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NYU’s Raymo, Renowned Medieval Literature Scholar and Collector, 84

July 17, 2009
N-513, 2008-09

New York University Professor Emeritus Robert Raymo, an internationally renowned scholar of medieval English literature, died on July 16 of cancer at New York City’s Calvary Hospital.

Raymo’s academic work focused on medieval English literature of the 14th and 15th centuries. He is best known to scholars as a linguist and manuscript editor, most recently of a major 15th century work, The Mirroure of the Worlde, a Middle English translation of a French work, Le miroir du monde. Through his research, Raymo identified the translator of the manuscript from its original French as Stephen Scrope, the stepson of Sir John Fastolf, a soldier in the Hundred Year War whose name was appropriated by Shakespeare for one of his most well-known characters. The enormously complex work, co-edited with Elaine Whitaker, was published by University of Toronto Press in 2003.

Raymo’s most recent scholarship focused on the sources and analogues of the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales, contained in Sources and Analogues of the Canterbury Tales, Vol. II (Boydell & Brewer, 2008), edited by Robert Correale and Mary Hamel. Raymo’s contributions marked the first comprehensive 20th century edition of Chaucer’s sources for the work’s General Prologue. His other publications included Angles of Vision: Readings in Thought and Opinion (Houghton Mifflin, 1962), co-edited with Edward Huberman, and Lillian Herlands Hornstein: Medieval Essays in Her Honor (New York University Press, 1976), co-edited with Jess Bessinger.

For his magisterial chapter, “Middle English Works of Religious and Philosophical Instruction,” published in A Manual of the Writings in Middle English, 1050-1500, Volume 7 (Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1986), Raymo compiled 1800 annotated bibliographic entries gleaned from his research in approximately 250 western European and American libraries. Earlier, he edited Nigel de Longchamps’ difficult 12th-century Latin poem, Speculum stultorum (‘The mirror of fools’), co-edited with John Mozley (University of California Press, 1960).

A bibliophile and book collector, Raymo specialized in the works of Chaucer and medieval literature. He curated an exhibition of his collection at the Grolier Club, of which he was a member for 35 years, in 2000 to commemorate the 600th anniversary of Chaucer’s death. During the last few years, Raymo had been preparing a comprehensive bibliography of Chaucer editions from 1447 to the present, largely based on his private collection.

Raymo spent most of his academic career at NYU, arriving in 1964 as a professor of English and holding the title of professor emeritus since 2002. During his tenure at the university, Raymo served as chair of NYU’s Department of English (1969-1972) and its Department of Dramatic Literature (1969-1974). Founding director of NYU’s Medieval and Renaissance Studies program, Raymo was dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science from 1974 to 1979.

As chair of the Department of English, Raymo brought author Ralph Ellison to NYU as the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities in 1970. Raymo and Ellison had been colleagues and friends at Rutgers University, where Raymo was a professor of English.

Raymo was a long-term member of the Manhattan-based Grolier Club, whose members are book collectors, scholars, and lovers of old books and publishing. He was also a member of the Lotos Club and active in its Great Thinkers seminar.

Born in Pelham Manor on Jan. 23, 1925, Raymo received a bachelor’s degree from Fordham College in 1945, a master’s in English from Columbia University in 1947, and a doctorate in Medieval and Modern Languages from Cambridge University, which he attended as Fulbright award winner, in 1953. He began his academic career at UCLA, first as an instructor of English (1953-1955), then as an assistant professor (1955-1957). In 1957, he joined the faculty at Rutgers University, becoming a full professor in 1960, and departing for NYU in 1964 to become a professor of English.

Raymo is survived by his wife, Judith, stepdaughter Judith Sands and stepson George Glazer of Manhattan, stepdaughter Helen Marcus of Owings Mills, MD, stepgrandchildren Jonathan and Daniel, both of Owings Mills. Raymo’s first wife, Jane, perished in a car accident, in which Raymo was injured, in 1977. A celebration of Robert Raymo’s life will be held at NYU’s Fales Library in the fall.

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