I am still reeling from the news that Robert D. Hume, the American theatre historian, died last week. I debated whether to write anything about him here because I was not a colleague or friend and did not know him very well – beyond the exchange of a few emails. But at the same time, I feel like I knew him incredibly well, because I have been consistently reading him for more than a decade. His research on performance in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries, often in tandem with Judith Milhous, completely revolutionised the way we think about theatre history. He took a subject beleaguered by romanticised anecdotes and gave it a hard-headed, economic basis.
I saw him at a conference once (his magisterial beard was unmissable) and was too shy to introduce myself. When I was researching the life of Peg Woffington, I felt like I was in mental dialogue with him. I did not always agree with his take on things, but he could be relied upon to be informative and insightful (even now I have a stash of his papers to read on early 18th-century opera). He did not suffer fools gladly – this can be detected in his occasionally withering asides – and I suspect he had little time for biography. Yet I have so much to thank him for, and struggle to believe that we won’t have any more gems from this original scholar.