Walter Jackson Bate (May 23, 1918 – July 26, 1999) was an American literary critic and biographer. He is known for Pulitzer Prize-winning biographies, of John Keats and Samuel Johnson. Samuel Johnson also won the 1978 U.S. National Book Award in Biography.
Bate was born in Mankato, Minnesota. He studied (under Douglas Bush) and later taught at Harvard University.
His critical work, especially The Burden of the Past and the English Poet, responds to and anticipates some aspects of the work of Harold Bloom. His biographies of Keats and Johnson have enjoyed extraordinary reputations both as scholarly resources and as works of literature in their own right. Jane Kenyon, one of many writers to be influenced by the Keats biography, paraphrases it in her poem "Reading Late of the Death of Keats":
- Clearly I had packed the wrong book
in my haste: Keats died, propped up
to get more air. Severn
straightened the body on the bed,
and cut three dampened curls
from Keats's head.
He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1957. Bate retired from teaching at Harvard in 1986, and died on July 26, 1999 at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, aged 81.
- The Achievement of Samuel Johnson (1955).
- From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-century England (1961).
- John Keats (1963).
- Negative Capability: The Intuitive Approach in Keats (1965), reprinted with a new intro by Maura Del Serra (New York: Contra Mundum Press, 2012).
- Coleridge (1968).
- The Burden of the Past and the English Poet (1970).
- Samuel Johnson (1977).