The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor.
University of Michigan.


THE Department of English Language and Literature, like most college departments, came into existence not by special creation, but by a process of evolution. The earliest program of courses, that for the academic year 1843-44, provided for work in rhetoric, but only in connection with a formidable curriculum in the Greek and Latin languages and literatures. The story of rhetoric's uncertain and shifting attachments and its later history as a department (between 1903 and 1930), before its definite union with English, are told in a separate article (see Part III: Department of Rhetoric).

It is true that even in the 1830's the teaching of English existed as one of the fainter hopes entertained by the Regents. A resolution offered on June 21, 1837, and tabled on the same day, provided that "until otherwise ordained the Professor of Political Economy shall be also Professor of the Ancient and English Languages." But no professor of political economy was appointed; and it was not until 1841 that instruction in any subject was given.

The first mention of English literature appeared in the University Catalogue for 1852-53, the first year of President Tappan's administration. It was Tappan's policy, however, to publish hopes as well as promises; he believed, no doubt, that publication might make the hopes come true — as, in the long run, many of them did. A professorship of rhetoric and English literature was announced, but no professor was named, and none was appointed. In the scientific course newly added to the classical course, and leading to the bachelor of science degree, work in English language and literature was prescribed for the first and second terms of the freshman year. In the departmental announcement, it was said that "the Professor of Ancient and Modern Languages, and the Professor of Intellectual and Moral Philosophy" would "take charge of this branch, jointly."

These professors presumably held themselves ready to take charge also of the work in English language and literature in the proposed "university course" of postgraduate studies. But, as it is said in the Hinsdale-Demmon History of the University of Michigan (p. 87):

It is not now easy to get at the precise facts relative to the graduate work that was really done previous to 1878. In the first place we do not know how many of the so-called Graduate Courses were ever given; no doubt, however, it was a minority.

Advanced work in English must have belonged to the weak majority; for before 1860 English language and literature, as well as rhetoric and criticism, had disappeared from the "Programme of studies for the degrees of M.A. and M.S."

In the meantime, however, English had gained the part-time services of a professor. Dr. Haven, who was to return to the faculty later as President, received his first appointment in 1852 as Professor Page  546of the Latin Language and Literature; but two years later, having given over this professorship to Henry Simmons Frieze, he became Professor of History and English Literature. In 1856 he resigned. But when in 1863 he returned as President he served as Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature.

For some time even the study of English literature was rhetorical in its main purpose. The Catalogue for 1854-55 stated: "The survey of our general Literature is necessarily cursory, and is designed chiefly to establish fundamental principles of criticism, and to cultivate correctness and propriety of style." This seems to carry on the policy announced in the Catalogue for 1852-53 for the study of Greek and Latin: that is, to give the student "knowledge … of those rhetorical principles which will enable a person to express his thoughts in idiomatic and perspicuous English. In this department, therefore, nearly as much attention is paid to the study of English as to the study of Greek and Latin." Nevertheless, the change in 1854-55 is important: the student is now to be taught the use of English not only from classical but also from English models.

In 1856-57, the year after Professor Haven resigned, only rhetoric appears to have survived, and that only as taught by an instructor who also had to teach Greek. In the following year, however, the professorship of history and English literature was filled by the appointment to the faculty of a man who was to become one of its most distinguished members, Andrew Dickson White (Yale '53, A.M. ibid. '56, LL.D. Michigan '67), later best known as minister to Russia, ambassador to Germany, and president of Cornell University. Together with Datus C. Brooks ('56, A.M. '59), Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, he brought renewed importance to the study of the English language and literature. This study was still limited to "members of the Scientific Department." And, as the following statement shows, its purpose was still largely rhetorical: "The object of this plan is to secure an examination of the principles of our native tongue." By the year 1858-59, work in English literature had been extended for the second semester of the second year to the classical as well as to the scientific curriculum. An added object of the study is indicated in the promise of "criticism of the Masterpieces of our Literature." And Assistant Professor Brooks could hardly have avoided getting into literary history in his course: "English Language and Literature, particularly during the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Norman Periods, and the Age of Elizabeth." There is no evidence in the catalogues, however, that expansion had gone so far as to include graduate work in English. The activity of the undergraduate students, not only in rhetoric but in the English language and literature, seems to have been largely in original compositions and declamations; and "during the last two years the pieces spoken are original." The tradition of eloquence was still strong.

