June 7, 2007
By Michael Gaynor
"Rushing to judgment is part of Brodhead's character. The circumstances
at Duke merely brought out what anyone who knew his history could have
predicted: that he had led a sheltered existence that never had called
forth a display of force derived from a personal history of striving and
achieving and mastering difficult information and complex ideas. As the
writer in the Providence JOURNAL said, Brodhead caved and failed. The
wonder is that anyone thought he might behave differently than he did."
Professor Hershel Parker
Astonishingly, when prompted, Mr. Brodhead did not mention any lesson learned and instead told the interviewer: "I'm not going to say today that I know what the lessons would be, but actually, we have just lived through one of the most unprecedented situations in the history of modern universities. It's not every day that a university has to deal with a case with a district attorney framing the issues in an atmosphere of public certainty far in excess of the evidence that that person has."
In fact, Mr. Brodhead contributed mightily to that agonizing atmosphere of unwarranted "public certainty" and may never learn, much less apologize and try to atone. The "evidence" that Durham County, North Carolina District Attorney Michael B. Nifong had consisted of a ludicrous gang rape claim by an unstable ex-convict stripper, told in contradictory versions, and DNA test results that showed multiple male DNA in or on her, but none of it matching any of the persons who supposedly attacked her. There was no kidnapping, rape or sexual offense, and no bona fide evidence to suggest that any of those horrendous crimes had been committed against the false accuser by anyone, much less any (white) member of the 2005-2006 Duke University Men's Lacrosse Team (the false accuser having given the black team member a pass). Even after North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper took the unusual step of stating that the evidence showed innocence, Mr. Brodhead was insinuating that Mr. Nifong had evidence, but not enough evidence, even after it was obvious that the defendants had not been prosecuted in good faith.
I recently reported that a parent of one of the unindicted team members abandoned by Duke under Mr. Brodhead's "leadership" had sent me the following (restrained) evaluation: "I can't comment on [Mr. Brodhead's] scholarship, since I am not a Shakespeare expert. However, in terms of the other criteria, Brodhead has, in my opinion, fallen woefully short of expectations in his performance in the lacrosse incident, arguably the most prominent in Duke's history. Leadership qualities are best measured under difficult circumstances. Based on this, I believe Brodhead has failed miserably as the leader of Duke University."
I wondered whether a scholar would come forward to challenge Mr. Brodhead and one did!
On June 4, 2007, I received this intriguing email: "Have you seen one of the two comments I have posted on the Duke Chronicle? Brodhead in the New York Times in 2002 filched from me my good name."
My emailer was (and is) Hershel Parker: H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, associate general editor of the Northwestern-Newberry The Writings of Herman Melville, author of Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons, Reading "Billy Budd", the 1995 edition of Melville's Pierre, or, The Ambiguities, illustrated by Maurice Sendak, the two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography, 1819-1851 (1996) and Herman Melville: A Biography, 1851-1891 (2002)(the first volume having been a Pulitzer finalist and each having won the highest award from the Association of American Publishers' Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division).
Indisputably, Professor Parker is a bona fide scholar as well as a man with a reason to appreciate what that parent had told me about how insidious a wordsmith like Mr. Brodhead can be: wicked words in a New York Times book review written by Mr. Brodhead when he was teaching American literature at Yale University as A. Bartlett Giamatti Professor of English and also serving as dean of Yale College. [Note: Mr. Brodhead's review was entitled "All in the Family" and fellow Melville scholar Brodhead seemed to be insinuating that premier Melvile scholar Parker had made some "Archie Bunker" surmises, while carefully paying the expected homage to a monumental work (900+ pages) that complimented a prior monumental work (900+ pages) that New York Times Magazine had called "[u]nquestionably the most searching biography ever written on Herman Melville"; Times Higher Education Supplement deemed "[o]ne of the most complete and staggeringly researched biographies of an American novelist ever published" and "certain [to] remain the undisputed standard Melville biography for many years to come"; Times Literary Supplement called "Hershel Parker's magnum opus" and "a magisterial work of retrieval and unflagging scholarship, whose sheer diversity of detail adds human complexity to what earlier often seemed no more than an inert chronicle"; and Library Journal said "[c]ast every earlier biography into shadows."
