In Memoriam: Charles R. Anderson
With the death in Charleston at ninety-seven of Charles R. Anderson on November 5, this journal lost the last of its editors from the pre-war era. He served M L N for twenty years as an associate editor and frequent contributor.
Charles Roberts Anderson was born in Macon, Georgia, in 1902, a first-cousin-once-removed of Sidney Lanier, who had preceded him at Hopkins in its early years. Graduating from the University of Georgia with the Class of 1924, Anderson returned to teach at his alma mater during 1927–30, where he took his master’s degree in 1928. He completed his doctorate at Columbia in 1936 with a dissertation on Herman Melville’s naval career, Journal of a Cruise to the Pacific Ocean, 1842–1844, in the Frigate United States (published in 1937 by the Duke University Press). With assistance from an early two-year Rosenwald Fellowship, he extended this line of investigation in his Melville in the South Seas (1939). In 1930 he had moved to Duke, where he was a member of the English faculty until 1941, when he was called to the Johns Hopkins, and to an affiliation that continued until his official retirement in 1962. He served as departmental chairman (1950–56) and, from 1956 held the Caroline Donovan Chair. During his Hopkins years he also spent two decades on the editorial board of M L N, having earlier served briefly as the managing editor of American Literature.
Charles Anderson had come to Hopkins as the general editor of the “Centennial Edition” of the works of Sidney Lanier, a publication of the JHU Press obviously planned for 1942, which was delayed by the war and the scope of the project, until its appearance in ten volumes in 1946. This is arguably the first collected works of an American author edited to the standards of modern literary scholarship; in the decades that followed it opened the way for a major academic industry supplying critical editions of canonical nineteenth-century authors.
Those alert to the arithmetic of academic careers will note that Anderson retired early from his post at Hopkins. This “retirement” deserves quotation marks, since it was not from any want of energy or engagement with critical [End Page 1119] projects that he stepped down. It rather reflected his desire to extend his audience through publication and the emerging international lecture circuit. An inveterate “multi-cultural” traveler, he had already found time to lecture widely across the country and abroad, having already been a high-profile visitor at Heidelberg (1949), the Huntington Library (1950 Huntington Library (1952), the University of Rome (1952–53), the Nagano Seminars in Japan (1954), and the University of Turin (1960). During the 1960s and 1970s he was enlisted by the U.S. Department of State for a broad gamut of lectures in Japan, Southeast Asia, the Balkans, and elsewhere. He also proved one of the most sought-after lecturers in the history of the U.S. Information Agency. His travels were further supported by Guggenheim and Fulbright grants.
Another distinction of Anderson’s very active retirement is that most of the critical publications for which he is now best known appeared during these years. Shortly before his formal retirement he published Emily Dickinson’s Poetry: Stairway of Surprise, a pioneer work in the revaluation of the poet’s achievement, which received the Christian Gauss Book Award from Phi Beta Kappa in 1962. In 1965 he edited an influential two-volume anthology, American Literary Masters. His study of Thoreau, The Magic Circle of Walden, appeared in 1968—followed by editions of selections from the Journal, Thoreau’s World, in 1971, and an edition of the major essays, Thoreau’s Vision, in 1973. In 1969 he returned to Lanier to edit a popular one-volume edition of this poet’s poetry and prose. At the age of seventy-five, after a long apprenticeship to the Master, he published what is perhaps his best known work of literary criticism, Person, Place, and Thing in Henry James’s Novels, which won him the unusual distinction of a second Christian Gauss Award. The novelist’s other writings—his travel books, his essays on the visual arts, and his literary criticism, supplemented by the letters and notebooks—are all enlisted to sharpen our awareness of how “picture” and “scene,” portraiture, and objects play vital roles in rendering the “drama of consciousness” in the fiction.
Charles continued working on literary and horticultural projects up to the time of his death, his occasional works including the narration of a PBS film, Sidney Lanier: Poet of the Marshes, a personal memoir of his garden in Cambridgeshire, Gardening for Fun in England (1987), and a published lecture on The Ambassadors entitled Henry James: A Tale of Two Civilizations (1988).
In the geography of Charles’s peripatetic retirement, the Andersons were happy in their choice of anchors—a slim historic house on Legare Street in Charleston for their winter months and a much older thatched cottage in Linton, England, a small village on the Granta southeast of Cambridge; the house, with a lovely garden on the banks of the river, was an appurtenance of the late thirteenth-century church respectfully noted by Pevsner. (The moves between England and South Carolina were regularly punctuated by an annual autumnal return to Baltimore to renew old acquaintances.)
As in these domestic arrangements, Charles Anderson was, in the course of [End Page 1120] his professional life and the timing of his choice of literary projects, also blessed with serendipity. He came on Melville and the Pacific journals while working on his doctorate at Columbia, long before the critical resurrection of Melville in the academy; he was tapped as the editor of the pioneer Centennial Lanier edition in part because he was a relative of the poet; he turned to Emily Dickinson just after the great (if not quite definitive) Johnson edition of her poetry had revealed an altogether tougher-minded genius than nearly anyone previously had suspected; and he worked on Thoreau and his intellectual milieu at a good time for that enterprise. Although he was certainly not the first academic robin to discover Henry James, his essays (largely collected in Person, Place, and Thing) arrived in timely fashion to catch the attention of a new and more sophisticated breed of James readers.
As a teacher, Charles Anderson was probably happiest lecturing to undergraduate students or extending the international appreciation of American literature. He also communicated to his graduate students the lively emphasis on original research that shaped his own formation. Charles and his wives, each of whom predeceased him, were celebrated for the hospitality that they extended to Hopkins students during his teaching years in Baltimore and, later, for the welcome they extended to visiting American scholars who passed through Cambridge. With a gentle good-natured irony, Mary Anderson regularly referred in public to her husband as “The Professor.”
While he could be a witty critic, at home and abroad, of academic folkways, he retained a considerable respect for ritual. During the Bicentennial year of 1976, he was the organizer of a project to install a memorial to Henry James (alibi sepultus) in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. The dedication of the marble, inscribed by the eminent British calligrapher Will Carter, culminated in a grand ceremony at the Abbey and a dinner that Charles orchestrated with an anglophilia and aristophilia that would have fascinated Proust or James himself.
The various stages of Charles Anderson’s long career mark important moments in the emergence of American literary studies as an international phenomenon. Like James, to whom he devoted some of his best work, he traveled comfortably between cultures. He was also a bridge between the first generation of Americanists—elegant belleletrists and amateur historians, often with triple-barrel names—and the current generation of highly specialized and ideologically inflected professionals.