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Splendor of Heart: Walter Jackson Bate and the Teaching of Literature
by:Robert D. Richardson
In The Education of Henry Adams, Adams presciently observed that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Walter Jackson Bate, the legendary Harvard professor, was far more than a celebrated and decorated biographer; he was an inspired teacher. And books about great teachers are rare. Here Robert Richardson, himself a...
In The Education of Henry Adams, Adams presciently observed that "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." Walter Jackson Bate, the legendary Harvard professor, was far more than a celebrated and decorated biographer; he was an inspired teacher. And books about great teachers are rare. Here Robert Richardson, himself a distinguished teacher and biographer, takes the reader back to the Harvard of the fifties when men like Bate could hold a classroom of undergraduates enthralled by making literature seem "achingly human, and real, and important," a task that involved not only exploring the work but the authors themselves their lives, their hopes and their failures. Above all, Bate instilled in his students the heterodox notion that learning itself means nothing unless it leads to action, that simply understanding the text is a dead end unless the words affect and change behavior.Goethe, in his conversations with Eckermann, also had it right: "Everywhere, we learn only from those whom we love." Clearly Richardson loved Bate, both as an inspired teacher, but also as one who believed and made his students believe that "Education is impossible apart from the habitual vision of greatness." Richardson ably transfers the enthusiasms of his quirky, vulnerable, opinionated, and charismatic professor to the reader; consequently, the teacher's passion for his subjects, for the great eighteenth-century figures of Johnson and Burke, for the Romantic poets (especially Wordsworth and Keats), for Dickens and Arnold, and for T.S. Eliot (whom he literally worshipped) is palpable and contagious. The result is this lucid, vivid, and (dare we say it?) thrilling evocation of a writer and teacher who clearly changed the life and dictated the destiny of another who proudly carries the torch.
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