Professor Jerome Hamilton Buckley

Article excerpt

A youthful, endearingly gangly Professor Jerome Buckley presided over a graduate seminar I took at Columbia in the mid fifties. Like scores of his other students, I attribute the subsequent direction of my career as a Victorianist to Jerry's mentoring. He had arrived on campus in 1952, the year after the publication of his magisterial The Victorian Temper: A Study in Literary Culture. It is remarkable that the Victorians who most engage us today are those that Jerry rehabilitated more than half a century ago, when to the modernist mind virtually all of the literature of the later nineteenth century seemed weary, stale, flat, and hypocritical. Within the lively pages of The Victorian Temper, men, women, movements of mind, successive decades, detach themselves from the blur of the past and take on a sharply-etched individuality. "Almost every Victorian thesis," Jerry points out, "produced its own antithesis." In his portrait of a culture, the term "Victorian" sheds its pejorative, often contradictory associatio ns and the reader becomes immersed in a literature of astonishing variety and vitality.

All of us in that graduate seminar fifty years ago recognized the privilege of being in the presence of a humane and generous teacher who was a master of what he taught. I count it as one of the blessings of my intellectual life that he was the first reader, chapter by chapter, of my dissertation on John Ruskin, of whose "deep if chaotic coherence" he writes brilliantly in The Victorian Temper.

The Victorian Temper was followed in 1960 by the second of his major studies, Tennyson: The Growth of a Poet. …