Robert Isherwood (1935-2007)
Orest Ranum, October 2007
Robert Isherwood died April 10, 2007, in Nashville, after a long illness. Born in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, on April 18, 1935, he received an MA in 1959 and a PhD in 1964 from the University of Chicago. After teaching for three years at the University of New Hampshire, Isherwood joined the faculty of Vanderbilt University in 1967. He retired in 1996 after an accident obliged him to take permanent disability leave.
In addition to articles, reviews, and frequent participation in professional meetings, Isherwood published two books: Music in the Service of the King: France in the 17th Century (Cornell University Press, 1973), and Farces and Fantasy: Popular Entertainment in 18th-Century Paris (Oxford University Press, 1986).
As sound as it is pathbreaking, Music in the Service of the King joined music and political history into a major contribution to the understanding of monarchical political culture.
In Farces and Fantasy, Isherwood altered the debate about the limits of popular as distinct from elite culture, by finding a sphere of general public enjoyment in watching jugglers, minstrels, magicians, and freaks play to the crowd for a few sous. He ended the book with a somber civic remark: "I suspect farce and fantasy in some guise will always be a vital part of life and an integrating social force until the nuclear holocaust."
A former student, Richard Golden, speaks for all who knew Isherwood when he writes: "Bob was a dear friend, a Mensch, a man of integrity, wit, and charm. He helped me selflessly and often over the years. He loved life, France, history, books, research, music, friendship, good food and wine, sharp wit, humor, his wife, and his sons. He went through life with a dash of whimsy. . . . I will miss him greatly."
Johns Hopkins University (emeritus)