Professor Parker on Mr. Brodhead: "Recent articles have observed blandly that Brodhead, being a great scholar, can still go back to the classroom. Well, he may be an amazingly entertaining performer in the classroom, but no one can be a great teacher without having himself or herself contributed to knowledge on what he or she is teaching. Brodhead has never added a grain to knowledge about Melville. Yet he exercised the power of his position as a dean at Yale to advise the book-reading public that my biography, the product of years of archival research, was unreliable. Rushing to judgment is part of Brodhead's character. The circumstances at Duke merely brought out what anyone who knew his history could have predicted: that he had led a sheltered existence that never had called forth a display of force derived from a personal history of striving and achieving and mastering difficult information and complex ideas. As the writer in the Providence JOURNAL said, Brodhead caved and failed. The wonder is that anyone thought he might behave differently than he did."
The parent: "Brodhead was careful in including the presumption of innocence wording in his many statements but this was not to protect and support the players but rather to try to limit his and Duke's liability. This wording was usually 'buried' or near the end of his statements, almost as an afterthought. In fact, the preponderance of the very passionate and inflammatory words in his statements would lead a reader to conclude that Brodhead believed that the lacrosse players were bad characters who were very capable of committing the horrific crimes with which they were wrongly charged. And his actions clearly supported a presumption of guilt, not innocence. Thomas Sowell, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, described this very well in a recent article he wrote about the Duke case in National Review, as follows: 'This year, after all the charges have collapsed like a house of cards, the campus lynch mob — including Duke University President Richard Brodhead — are backpedaling swiftly and washing their hands like Pontius Pilate. They deny ever saying the students were guilty. Of course not. They merely acted as if that was a foregone conclusion, while leaving themselves an escape hatch. It is bad enough to be part of a lynch mob. It is worse to deny that you are part of a lynch mob, while standing there holding the rope in your hands.'"
Professor Parker (in an April 12, 2007 post on The Chronicle's website): "Brodhead's rush to judgment is characteristic. In the New York Times on 23 June 2002 he told the world that I made up two lost books that Melville wrote, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS (1853) and POEMS (1860). Earlier scholars like Merton Sealts had been sure Melville finished a book in 1853; I discovered the title and completion date in 1987. We had known since 1922 that Melville finished POEMS. His instructions on publishing it have been printed many times, including in the 1960 LETTERS and the 1993 CORRESPONDENCE. Brodhead savaged my reputation. He did not behave better with the reputations of the three young men [Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans].
Professor Parker took offense at this paragraph in Mr. Brodhead's review: "Equally interesting are Parker's surmises about works Melville never published that did not survive. He makes the case that in 1852-53 Melville wrote a novel based on materials he shared with Hawthorne about a sailor who deserted his wife. If this is true, then the theory that Melville renounced writing after 'Pierre' is just wrong, and the mysterious leap from 'Pierre' to the work he published after a silence, the very different 'Bartleby the Scrivener,' can be explained in a new way. Parker is also convinced that Melville prepared a volume of poems in 1860 that failed to be published. If this is so, a stretch that had seemed empty of literary strivings was instead a time of new effort and new failure — a black hole Parker alone has the instruments to detect."
To call a biographer's facts "surmises" is to dispute the biographer's integrity.
Notably, Douglas Brinkley, who reviewed the book for Los Angeles Times Book Review, made no snide insinuation about Professor Parker's scholarship: "Parker's impressive scholarship and a vigorous analysis are cause for celebration. Too often reviewers misuse the word 'definitive'; not so in this case. The meticulous Parker has practically reconstructed Melville's DNA and in doing so has rendered American literature a signal service. Parker recounts Melville's chronic bad luck, epic writing binges, failed lectures, surreal visions and troubled marriage. It's a saga of genius refusing to be derailed. But Parker unearths a plethora of new material, including previously unknown family correspondence and even the title and plot of Melville's long-lost novel, The Isle of the Cross."
An anonymous poster at The Chronicle's website inquired of Professor Parker:
"Is there an earlier (maybe print) version where he [Mr. Brodhead] is more overt in his attack on you. Or is Brodhead simply being as subtle, cowardly and manipulative on this occasion as he has been for the last year?
