Columbia Library columns (v.9(1959Nov-1960May))

(New York :  Friends of the Columbia Libraries.  )



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  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 18  

Mark Van Doren at Work



^HE iMark Van Doren manuscripts comprise about 20,000
pages of text, a good deal of it in pencil, the major part
in typescript. The sheer bulk of the manuscript is
impressive. There are in the collection scholarly works like the
Hawthorne and the Dryden with the card indexes of material
genuinely relevant to the subject matter; critical works like the
Shakespeare and The Noble Voice, developing out of courses
given in Columbia College, as the lecture notes for those courses
show; there are the novels, The Transients, Windless Cabins, and
Tilda; and something like a hundred short stories. There are the
poems, hundreds of them, ranging in length from the epitaph and
the sonnet to the thousand lines of that lovely New L'ngland pas¬
toral A Winter Diary—a poem written in the easiest and simplest
and most natural of couplets.

What is even more impressive than the bulk of the manuscript
is its orderliness. It would almost seem that the work of organ¬
ization, of informing thought, had been done before the pencil
was picked up, that there remained only the choice of language,
the shaping of the statement. In other fields, we recognize this as
craftsmanship. The skilled welder joins armorplate as if it were
lead; the worker in wood shapes a balanced axe-handle without
a false sttoke or a waste chip, despite the grain and toughness of
the hickory.

In these manuscript materials we are allowed the privilege of
seeing a man of letters at work in a way that even his close friends
or associates cannot. For some years I shared an adjoining office
and saw a good deal of Mark Van Doren in his daily life. Even in
that, he showed an extraordinary self-discipline. No man gave of
himself more freely to his students or his colleagues. He spent as
  v.9,no.2(1960:Feb): Page 18