Walter Jackson Bate, born May 23, 1918, in Mankato, Minnesota, died July 26, 1999 of cardiac arrest at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston.
A. Kingsley Porter University Professor Emeritus and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, Bate graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1939, and received his Ph.D. in 1942. He taught history and literature there from 1946 until his retirement in 1986. He was appointed Associate Professor of English in 1949, then Professor in 1956 and became chairman of the department of English from 1956 to 1962.
Bate was awarded his first Pulitzer Prize in 1964 for John Keats, a biography of the charismatic 18th-century English poet who died of tuberculosis at the age of 25. Praising the biography in a Boston Globe book review, critic Herbert A. Kenney wrote, "This is the best book on John Keats that has ever been done, and it is difficult to see how it could be improved in the scope of a single volume."
Bate received his second Pulitzer in 1978 for his biography of Samuel Johnson. The book went on to win the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and appeared in nearly every year-end list of the best books for 1977. His courses "The Age of Johnson" and "The Function and Criticism of Literature" were popular for more than 30 years and drew as many as 400 students.
A resident of Cambridge, he also had a home in Amherst, N.H., where he farmed. He wrote, "Unsuccessful farming, I hasten to add. For a few years I actually had a dairy farm of sorts, and then, after continual loss, decided to grow rocks."
His earlier works include, besides articles on criticism and eighteenth-century literature, Negative Capability (1939), a study of Keats and the poetic imagination; The Stylistic Development of Keats (1945); a series of Lowell Lectures on the eighteenth-century transition to modern conceptions of art, From Classic to Romantic (1946); The Achievement of Samuel Johnson (1955), which won the Gauss Award of the Phi Beta Kappa, and the textbook, Criticism: the Major Texts, published by Harcourt, Brace and Company.