"Also, was this paragraph above regarded as an attack on your reputation by Mr Brodhead by others at the time?"
Professor Parker's reply:
"This is a reply to 'tc.' I assumed that trying to get the New York Times to print a letter correcting Brodhead would be futile. As it turned out, I should have tried to get some sort of protest on record. There was no protest from any Melville critic. Quite the contrary! Two other critics echoed Brodhead's accusations. Andrew Delbanco in the New Republic (September 2002) warned that my second volume, like the first, 'must be used with caution': "For one thing, Parker is amazingly certain of his own conclusions. . . . He is sure that immediately after completing PIERRE, Melville wrote an unpublished novel . . . inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor . . . . He is sure that when Melville traveled by slow boat to San Francisco in 1860, he expected to find waiting for him a finished copy of a book of poems that he had entrusted in manuscript to his brother for transmission to his publishers before leaving the East. (Such a book was never published — and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it.) . . . . In short, Parker trusts his own intuition completely, and, presenting inferences as facts, he expects his readers to trust it, too." Then in The Common Review (Winter 2002), Elizabeth Schultz echoed Brodhead and Delbanco: 'Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed — a novel, putatively titled THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, and his first collection of poems.' To repeat, Melville scholars including Davis and Gilman in the LETTERS (1960) and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., in the 'Historical Note' to the Northwestern-Newberry PIAZZA TALES volume (1987) had asserted on the basis of documentary evidence that Melville completed a book in the spring of 1853. What I found in 1987 was the title, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS, and the date of completion, 22 May, or something very close to that date. All of this has been common knowledge since I published in a Duke journal in 1990. The Melville biographer Raymond Weaver did not know that Melville had completed a book in 1853. Weaver did not know about POEMS (1860) either. It seems that the critics Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz stopped reading with Weaver. The year after Weaver's biography appeared, Meade Minnigerode published a group of documents about POEMS (1860), including Melville's 12-point memo to his brother on how he wanted the poems treated. The documents left no doubt that the volume had been submitted and rejected. In 1938 Willard Thorp reprinted some of these documents, as Jay Leyda did in 1951 in THE MELVILLE LOG (adding another rejection from a publisher). Leon Howard in 1951 also knew of POEMS, as did every scholar after 1922. Melville memo to his brother, being a letter, was printed in full in the 1960 LETTERS and the 1993 CORRESPONDENCE, and of course was widely quoted and discussed. Every scholar knew about it. The effects of Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz are hard to pin down, but when someone cites one of them as the basis for saying I am a slippery fish with evidence and someone else says I argue that Melville had a book of poems ready for publication in 1860, the effects are apparent. (I made no such argument about POEMS at all, there being nothing to argue about.) The worst may be that the afterlife of false accusations is now indefinite. Last I checked (and it is painful to check), all three of these slurs were sparkling vividly on the Internet. You realize that these three are critics who did no 19th century archival research and who apparently do not believe that anything new can be found. Brodhead, I believe, was trained by Feidelson. Paul Lauter has described the death of scholarship at Yale, the day in the early 1950s when students came to class with notes from Stanley T. Williams's classes and found Feidelson talking New Critical talk about cloud imagery in Emerson or some such thing. Trained as he was and sheltered at Yale so long, Brodhead knows nothing of real scholarship — and apparently has a lot to learn about the real world beyond his Yale, the world where false accusations really do hurt people."
Mr. Brodhead's reaction to the Hoax did not surprise Professor Parker.
"Folk wisdom is vindicated by Brodhead's behavior as President of Duke University: character reveals itself under pressure; the mills of the gods grind slowly but they grind exceeding small. Brodhead rushed to judgment on me, as he did on the lacrosse players, and did incalculable damage to my reputation. From the early 1950's on the New Criticism, which considered biographical evidence irrelevant to interpretation, has been triumphant in many American colleges. The retirement of Williams in 1953 and his succession by Charles F. Feidelson was emblematic. As Paul Lauter has described, students showed up for class in 1953 with notes on history, biography, and bibliography from Williams's old classes and found the notes were useless. That day Feidelson talked about cloud imagery in Emerson or some other New Critical fetish. From that date, American literary scholarship was dead at Yale. Feidelson's students, among them Richard Brodhead, never learned the basic aims and methods of scholarship, as opposed to criticism. Brodhead never did archival research on Melville. Because of the incestuous hiring policy at Yale by the 1990s Feidelson's student Brodhead and his own students behaved as if no new discoveries could come from biographical research.