Although Andrew White made valuable contributions to the development of English studies in the University, his main interest was in history. His desire for a professorship exclusively in history was gratified in 1863, when Erastus Otis Haven (Wesleyan '42, A.M. ibid. '45, D.D. hon. Union '54, LL.D. Ohio Wesleyan '63) returned not only as President but also as Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature. Haven was immediately listed as offering graduate courses in philology and general culture, and a year later English literature was announced for the first time as a senior elective. But such progress as these announcements suggest was probably not substantial; on the contrary, the Page  547program in English must before long have suffered considerable shrinkage. For in 1865, President Haven moved over to the professorship of logic and political economy. He replaced his course in philology with one in logic. He continued to offer his course entitled General Culture; but that seems to have been from the beginning not a course in English but in comparative literature. Only Allen Jeremiah Curtis (Kalamazoo '60, A.M. Michigan '61), Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature, was left to carry on the work. Then in 1867, Tyler came.

The events of the life of Moses Coit Tyler (Yale '57, LL.D. Wooster '75, L.H.D. Columbia '87) are related in biographical sketches and other passages scattered through University publications and in the notable Jones-Casady Life of Moses Coit Tyler, published by the University of Michigan Press in 1933. The Life must be read by anyone who in our time would know Tyler's career, his character, and his place in the history of the University and of American scholarship. In 1939 the Board of Regents named one of the new men's dormitories in the East Quadrangle the Moses Coit Tyler House. In making the announcement the University Record described Tyler as "the man who more than any other individual awakened the country to the study of its own literary history."

That this is not an expression of merely parochial pride is attested by many witnesses. Barrett Wendell of Harvard said in an address to the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Untiring in research, unfalteringly conscientious to the most minute detail, nor yet ever content until he had so mastered every phase of his subject that he could set forth his results with luminous amenity, Moses Coit Tyler has left for those who follow him through the boundless aridities of our earlier literature only the comparatively agreeable task of generalization. Whatever he actually did was done so well that it need never be done again. (Wendell, 393-94.)

The only man who, since Tyler, has done work of comparable importance in the literary history of America is V. L. Parrington, himself a guest member of the Department of English in the summer session of 1927 and known internationally as the author of Main Currents in American Thought. In his bibliography for the period dealt with in Tyler's books he referred to them twice as "invaluable" — a word of praise which he gives to no other book listed. From the Jones-Casady Life, which is always temperate in praise, may be culled such opinions of Tyler as the following:

He was … the first great historian of the national mind expressed in literature… Tyler may be said to have inaugurated the heroic age of scholarship in American literary history … Tyler's success is a miracle of perseverance and painstaking care… His work remains monumental still… Tyler had written a truly great historical work, generous in its sympathy, revolutionary in its scope and range, brilliant in style — an enduring study, the first great work of scholarship in the field of American literary history.

Nor did Tyler have to wait for the acclaim of posterity. Among other evidences of his eminence in the opinion of his contemporaries, the Life tells us that he was included in a list of forty immortals chosen by ballot among the readers of The Critic and Good Literature, outranking Dana, Whipple, Lathrop, Story, and Parkman.

Tyler was born in 1835 in Connecticut, spent his boyhood in Michigan, and attended the University of Michigan for one year. He completed his undergraduate work at Yale, studied theology there and at Andover, and, though he never went on to a degree in theology, held pastorates for about three years in the Page  548state of New York. After a sojourn in Boston, he went to England in 1863, and when he returned to this country, late in 1866, it was as a "lyceum" lecturer and a writer for newspapers and magazines. In 1867 he became Professor of Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of Michigan.

Except for an interval of eighteen months in 1873 and 1874, which he spent very unhappily in New York City as literary editor of Henry Ward Beecher's Christian Union, Tyler taught at the University of Michigan until 1881. In that year Andrew White, his friend of long standing, offered him the new professorship of American history at Cornell, and, as White himself had done years before at Michigan, he left literature for history. The change, however, was not abrupt; though Tyler had done much to stimulate and guide the appreciation of literature as such, he was always primarily the social philosopher, reading books with an eye chiefly to their historical significance. His main interest will appear clearly to anyone who reads in his many essays or in his books. Of the latter, which show also his growing absorption in American as distinguished from British literature and history, the most important are The History of American Literature, 1607-1765; The Literary History of the American Revolution; Patrick Henry (in the "American Statesmen Series"); and Three Men of Letters (Berkeley, Dwight, and Barlow).

