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Princeton Faculty Remembered
By Patricia H. Marks
PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 1996 Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni
All rights reserved.
Carlos Heard Baker
Department of English
BY A. WALTON LITZ
Those of us who attended the 1977 commencement, where Carlos Baker received an honorary degree, will never forget the standing ovation he received. His long career at Princeton coincided with the transformation of this place from a college with a small but highly effective graduate program into a large research university, and Carlos was an essential link between the two Princetons. At the time of his death a decade later he was working on a study of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who believed that the American scholar should "unlock" the connections between literature and life. Carlos was the embodiment of Emerson's ideal. As he once said in an interview, "You want to project not your own superior knowledge but your enthusiasm for the material, for ... the buried notions beneath the lines."
When I was an undergraduate at Princeton from 1947 to 1951, I never had Carlos as a teacher, although my secret interest lay in the modern (then contemporary) writers — Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Hemingway, Faulkner. At that time these writers were not taught in the department, but an unofficial course was given by a young instructor, John Hite, whose career was predictably short-lived. Yet this must have been precisely the time when Carlos was moving out of the Romantic period and forming his interest in Hemingway; we would have had a great deal to talk about.
After graduate education at Oxford and a stint in the United States Army, I returned to the Princeton English Department as an instructor in 1956, and it was then that Carlos and I became both colleagues and friends. He was chairman of the department — one never forgot this — but he treated all his colleagues as equals, and within two years we were "team-teaching" a popular course in modern literature that Carlos had initiated in the early 1950s. We alternated lectures (Carlos always attended mine, no matter how trite the subject), and I learned a vast amount about teaching from his quiet comments. What impressed me most was his respect for student opinions and his openness to new writing. Each year we devoted the final week of English 206 (Modern Literature) to a recently-published work, and although some of the choices may look bizarre from the perspective of 1996 (James Gould Cozzens' By Love Possessed leaps to mind) that does not affect the central issue: Carlos was asking the students to engage themselves with the writing of their own time.
A native of Maine, Carlos Baker (1909–1987) graduated from Dartmouth in 1932, where he won high scholastic honors and participated in extracurricular activities ranging from the presidency of his fraternity to manager of the hockey team. After earning an M.A. at Harvard, he taught for three years at the Nichols School in Buffalo, and then came to Princeton in 1937 as a graduate student and instructor. He received his Ph.D. in 1940, and moved through the ranks to full professor in 1951.
Carlos led a distinguished scholarly life. He was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the American Philosophical Society. He frequently taught in the summers at Middlebury's Bread Loaf School of English, where he could combine his devotion to teaching with outdoor life in the New England he loved. He served on the editorial boards of Princeton University Press and the Modern Language Association, and was also a member of the juries for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. As a Fulbright scholar he lectured widely in Europe and England, and taught for a year at Oxford. He received honorary degrees from Dartmouth and the University of Maine.
But the honor that Carlos cherished most was the 1976 Howard T. Behrman Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities, of which he was one of the first recipients. Although Carlos was a highly effective graduate teacher who supervised a number of important dissertations, I think it is fair to say that his great strength lay in undergraduate teaching. He took the undergraduates seriously at a time when that was very difficult for scholars of his generation, and I shall always be grateful to him for that example.
In addition to his many scholarly publications, Carlos was the author of three novels, a collection of short stories, and a volume of poetry — the poetry revealing a sensitive, elegiac temperament that casual acquaintances rarely discovered. His 1958 novels Friend in Power was a highly fictionalized account of the search for Princeton's new president, in which Carlos played a key role.
Carlos's understanding of how a writer thinks and feels informed all of his scholarship, and led to a critical style that was lucid, flexible, and totally free of fashionable jargon. He began his scholarly life as a student of the great Romantic poets — his first book was Shelley's Major Poetry: The Fabric of a Vision — and the relationship between the Romantics and the great modern writers of our century became his lifelong interest. His last book, The Echoing Green, traces the Romantic inheritance of writers such as Yeats, Pound, Eliot, Frost, Stevens, and Auden.