"My archival work on Melville and politics made me a belated member of this group scholars who in the 1940s had set out to discover what could be known factually about Herman Melville (not only Williams's Yale students but also Wilson Heflin from Vanderbilt and the ineffable, elusive Jay Leyda from Ohio, or Russia, or Red China). When I began research in 1962 I found, repeatedly, that no one had asked to see certain documents since the 1940s. At the NYPL Merrell Davis had been allowed to look at some pages of Gansevoort Melville's London diary but not to hold it in his own hands. When I asked to see it I was told Sorry, it was on hold. It was handed over to me once I pointed out that the man it was held for had been dead for years. And yes, I could edit it and they would publish it at the NYPL. I was too happy working in the archives to worry about how unfashionable and isolated I was, but over the next decades I sat next to fewer and fewer academics at the microfilm readers and more and more bookies and genealogists.
"Taking it for granted that my new research into Melville's life would be welcomed, I was blindsided when reviewers of my two volume biography (Johns Hopkins 1996 and 2002) set out to destroy my credibility by claiming that I had invented episodes such as a book completed in 1853 (basic facts about which had been brought out by the old Yale scholars in 1946, 1960, and 1987, although I did not discover the title of the book and the date of completion until later in 1987) and a volume of poems completed in 1860 (the facts of which had been common knowledge since 1922). As I write, three such reviews, by Richard Brodhead (23 June 2002 New York Times), Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, are still on the Internet, false accusations glittering brightly every day. Secure as a dean at Yale in 2002, sheltered from the intellectual strain of challenging research, and sheltered from real consequences of his accusations, Brodhead rushed to judgment on me just as he rushed to judgment at Duke."
I'm sure "the parent" would agree. After all, the parent wrote: "Brodhead, in speaking at the annual meeting of the Durham Chamber of Commerce [on April 20, 2006], said: 'If our students did what is alleged it is appalling to the worst degree. If they didn't do it, whatever they did was bad enough.' Brodhead made this statement shortly after Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were indicted on 4/17/06 and after it was publicly announced (4/10/06 ) that initial DNA tests failed to connect any of the players to the false accuser."
Professor Parker advised me that he read Mr. Brodhead's review as "devastatingly undercutting any belief in [his] honesty as a biographer," so I asked him to elaborate.
"Of course I do make many surmises, at other points, and make it very clear when I do. The sin Brodhead commits is to tell the readers of the New York Times that only I make these particular 'surmises,' that only I (and here he is of course ironic) have the 'instruments' to explore the black hole. That's just a lie — I built on Hayford, Davis-Gilman, and Sealts for what I thought about Melville's work on a new book early in 1853. They had made the surmises as they mustered the facts. Actually, I did not surmise at all: Hayford did, then Davis-Gilman and Sealts had more evidence which removed the subject from the realm of surmise. Again, all I found was the title, The Isle of the Cross, and the date of completion, and a few more particulars. And as for POEMS, it's hard to know what to say, since everyone had known all about it since 1922. Having read the reviewers of my Vol. 2, Edgar Dryden in THE MONUMENTAL MELVILLE (2004) says on 207 that I argue convincingly that Melville tried to publish a book of poetry in 1860. NO, NO!!! I don't argue it at all. I just go over the factual information known since 1922 (and 1951, for one document). The reviewers have tainted the picture. There is nothing at all to argue about.
"There is no respected authority left except Walter Bezanson, who is 95 or so. Sealts and Hayford are dead now.
