1998-Louis J. Budd

Report of the Hubbell Committee

This year’s Hubbell Award Committee was composed of Jonathan Arac, Shari Benstock, Judith Fetterley, Eric Sundquist, and myself, Jackson Bryer, as Chair. After an intense series of very close ballots, which focused on a number of worthy recipients, this year’s winner emerged. He is Louis J. Budd, James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University.


I cannot begin to promise you the kind of personal and witty presentation speech that John Seelye gave last year in honor of his good friend James Cox, because I have not got John’s literary skills, nor do I know Louis Budd as well as he knows Jim Cox. My acquaintanceship with Lou is entirely a professional one, based on occasional brief encounters at MLA and SAMLA. His publications are primarily in the field of 19 th- and 20 th- century American literature; mine are mostly in modern American literature. Hence, there are undoubtedly many in this room who could speak more knowledgeably about Lou’s scholarship and probably several who could speak more familiarly of him as a friend, a colleague, or a mentor.

So I will have to confine myself to a rather objective reading of Lou’s vita plus a little rooting around in volumes of ALS and other such compilations. But even such research yields an unmistakable pattern and picture which I would be willing to wager comes close to what others who know him and his work better than I might say about him. The words that come to my mind after my cursory survey of Lou’s career are modesty and service . I hope in the brief paragraphs that follow to show you what I mean.

Lou was born in St. Louis in 1921. In 1941, he received his B.A. from the University of Missouri, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. The following year he received an M.A. at the same institution. One cannot help but interject at this point that Lou’s state of birth and the site of his early education surely to some extent dictated his career-long interest in the life and work of that other Missourian, Mark Twain. After serving from 1942 to 1945 in the Air Force, Lou received his Ph.D. in 1949 from the University of Wisconsin and after three years of teaching at the University of Kentucky, came to Duke University in 1952, where he has taught continuously since, except for brief summer sojourns at Washington University (1954) and Northwestern University (1961). Chief among the grants and fellowships he has received are a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965-66 and a NEH Senior Fellowship in 1979-80. At Duke, he has directed some thirty Ph.D. dissertations, was director of Undergraduate Studies for four years and Chair of the English Department for six years, from 1973-1979. He was also Chair of the committee that established Duke’s program in Afro-American studies.

As we all know, and as I mentioned earlier, Lou’s chief scholarly subject has been Mark Twain. He is the author of two seminal books on Twain, Mark Twain: Social Philosopher (1962) and Our Mark Twain: The Making of His Public Personality (1983). The first has been called “our best survey of Twain’s political-social views” by Harry Hayden Clark in the Twain chapter of Eight American Authors; while the second is the definitive study of Twain as lecturer/performer, interview subject, and celebrity. His scholarly essays, book chapters, and review-essays on Twain, by my count, number well over seventy. His A Listing of and Selection from Newspaper and Magazine Interviews with Samuel L. Clemens, 1974-1910, originally published in 1977 by ALR and supplemented in 1996, is an invaluable annotated listing of over 300 Twain interviews with reprintings of several of the most interesting and inaccessible items. When the original edition of this book appeared in 1977, Lou was responsible for the Twain chapter in ALS, and he described his work so modestly that it prompted editor James Woodress to interject a rare editor’s note as a footnote; Woodress’s footnote read in part: “Professor Bud is much too modest in describing this extensive bibliography. . . . there is an abundance of material here for the study of Twain as a public figure.”

Budd has also edited two volumes on Twain in the G.K. Hall Critical Essays series (1982, 1983); New Essays on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” for the Cambridge series (1985); and the Library of America two-volume edition of Twain’s Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, and Essays.Reviewing the latter, Clive James in the New Yorker (June 14, 1993) called it “a model of scholarship in service to literature.” For ten years, 1976-1985, Budd wrote the Twain chapter for American Literary Scholarship; that, it must be noted, is one of the longest tenures of service for any contributor in the 36-year history of that annual. It is all the more remarkable when one adds to it the four years (1963-1966) he spent contributing the chapter on “Nineteenth-Century Fiction.”

This last indicates another facet of Budd’s career. His scholarship is by no means confined to Mark Twain. His Twayne series volume, Robert Herrick (1971), was the first full-scale assessment of Herrick as a literary artist; and Budd has done important work on such disparate literary figures as William Dean Howells (aside from his Howells essays, he has been a member of the Editorial Board of the Howells Edition for over a quarter century), Joel Chandler Harris, E.E. Cummings, James Russell Lowell, Sherwood Anderson, Thomas Wolfe, black American poets, E.A. Robinson, Gertrude Atherton, and William Faulkner. And, of course, along with Edwin H. Cady, he has been the editor of a series of invaluable books of reprinted essays from American Literature on Twain, Whitman, Melville, Emerson, Faulkner, Dickinson, Hawthorne, James, Frost, Poe, Howells, and American Humor. These volumes have made readily accessible articles which otherwise would only have been available in back issues of American Literature.

Mention of these compilations leads naturally to mention of Budd’s service to American Literature, the pre-eminent journal in our field. He began almost immediately after he arrived at Duke by serving from 1953-1961 as a member of the committee that compiled the bibliography, “Articles on American Literature Appearing in American Periodicals,” which appeared in each quarterly issue of AL. From 1979-1986, he served as the Managing Editor of American Literature and from 1986-1991, he was the Chairman of the Board of Editors. Among the other projects or journals on whose Editorial or Advisory Boards he has served are Studies in American Humor (1974-1993), South Atlantic Review (1978-1981), Mississippi Studies in English (1980-), American Literary Realism (1986-), Mark Twain Encyclopedia (1989-1993), and the Oxford Reader’s Companion to Mark Twain (1996- ).