Tyler's character is a study in contradictions. Before he came to Ann Arbor he was best known as a health faddist and as a facile popular speaker. A present member of the department remarked recently that he would not be considered now even for a teaching fellowship. Yet it is doubtful if any member of our present faculty has a better record of sound, hard work. The work of some of us may not be referred to half a century hence as "a miracle of perseverance and painstaking care." His industry, however, was like that of another great worker, Samuel Johnson. It was fitful. "The tranquillity of the place," he wrote after his return from New York to Ann Arbor, "is like balm to my brain and nerves." But this spirit was restless, and he could enjoy tranquillity only as long as he was satisfied with the work he was doing; only as long as he could hold himself to it "without remissness and without misgiving." In his public utterances and in his writings, he appeared to share the complacency of nineteenth-century liberalism, and to accept with most of his contemporaries the current myth of progress; but his diary, like Johnson's, records that his mind was troubled by many doubts and uncertainties. Year after year moods assailed him in which he wondered whether he ought not to return to the Christian ministry. In the main, he controlled his tendency to melancholy. He and his family lived happily together, he enjoyed many friendships, and he delighted his students with his easy eloquence and his humor. His work was sometimes interrupted, but its quality was certainly enhanced, by what the Jones-Casady Life calls his "feeling of the dreamlike evanescence of the world."

The influence of such a man as Tyler even in a department of the 1940's would be very great. In his day, he practically was the Department of English, and its history was made by him. At first his teaching, except for one course, was in elocution and rhetoric. He did this work conscientiously, and, according to contemporary evidence, exceptionally well. But his important report to the president in 1872 indicates that it brought him more weariness than satisfaction. He spoke of the "delicate and fatiguing task" of reading essays and listening to speeches. He was searching hopefully for some method of "teaching English literature Page  549to students like ours." It was in the study and teaching of literature that his real interest lay.

The Jones-Casady Life stated that in 1874, when he returned from New York, Tyler, with Angell's approval, "cut himself entirely loose from the instruction in elocution and rhetoric, and devoted his time to teaching literature." Hinsdale said that in 1874 Tyler's title was changed to Professor of the English Language and Literature (Hinsdale, p. 241), and the Alumni Catalogue published in 1923 also dates the new title from 1874. The Proceedings of the Regents (at that time not fully nor always accurately indexed) shows no earlier official change. But the annual catalogues for the years from 1867 to 1873 behave rather capriciously: according to them, Tyler's professorship was of rhetoric and English literature in 1867-68, 1868-69, and 1870-71; but of the English language and literature in 1869-70, 1871-72, and 1872-73. His report in 1872, mentioned above, appears in the Proceedings as coming from the professor of the English language and literature, and the same title appears elsewhere in the Proceedings of these years. It is evident that Tyler's inclination from rhetoric to literature was strong during his earlier residence at Michigan, and that his inclination received at least semiofficial approval.

In the part of the Hinsdale-Demmon History written by Hinsdale, Tyler's coming is said to have "marked a change in the English department; henceforth attention was paid to the study of literature as well as to its accessories" (Hinsdale, p. 55). This statement implies not so much the shift from courses in rhetoric to courses in literature as the adoption of the method of literary study for which Tyler had been searching. His desire was that students might "come to know for themselves the exhilaration of original research." By "research" Tyler did not mean quite what we now understand by the word, nor what he himself practiced. His first hope was only to escape from "the difficulty of interesting young people in critical estimates of books which they had never before seen or heard of." Nevertheless, the assignment of readings in original sources led not only to the introduction in 1875 of the senior course announced as the Study of Masterpieces, but also to the offering of graduate seminars; though, as Hinsdale remarked, the word "seminary" was slow in finding its way into the catalogues. By 1881, when Tyler left for Cornell, the main course for future programs in English was set at the University of Michigan and also at other American universities, as the result largely of the pioneer work of Tyler.

From 1881 to 1920, a period of thirty-nine years, Isaac Newton Demmon ('68, A.M. '71, LL.D. Nashville '96) was Professor of English and head of the Department of English. His connection with the University dates from 1865, when, after two years in Northwestern Christian University (now Butler College) and a term of service as a soldier in the Civil War, he entered the class of 1868. After his graduation he taught Greek at Alliance College, ancient languages at Hiram College, and mathematics at Michigan. For three years after that he was Principal of the Ann Arbor High School. In 1876 he returned to the University as Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and History, succeeding Harry Burns Hutchins, later President of the University, in that position. In 1879 his title was changed to Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Anglo-Saxon, and in 1881 to Professor of English and Rhetoric.