Carlos was probably best known for his work on Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway: The Writer as Artist (1952) initiated the serious study of Hemingway s fiction; the book was twice revised, and translated into a number of other languages. After Hemingway s death in 1961 Carlos was invited by Charles Scribner, Jr., to write the authorized biography, which appeared in 1969 and has been translated into fourteen foreign languages. One reviewer described it as the bedrock upon which all subsequent Hemingway criticism would be founded, and this has proved to be true.
A great scholar, Carlos Baker was first of all a great teacher, and generations of Princeton students, both undergraduate and graduate, have testified that their lives were changed by his example.
Gerald Eades Bentley
Department of English
BY SUZANNE GOSSETT
Sometime just before classes started in the fall of 1964 I met Gerald Eades Bentley. It was a significant moment for me: I had come to Princeton from Oxford the year before to study Jacobean drama, and to study it with Bentley, but when I arrived Ged, as he was universally known, was on leave. Being in the first group of a dozen women graduate students admitted to Princeton in 1963 had not proven easy; all of us, even married ones like myself, were subject to constant insinuations that our only reason for coming to Princeton was to search for husbands, and we had to demonstrate our right to everything from fellowships to summer library cards. I was eager to start working with the material I cared most about and to forget the hostility I had encountered. Finally I was going to take classes in my chosen field, determine a dissertation topic, and be exposed to someone from the line of great scholars of English Renaissance drama.
Bentley's classes were wonderful, but profoundly unfamiliar in style. Almost all of us had been trained as undergraduates by teachers from the school of New Criticism. Close reading of text was our primary skill and had been especially well drilled into Smith graduates like myself. Even at Oxford my tutors had expected intensely analytical essays. Bentley, with rare exceptions, taught theatrical context and historical and biographical fact, adding an occasional class on the development of a dramatic form like revenge tragedy. (In the Preface to the third volume of The Jacobean and Caroline Stage he actually apologized because "I have tried to suppress my comments on literary and dramatic values in the plays — not always successfully.") As students we could only intuit his enthusiasm for those aesthetic qualities most of us assumed formed the central interest of works of literature and implicitly justified our discipline.
But of theatrical facts and contexts he had absolute control. He accepted no traditional wisdom without verification, which had led to one of his early books, Shakespeare and Jonson: Their Reputations in the Seventeenth Century Compared, where he demolished long-accepted views about the comparative early esteem of the two playwrights by using references gathered during the course of his research for The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. We knew that anything he taught us was based on the latest scholarship, often his own. Week after week the splendid lectures rolled on, from "The Antecedents of the Elizabethan Drama" to the "Inns of Court Drama," from "The Regulation of the Theatres" through the semester break to "Play Publishing," from "Tragedy" to a grand May finale in "The Masque." This last — about which I still write — prompted Bentley in a rare moment of Renaissance boosterism to tell us that there was nothing done in the theatre now which couldn't have been done in 1610 unless it required electric power, like focused lighting. Then he added, smiling, that with lots of men and candles almost all of that could be and was done, too.
Meanwhile we were receiving a training unique in my experience at Princeton. Bentley was determined that his students would be accurate scholars, knowledgeable investigators, and teachers worthy of him. The first week he taught us what he called the "tools" of our trade, such as the major bibliographical sources, and noted which ones were lacking, such as a reliable survey of the drama of the period. He enunciated the rules governing the class reports that are what everyone from his classes of that era remembers best: we were encouraged to be critical of the books we reported on (it was not uncommon to learn that a standard work had "more reputation than worth"), to compare reviews by major scholars, to expect grading based on presentation as well as content. Furthermore, we would have to adhere to the number of minutes he set on the egg timer that he invariably produced as one began. By the end of the semester we were each to give a thirty-minute lecture for which he carefully established our audience ("college seniors," my old notes say).
