- Douglas Robillard (1928-2012)
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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...