Herschel C. Baker, the Higginson professor of English literature emeritus, died last night of an upper respiratory infection. He was 75.
Baker, a specialist in intellectual history, was praised by his colleagues for the broad scope of his knowledge in a statement released by the University yesterday.
"Herschel Baker was a man whose great learning, meticulous scholarship, and immense zest for his work displayed his distinction as a scholar and as a teacher," said Higginson Professor of History Wallace MacCaffrey, a longtime friend. "The same elegance of manner and of wit which he displayed in the classroom and in his books won him the respectful but warm affections of students, colleagues and a wide circle of friends."
"His was an old-fashioned form of scholarship dealing with the history of ideas and he was an excellent teacher," said W. Speed Hill, an English professor as the University of New York who studied with Baker and later dedicated a book to his former professor. "That I admired and esteemed him goes without saying. He was an austere man with a wonderfully dry wit."
And Franklin Ford, McLean professor of ancient and modern history and Baker's neighbor for 20 years, found Baker "admirable in every respect as a scholar, a teacher and as a statesman for his own department."
Ford said that Baker's scholarship "puts him very high among the shapers of the subject. I was struck by his erudition and his extreme caution, which I think his students appreciated."
Ford also called Baker "a very valuable citizen and an effective chairman of his department," and praised his ability to hear other people's points of view and to ride out controversies.
Baker was born in 1914 in Celeburne, Texas. He did his undergraduate work at Southern Methodist University and received a Ph.D from Harvard in 1939. He taught at the University of Texas for seven years, before joining the Harvard faculty in 1946. While teaching at Harvard he served several terms as the chair of the English Department.
His books include: John Philip Kemble: The Actor in His theatre (1942); The Ware of Truth (1952) and The Race of Time (1967). He also co-edited several volumes of essays and plays.
Baker is survived by his wife Barbara and three children. The family asks that in lieu of flowers contributions be made to the Parkinson Foundation or to the Harvard College Library.