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Ezra Pound’s birthday

This morning as I was getting ready for work, I was listening, as I do most days, to the Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. Today, I was surprised to hear, is the poet Ezra Pound’s birthday. There followed a brief sketch of this controversial poet, largely credited with inventing “modern poetry”. As Keillor started to talk about Pound’s brief time at Wabash College – he taught here from start of school in September of 1907 until February of 1908 – I waited to hear what might follow. Imagine my delight when it was noted that although he was fired out of prudery – he was paid the remainder of his year’s salary. The narrative continued by adding that this money propelled the poet to England where he began the literary life that would bring him such success.

left – Ezra Pound’s Wabash faculty photograph – the only member of the faculty not to face the camera.

Below left – Scan of the College Cash Book showing payout to Pound of $200 (per G.L.M.) authorized by President Mackintosh

So in honor of the day, I have gathered three links to pieces about Ezra Pound and Wabash College. Each was written by an alumnus, from very different perspectives and all are fascinating looks at this small slice of our history. Enjoy!

http://www.wabash.edu/magazine/index.cfm?news_id=5997

“I probably would never have gotten hooked had I not discovered the story on my own. I was studying late one night in the dark recesses of Yandes Library searching through back issues of The Wabash to prepare for a speech about those early Little Giant basketball teams that became national powerhouses. I turned a page and there was the striking profile photo whose caption read: PROF. EZRA POUNDS/Romance Languages.”

“I could hardly contain my excitement as I rushed into the next room and brought back a biographical dictionary. Comparing colleges and dates from the entry on Pound, I quickly confirmed that, in spite of the misspelling of his last name, it was indeed the celebrated poet who had come to teach at Wabash in the fall of 1907.” – Jim Rader [W1960]

http://www.indianapolismonthly.com/article.aspx?id=20120

“Good Presbyterians have standards of rectitude in financial matters as well as sexual ones,” says Placher. “Wabash had signed a contract with Mr. Pound to pay him a year’s salary, and so they did.” It was the Indiana college’s generous—and probably unnecessary—payout that financed Pound’s subsequent exploits in Italy’s greener pastures. Redman further notes that Mackintosh, typically painted as the villain in the Pound Affair, soon regretted his rash decision to dismiss Pound (and probably sensed the young teacher’s immense talent) and tried to make things right. In a private archive, Redman found a letter Mackintosh had sent to Pound in Europe, asking the poet to return. “Mackintosh was a fair man and reconsidered his decision, either for monetary matters or because he doubted the veracity of the allegations,” Redman says. “In that sense Wabash comes off looking much better in this whole thing.” – Evan West [W1999]

http://blogs.wabash.edu/pa/2007/11/founders_week_placher_looks_ba.html

This last address is a link to Bill Placher’s Chapel Talk from November of 2007. You can listen to Bill’s take on the college history of 100 years ago. Included in this talk was a thoughtful look at Ezra Pound and his time here. Pound was hired as the Chair of the Modern Languages Department and taught French and Spanish. Placher concluded with some of Pound’s poetry and thoughts on the future of Old Wabash. It was a remarkable Chapel Talk, one I still love to hear.

I hope you have enjoyed these links to Ezra Pound and, on the poet’s birthday, thanks to these three Wabash men Jim Rader [W1960], Evan West [W1999] and Bill Placher [W1970] for sharing their views on this complex and controversial former member of the Wabash faculty.

Beth Swift
Archivist
Wabash College

A place like no other…

Photo and map from the collections of the Library of Congress


Having just returned from San Diego, I am still a little beach bleary. In between catching up on my e-mail and voice mail messages, I find myself thinking about one of my favorite places there. When I visit Coronado Island, I love to visit the Hotel Del Coronado. A big, old wooden hotel built like no other. All white frame and red roof, it was intended to be the world’s largest beach hotel. “Too good to be true” was how it was described at the time and almost exactly how I would describe lunch at the “Del” followed by a trip to the candy shop. In reading the history of this amazing place, I became intrigued by the name of one of its founders, Elisha Babcock. I have heard this name connected with business in Indiana and so, being the curious type, I dug a little deeper. Along with Babcock, who was from Evansville, there were a few other founding investors in Coronado Island. Among the names listed on the original documents of the Coronado Beach Company was a fellow Hoosier and Wabash man – Josephus Collett [W1857].

Josephus Collett, along with his brothers, John and Stephen, attended Wabash in the 1850’s. Josephus made his money in real estate and railroads. In a biographical piece it is noted that he had real estate interests in New York City, the Adirondacks, Chicago, Minnesota, Florida, Indianapolis, Texas and San Diego, California – and lived in Terre Haute.

Three investors bought all of Coronado for $110,000 in 1885. Further capitalization was needed to attain the lofty goals of these three investors so Babcock brought in his brother-in-law and Josephus Collett, described as “a railroad stockholder.” These men put together a million dollars and founded the “Coronado Beach Company” April 7, 1886.

This excellent bird’s eye view map from the collections of the Library of Congress shows their venture in its earliest days. To the right and below the image of the island is a listing of the officers of the company which includes Josephus Collett of Terre Haute, Indiana. The architects of the Hotel del Coronado were also from Evansville. Equipped with all of the modern conveniences of the era, the “Del” was the first hotel to be wired for electricity while under construction. Thomas Edison was a consultant on the project.

Those who are familiar with the history of Wabash know the name of Collett – there are the Collett tennis courts, a Collett Chair of Rhetoric and – as the Phi Gams know, or should know – the owls on the front of their new house were purchased by John Parrett Collett [W1924] and brought home from Europe for the old house. This same John Collett, President of the Board of Trustees of Wabash College for 10 years from 1965-1975, was the great-nephew of Josephus Collett.

