Friday, January 10, 2003

Letter to Former Students of Prof. Richard B. Sewall

February 2003

To former students of Richard Sewall:

Forgive this form letter, written in grateful acknowledgement for the remembrances of my father, Richard Sewall, that you and 25 other former students wrote in response to my Author’s Query in the Yale Alumni Magazine last October. Your writings brought joy to my Dad. He’s heard them all, and was moved, even as he wondered what all the fuss is all about. Phone calls to him from several of you were most welcome. Right now he’s with my brother Rick in Boston at 617-527-0128; feel free to pick up a phone and say hello. Just be ready to repeat whatever you say several times so he can understand.

I have good news about his book on teaching at Yale. In time, all 13 chapters will be online at Scanning can be tricky. Those interested might bookmark the site and return to it around in about a month.

If I may, could I tell you a favorite story of my own about my Dad. In 1998, long after his memory had begun to fail, I asked him what he could recall of his tragedy course. He thought and thought and finally said he liked to conclude his lectures by reading out loud a passage from the author under study. He said he wanted to give the students something to think about as they left the classroom. Could he recall a favorite passage? “There’s a good one from Moby Dick”, he said, and soon we found it underlined in red and blue ink in his battered old Modern Library edition of the novel. It’s from Chapter 85 (“The Fountain”). It’s about the intuition. I believe it sums up what my father shared with you all over the years:

And how nobly it raises our conceit of the mighty, misty monster, to behold him solemnly sailing through a calm tropical sea; his vast, mild head overhung by a canopy of vapor, engendered by his incommunicable contemplations, and that vapor - as you will sometimes see it - glorified by a rainbow, as if Heaven itself had put its seal upon his thoughts. For, d'ye see, rainbows do not visit the clear air; they only irradiate vapor. And so, through all the thick mists of the dim doubts in my mind, divine intuitions now and then shoot, enkindling my fog with a heavenly ray. And for this I thank God; for all have doubts; many deny; but doubts or denials, few along with them, have intuitions. Doubts of all things earthly, and intuitions of some things heavenly; this combination makes neither believer nor infidel, but makes a man who regards them both with equal eye.

Enclosed are materials sent by way of gratitude for your tributes to a good teacher. Thanks again for your inspiring recollections - and also for the phone chats I have enjoyed with many of you.

Sincerely, Steve Sewall


Website for The Yale Succession: Bush/Clinton/Bush, Big Money and the 2004 Presidential Elections