The following year, when I was gone, Bentley went further in trying to prepare teachers. Since Princeton English graduate students did not teach in those days, he substituted for his regular Shakespeare course a seminar on teaching the subject, involving all of the students as informal assistants in his freshman Shakespeare class. This was not done to save him time: he observed each student lecture and then had an individual conference to work on the improvement of the student's pedagogical technique. These discussions, he believed, were as important as the individual conferences that invariably followed his reading and analysis of a student's term paper.
Accuracy was a primary goal. In 1964 Bentley was working on the last two of the seven volumes of The Jacobean and Caroline Stage. which he had begun as a doctoral student in London in 1929. This massive, still-standard reference work, which I had pounced on in Blackwell's bookstore long before imagining I could study with its author, provides in Volumes I and II all the surviving information on the dramatic companies and players of the period: in Volumes III, IV, and V similar information on roughly 1.200 plays and all known playwrights, including Anon.: in Volume VI information on ail the English theatres: and in Volume VII, along with a magisterial index, annals of Jacobean and Caroline theatrical events from 1616 (when Sir E. K. Chambers The Elizabethan Stage cuts off) to 1642. Quite typical of the work is a note in the preface to the first volume. There Bentley announces that in the section on players he has departed from the methods of earlier scholars. They had offered biographical summaries: he instead, for each actor quotes "every scrap of biographical evidence in chronological order." Such primary evidence gathering, done longhand on note cards in record offices and libraries all over Britain and in American collections over a period of almost forty years, is close to inconceivable to my own students, raised on the Xerox machine and computer for us it set a terrifyingly high standard. Bentley started training us right away, however: we were required to hand in our papers in two copies, one to him and one to a partner, each of whom would then proceed to check every single reference, quote, and footnote. "^Te could hardly complain: every word of The Jacobean and Caroline Stage had been read aloud, some say letter by letter and some say letter by letter backward, to insure its accuracy.
Furthermore, we were permitted to cite only the most authentic texts, usually first editions. Therefore, for the first time I found myself in Firestone Library's Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, searching through Massinger quartos and other rare books. I was astonished at the library's riches in the field of Elizabethan and Jacobean drama. Oh, someone explained, Bentley came from Chicago to Princeton in 1945, and after the war ended the University sent him to England to buy books, then plentiful and painfully cheap. Hence Firestone's large collection of play quartos from the early period. It is perhaps understandable that after Bentley's retirement in 1970 he was prevailed upon to serve as Assistant University Librarian for Rare Books and Special Collections for three years.
Sadly for me, despite the gallantry toward women which led Bentley to bring handfuls of roses cut from his own bushes when invited to dinner, despite the respect he manifested towards his wife's contributions to The Jacobean and Caroline Stage, and despite his own education in coeducational institutions such as DePauw (opened to women in 1867) and the Universities of Illinois and London, Bentley was opposed to the admission of women to Princeton and specifically to the graduate English program. He explained to me that the female students he had had at the University of Chicago from 1929 until 1945, though good, had not remained in the profession. More aware than he of how times had changed, deeply committed to my subject, and perhaps profoundly stubborn, I avoided the obvious response and altered neither topic nor dissertation director. All went smoothly enough — my work gained his consistent approval and his suggestions for improvement were invaluable. Then, with a degree expected the following June (1968), I made it clear that, like all the other members of my class, I was looking for a job. The depth of our differences about women's professional and scholarly potential became clear. In an era when a phone call from the right person routinely netted Princeton graduate students interviews and even jobs, he took no active role in assisting me. Unlike my male peers, I was thrown on my own resources. Meeting me in June on Nassau Street, Bentley sounded as much surprised as pleased when he said, "I hear you got a job."
Excerpted from Luminaries by Patricia H. Marks. Copyright © 1996 Association of Princeton Graduate Alumni. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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