Academic journal article Notes

Dick and Bill and Notes: Three Letters from 1945

Academic journal article Notes

Dick and Bill and Notes: Three Letters from 1945

Article excerpt

At the beginning of spring last year, I traveled to Princeton University (where snow lingered under hedges in early April) for the American Handel Society's biennial meeting. I could not pass up the opportunity to spend a few extra days at that storied institution's Firestone Library to examine archival materials that might shed light on my research regarding links between music and slavery in colonial America, and to check on three richly-bound volumes of manuscript copies of Handel works made for Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), dating from the late 1740s. On my way back from lunch on the third day, and satisfied that progress was being made, I noticed some exhibit cases in the library's lobby, and wandered over. Imagine my surprise on seeing two letters from Richard S. Hill, the first editor of Notes in its present form, lying among other curiosities such as newspaper clippings, postcards, and cigarette packets, all of which had been lost or discarded during the library's construction and since it opened in 1948. The exhibit, about which there was no publicity, highlighted items that were found during the ongoing renovation of Firestone.1 The letters, which date from the spring of 1945, were addressed to William H. Scheide. Apparently they were discovered when a desk or bureau in the Scheide Library, within the old Rare Books and Special Collections space, was being moved to its new location on C floor. Scheide's gift of his magnificent collection to his alma mater made him Princeton's most beneficent donor.2 Because the letters mention Notes, it is fitting to bring them to public notice in the journal that Dick Hill did so much to foster during his editorship from 1943 until his untimely death in 1961. As luck would have it, the Library of Congress has one of Bill Scheide's letters to Hill that completes this exchange.3

The letters are businesslike, but give a glimpse into Hill's vision for Notes. They also led me to explore the lives of the correspondents, and in doing so I uncovered some mysteries or, at least, anomalies in the historical record of Hill. The resulting piece is, therefore, more than a presentation of the letters themselves. In focusing on Hill's life story I have sought to clarify his early biography. Numerous persons make their appearance: sisters, high school and college friends and possible acquaintances, wife, and academic mentors. Whenever possible, and with the assistance of MLA colleagues, I have corrected matters of fact and queried other claims that I could not verify, such as whether Theodor Seuss Geisel was best man at Hill's wedding.

RICHARD S. HILL

Hill was born in Chicago in 1901.4 His father Calvin Heywood Hill (1857-1929) ran a successful furniture manufacturing business from which he retired in 1923, while his mother Juliette Synyer (d. 1919) managed the busy household and an active social life. The Hills were engaged supporters of the Chicago Opera Company, as well as civic organizations. In 1904 the family moved to Oak Park, Illinois, a suburb just west of Chicago known today for its historic architecture. Hill attended the public school system, entering Oak Park and River Forest High School in 1916, where the fellow students included Ernest Hemingway (18991961); Ray Kroc (1902-1984), the future McDonald's magnate; Robert St John (1902-2003), the author and broadcaster; and Kenneth Fearing (1902-1961), founder of Partisan Review.5 Also attending were the children of architect Frank Lloyd and Catherine Wright. For college preparation Hill was sent to Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, New Hampshire. From there he went to Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, intending to study mechanical engineering. Paul Trapier Gervais (19031963), a close musical friend from Oak Park, went up the same year. In fall 1922 Hill switched his major to arts, though his academic career as an undergraduate remained undistinguished. Upon graduation, both young men went to the University of Oxford, Hill to work toward a B. …

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