow cast member failed to make an entrance owing to an attack of diarrhoea: he was forced to improvise, so he “just cut every reference to her in the scene, did a few word-swaps, and no one noticed”. After university, he made his living as an actor, first with the Royal Shakespeare Company (1967-70) and then in rep (1970-76), until frustration with his career led him to work as an English teacher at Margaret Dane School for Girls (1976-80). He then became head of English and drama at Hertfordshire and Essex High School for Girls (1980-2002), also based in Bishop’s Stortford, Essex.

In parallel, Dr Cochran developed a passionate interest in Byron. Many English critics, he believed, distrusted the poet’s “universality, versatility and cosmopolitan[ism]”, and had turned him into “a cruel and arrogant bore”. Furthermore, a close look at Byron’s manuscripts revealed many divergences from the printed editions, he argued. In 1993, Dr Cochran created a new edition of Byron’s The Vision of Judgment for a PhD at the University of Glasgow. His many subsequent books on the poet included “Romanticism” – and Byron (2009), Byron and Italy (2012), Byron’s European Impact (2015) and several edited collections.

Christine Kenyon Jones, honorary research fellow in English at King’s College London, praised Dr Cochran for his “deeply knowledgeable but fiercely independent commentary on almost all aspects of matters Byronic…All of us will have our own memories of his ebullience, his wit and humour, his enthusiasm, his strong likes and equally strong dislikes, and the powerful sense of his presence in a room, which was perhaps related to his abilities as an actor and director. He was at his most stimulating when often also at his most combative, and the individuality of his ‘take’ on Byron…gave an edge and excitement to what otherwise might be bland or over-academic debates.”

Dr Cochran died of a brain haemorrhage on 20 May and is survived by his daughters Emily and Abi, and grandchildren Lewis and Leila.

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