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Memorial celebrating Albert Bates Lord, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature

Address delivered at the memorial service for Albert Bates Lord, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, Emeritus Honorary Curator of the Milman Parry Collection in the Harvard College Library, and Honorary Associate of
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   Author: Jan M. Ziolkowski Date: September 27, 1991 Location: Harvard University Address delivered at the memorial service for Albert Bates Lord, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, Emeritus Honorary Curator of the Milman Parry Collection in the Harvard College Library, and Honorary Associate of Quincy House. ©1991 Jan M. Ziolkowski    2 Albert Bates Lord Memorial Address ©1991 Jan M. Ziolkowski In Memoriam Outside the community assembled here, Albert Bates Lord is best known through the surprising circumstance of being a hyphenated American; for of the various designations for the theory of oral composition with which Albert has been associated since the mid 1930s, the phrase that has had the broadest impact is not the exact and yet abstract “ Oral-Formulaic Theory ”  but the doubly human “ Parry-Lord Theory. ”  Through this phrase most people who read widely in literature and literary studies, even if they have not perused any foundational works of “ The Theory, ”  are acquainted with the names of its founders; and along with it they often even apprehend the basic concepts involved in this ambitious enterprise. The formulation “ Parry-Lord Theory ”  makes Albert Lord one factor in the humanities equivalent of such grand pairings as “ Freud and Jung ”  or “ Marx and Lenin. ”  The situation is not without its ironies, first, because Albert was a modest man who demurred from having his name advertised so prominently with Milman Parry ’ s, and second, because he did not style himself so much a theorist as a textual scholar (although his texts were as often oral as written!). Whatever anyone ’ s reservations, the formulation “ Parry-Lord Theory ”  will endure and will guarantee Albert a commensurately durable fame; and although no second hyphen will be added and no third name will be appended to the formulation, the research he established and expanded will remain ever fresh and will be extended in new directions. I am confident of this durability for the simple reason that the life work of Albert Lord carries the weight not merely of his mind but of his entire self as a person. Because of his many qualities as a whole man, the Albert Lord we have gathered here to memorialize will be recalled  by many who have no particular awareness of “ The Theory ”  and who are not toiling in oral formulaic or oral traditional studies  —   by all the people whose lives were touched by his unfailing civility and concern.    3 Albert Bates Lord Memorial Address ©1991 Jan M. Ziolkowski By the happy coincidence of our shared workplace, those of us who spend our days in the Yard have been the special beneficiaries of Albert ’ s considerable qualities as a man and as a mind. I will try now to capture a few of these qualities. One that I would single out was strength of memory. My godfather used to aver that it is a delict to forget. Although Albert never stated his view of forgetting in such moral terms, he acted in accordance with that principle. Only after his retirement (a word that does not seem to convey well the style of his life after 1983!), and only apologetically even then, did Albert begin to carry a date book. Before then he had carried his calendar in his memory, where it resided along with rhymes from childhood, verses from the Bible, passages from Shakespeare, birthdates of friends, and a lifetime of other reading and experiences. His youth had taken him to the horses, wagons, and peasant life of Eastern Europe, to a way of living far closer to the Middle Ages than to the world which we now inhabit; and his manhood had seen him not only raise the family he loved so much but also participate in several departments, create a concentration, and lead an active professional life on both sides of the Atlantic  —  and he remembered all of this and more in his later life. His book of memories and remembrances was full, almost to the point of being an encyclopedia. To describe as a book the memory of a man who devoted his life to oral traditional poetry may seem inappropriate; and yet it was one of Albert ’ s remarkable powers as an interpreter of literature and literary history that he could maintain a line between his own personality and that of the poets and traditions he studied. For all his devotion to his life ’ s work, he never crossed the  boundary into posing as one of the guslars or scops he studied; and despite his professional study of performance and improvisation, he was not one to extemporize. He took care with every task he undertook.    4 Albert Bates Lord Memorial Address ©1991 Jan M. Ziolkowski Another of Albert ’ s traits was vigor. Albert was already sixty-eight when I first had the  privilege of meeting him. In the seventh decade of his life, he would have been entitled to allow himself ten years or more of sabbath rest; but instead he made his sixties and seventies anything  but a day of quiescence in his week of life. It was as a septuagenarian that Albert opted to make an athlete of himself. As his retirement hobby, he took to toting a gym bag and wending his way down to the river to jog or to Blodgett Pool to swim. Although Albert made light of his endeavors as a sportsman, and although his eyes would twinkle as he described the slow speed at which he  propelled himself, he took a justifiable pride in pushing himself to try new experiences  —  to remain both physically and intellectually flexible. The same agility enabled him to pitch himself headlong into the high-tech environment of computers, laser-printers, and desktop publishing, where he was ever eager to find the best combination of software and fonts for representing the exotic alphabets with which he worked. His lifelong Wanderlust remained with him more than a half-century after his heady discoveries as a young man in Yugoslavia. Well into his seventies, he refused to settle into armchair traveling. On the contrary, his journeys wrested him far from his fauteuil in Widener C and carried him all over the globe, with stints in Europe, Africa, and India, and even a sojourn in that most exotic of milieus for one born and bred in Boston and Cambridge  —  I refer to Lubbock, Texas. The frequent locomotion was accompanied by constant intellectual motion. Indicative of this mobility, his final project was to revise an article that ranged freely through Old English, Turkish, Fijian, and Serbian poetry. If memory and vigor were two of Albert ’ s distinguishing characteristics, what impressed me most about him was his ability to integrate formality and familiarity. Looking through one optic, I saw a man who wore impeccable three-piece suits and bow ties on all but the most insufferably hot summer days, and a man who adhered scrupulously to the niceties of social    5 Albert Bates Lord Memorial Address ©1991 Jan M. Ziolkowski etiquette. Looking through a different lens, I perceived a person who had a knack for putting at their ease newcomers to his classes, study, and home, and who could make those visitors feel the  privilege of inclusion, precisely through not trying to make them feel beholden. Like so many of the people half his age or younger who were accepted readily and graciously as equals among his circle of colleagues and friends, I always felt complimented at the intimacy extended to me. I feel so even as I speak now. The fusion of formality and intimacy characterized not only Albert as an individual but also Albert as a member of the most important, although least publicized, collaborative venture in his life  —  his partnership with Mary Louise. At meals in their home on Francis Avenue there were always two recipes, the one pertaining to the food and the other to the guests. The careful timing of delicious dishes was orchestrated with the gentle guidance of conversation from one area to the next, with the aim always being to bring the best of everyone at the table into the intellectual cuisine of our community. Without the sense of togetherness and of common purpose that the sensitivity and generosity of people like Albert and Mary Louise make possible, our community would be a deprived place. I will miss keenly the hand of greeting that Albert always extended, the gentle clap on the  back that he always gave. But although the hand will not be there, the warmth of his hand will linger in the countless people and places that he touched, both as a man and as a mind. He has left a stamp, not only in the great books he wrote, but also in the spaces that he made his own- from his aerie in the library through his favorite tables in the North Room of the Faculty Club to the route he traversed back and forth between Widener and his home. Still more numerous and abiding are the people he made his own, through his genuine concern for their well-being and growth.
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