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Douglas Robillard (1928-2012)

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Left to right: Douglas Robillard, Jr., Joseph Robillard, and Douglas Robillard. Photo courtesy of Trish Robillard.

Everyone who knew Douglas Robillard cherished his gift for friendship. His additional gift to me was to bring me into the world of Melville scholarship. My Ph.D. dissertation was on the Russian pianists Josef and Rosina Lhevinne. I had published a book on Jane Austen and Mozart in 1983 and was well into its sequel on Emily Brontë and Beethoven when an intuition about Melville's interest in the painter J. M. W. Turner led me to uncover nearly 300 engravings from Herman Melville's personal collection of art in storage at the Berkshire Athenaeum. I knew immediately that I wanted to publish an inventory of those prints accompanied by an interpretive essay and a sufficient number of reproductions. I do not remember how many journals had already turned me down, but I will always be grateful for the alacrity with [End Page 90] which Doug, as co-editor of Essays in Arts and Sciences, supported this project even though I knew nothing about art history or how to create a proper inventory. In June 1986, he published my essay and the complete inventory, accompanied by fourteen full-page illustrations, in a special issue on "Melville's Later Life and Work."

During all of the back and forth required by this meticulous project, I had never met Doug in person. That pleasure came soon thereafter when I attended an interdisciplinary conference at Yale University and was able to meet Doug and his wife Grace in their nearby home. (Doug was then library director at the University of New Haven, home of Essays in Arts and Sciences.) What a pleasure to meet this man who had taught me so much about Melville and the arts before I had ever met him face to face. Everyone who knew Doug can picture the courtesy and quiet passion with which he greeted me as an unknown scholar from an unknown university, who might have something further to contribute to Melville studies. I don't remember everything we spoke about that long afternoon, but I am sure he provided me with capsule portraits of the other scholars in the special issue of 1986 in which my essay had appeared: Stanton Garner, Wyn Kelley, Bryan C. Short, Julian Markels, and Hershel Parker. My most precise memory of the time we spent speaking in his study is that he introduced me to the idea of using a sequence of binders, rather than manila folders, to keep track of one's work in large research projects. I hate to think what my own study might look like today had I not converted to his system.

Doug must have been the person who informed me about the existence of a Melville Society and who told me that its forthcoming session at the MLA Convention in New York was being chaired by a young scholar named Chris Sten who was seeking papers addressing the subject of Melville and the Arts. That session introduced me to the Melville Society and to members interested in the arts. Doug remained my guide during the decade in which Sten's Savage Eye (1991) and my Melville and Turner (1992) were followed by Beth Schultz's Unpainted to the Last (1995) and Doug's own Melville and the Visual Arts (1997). Doug's book ranged through the entire breadth of Melville's career and applied a flexible array of interpretive tools, not only to Melville's early and mid-career fiction but to his later life and his poetry, opening up subjects and interpretive methods that would inspire many subsequent scholars.

By the time Melville and the Visual Arts came out in 1997, everyone who knew Doug was aware of his prophetic passion for Melville the poet and his unending effort to enlist the rest of us in appreciating Melville's poetic vision and craft. Many have followed him in various ways, but Doug was a pioneer in publishing The Poems of Herman Melville in 2000 (when no other such volume [End Page 91] was available for classroom use) and his facsimile edition of John Marr and Other Sailors in 2006. Doug's edition of John Marr gives us facsimile versions of the first printing in 1888, the handwritten manuscript from which the printer set the text, and the page proofs with Melville's detailed annotations, providing exceptional insight into Melville's writing process. Doug's last major contribution to Melville studies is the essay collection Melville as Poet: The Art of "Pulsed Life," to be published by Kent State University Press in October 2013. Doug conjured this book into being by soliciting contributions from those he felt could best address Melville's poetic achievement. After the essays were gathered, severe illness prevented Doug from bringing the project to completion, but Sandy Marovitz generously assumed responsibility for all remaining editorial work, a perfect reflection of Doug's own exceptional professional generosity.

In addition to his lifelong work as a teacher, editor, and scholar, Doug Robillard was one of the founders of the Melville Society Cultural Project in New Bedford. He was particularly happy when our affiliation with the New Bedford Whaling Museum resulted in the creation of the Melville Society Archive in 2001. I will never forget Doug's deep joy as we opened boxes of Melville books from the libraries of Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., the giants of Melville scholarship whose donations formed the foundation of our Archive. Handling those books, channeling Melville's spirit in the annotations of these scholars who had revived his legacy, made him as happy as I have ever seen him.