During the headship of Demmon a good many persons believed that the department was not moving forward as it should. It is certainly true that Demmon did not favor expansion or innovation Page  550Generally speaking, he adopted changes in departmental policy reluctantly, often after holding out for some time against the pressure, not only of advice, but also of events. He was not, as Tyler was, a brilliant teacher. He was not, as Tyler was, a distinguished author. It may be that he did not receive his rightful share of the distinction that came to Tyler, for he was heard in his old age to say somewhat ruefully that in the opinion of his friends his part in the making of The History of American Literature had been much greater than Tyler's brief note in the Preface acknowledged. Although he read with approval and appreciation anything well written by a member of his staff, he had so strong a distaste for what Henry Seidel Canby has recently called "cross-word puzzle scholarship" that the encouragement he gave others to publish was far from urgent.

The man who during the years around 1900 attracted students from all over the country, and, notably, advanced students from the East, was Fred Newton Scott. In recognition of his eminence the Department of English was divided, and Professor Scott was for the rest of his time on the faculty (1903 to 1927) head of the Department of Rhetoric (see Part III: Department of Rhetoric).

And yet — not long ago a woman of Ann Arbor whose memories of the University community run back into the days of Angell and Frieze and Adams and White and Cooley and the rest of the famous men of their generation was asked who was the biggest of the giants that were at Michigan in former times. She answered, as one surprised that the question needed to be asked: "Why, Mr. Demmon." Giants of this breed cannot, of course, be measured; but the fact that such an answer could be given means something.

The one man who could have written with authority concerning Demmon, and concerning the Department of English during his administration, was Louis A. Strauss. If he had lived to do it, he would have written the article for which this is only a substitute. Fortunately, he did leave a record covering this period of the department's history which it would be a wanton waste not to draw upon here. A digest, whenever possible in Strauss's own words, follows. The original, a memorial read before the University Senate on November 22, 1920, may be found most conveniently in the Michigan Alumnus for March, 1921:

A ripe old age had crowned a life of incessant labor and high endeavor, a life replete with varied achievement and enriched by such a range and depth of experience as few men, and only big men, can know … Mr. Demmon died, as he had lived, a fighter to the last — a passionate devotee of truth and right and justice as he saw them, an uncompromising hater of sham and selfishness and oppression, according to his lights. Moderation was not one of his virtues: brutal frankness was … A thing was good or bad — there was seldom a middle ground. He spoke his convictions with a courage and disregard of convention that commanded the respect even of those who disagreed with him. His intensity frequently betrayed him into bitterness, but never into dishonesty. Friend and foe alike have felt the lash of his scorn …

We shall consider his services to the University to which he devoted his life, under the following heads: 1. The Educator; 2. The Compiler of University Records, and Editor of University Publications; 3. The Bibliographer and Builder of the English Library; 4. The Teacher and Scholar.

1. From the outset of his career Professor Demmon evinced a keen and profound interest in educational problems, large and small, and exerted a powerful influence toward their settlement … Before the faculty of his college Mr. Demmon was invariably an ardent advocate of justice to the secondary schools … He held unwaveringly Page  551to the belief that the system of admission to the University by certificate from accredited schools, which the University of Michigan did so much to establish and standardize in the middle west, is incomparably better than the system of admission upon examination… It would thus appear that, in matters of educational policy, Professor Demmon was anything but a hide-bound conservative. On the contrary, he was progressive in his views, and a constant growth in liberalism is manifest to anyone who studies his life … That he did not stubbornly maintain a position in the face of obvious tendencies is well illustrated by his conduct in the matter of graduate fellowships. For many years he had flatly stood out against them. He said he did not believe in hot-house methods of building up and maintaining a graduate school. Gradually his views altered, until in 1909-1910, during his chairmanship of the Graduate Council, the Board of Regents, for the first time in the history of the University, set aside a considerable sum from the general fund for the support of fellowships; and this was accomplished largely through Mr. Demmon's influence …

2. Professor Demmon's arduous labors upon the early records of the University, the general catalogues, and necrology, are perhaps better known than appreciated by many of his colleagues … Mr. Demmon's close friends frequently deplored his activity in this seemingly ungrateful field and urged him to discontinue the work, but the value of his efforts to the University and his efficiency, born of long training and enhanced by the possession of a prodigious memory, naturally induced the administrators of the University to avail themselves of his services as long as possible … Chief among the University publications brought out by Professor Demmon are: "The Semi-centennial Celebration of the Organization of the University of Michigan" (1888), "The Quarter-centennial Celebration of the Presidency of James Burrill Angell" (1897), "General Catalogue of Officers and Students, 1837-1891" (with Professor Pettee, 1891), and two subsequent editions of the same work under his sole editorship, those of 1837-1901 (1902), and 1837-1911 (1912). In 1906 appeared the history of the University of Michigan. The author, Professor Burke A. Hinsdale, died in 1900, and the Board of Regents entrusted to Mr. Demmon the difficult task of completing and editing the work and seeing it through the press. The trust was executed with his customary care and fidelity and with complete success …

