Character  
in the Academy 
A Remembrance of 
M.E. Grenander (1918-1998) 
Hugh N. Maclean (1919-1997), and 
Perry D. Westbrook (1916-1998) 

A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us by its large scope. I am in the habit of thinking—not, I hope, out of a partial experience, but confirmed by what I notice in many lives—that to every serious mind Providence sends from time to time . . . teachers who are of the first importance . . . in the lessons they have to impart. The highest of these not so much give particular knowledge, as they elevate by sentiment and by their habitual grandeur of view—Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Character” (1866) 

The passing of a professional colleague who is also a friend always gives one pause; the passing of three in so brief a period of time serves less as an occasion to pause, than as an occasion to reflect on the legacies of three teachers, scholars, and citizens of the academy, and to consider how we have benefited from, and what we are making of, the academy that they and many others of their generation have bequeathed to us. 


     Reflection: Yes, that is what their passing warrants, and especially so at a time when the academy might well have struck M.E., Hugh, and Perry during their last years as an increasingly foreign, perhaps even hostile, environment. The academy of today, as we are reminded by many recent books heralding the doom of American higher education, seems guided less by the ideal of the life of the mind, than by reactionary politics, over-specialization in many disciplines, and a brand of careerism at all levels that fosters personal opportunism rather than loyalty to one’s university home. As I reflect on the careers of M.E., Hugh, and Perry, I know this has not always been so. 
     Except for individual details such as their fields of study or length of professional service, the published obituaries of these three appear to have been written about the same person. Each mourns the loss of a “distinguished scholar of international reputation,” a “highly dedicated teacher,” and a long-term member of the faculty in English at the University at Albany. But as we who knew them as colleagues or as our teachers realize, obituary eloquence cannot do justice to the range of intellectual activity in which each of the three engaged throughout their lives, and even the word “distinguished” seems inadequate to describe their devotion to the University community. 
     M.E. and Perry prepared as literary Americanists, Hugh in British literature—but their training was ul-timately a testing ground for studies of literary and intellectual influences far outside of their specialization, and each brought what they learned along the way to the place they cherished most: their classrooms. While her books and articles on Ambrose Bierce, the American short story writer and Hearst columnist, are considered classics, M.E. was equally at home writing about or teaching courses on literature in relation to the history of ideas, on Benjamin Franklin and the roots of European nationalism, or on the implications of Libertarianism and the theories of psychiatrist Thomas Szasz for the humanities. Hugh’s meticulous editions of Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson and the Cavalier poets won wide praise and will surely endure, but to the generation of students he prepared at Albany he may well be better remembered for his innovative courses on Milton and Modernism, the literature of war, or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s and Stephen Crane’s realism. And like M.E. and Hugh, Perry was a prolific scholar, writing over a dozen books on figures as diverse as William Bradford, Whitman and Dostoyevsky, and John Burroughs. But like them too, Perry read, taught, and wrote far outside his specialty, as his volumes and courses on New England women and rural writers and subjects such as free will and determinism in literature show. 
      M.E., Hugh, and Perry were gentlepersons in every fine sense of that word. No matter howinvolved they were with their own scholarship and teaching, each always found the time to counsel and support younger colleagues. Like many of my contemporaries, I profited from M.E.’s encouragement, which sometimes took the form of a congratulatory note when I published a work that met with her approval, and at other times took the form of a detailed critique when she thought I had lost my way. Hugh was always solicitous about the teaching experiences of new faculty: “How’s it going,” he would ask, and several hours later I or someone else would have a sheath of suggestions for teaching a course which we could never possibly have come up with during our period of youthful trial and error. A poet and fiction writer as well as a scholar, Perry too cared about our teaching and scholarship, but his particular gift was to gently nudge junior faculty into intellectual associations far outside of their work. He was the chair of the search committee that hired me, and when I shifted specialization from the Puritans to the American romantics, I felt obliged to confess what I feared he would take as my treachery. “Well, hmm,” was his initial response, and then after a long pause, he said, “Why don’t you come out to the farm this weekend and we can talk about it.”  So, I went out to his farm the next Sunday, and we chopped wood and talked all day, and by that night I knew more about Emerson, Thoreau, and Burroughs and their contributions to literary environmentalism than all my reading and thinking had taught me to that point. 
      There is no exaggeration in saying that in their respective careers, M.E., Hugh, and Perry touched many lives—teaching well over 5,000 students, and receiving virtually every honor available to persons in English studies. Even in retirement, they remained active scholars. M.E., for instance, was at work revising a manuscript on “The Art of the Short Story” at the time of her death. With Sir John Baynes, Hugh had recently published A Tale of Two Captains, a memoir recording the military experiences of their fathers in the British Army in World War I. And, shortly before his death, Perry saw into print his bio-bibliographies on Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and Sarah Orne Jewett which appear in a volume on 19th-century American women writers. 
     What I shall remember M.E., Hugh, and Perry most for is the sheer delight each took in ideas for their own sake and for what ideas could do toward improving the human condition. I shall remember them too as exemplary members of that generation which worked so hard to transform an established state teachers’ college into a research university. Just as they were in their classrooms, scholarship, and relations with other faculty, they were visionary university citizens, caring deeply about preserving the best aspects of the college environment they had inherited, and caring deeply too about the university they imagined would be, in part, their legacy. As I reflect on these aspects of their careers, Emerson’s words keep returning to me as an apt characterization of these three ideal teachers: “they elevate by sentiment and by their habitual grandeur of view.” As I reflect on these aspects of their lives, I am confident that what is best about the University at Albany will endure because its source lies in the very character of M.E. Grenander, Hugh N. Maclean, and Perry D. Westbrook. 



Ronald A. Bosco is Distinguished Service Professor of English and American Literature at the University at Albany and editor of the Emerson Papers at the Houghton Library of Harvard University. 

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