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Perry Miller


In the forest, when a great tree shatters to the ground, there is silence.

Perry Miller, who possessed such energy, such force, such bigness, is dead. We are not likely to forget him.

He seemed--like his friends F.O. Matthiessen and Kenneth Murdock--part of an age when giants walked in Harvard Yard. He was a giant, and now that we can take the full measure of his life's work, we suddenly feel small and mortal. The feeling is no discredit to us.

Perry Miler was not interested in the approaches and techniques of history: he wanted to see the truth, as deep as you can see it, and get it down straight. Almost in passing, this intense man, this very modern man, created America's consciousness of itself.

He taught an unforgettable course on the American Romantics. To some students he himself looked like one of the grand Romantic figures he spoke of in the lectures, an Ahab at times, and even an Ishmael. Those brawling sentences, the brooding manner, the great, obscene chuckles whose delight it was impossible not to share, all were touched with something superhuman, something demonic. He lived intensely, self-destructively even. Those who loved him wanted him to take things easier, to save himself, to bank the fires; but with sorrow and awe we see that giants were not meant to live that way.

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