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ROBERTS, FRANCIS WARREN

ROBERTS, FRANCIS WARREN (1916–1998). Francis Warren Roberts (also known as F. Warren Roberts or Warren Roberts), a scholar of English literature and bibliography, son of William Clyde Roberts (1887–1975) and Exia Ethel (Frazier) Roberts (1894–1987), was born in Menard, Texas, on December 3, 1916. After completing high school in Junction, Texas, in 1934, he attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, and graduated in 1938 with a bachelor of arts degree. After his graduation, he took a job teaching high school in Hebbronville, Texas. Roberts enlisted in the United States Naval Air Corps in November 1939 and eventually became a lieutenant on the USS Douglas L. Howard, a destroyer escort. On August 25, 1945, he was released from active duty.

During his leave, on January 1, 1943, Warren Roberts married Patricia Anne Lomasney, then a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. They had two children—a son born in 1944 and a daughter born in 1949. The family lived in Chicago until 1947 when they moved to Texas and Roberts found employment with the Visual Instruction Bureau, Division of Extension, at the University of Texas at Austin. Working part-time, he enrolled in the English graduate program at the University of Texas. In the midst of his graduate studies, Roberts discovered his passion for bibliography and wrote his master’s thesis under Harry Huntt Ransom. His pursuit of a Ph.D. in English was delayed when he had to report to the Fleet Training Group and Underway Training Unit at Norfolk, Virginia, in 1950. In 1954 he returned to UT Austin and taught report writing for engineers, his first class as a faculty member. Two years later, he received his Ph.D.

In his nine years as an English graduate student, Roberts shared a concern with Ransom about the lack of research materials for twentieth century authors; there were no institutions at the time that collected recently-produced manuscripts and books. As a scholar who was interested in the work of D. H. Lawrence, Roberts worked with Ransom while Ransom was dean, president, and chancellor of the University of Texas to encourage the university to collect research materials for Lawrence. In this capacity, Roberts contributed to the creation of the Humanities Research Center, which was later renamed the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRHRC). The establishment of the HRHRC was so significant because, according to Roberts himself, "the University of Texas was the first [institution] to [collect twentieth century English and American literature] in a systematic way." 

In the mid-1950s Roberts corresponded with Frieda Ravagli (wife of D. H. Lawrence) and her family to track down Lawrence’s manuscripts, books, and artwork that had fallen into the hands of the late author’s friends and acquaintances as well as private collectors. Roberts made a great breakthrough in his search during his time as a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Pisa in Italy from 1956 to 1958. While perusing bookshops in Florence, he found the man who owned the bookshop and flat that once belonged to Giuseppe “Pino” Orioli, the man who famously printed Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The owner showed Roberts a box full of English papers he could not read, which turned out to be full of manuscripts, letters, photographs, and memorabilia related to Lawrence, Orioli, and their circle in Florence.

For the rest of his teaching career, Roberts continued to contribute to scholarship on D. H. Lawrence. In the fall of 1963 Roberts taught the first English graduate course at UT Austin devoted entirely to one twentieth century writer, D. H. Lawrence, and in the same year he published Bibliography of D.H. Lawrence; this work was revised twice before his death. He also edited (with Harry T. Moore) D.H. Lawrence and His World (1966) and Phoenix II: Uncollected, Unpublished, and Other Prose Work by D.H. Lawrence (1968). In 1977 he was awarded a Fulbright-Hays Fellowship to research 683 letters written by Lawrence in the early 1920s.

Warren Roberts played an integral role in developing the HRHRC, and from 1962 to his retirement in 1978, he served as its director. During the time of his involvement with the HRHRC, Roberts became a friend and associate of many important Texas figures in the fields of literature, bibliography, and printing, including J. Frank Dobie, Carl Hertzog, Al Lowman, and Tom Lea. All of these men contributed to his library with signed copies of their works, which are now housed in Southwestern University Special Collections in Georgetown, Texas. The Roberts family was so close to the Dobies that when J. Frank died, the care of his elderly wife was passed on to Patricia Roberts. Warren Roberts was also president of the South Central Modern Language Association from 1974 to 1975 and served as a member of the Southwestern University Board of Trustees from 1975 to 1976. He passed away on January 15, 1998, in Austin, Texas. He was buried in the Oakwood Cemetery Annex in Austin.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Teresa Palomo Acosta, "In Memoriam: Francis Warren Roberts," Index of Memorial Resolutions and Biographical Sketches, University of Texas at Austin (http://www.utexas.edu/faculty/council/2000-2001/memorials/AMR/RobertsF/roberts.html), accessed May 4, 2016. F. Warren Roberts, Grackles in the Trees, A Memoir (1992), located in Special Collections, A. Frank Smith, Jr. Library Center, Southwestern University, Georgetown, Texas. Jeffrey Roberts, Biographical Essay on Francis Warren Roberts (private collection). Warren Roberts Papers, 1965–1972, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

Emily Grover

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Handbook of Texas Online, Emily Grover, "Roberts, Francis Warren," accessed December 17, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frogr.

Uploaded on May 5, 2016. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.