Sunday, April 21, 2013

Leon Howard is a major character in my MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY. This is Richard Lehan's memorial piece, recently sent to me.

Leon Howard, English: Los Angeles


Professor Emeritus
Leon Howard was born on November 8, 1903 in Talladega, Alabama and died of complications resulting from emphysema on December 21, 1982. His wife, Henrietta, preceded him in death, dying in 1977. He is survived by their three children: Mr. Charles Howard of Los Gatos, Mrs. Kathleen Piper of Chico, and Mrs. Mary Cresswell of Wellington, New Zealand.
Leon received his A.B. degree from Birmingham-Southern College in 1923, his M.A. from the University of Chicago in 1926, and his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1929. He taught at Pomona College (1930-37) and Northwestern University (1938-50), before joining the faculty at UCLA where he taught from 1950 to his retirement in 1971. He then taught one course a semester at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque until his death.
Leon was a preeminent professor of American literature, establishing an international reputation with books such as The Connecticut Wits (1941), Herman Melville A Biography (1951, reprinted 1958, 1967), Victorian Knight-Errant: A Study of the Early Career of James Russell Lowell (1952), Literature and the Tradition (1960), and “The Mind” of Jonathan Edwards: Reconstructed Text (1963). Leon did more than probably any other American scholar in helping to carry American culture abroad. His many pamphlets and essays were widely distributed in both Europe and Asia, and he held Fulbright and other appointments at Tokyo and Kyoto Universities (1951, 1954); the University of London (1956-57); Nice (1957); Copenhagen, Lund, Stockholm, and Upsala (1960); he also gave a series of Fulbright-sponsored public lectures in Europe (1961), Australia (1963), and Switzerland and Germany (1964). His achievement was recognized by honorary degrees from the University of Chicago (1961) and Abo Akademi, Finland (1968). Leon was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1963), a Guggenheim Fellow (1944-45), and the recipient of the UCLA Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching (1964).

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A somewhat shaggy, rumpled sociable man with an infectious laugh, Leon had a shrewd sense of how the academic profession worked and what were its strengths and weaknesses. Fiercely loyal to his students, his many Ph.D.s were as well trained in the working of the academy as they were in their field of study. A man of formidable energy, Leon is remembered by his students as walking into his classes without a note and lecturing brilliantly for an hour or longer on Emerson, Melville, or Whitman, often chain-smoking as he talked, emptying the ashes into a lidded ashtray that he always carried in his pocket. In his 21 years at UCLA, he directed more than 30 dissertations, some written by the now leading scholars in the field. At the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, Leon would literally “hold court” in his hotel room to which ex-students, old colleagues and friends, and some of the most eminent scholars from around the world would come for a friendly drink, good talk, and the exchange of professional information and academic news. These meetings characterized Leon at his very best--warm, friendly, open, totally committed to what was going on in his field, and interested in how the profession was responding to that activity. As one of his junior colleagues once put it, “I learned more about literature and the profession from Leon's `tea parties' than I ever did from a book. Leon had a way of making scholarship and scholarly activity fun.” It was this gregariousness that made him equally at home in the cabin he and some of his colleagues leased at Lone Pine, which became a kind of extension of UCLA, and indeed came into its own press and published a number of his less serious essays and poems under the imprint of the University of California Press at Lone Pine.
Leon's accolades are many. Harrison Hayford has summarized his scholarship, teaching, and service on national and international committees as “amounting to academic statesmanship”; Norman Holmes Pearson referred to him as “the leading scholar in the field of American literature”; and Dean Robert E. Streeter wrote: “when George Beadle was inaugurated as President of the University of Chicago in 1961, the faculty was asked to designate eight scholars to receive honorary degrees on that occasion. Of the eight, two were humanistic scholars. Professor Howard was one of these.” Leon Howard was a giant in his field. As one scholar recently put it, “he embodied a way of studying and talking about American literature that led to major critical advances and which has seemed to have passed with him.”
Richard Lehan

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