The phrase "pulsed life" is from Melville's poem "Art." Doug recovered the rhythm and texture of Melville's late creative life in a way no one had done before him. Annotated books and papers from his own library have now joined those of Harry Hayford, Mert Sealts, Tom Wendel, Jay Leyda, Walter Bezanson, Gail Coffler, and other scholars in the Archive, one block from the Custom House at which Herman Melville signed his Seaman's Protection Paper on December 26, 1840.

Robert K. Wallace
Northern Kentucky University

I am grateful to the editors of Leviathan for the opportunity to write a brief appreciation of my father, Douglas Robillard. I think it would please him to be remembered in the pages of Leviathan since he was a devoted scholar of Herman Melville.

Dad was born in Ponchatoula, Louisiana, in 1928, the third of four boys. Lloyd and Leslie were his twin older brothers and Malcolm was his younger brother. His father, Dominic, died when Dad was eight. His mother, Lavinia, [End Page 92] was left to raise four children just as the Depression began. At one point, the family was on relief. As they grew up, Dad and his brothers vowed they would never suffer from poverty again. True to their word, each brother succeeded in his own way: Dad went into academia, the twins went into real estate, and Malcolm pursued a long career as a commercial airline pilot.

After high school, Dad briefly attended college in engineering. Finding the subject unpalatable, he went into the Air Force. After his discharge, he went to New York City to attend Columbia University on the G.I. bill. Initially enrolled in engineering, he quickly switched departments to English, where his real talents lay. To make ends meet, he worked the graveyard shift at a bank. There he met a single mother, Grace Marie Grennan (Rogers). They married and he adopted Grace's teenaged son, Lawrence. The family moved to Opelika, Alabama, so Dad could teach at Auburn University. I was born a year later. Like a typical academic family, we went where the jobs were. Once we had relocated from Alabama to Detroit, Dad began his doctorate at Wayne State University.

Though I had no notion of its significance at the time, one Sunday night we watched John Huston's Moby Dick on our black-and-white console television. As a child, I thrilled to the action scenes and found the White Whale deliciously frightful. Although I was not yet able to read, Dad gave me a Modern Library copy of Moby-Dick. I remember poring over the illustrations by Rockwell Kent, reliving the story in my imagination. That was my first awareness of Herman Melville and his importance to my father.

We moved to Atlanta, where Dad taught first at Georgia Tech and then at Georgia State University. At that stage, he was working on his doctoral dissertation. I recall one summer that Dad spent days at his portable black metal Smith-Corona manual typewriter laboring away on his dissertation on Conrad Aiken. Of course, being eight, I had little interest in his activities. I was busy running in and out of the house, slamming the back screen door, playing with the neighborhood kids, catching crawfish, and exploring the outer reaches of the park across the street. Still, in spite of my disruptions, he proved an example of self-discipline and industry.

At Dad's knee, I absorbed the fundamentals of writing and scholarship. When I was working on papers in high school, he would give them the benefit of his incisive critique. He taught me to avoid jargon, clichés, and excess verbiage. I learned how to use textual evidence to back up my assertions.

He had a wonderfully dry sense of humor. I recall him picking the then-current romantic bestseller, Erich Segal's Love Story, off a library shelf, and reading the opening line aloud: "'What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who's dead?'" He returned the book to the shelf, shrugged, and [End Page 93] said to me, "She's dead, right?" Of course! What else could one say? It was a valuable lesson in literary criticism.

Since I am a professor of modern British and American literature, with a special interest in Flannery O'Connor, my Aunt Jean's comment that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" was absolutely correct. Growing up with Dad gave me an appreciation of the teacher's and scholar's vocations. We made several family trips to Massachusetts so Dad could examine Melville manuscripts. The scrupulous care he took in noting textual variations was an education in itself. As I've pored over manuscript material in the O'Connor collection at Georgia College & State University, I have recalled Dad's example of patience and care. He remains a source of inspiration.

After forty years of marriage, Grace died in 1996. At that point Dad had begun work on Melville and the Visual Arts. I think he found great solace in writing that book. He continued to write and publish and edit, up until his last year when he began to suffer from dementia and became forgetful. Originally diagnosed as Alzheimer's disease, I suspect his failing capacities were linked to the liver cancer that ultimately killed him.

Dad cared very much for his fellow Melville scholars. I remember how concerned he was with Jill Barnum's fight with cancer, and how he grieved her death. He always kept me updated on the conferences he attended and the acquaintances he had seen. He was fortunate indeed to have such fine friends and colleagues.

—Douglas Robillard, Jr. [End Page 94]

Robert K. Wallace
Northern Kentucky University