- A Footnote to "The Sacrifice":The Empson-Tuve Correspondence
More than ten years ago, when she was finishing her biography of Rosemund Tuve, Margaret Carpenter Evans sent me the letters exchanged by William Empson and Tuve pertaining to their disagreement about how to read poetry, especially George Herbert's "The Sacrifice." There was much to disagree about. He was British, male, outspoken atheist, graduate of Magdalen College, Oxford, and critic. She was American, female, devout Christian, B.A., University of Minnesota, Ph.D, Bryn Mawr, professor at Connecticut College, and scholar. He was the author of Seven Types of Ambiguity (Chatto and Windus, 1930; in its third edition by 1953); Some Versions of Pastoral (Chatto and Windus, 1935; fourth impression by 1974); Poems (Chatto and Windus, 1935); Collected Poems (Harcourt Brace, 1949; Chatto and Windus, 1955); The Structure of Complex Words (Chatto and Windus, 1951); Milton's God (Chatto and Windus, 1961; revised several times until 1981). She was the author of Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Poetry (Paris: Librairie universitaire, 1933); Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (University of Chicago Press, 1947); A Reading of George Herbert (Faber and Faber, 1952); Images and Themes in Five Poems by Milton (Harvard University Press, 1957). Her last book, Allegorical Imagery (Princeton University Press, 1965), I saw through the press after her death on December 20, 1964; and I gathered her separate essays into the volume Essays by Rosemund Tuve: Spenser, Herbert, Milton (Princeton University Press, 1970).
I first got to know "Miss Tuve" when she came to Princeton to give the Gauss Seminars in 1961. In those days all women professors were called "Miss" unless they had become superstars like Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt, who attended her seminars. I suppose that conferred superstar status on Roz, but they still called her "Miss." I remember the time when the first woman hired by the Princeton English Department walked into her first departmental meeting a little late. All the Full Professors stood up but had [End Page 1] nothing to say; instructors like me sat down quickly and giggled. I am sure that William Empson would have stood up - and snarled under his breath: lateness. Roz would have entered with her number twelve black suede shoes, sat down, and waved with an enigmatic smile. All this absurdity disappeared in the seventies, and let us hope for good!
Even more absurd, during his last year at Magdalen, Empson was discovered in his room with a woman, and later a porter found several contraceptives in his bureau. Empson was expelled from college, forfeited his scholarship for the following year, and was exiled from Cambridge, the town. For a twenty-three-year-old to survive such punishment seems to me little less than miraculous. To publish his first book of criticism, Seven Types of Ambiguity, in the following year exceeds belief. He moved to London and later found employment at a Japanese university, partially through the influence of his tutor, I.A. Richards.
Roz was born in Canton, South Dakota, where her father was president of Augustana College. He died of Asian flu in 1918 at the age of fifty-four. Her mother scooped up the family of four - Lew, Merle, Roz, and Richard - and moved to Minneapolis to keep her second son from marrying his voice teacher, twenty years his senior, and running off to Chicago to save the family fortunes by singing opera. Gone were the days when little Roz led their cow Siouxsy out to graze but would not relocate her until Roz had finished the chapter of the book she was reading. In Minneapolis she got a job waiting tables at a soda fountain but quit in disgust at being pinched and verbally harassed. Fortunately they had moved into a house across the street from Professor Friedrich Klaeber, a name still known to every graduate student as the editor of the Old English Beowulf. Roz learned how to use a typewriter overnight to become his assistant. On Sundays her brother Merle and she sang with the choir of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, for which they each were paid one dollar. Later when her...