"Brodhead's innuendo about my 'surmises' (which implies in the absence of facts) casts its shadow over all the review. The pattern is pretty forceful: 'He makes the case . . . . If this is true . . . . Parker is also convinced that . . . . If this is so . . . .' The worst of it came later, when other reviewers took off from this paragraph. Did Andrew Delbanco in the New Republic (September 2002), p. 34, independently come up with the same two examples in order to show my second volume, like the first, 'must be used with caution'? Delbanco pushes farther than Brodhead: 'For one thing, Parker is amazingly certain of his own conclusions. . . . He is sure that immediately [I did not say immediately] after completing Pierre, Melville wrote an unpublished novel (Parker implies that after failing to find a publisher, Melville burned it) inspired by a story he had heard about a sailor who disappears for thirty years, then returns to the wife for whom he has become a distant memory. He is sure that when Melville traveled by slow boat to San Francisco in 1860, he expected to find waiting for him a finished copy of a book of poems that he had entrusted in manuscript to his brother for transmission to his publishers before leaving the East. (Such a book was never published — and it is a surmise that Melville ever wrote it. ['Surmise' echoes Brodhead. Of course it is not a 'surmise' at all — see Melville's memo to his brother Allan on the publication of his verses.]) . . . . In short, Parker trusts his own intuition completely, and, presenting inferences as facts, he expects his readers to trust it, too.
"Wittingly or not, Brodhead set this up for Delbanco. Brodhead and Delbanco refrained even from naming The Isle of the Cross, as if the title gave it too much actuality. Elizabeth Schultz in The Common Review (Winter 2002), p. 45, complained: 'Parker also reads betrayal and despair into the disappearance of two manuscripts, which he contends Melville completed — a novel, putatively titled The Isle of the Cross, and his first collection of poems. Throughout his biography, Parker bemoans the loss of The Isle of the Cross's ghostly manuscript, imagining Melville's regret at never having found a publisher for it. Although there is only tentative evidence for the manuscript's existence and submission to a publisher, its ostensible rejection leads Parker to view his heroic author as victimized: "masterful as he could be, [Melville] had a way now, after the failure of Moby-Dick and Pierre, of seeing himself as passive victim to whom things were done."' Brodhead gave Delbanco and Schultz the blessing of the New York Times for their continuing to slur me.
"In his 2005 book Delbanco mentions the existence of The Isle of the Cross and Poems without a word of apology to me. (He did not even mention me as a Melville researcher in the advance proofs, then in the book he lumps me in with two somewhat unequal contributors!)
"The critics Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz are all highly respected. Can they not have read Melville's letters? Apparently they did not read anything after 1921. They did not go to the archives, any of them. Brodhead says nothing like this, but here is Delbanco on the horror that a delicate soul experiences when confronted with the possibility of pursuing archival research: 'A few summers ago, I had an experience that left me feeling hesitant to invade his [Melville's] posthumous privacy. I was in the reading room of the Houghton Library, holding in my hands a note from a former shipmate who had written to Melville to tell him he had named his son after him, and to beg him for a visit or a keepsake. Turning the pages of this letter that Melville himself had once removed in surprised anticipation from an envelope bearing the name of a friend from whom he had not heard in years, I felt that I was eavesdropping, like a tourist in a church who comes upon a worshipper kneeling in prayer.'" So much for Parker, who had brutishly transcribed hundreds of intimate private letters, coldly violating Melville's privacy decade after unsavory decade in his pursuit of material for a biography — a biography marred by reckless surmises.