Lou, of course, continues to work. The projects he has in progress include entries on Herrick and Twain for American National Biography, the successor the to DAB; the Twain volume in Cambridge University Press’s Critical Archives series, the essay on Twain’s critical reputation for The Oxford Reader’s Companion to Mark Twain; and five volumes of Twain’s social and political writings (one to contain previously unpublished material) for the Iowa-California Twain edition.

Finally, mention also must be made of the previous honors Lou has received. His alma mater, the University of Missouri, conferred an honorary degree on him in 1988. He also has an honorary degree from Elmira College, awarded in 1995. He was one of two recipients of the First Annual Mark Twain Circle Award in 1991; and in 1997 he received the John Hurt Fisher Award for Career Achievement in Letters from the South Atlantic Departments of English. To these honors, his grateful colleagues in the field of American literary studies are pleased to add the 1998 Hubbell Award. We present it to this good man, this generous, modest man who has given us so much–in his scholarly work and in his service to our profession. Perhaps the most appropriate manner in which to summarize why we honor Louis J. Budd today is simply to quote the last three words of Alan Gribben’s evaluation of Lou’s 1996 update of his 1977 listing of Twain interviews. Writing in ALS, Alan said: “Gratitude should abound.” Indeed it should; so thank you, Lou.

Jackson R. Bryer

Professor Budd’s Reply

I am deeply moved by being awarded the Jay B. Hubbell Medallion. The members of the American Literature Section should be relieved that I couldn’t come to receive it in person since I might embarrass them with my fervor. I am especially grateful to the members of the nominating committee–not for their soundness of judgment but for their charity of spirit. At least I spare everybody the pain of my trying to look modest.

Since this is not some media-awards event, I will not try to acknowledge the persons–the many persons, both dead and happily living–who helped me along by advice and mentoring and, more important, by example.

Nor will I reminisce. I will not regale myself anyway with memories from some choice luncheons of the American Literature Group–and no, Group is not a slip of the tongue or mind. But I must mention that for two years–for his last two years of teaching–I was a colleague of Jay B. Hubbell himself, who lived on into his mid-nineties and once signed a note to me as “the oldest living inhabitant.” He could outdo me in reminiscence as well as on any other count. He could remember talking with a man who had heard Edgar Allan Poe read “The Raven.” So who needs to cross as many as six degrees of separation to feel a sense of communing with our forebears or with our classic nineteenth-century writers?

My deepest regret at not being able to attend today–not because of losses in a leveraged fund or inability to find the nearest airport–is at not seeing my old friends. But I wish also that I could have met the youngest cohort of the American Literature Section, could look on their faces glowing with energy and could smile knowingly–because I could guess what they were thinking, especially after I bragged that starting with 1949, I can recall missing only one gathering of the American Literature Group–later Section–until the law for then mandatory retirement netted me. Looking at me the youngest members of the section would feel they were in some academic Jurassic Park. The basic feeling is fresh for me because I recently popped into the lobby of the American Museum of Natural History for another look at its dinosaur skeleton. Also, absorbing a warning to keep my balance today, I reread the elevated frieze of elevating thoughts from Theodore Roosevelt, engraved appropriately half an inch deep.

Nevertheless, I will proceed along my own line of less strenuous preaching to the younger members of the Section.

Most simply I advise them: Stick with the academic world if you possibly can. I know that jobs are painfully scarce, that part-time teaching has turned into exploitation. But I have always felt lucky that I decided to stay an academic, and my own cohort did have at least some lesser problems.

More specific to the American Literature Section, I remain–after all the neologisms that started with the New Criticism and roared on into so many “posts” and “ologies”–remain convinced that we do have a vital field, centered in the humanistic uses of language, especially as written. We have a field that discusses ideas, values, and, yes, pleasures that the wide world needs more than ever before–I say not melodramatically, but as coolly as if I were proofreading an index.

I am not running scared personally. One of my favorite poems has been Robert Frost’s sonnet “On Looking Up by Chance at the Constellations,” which ends:

Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight.

However, any earthly calm is more local than most Americans care to notice. Ivy-covered relativism may be hard to refute, but many absolutely bad things are happening out there on a mass scale.

I hope it won’t sound like bragging for me to claim that I have predicted eight out of the last two recessions. But that does qualify me to predict that some harder times are coming on for homo not so sapiens. We already have an end to the “end of history” lullaby, whether as a high-culture aria or a glee-club encore. Harder times are ahead globally, if they’re not already here despite whatever record the Dow-Jones index may top in 1999. Given the place for this convention of the MLA, the close of another Frost sonnet, “Once by the Pacific,” is appropriate:

It looked as if a night of dark intent
Was coming, and not only a night, an age.
Someone had better be prepared for rage.
There would be more than ocean-water broken
Before God’s last Put out the Light was spoken.

American humaneness and fortitude are going to be challenged. That humaneness will need all the help that we can give. By “we” I especially mean those of us who profess, who teach literature. As for what we can teach the body politic and economic, some of our prescient colleagues are laying out the particulars–easy to find if you start looking for, listening for them.

So I again thank fervently the American Literature Section for the honor bestowed on me and regret especially that I could not meet the younger members and also try to recruit them, where need be, for the goals of liberal humanism.

Louis J. Budd