3. Undoubtedly the work which Professor Demmon loved best and in which he achieved results of the most significant and lasting benefit to the University was that done in connection with the library. Any day he might be seen spending hours in the cataloguing rooms poring over book catalogues or checking up accessions, or in the stacks hunting for lost or misplaced volumes, or in the reserved collections jealously looking to the safety of the University's choice treasures, or in the bindery giving directions for the preservation of some frail victim of the ravages of time, or in the corridors soundly berating some luckless library official for delivering a rare first edition into the hands of the Philistines — the students … Thanks to his untiring zeal and industry, the University possesses a Library of English Literature that is not approached in completeness and working value by any university library in the west … An eminent antiquarian book-dealer in New York once told a member of this committee that in his opinion Mr. Demmon was the best posted man as to English books and their market value, and on the whole the wisest purchaser in the United States … Many of his purchases have increased ten and twenty-fold in value, and would therefore have been beyond the reach of the University at a later time … The McMillan Shakespeare Library, the English Dramatic Library, the Carlyle and New England collections are notable achievements, but they are probably less significant as evidence of his thoroughgoing work than is the solid and representative character of the English library as a whole … He built for the future, and the future will build for him, upon the broad foundations he has laid, a monument more enduring than brass.

4. Liberal as were his views in matters of University policy, as a teacher and scholar Page  552Mr. Demmon was distinctly conservative. "A Man of the Old School" he was commonly called. This means, first, that his interest in his subject was broad and general, rather than highly specialized; and secondly, it means that he deprecated and resisted the latter day tendency to import into literary criticism and history the implications and methods of modern science … Whereas he took the lead in general educational reform and progress, in his own subject he followed, regretfully and sadly, the tendency of the times … Professor Demmon was anything but a showy teacher. He was less fluent in the class room than in the forum, where opposition frequently stirred him to eloquence. But he had traits that are more valuable in the long run than the ability to deliver impressive lectures or to make recitations "go" by dint of bustling methods, or a masterful domination of the class room through the imposition of his own personality … The atmosphere of Mr. Demmon's classes was surcharged with fine emanations from his mind and character that were bound to make themselves felt. There was his reverence for good literature that has fixed the attitudes of thousands of students for life. There was a reserve, characteristic of big men, that at once told the ready instinct of the student mind that this man had vast resources of knowledge that he could but slightly draw upon in the class room … There was, again, a large idealism, bafflingly allied with the shrewdest common sense — a combination typically American and familiar to us all since the days of Emerson … Much of his best teaching was done outside of the class room. He was always glad to talk informally with individual students … Combined with the traits mentioned before, his geniality, his accessibility, his interest in and sympathy with the aims and ideals of the students won his way into their hearts and made them his grateful friends forever; and the majestic beauty of his face — an ideal teacher's and scholar's face — completed an impression that a student might well cherish as one of the greatest gains of his college course.

Notwithstanding Demmon's conservative policies the department under his direction grew steadily. A reading of the successive announcements makes this clear. Although at first Demmon took over the courses which had been given by Tyler and entrusted his own to Benjamin C. Burt, within a few years the work began to be spread. More and more, courses were assigned in accordance with the special trainings and abilities of the growing staff. Within ten years Demmon's teaching was almost entirely confined to the "Masterpieces" courses inherited from Tyler, and to his seminary in American literature. Before the end of the century, courses in elocution and oratory and in English philology were announced independently of the English departmental program, and, without counting these, the number of the course offerings in English had more than doubled. To one coming to Michigan about 1910, the work in English seemed both in amount and in method very much like the work being done in certain other leading American universities, though, in a few of them, graduate work had been growing faster. Perhaps the pressure of general tendencies was enough for healthy progress; certainly the record of the Department of English in Demmon's time shows few experiments tried and discarded, but rather a gradual and steady onward movement.