"The great sin may not be Brodhead's slyly insinuating that I am guilty of erratic surmises passed off as fact. The real sin is that he pretended to scholarly knowledge. He took on the assignment of reviewing the second volume of my biography knowing what sort of book it would be. The biography was based on many years of archival research, as the chart of correspondents in the back shows, and based on many months in the newspaper archives, as nothing in the book shows, since I, with Brian Higgins, had published almost all the reviews in a Cambridge U P book, and therefore cited them only by paper and date. That is, much of the research was not called attention to, since we had a published source, our own collection, which I could cite once. Before agreeing to review such a book Brodhead ought to have known 'all' Melville scholarship, at least all the basic tools. I don't mean readings of Moby-Dick — I mean serious source studies, careful studies of the historical context, basic tools. The basic tools start with Jay Leyda's 1951 THE MELVILLE LOG: A DOCUMENTARY LIFE and continue with the Northwestern-Newberry editions of Melville (13 of the 15 volumes published in 2002) and a few other basic works such as Sealts's MELVILLE'S READING and Bercaw's MELVILLE'S SOURCES. Anyone who agreed to review my biography ought to have known Melville's LETTERS (1960) or the fuller NN volume of CORRESPONDENCE (1993). Brodhead ought even to have known my 1990 AMERICAN LITERATURE (a Duke publication) article on The Isle of the Cross. He certainly ought to have known about POEMS, from Thorp in 1938, in the widely used REPRESENTATIVE SELECTIONS, from Leon Howard's biography in 1951, from the LOG in 1951, from the LETTERS in 1960 and so on. This is in every Melville biography after Weaver (1921). Even the non-scholarly Mumford knew about it by 1929. Anyone taking on the job of reviewing a man's life's work for the New York TIMES has the moral obligation of knowing enough to appreciate what is new in it, knowing enough to appreciate the evidence given when (as in Melville's case) the documents may be scanty. In fact, I discovered a good number of wholly unknown episodes in Melville's life by reading documents no one else had read, and in fact I made some surmises based on what evidence I had; always I made it clear what the evidence was, and why I was assuming something happened. Neither THE ISLE OF THE CROSS nor POEMS was in the dubious category. As I said yesterday, there were no surmises about them, just information being conveyed, with the exception that I made the assumption, as Hayford had done in 1946, and as others had done, on the basis of a straightforward statement by Melville in December 1852, that the book he finished in 1853 was a telling of the story of Agatha Hatch, however disguised. So Brodhead never weighed my evidence when he might have made a case for my assuming something without full documentation, and he never admitted that I had abundant evidence for the two episodes he questioned.
"You won't know that I have expanded Leyda's 900 page LOG and the 90 page 1969 supplement (half of which I contributed) into a 9000 (yes, nine thousand) page electronic log, an archive of archives built up between 1986 and the present, but very large by the mid 1990s. Every known letter to and from, every review, every newspaper or magazine article up through HM's death — anything anyone said about him that anyone had found or that I found. This means that I could triangulate amazingly. I could tell where people were, I could identify strange names (I mean of course through computer searches), I could tell what reviewer was copying what reviewer. This work rests in my computer, probably unpublishable.
"I could direct you to a man somewhat younger than me, Professor Robert Madison at the Naval Academy, who knows about The Isle of the Cross and Poems. He is one of Hayford's students, like me. You see, the only great scholars were the 1940s Yale group, the maverick Jay Leyda (a film scholar), and the isolated Vanderbilt student Wilson Heflin (Senator Heflin's brother — I could show you my praise of him in the posthumous book on M's Whaling Years). No one devoted his life to Melville after 1951 through the 50s, when the New Criticism ruled, and the only one who took up research in the 60s, beginning in 1962, just happened to be me because I had a strange background and escaped the New Critical indoctrination. (Depression Okie who had to drop out of school to become a railroad telegrapher for 7 years — not a normal background.)
"Anyhow, not to know scholarship yet to claim to be an authority on a writer is a mortal sin. You see why: by his arrogant silence about the writings of scholars like Hayford, Sealts and a few others, Brodhead acts as if these heroic workers had never arduously distilled the essence of their thoughts and laid it in print before lovers of Melville. He acts as if they never existed. And to review a man's life work frivolously in the New York Times is a mortal sin. I was ill in 2002, partly from exhaustion at getting Vol. 2 out, partly because I was having a series of surgeries I had postponed, and by November I was as near suicide as I had ever been. To have my work trashed by critics who had never done any archival work — it was too hard. Ask the Duke lacrosse players and their parents if they have all been made whole again. I don't think so. I got on with my life, that November, but it's been hard to live with lies. I could have lived with any criticism which engaged my evidence and brought forth other evidence wisely. I joke that I was taught to pray for those who despitefully use me and was baffled at first when I prayed for Brodhead and God made him President of Duke.
"You understand the distinction I am making: a scholar adds to knowledge (this is 2% of the writers on Melville); a critic may ignore scholarship or toy with it (this is 97% of all writers on Melville); a great reader is a scholar-critic, as Hayford was."
Mr. Brodhead definitely is not as harmless as he looks.
© Michael Gaynor