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Merton M. Sealts,Jr. (1915-2000) GAIL H. COFFLER Suffolk University erton M Sealts,Jr. was indeed a giant in the world of Melville scholarship , his work valued by every person who has done serious Mresearch involving Herman Melville’s life or writing. As important and voluminous as his academic output was, Mert Sealtswas equally revered as a teacher and mentor. I am one of many who are grateful for his splendid guidance . After more than twenty years, and coming to know him from several angles, I cannot imagine my life without having had his tutelage. Born in 1915in Lima, Ohio, Mert graduated from the College of Wooster (later becoming a trustee of that college) and went on to earn his PhD in English at Yale, studying under Professor Stanley Williams among what Jay Leyda referred to as “that extraordinary group of graduate students” that also included future Melville scholars Walter Bezanson, Elizabeth Foster, Harrison Hayford,Nathalia Wright and others. In 1941he went to teach at the University of Missouri in Columbia and there met Ruth “Mac”Mackenzie,who was teaching physical education at Stephens College. Their lives were sped up by Pearl Harbor: Mert went into Army Air Force Candidate School, and the two were married the next year during a short military leave. His World War I1 service earned him the Bronze Star Medal and the rank of major. Afterwards,he taught at Wellesley College and then for seventeen years at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, when Nathan Pusey was president there. During that time he began to research Melville’s reading, publishing his findings in the Haward Library Bulletin, and to review the Melville publications each year for the annual American Literary Scholarship. In 1953 he was elected president of the Melville Society.Around this time, at Jay Leyda’ssuggestion, Mert started to reconstruct Melville’s three lectures, using contemporary newspaper reports, which led to the publication of his first book, Melville as Lecturer (1957). Another significant contribution to Melville scholarship was the editing of Billy Budd, Sailor (1962) with Harrison Hayford in a partnership that was richly productive, as Sealts relates in Closing the Books (1999), the memoir of his academic and personal life. He was then granted a Guggenheim to edit volume five of Emerson’sJournalsand Miscellaneous Notebooks, covering the period 1835-1838. In 1965he left Lawrence to join the faculty at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he became the distinguished Henry A Pochmann A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 1 1 9 G A I L H . C O F F L E R Professor of English,produced more essaysand books, taught both graduatesand undergraduates,and directed twenty-nine dissertationsbefore retiring in 1982. MMS was how he signed himself to his students and teaching assistantsat UW-Madison. He was on sabbatical leave in 1975, working on what would become the Historical Note to “ThePiazzu Tales”and Other Prose Pieces, when I entered the PhD program there. In Springof 1977, Ijoined his Melville seminar, soon to become his last Melville dissertator. Due to the collapse of the job market in the 1970sand decreasingenrollments in English departments, that was in fact the very last graduate course he would teach, as he tells in Closing the Books. A month into the Melville seminar, I submitted a proposal for the term paper: to explore the classical allusions in Billy Budd, and specifically to show that Billy symbolized the Greek ideal of manly beauty, while Vere represented Roman qualities. From Professor Sealts, I received a note that changed the course of my life: “My dear Gail.... the idea you have proposed is worthy not only of a seminar paper, but of a PhD dissertation. If you would like me to direct it, I would be happy to do so. I’ve been waiting for you!” It was a perfect match. He was both interested and learned in my topic, for he had written his Yale dissertation on “Herman Melville’s Reading in Ancient Philosophy” (1942); he had reconstructed Melville’slectures including “Statuesin Rome” in Melville as Lecturer (1957); and he...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 119-122
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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