Associated with Demmon were a number of men whose names are known to all who work in the English field. Some who left the University to carry on their distinguished work in other universities must be mentioned here. Charles Mills Gayley ('78, LL.D. '04, Litt.D. Glasgow '01), whose "The Yellow and Blue" has been sung by Michigan students and alumni for fifty years, after spending six years as a member of the Department of Latin, taught English for two years, and then went to the University of California, where he became Professor of Page  553English and Dean of the Faculties. Joseph Villiers Denney ('85, A.M. hon. '10, Litt.D. Wittenberg '20), of Scott and Denney's Paragraph Writing fame, left Michigan for Ohio State University. There he was Professor of English, for many years Dean of the College of Arts, Philosophy, and Science, and for one year Acting President. George Hempl ('79, LL.D. '15, Ph.D. Jena '89), after teaching English philology and general linguistics here for seventeen years, became Professor of Germanic Philology at the Leland Stanford Junior University in California. George Rebec ('91, Ph.D. '97) began his university teaching as Instructor in English at the University of Michigan, but he is better known for his work in philosophy, first here and later at the University of Oregon. John Strong Perry Tatlock (Harvard '96, Ph.D. ibid. '03) began his connection with the Department of English in 1897 and remained until 1915. Since then he has been Professor of English at Stanford, Harvard, and California. Tatlock's successor was Samuel Moore (Princeton '99, Ph.D. Harvard '11), an eminent philologist and Chaucerian who remained in the department until his death in 1934. During his later years he was also editor of the "Middle English Dictionary," his appointment to this work having been recommended by a committee of the Modern Language Association of America. Shirley Wheeler Smith ('97, A.M. '00) was Instructor in English from 1898 to 1901. He left, but he soon returned; and he still serves the University as Vice-President and Secretary.

This roster of eminent names — and it might have been made longer — suggests that under Demmon's direction the Department of English rapidly grew away from anything resembling a one-man department. The tendency has increased even faster since his retirement. It would be a tedious task either to set down or to read the names of the present members of the department, numbering about fifty. For the greater part, those who survive from Demmon's regime and those who came later must await the notice of a future chronicler.

But one name runs through so much of the history of the department during the past two decades that it demands more than passing attention. Demmon's successor, not as head but as chairman, was Louis A. Strauss ('93, Ph.D. '00). He spent most of his life in the University, and most of his life was devoted to its service. Immediately after his graduation in 1893 he entered the department as an assistant in English. In September, 1938, he began his forty-sixth year of teaching with undiminished zest and apparently in good health, but on the second day of the semester he died.

For many years Demmon had depended increasingly on Strauss's advice in the management of the department, and there was no doubt as to who was best qualified to succeed him. It is certain that Professor Strauss welcomed the appointment as chairman rather than as head. At first he tried calling the department to sit as a kind of committee of the whole, but this purely democratic system proved unwieldy and sometimes embarrassing, and it was abandoned by common consent. Since then, although regular meetings of the whole department and meetings, as needed, of different subcommittees have been held, official actions have ordinarily been taken by a departmental executive committee. This committee has been variously constituted; at present it is made up of those members of the department who are full professors.

Strauss was an excellent presiding officer. The fullness of his experience and the clarity of his thinking gave him definite opinions on most questions under discussion, and he presented his opinions Page  554cogently. But it was not in his nature to be overbearing. He never exploited his authority. In argument he always shed more light than heat. He was never intolerant or impatient even with those who were both intolerant and impatient.

To quote Earl Leslie Griggs's "Appreciation" (Griggs, p. 38), Louis Strauss, "born before the day of specialization, made all learning his business. He seemed to have read everything in English literature." He was well read also in other literatures, particularly in German. He was a lover of good music, and he had an almost professional knowledge of it. In this, and in his interest in painting, he resembled Browning; and his course in Browning, the course most familiarly associated with his name, was correspondingly strengthened. A man of great learning, he never paraded his learning. He had no touch of what is supposed to be the professorial manner. He was on friendly terms with all sorts and conditions of men, including tinkers and mechanics, men in locker rooms and guides on the northern lakes; and always without a hint of condescension, but because he was simply interested in what they did and what they thought.

Strauss wrote well, but he published little. Whatever he did publish was recognized as of high quality. After the appearance of his edition of Farquhar, for example, the reviewer for the London Times said that the introduction was the most sensible essay on Restoration comedy he had ever seen.

In his teaching Strauss was eminently successful. To the last his courses maintained their drawing power and their strong influence. Much as the world had changed since his career began, he never felt, and others never felt, that it had left him behind. He was not too much disturbed by innovation and experiment, but viewed them with a regard at once speculative and sympathetic. What his deepest feelings were, even his dearest friends often wondered. They found in him, however, a serenity that seemed to say:

What is excellent, As God lives, is permanent.

Like Demmon, he was active in University affairs, not only in matters of general policy, but particularly in positions that brought him into personal contact with students. For many years he was the chief faculty sponsor of student dramatics. For some time before its work was taken over by the office of the dean of students, he was chairman of the University committee on student affairs. Later, for five years, he was chairman of the University Board in Control of Student Publications. In all these exacting positions he was acclaimed by students and faculty alike for his fairness and wisdom. In 1933 the Michiganensian was dedicated to him — one of many evidences that he and his work were appreciated.

