The American Studies of Henry Nash Smith

By Richard Bridgman

A history of the American Studies movement has yet to be written, but we do know that it gained its early institutional form at Harvard in the middle thirties with the establishment of a doctoral program in American Civilization, overseen by Howard Mumford Jones, and that its first graduate, in 1940, was Henry Nash Smith. With Smith's death, in an automobile accident in Nevada last May at the age of seventy-nine, a reluctant leader of a movement always uncertain of its identity entered the history that he had pondered for so long.

The year before Henry Smith took his doctorate, he published a still well-known article in the New England Quarterly on what he called Emerson's "problem of vocation." In it, he outlined how Emerson was torn between a commitment to such action as would reform society and a reserved life of contemplation. Ultimately, Smith thought, Emerson learned to accept the tensions between these two modes of being as "important themes for his art." One's choice of topics for investigation and their treatment often reflect one's own preoccupations, and there is every evidence that this was the case in Smith's treatment of Emerson. Further, that a scholar generally associated with the West should this early in his career have engaged himself with the quintessential New England mind is reflective of the paradoxes that regularly arise out of the diversity of American lives. Yet, as I hope to show, it makes sense, for Smith's whole is the author of The Colloquial Style in America and other books. Except for periods as visiting professor at the university of Copenhagen and at Moscow State University, he has taught since 1962 at the University of California, Berkeley. His career was involved in studying the problems and illusions of identity, which in turn bear upon the conduct of one's life.

Henry Smith initially possessed a distinct regional identity, to the best aspects of which he consciously elected to be faithful. He had graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1925 at the age of eighteen. In 1926, he went to Harvard for a year's graduate work. Upon his return to Dallas, he began teaching at Southern Methodist, and, under the guidance of John McGinnis, he started to co-edit the Southwest Review. The journal had moved in 1924 from the sponsorship of the University of Texas at Austin, where it had appeared as the Texas Review. Its renaming signaled larger regional aspirations, which a group of internationalists on the magazine's board broadened even further. Over the years, various members of the creative and academic communities were associated with it as contributing editors, among them Mary Austin, Witter Bynner, Albert Guerard, Howard Mumford Jones, and Jay B. Hubbell. It was among this company that Henry Smith began to stake out an editorial ground.

Smith wrote editor's notes, book reviews, and articles for the Southwest Review, an experience he later described as "a sort of super-graduate seminar, an Institute of Higher Studies." Under McGinnis's tutelage, he said, "We learned to abhor slipshod thinking and shoddy writing, and to respect clear ideas and sound prose." Another person familiar with the situation said that, by the middle of the Depression, "the magazine certainly would have died had Smith not given up everything else but his teaching to keep it going." The teaching itself was no small responsibility, for at that time the normal load at SMU was fifteen class hours a week. The strain was sufficient for Smith to have written in a private letter in 1936 that "keeping the magazine going seems to involve an outlay of energy and time that is entirely unreasonable; according to all common sense it is not worth it."

His first full-length article, written when he was twenty-two, with the articulateness and confidence of one twice his age, was entitled "Culture." It displayed many of the lines of his subsequent thought. He was still thinking locally, as when he observed that, even if signs of an interest in art had sprung up lately in Texas, to him they appeared no more than "a superficial striving for an effect without a cause." In their material prosperity, Texans were suffering from "the inanity of ease" that had caused the women with their earnest presence and the men with their checkbooks to try to handle culture as a purchasable commodity.

In defining "culture," Smith said that it was "not anything measurable," but that one sense of it was "the ability to do nothing, significantly." At its best, he argued that culture was "not a lecturer and a study class"-- the common secular means at that time for middle-class enlightenment--but "a society .of free individuals." Smith's definitions were always of that nature: straightforward but a little vague, certainly not academic or technical, but always with the force of imperative ideas behind them. This feature of his thought seemed to have derived from the nature of Texas intellectual life at the time--a period when various figures, such as Walter Prescott Webb and J. Frank Dobie, associated themselves only cautiously with the academy. Dobie, a close friend of Smith, had written on Thomas Heywood's The Golden Age for his master's degree at Columbia, but having done so, he evolved into a Western folklorist, and once remarked that "the average Ph.D. thesis is nothing but the transference of bones from one graveyard to another." As for Webb, although he eventually became an internationally known historian of the West, he failed to complete his doctorate at the University of Chicago, and when one was finally awarded to him by the University of Texas, it was because his home institution accepted as his dissertation The Great Plains, a book that he had published the year before. Webb was then forty-four. No wonder that in reviewing Norman Foerster's American Scholar in 1930, Smith should have declared: "Someone should say once in a while, where it will be heard in academic circles, that there are other forms of strenuousness of the spirit than those involved in scholarly research." Despite taking his bachelor's degree at a comparatively young age, Smith himself was thirty-four before achieving his Harvard doctorate, and forty-four before his first book, Virgin Land, appeared. All of which is to say that research degrees were not then a central goal for Texas thinkers.

