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R O B E R T B R O P H Y California State University, Long Beach Robinson Jeffers Robinson Jeffers had a life-long affair with the “beauty of things,” a life-long stand-off with the human race. His vision of both was height­ ened by the archetypal presence of his Big Sur coast. It is easy to know the beauty of inhuman things, sea, storm and m ountain; it is their soul and their meaning. Humanity has its lesser beauty, impure and painful; we have to harden our hearts to bear it. (“The World’sWonders” ) John Robinson Jeffers was not born into an ordinary family. His father, William Hamilton, was a teacher and scholar, Professor of Old Testament Literature and Exegesis and of Biblical and Ecclesiastical His­ tory at Western Theological Seminary (Presbyterian) near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His mother, a beautiful and talented young woman, as church organist fell in love with the visiting curate, Jeffers, over 20 years her senior. Instead of taking her on a honeymoon, he moved her into a seminary dormitory. John Robinson, their first of two sons (“John” was dropped after publication of his first book) may have been caught in the dynamics between the distant, older, stern father and the young, vivacious, and emotional mother. One critic, William Everson, suggests that the mother-son relationship and its inner strategies for resolution constitute a major influence in Jeffers’sverse. Though not wealthy, the family was characteristically able to move about rather freely. In 1891, when the boy was four, his parents took him on what was to be a succession of European sojourns, placing him in a Zurich school. In 1893 there was a second tour, the school this time in Lucerne. After six years at home in “Twin Hollows,” Sewickley, he was returned to Europe for a longer stay, with schooling at Leipzig, Geneva, Lausanne, Geneva again, and Zurich. During these years, eleven to four­ teen, Jeffers gained a reputation among his peers for solitariness and stoicism—the result of stern teachers, the grandeur and awesomeness of the landscape, some perversion among classmates, separation from the family, and repeated relocation (his father, for reasons unexplained, seems to have visited from the United States only to put him in successive schools). 134 Western American Literature Then westering entered into the family pattern. In 1903, for health reasons and perhaps to move away from the political tensions of the seminary faculty, the patriarch Jeffers moved his family to California, first to Long Beach, then to Highland Park (Los Angeles) where young Robinson matriculated as a junior, age sixteen, at Occidental College, then a small Presbyterian school. With his native intelligence and wide back­ ground in language and culture no doubt impressing his peers and profes­ sors alike, he took courses in biblical literature, economics, geology, history, Greek, rhetoric and astronomy, a discipline which featured frequent fieldtrips to Mount Wilson and Echo Mountain observatories. He made fast friends perhaps for the first time in his life and took part in athletics and class hiking. Here he began writing and publishing verse for the school literary magazine, The Aurora, which became The Occidental under his editorship in his senior year. He graduated in a class of eleven in 1905. Jeffers immediately entered graduate school at the University of Southern California in mid-Los Angeles as a student of literature. There in a class on Faust he met his future wife Una who was then married to a young barrister, Edward Kuster. In April 1906 came another abrupt family interlude in Switzerland where Jeffers took courses in philosophy, Old English, French literary history, Dante, Spanish romantic poetry, and the history of the Roman Empire. The following semester found him back at USC, translating German articles for one of the medical school faculty. In September 1907 he was accepted into the medical school and, although evidently not intending to become a practicing physician, he rose to the top of his class, becoming special assistant to Dr. Lyman Stookey and teaching physiology at the USC dental college. Una meanwhile was finish­ ing a masters thesis on “Mysticism” at USC and meeting Jeffers clandes­ tinely at Hermosa Beach where he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 133-150
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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