Josephus died in 1893, at the age of sixty-two, having served Rose Polytechnic as President of their Board following the death of his friend Chauncey Rose, the founder of the school we know as Rose-Hulman. Josephus’s will endowed the Josephus Collett Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Rose.

If you have the chance to head to San Diego, stop into the Hotel Del Coronado and admire the fruits of Josephus Collett’s investment. It really is a place like no other!

Best,

Beth Swift

Hovey’s man

William Terah Lawson [W1876] was one among hundreds of Hovey’s men. These former students who studied under, and came to adore, this brilliant and passionate naturalist went out into the world but always remembered their beloved Professor Hovey. This is evidenced by a letter we recently received. A few weeks ago I was contacted by a woman whose grandfather had attended Wabash in the 19th century. She had two letters to her grandfather, one from Hovey and one from John Lyle Campbell and wondered if we were interested in having them in our collection.

Young Lawson graduated from Wabash in the “Centennial” Class of 1876 and this bright student  went on to study medicine in Cincinnati. The first item that I opened was a very warm letter from Lawson’s good friend Dr. Edmund O. Hovey  written in November of 1876, the fall after Lawson’s graduation. The letter is a great example of faculty to student, then alumnus, interaction in this time period. This letter seems to indicate that Lawson was a little more than a regular student, “Your successor Mr. Coyle fills his office I believe pretty well. We miss “Lawson” however in several respects. You earned a good reputation while you occupied that narrow room & performed the somewhat varied duties devolved upon you.” The record does not say, but I wonder if Lawson might have been a lab assistant….

Also in this letter Hovey sends along a short summary of day to day life at the College. He includes this bit of news, “My family is well & I work some upon the Cabinet nearly every day…” The “cabinet” Hovey refers to could also be described as his life’s passion and was a  sizable collection of natural history specimens. In the Catalog of 1876 a description of the Cabinet says that it included birds, plant samples, rocks and minerals, “…especially rich in coal, ores of gold, silver, mercury, copper, lead and iron…” Collected over his lifetime, Hovey’s Cabinet was so large that it came to fill the Polytechnic Gymnasium which was then renamed the Hovey Museum.Here is a great image of part of the collection in the Museum.

Hovey’s passion for his Cabinet was tied up with the notion of having real materials that Wabash students could touch and examine on the spot for a more effective learning experience. Many collections came about through donors, but in some instances the College bought them. When Hovey died he left the college many things, among them a catalog listing every item in the Cabinet.

A lasting record of Hovey’s lifelong passion for natural history.

Best,
Beth Swift
Archivist
Wabash College

My Favorite Little Book

A request this morning reminded me of this book. I say it is one of my favorites because I recommend it a few times each year. It is from the Wild Plants in Flower series with photographs by Torkel Korling and essay and species notes by Robert O. Petty – longtime biology professor here at Wabash College. My favorite is Volume III The Deciduous Forest. Maybe this is because these are the plants that I know best; the flowers from the woods of my childhood. The excellent photography of Mr. Korling is still, all of these many years later (the book was published in 1974), just as fresh as ever. But I think the real reason that I like it so very much is because of the essays and species notes by Bob Petty.

Listen to this description of the image on the cover, “Spring light in a young forest, a crowd of trillium above decaying leaves – we have been here before. But long before us, before the millennia of glaciers brought summer as but a taunting of the sun, recurrent drought had shaped evolving strategies – autumn and spring of the deciduous forest, where to survive was to win by loss, or not at all. Slowly our curve of earth tilts south again, and here and there we find the ancient secret.”
 
The opening phrase just draws me into the remainder of the description. As I read this description I feel that out in the woods I am part of a crowd, one of the “we”. All through the book this feeling is fostered as if there were any number of good friends walking in the woods with us.
 
In one of the essays, Petty gives a full natural history of our area. He explains the various upheavals and changes in the forest over millions of years. “In the late 1700’s, settlers reaching a crest of the Wilderness Road in a notch of the Cumberlands stood blinking into the western light across the greatest deciduous forest that ever was.” This is so vivid a description that again it seems like I can see this scene.
 
In the next few pages Petty paints a picture of the clear cutting that took place in this forested area. He writes of the cutting of trees “five feet through and towering one hundred and fifty feet. How do you ‘cut the top off’ all the flat land between the Cumberlands and the Mississippi?” In these two sentences the author gives an absolutely clear sense of the size and scale of the clearing efforts which took three generations.
 
I think of these essays as I drive through the country here. In the spring I pull out my copy and wander into the woods. But of all of the species photographs I am drawn to this one…
 
I believe it was taken in the woods at my home over three decades ago. Bluebell valley we call it and it is just a gorgeous little valley when completely covered with these lovely blue flowers. A sure sign that summer is on its way. Yet, as the weather is cooling here I think about the end of this book, “By October, the forest is burning amber and crimson in the brief evening light. There is a sharp and pungent sweetness to the air – the smell of walnuts. The nights are cold.”
 
A sudden wind drifts storms of yellow leaves and tumbles fruits and seeds. A night rain breaks the last dead leaves away from ash and maple. The walnut trees are long since bare – the last to get their leaves, the first to lose them. Here and there in the dry oak woods, a clatter of acorns breaks the stillness. The youngest oak and beech trees wear their dead, russet foliage into winter.”
 
The wild flowers are only a rumor now. The plants are dormant. All the ancient strategies are one.”
 
Really a lovely book and as I return to it each spring I wonder…was Petty a biologist with poetry in him or a poet who studied biology?  
 
Best, Beth