In writing reviews for the Dallas Morning News book page and editing the Southwest Review, Smith had elected to make a career not solely within institutional education, but not excluding it. He was seeking something more authentic than the local study groups dedicated to Browning's poetry and superior to mass culture. He pointed out that the urban Texan lived in an unreal world, made up of cars that originated in Detroit, popular songs from Manhattan, and movies from California. The value of these "opiates" needed to be assessed skeptically. The way to do it was for Texans to understand and participate in "their specific environment," for not until they had accepted the local world would it become universal. Then, "when we have whole men and women we shall have composers and poets." Smith had brought the Emersonian ethos from Harvard to Dallas.

Questions of identity were central in the Southwest at that time. Like Americans in general, perpetually trying to separate their authentic elements from patterns inherited from abroad, the Texan was cultivating an awareness of his immediate environment without cutting himself off from the larger world. The group with whom Smith came to maturity was far from parochial. Webb had done advanced work at the University of Chi- cago, and in 1942-43 was the Harnsworth Professor of American History at Oxford; Dobie had attended Columbia and during 1943-44 gave a series of popular lectures at Cambridge University; and Smith himself had graduated from Harvard and later lectured throughout Europe. Yet each identified with the Southwest, without yielding sentimentally to such vulgar manifestations of Texas jingoism as its six-shooters, boots, and ten- gallon hats--what Smith called "fossilized Western symbols preserved in contemporary popular culture."

Yet, one must not deny one's environment. In his commitment to regionalism, Smith pointedly distinguished the Southwest from the South, which was itself undergoing a renaissance of sorts just then. Although Smith criticized the primitive state of development in the Southwest--it had no university comparable to that of North Carolina, he said, and it neglected minds like Stark Young, Frank Dobie, and John Lomax--nonetheless, when the time came, he was confident that the region's literary results would differ markedly from those produced in the South. He argued that the Southern Agrarian movement merely perpetuated "the myth of the plantation, an American Arcadia," even as it neglected the South's actual economic problems. As for the Southwest, Smith spoke years later in paying tribute to Dobie of the folklorist's love of freedom and his resistance to "all coercive forces," which Smith identified as no abstraction, "but a quality of experience of actual human beings in immediate contact with a semi-parched earth--its dust and heat and relentless distances, its austere plants and lean animals."

As a young editor and teacher, Smith regularly composed essays on current issues as well. He took the opportunity of the 1928 election to criticize Hoover's "philosophy of comfort," saying that Hoover was "not stressing the actual relief of misery--no one could object to that or fail to applaud it--but instead he is holding up as his principal argument the superiority of the American standard of luxury to that of other nations. There is in his attitude entirely too much exaltation of creature comfort and economic prudence without any suggestion of the free play of ideas." In another article, given the expatriate movement on the one hand and Sinclair Lewis's exposure of the .tawdriness of Main Street on the other, Smith addressed the question of why one would even wish to live in the United States. Again, he emphasized the obligation to confront actuality: "We must learn to cease looking for idyllic beauty in the Texas Panhandle or for a Gothic architecture on our Main Streets" and rather "learn to respond to the niggardly grandeur of the Plains" as well as to "conceive the sort of building which belongs on our soil." Then, memorably: "Newness half-violated is the American environment; but it has its compensations.

Even as Smith was trying out his ideas, his Methodist university was suffering the onset of political strain. Worse for Smith, the chairman of the English department tried to fire him on moral grounds, while the university president more diplomatically sought his resignation by offering a year's pay without duties. The problem was William Faulkner.

At the publication of The Sound and the Fury in 1929, Smith had reviewed it favorably, saying that certain pages in it were "very near great literature," while at the same time underlining his particular concerns with the observation that the "book has shown un-guessed possibilities in the treatment of provincial life without loss of universality." Admiring Faulkner's work, he had purchased the story "Miss Zilphia Gant" for the Southwest Review. The story had already been rejected twice by Scribner's and the American Mercury. John McGinnis then persuaded Smith not to publish it in their journal, whereupon Smith arranged for it to be brought out in 1932, by the Book Club of Texas in an edition of three hundred copies, with an introduction by Smith himself.

Those were the grounds for which John 0. Beaty, Smith's chairman, sought his dismissal. Beaty regarded "Miss Zilphia Gant" as "the foulest book I have ever read--a book which parades sex abnormalities in a hideous way and also contains a particularly scurrilous attack on Jesus Christ." Beaty was about right, for this is one of Faulkner's cruder stories, with a half-wit, a tramp lover, a woman justifying masturbating to herself because "Mary did it without a man," two murders, and a general domestic pathology sustained over two generations. SMU's president, Charles Selecman, agreed that the story was "sala- cious and immoral in tone," but when Smith returned from England where he was then teaching and refused to resign, the president made a place for Smith in the Comparative Literature department, even though Beaty regarded this compromise as "a surrender to subversive elements."