In his administration of the department, Strauss never looked out for his own interests. He knew this, and he was frankly proud of it. The rest of the men in the department knew it too, and harmony prevailed. To quote again from Griggs's "Appreciation" (p. 39):

The epithet I have heard used most frequently to describe him is beloved … A young member of our staff — and he will forgive me, I know, for venturing to include so personal a reference — told me with tears in his eyes — "I loved that man."

When, in 1936, Strauss was upon his own request relieved of the chairmanship of the department, he was appointed Isaac Newton Demmon Professor of English. The appointment was approved by the Regents "in view of his success throughout the years in developing an unusually strong department of English." Perhaps the most obvious evidence Page  555of the strengthening referred to is to be found in a number of important additions to the staff. James Holly Hanford (Rochester '04, Ph.D. Harvard '09), a leading authority on Milton and now of Western Reserve University, came in 1921. In the same year came Oscar James Campbell (Harvard '03, Ph.D. ibid. '10), now of Columbia University, whose activity both as teacher and scholar has been largely devoted to the drama. Earl Leslie Griggs (Colorado '22, Ph.D. London '27), who came in 1929 and is now at the University of Pennsylvania, is well known as a Coleridge specialist. Howard Mumford Jones (Wisconsin '14, A.M. Chicago '16) joined the department in 1930. Now at Harvard University, he continues his widely read studies in American literature and American culture. These men were members of the department for eight, fifteen, ten, and six years respectively. Their contributions were varied, but they were all alike in the stimulus which they brought to our teaching, and in their help in building the program for graduate study. Others who began their work at Michigan in Strauss's or in Demmon's time might be spoken of in similar terms; but since, happily, they are still active in the department, no account of their achievements is ready to be written.

The following holders of the fellowship in creative arts, which was established and maintained during President Burton's administration, were in effect and to its great advantage associate members of the English Department: Robert Frost, then as well as now perhaps the most eminent of American poets; Robert Bridges, poet laureate of England; and Jesse Lynch Williams, American dramatist and novelist (see Part II: Fellowships in Creative Arts).

Many distinguished scholars have been at times, oftenest during summer sessions, guest members of the department. Among them were: V. L. Parrington, already mentioned with reference to his Main Currents in American Thought, from the University of Washington; Ernest de Selincourt, of Birmingham, England; H. E. Woodbridge, from Wesleyan University; T. M. Parrott, from Princeton; H. S. V. Jones, from the University of Illinois; Douglas Bush, from Harvard; Ernest Sutherland Bates, editor of The Bible as Living Literature and celebrated historian of American traditions; G. E. Reynolds, from the University of Colorado; R. P. McCutcheon, from Tulane University; Louis B. Wright, from the Huntington Library; and Jacob Zeitlin, from the University of Illinois.

One of the earliest policies adopted during Strauss's chairmanship involved the abandonment of the survey course as an introduction to English literature. Instead of attempting to teach sophomores the history of English literature, the staff turned to the less ambitious but still hard task of teaching them how to read, introducing historical considerations only as they might be needed for the appreciation of individual authors. Like Moses Tyler long ago, we were conscious of "the difficulty of interesting young people in critical estimates of books which they had never before seen or heard of." If we did not commit ourselves to Tyler's hope, that they might "come to know for themselves the exhilaration of original research," it was partly because we were trying to adapt the method to students who were younger and possibly not as well prepared as his.

The year 1924 saw the introduction of the English honors course for seniors, an offering which put on record again the department's belief in the value of emphasis on the student's own reading. Admission to this course was limited "to students of high standing and to those deemed qualified to do independent work." At first nine hours of credit were Page  556given in each semester of the senior year. Later, in order to allow greater flexibility in the making of senior programs, the work was reduced to correspond to five hours of credit in each semester, and a three-hour preliminary course for juniors was added. Members of the department in charge of the honors work have carried it in addition to their regular teaching schedules. Their successful experience has been drawn upon in the planning of the degree program for honors in liberal arts, instituted by the College in 1939.

The English proseminar, providing for studies in several different fields, was introduced in 1927. It is expected that candidates for the master's degree will elect three proseminars, giving six hours of credit in all toward the total of twenty-four hours required for the degree. By this provision not only candidates for the doctor's degree, who elect seminars, but also all graduate students have some training in advanced, independent work.

