Robert B. Heilman: His Life in Letters, edited by Edward Alexander (Emeritus), Richard Dunn (Emeritus), and Paul Jaussen (current doctoral candidate), is a rich collection of the former chair’s correspondence, offering an insider’s history of the changes that took place over sixty years in the UW English Department and the field at large: in American universities, literary criticism, and the politics of literature. The collection includes over 600 exchanges with more than 100 correspondents, among them Saul Bellow, Kenneth Burke, Malcolm Cowley, Richard Eberhart, Charles Johnson, Bernard Malamud, and William Carlos Williams.
Humanists are constantly having to resist wrong trends; this is in the nature of the humanist’s life. One of the very bad trends of recent times is the rapid movement toward a monolingual imprisonment far more rigorous than has existed at any time in this country. This is expectable in times when values are often determined by polls. But this kind of imprisonment should not be countenanced by professional humanists; their constant business is to keep doors open. Languages—even if one has not a thorough grip on them—can hardly be surpassed as door-openers. To make some effort to acquire another language is symptomatic of a desire to get beyond the parochialism into which one is born. We often hear the lamentable argument that if we do not learn languages well, we should not bother with them at all. Since we ordinarily do not learn them well, it seems irrefutable that we have nothing to do with them. The argument is false. Going just part way into another language is to get all kinds of tools—at least the ability to handle allusions and quotations which are frequent in English literature, a sense of linguistic alternatives, a sense of words which can hardly help contributing to the fullness and accuracy of one’s own style.