Early in 1928 the Division of English, embracing the Departments of English, Rhetoric, and Speech, was established by authority of the Regents. This rather loose organization, operating chiefly in the field of graduate work, lost most of its usefulness in 1930, with the complete reunion of the Departments of English and Rhetoric. There were good reasons for their separation in 1903, and even better reasons for bringing them together again in 1930, but the story is too long to be told here. It may be read in the thoroughly informed account written by Strauss for the Michigan Alumnus. It is safe to say that nobody concerned would welcome a second separation.

Among the richest contributions which the work in rhetoric brought to the reunited department were the Avery Hopwood and Jule Hopwood prizes for creative writing. The administration of this endowment is explained in a separate article.

Other articles deal with the immense labor being done by members of the department in editing the Middle English and the Early Modern English dictionaries.

When the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts ordered the division of student work into a general and a degree program, each two years long, the Department of English Language and Literature took the action quite seriously. It set rather exacting requirements for admission to concentration in English, including the requirement of a qualifying examination before third-year work might be undertaken. There seems to be a general opinion that the department has been too exacting in this respect, as no other department has thought it wise to adopt a similar policy, and, accordingly, the year 1939-40 was the last in which the concentration qualifying examination was given.

Since the department became responsible in 1930 for the work in freshman composition, it has tended to ask for fewer impressionistic sketches and for more themes that test the student's power of clear analysis and sound construction. This does not mean a declining interest in the finer and rarer elements of writing. It does imply a conviction that the use of language as an instrument can with some success be taught to the average student, and that he may be guided to the attainment of a respectable degree of literacy. Those who have the interest and competence to write with a less utilitarian purpose have in advanced courses a wide range for the exercise of their talents.

In order that the department may know what to expect of incoming freshmen, and that high-school students and their teachers may know what the department expects, it has conducted for Page  557some years what is known as the Correlation Project. Teachers from certain schools, large and small, are invited to send several times a year samples of their students' work, each set containing a theme written by each member of a class in composition. Members of the departmental committee in charge of the work then read, comment upon, and grade the themes, and return them. The work with freshmen is definitely benefited by the interchange, and the teachers who co-operate are good enough to say that they and their students share in the profits.

In other ways, too, the department works to improve its teaching. Frequent conferences are held with high-school teachers who are in residence for graduate work. In such conferences the teachers exchange ideas, and by showing what their problems are they help the staff not only to deal wisely with the young people, but also to give future teachers better training.

To come now suddenly to the top of the academic ladder, there are the summer programs for advanced study in different fields. These are conducted under the auspices of the University, not of any single department (see Part IV: Summer Session). In organizing two of them, however — the Linguistic Institute and the Graduate Conference on Renaissance Studies — the Department of English has had a leading part. It was also active in the graduate study program in American culture and institutions, in the summer session of 1940. These programs all bring to Ann Arbor scholars of international reputation, and many less well known who come to confer and learn.

It is not by accident that this writing has slipped into the present tense, for most of the things that have been said about the department during Professor Strauss's chairmanship apply equally to the present regime. In 1936, after the dean of the College had asked the opinions of the members of the department, Louis Ignatius Bredvold (Minnesota '09, Ph.D. Illinois '21) was appointed Chairman. His policy, and that of the department, is to consolidate and to further the progress made in earlier years.


Calendar, Univ. Mich., 1871-1914.
Catalogue…, Univ. Mich., 1844-71, 1914-23.
Catalogue and Register, Univ. Mich., 1923-27.
General Register Issue, Univ. Mich., 1927-40.
Griggs, Earl L."Louis A. Strauss." Mich. Alum. Quart. Rev., 45 (1938): 38-41.
Hinsdale, Burke A.History of the University of Michigan. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1906.
Jones, Howard M., , and Thomas Edgar Casady. Life of Moses Coit Tyler. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich. Press, 1933.
President's Report, Univ. Mich., 1853-1940. (P.R.)
Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1864-1940.
Strauss, Louis A."Isaac Newton Demmon."Mich. Alum., 27 (1921): 364-72.
Strauss, Louis A."Regents Merge Two Departments."Mich. Alum., 36 (1930): 331-32.
University of Michigan. Catalogue of Graduates, Non-Graduates, Officers, and Members of the Faculties, 1837-1921. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1923.
University of Michigan Regents' Proceedings …, 1837-1864. Ed. by Isaac N. Demmon. Ann Arbor: Univ. Mich., 1915. (R.P., 1837-64.)
The University Record, 1938-40.
Wendell, Barrett. [Memorial on Moses Coit Tyler.]Proc. Mass. Hist. Soc., 2d ser., 14 (1900-1901): 393-94.