During this same period, Selecman himself came under fire from his faculty because of his imperiousness and, worse, for his insensitivity to salaries. Smith was one of the faculty members who petitioned formally to the board of trustees for relief, which in time was partially granted. The constricted tangle of academic life in Texas certainly contributed in large measure to Smith's eventual decision to leave. By 1937, he had reentered Harvard and enrolled in its new American Civilization program. After taking his doctorate there in 1940, he returned for a year to SMU, where he at once introduced a "History of American Civilization" program, but the following year he moved to the University of Texas at Austin as a professor of American History and English, departmental boundaries still being sufficiently rigid to make it difficult to accommodate a representative of the new field of American Studies.

At the University of Texas, too, trouble was brewing, which resulted in 1944 with the dismissal of the university's president, Homer P. Rainey. In the aftermath of this controversial decision, Smith prepared a documentary pamphlet for the Students Association, which was then engaged in protest demonstrations. In the pamphlet, some of Smith's most characteristic qualities of mind emerged. In the preamble to his account, Smith warned that both his selection of materials and the emphasis he placed upon them would "inevitably reveal a perspective." "No one," he said, "can prepare such a narrative without using a frame of reference." But that did not mean a historian could not tell the truth--"It is merely a comment on the nature of historical truth, which is human rather than mathematical or mechanical. "

Smith then outlined the chronology of events at the University of Texas from 1939 through 1945. There had been several confrontations in which the university regents accused the faculty of immorality, racial liberalism, and Communist sympathies. At one point, reviewing a contretemps over faculty representation on the athletic council, Smith concluded: "I confess that a careful study of these two accounts has failed to leave me with a clear impression of what happened.... Since the matter has not attracted very much attention, I am inclined to leave it at that." Then, suggesting the distance between him and his fellow Texans, he added: "I have never been able to understand intercollegiate athletics." One issue, though must have struck him with special force. In 1942, for a reading course designed for sophomore engineering students, John Dos Passo's Big Money had been assigned. One of the regents attacked the choice as "sheer worship of filth for filth's sake" by a "degenerate group of sophisticates," and, despite faculty protests, the novel was ultimately dropped from the reading list.

Although formally remaining a member of the Texas faculty until 1947, Smith returned to Harvard in 1945 to replace Perry Miller while he was on leave; then, in the following year, Smith accepted a fellowship at the Huntington Library. In effect, his years in Texas were over. In 1947, he moved to the University of Minnesota to join a diversely formidable group, improbably gathered there, among them Joseph Warren Beach, Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren, and Samuel H. Monk. While at Minnesota, just as the McCarthy period opened, Smith addressed another national issue--academic freedom--which was then tormenting the University of Washington. In his 1949 essay "Legislatures, Communists, and State Universities," Smith argued the case against dismissing faculty members who were Communists on the grounds that the pressures against being a party member were so severe in the United States that "remaining in the party is itself an act of free choice, constantly repeated." In fact, he added, it was tangibly advantageous for a faculty member to leave the Party, rather than to endure the obloquy of open membership. Smith's central point was that an open society, and institutions in it such as the universities, required freedom of discussion. He believed that the steady expansion of the sphere of unacceptable behavior was a profoundly dangerous one and that the subjection of a university to any orthodoxy was inevitably destructive.

A decade after he moved to Berkeley in 1953, Smith found himself immersed in a series of successive and related uprisings, starting with the Free Speech movement, then progressing through the Vietnam, Cambodian, and Third World protests, all of which pitted the university against its regents and legislature, with the ultimate firing of administrative officials. During this period of wearing turmoil, Smith was less publicly visible than in the past. Rather, he operated largely behind the scenes as a trusted conciliator, talking and negotiating with all parties. Smith was never, I think, a joyful controversialist. His engagement came from principle. By nature he was a deliberate speaker and writer. In his lecture courses, he invariably developed his ideas and the evidence for them in a step-by-stepsequence that gained the respect but not the enthusiasm of his undergraduate students. He was not a performer. Listening to him lay out an argument afforded pleasures comparable to those derived from following a strong, solid chess game.

It is difficult to communicate a presence as unassuming as Henry's, but there is no doubt in my mind that it constituted an important part of his influence as an intellectual leader. Tall, lanky, with a slight, measured drawl, he was neither flamboyant nor eccentric, but that most improbable of entities, a sober, serious citizen who liked to laugh. Rational in the best sense, he took genuine pleasure in thinking and never turned contemptuously away from new developments in thought. If asked, he would explain his reservations, and would candidly acknowledge his bewilderment rather than make a pretense of comprehension, and then seek enlightenment as he did in a series of letters to his friend Helen Vendler over the significance of John Ashbery. Always courteous, usually calm, he lightened his burdens in the evening with martinis, baroque music, and friends.

As a graduate teacher, Smith insisted upon thorough research and regarded precision as imperative, though without being pedantic about it. After Tony Tanner took a seminar from Smith, he wrote an account of it as a model for British universities. Tanner described how the group of students were initially puzzled by the variety of apparently extra-literary projects they were set, such as locating the popular ideas of science in the period under consideration, the nature of book illustrations, the size and distribution of the reading public, and the psychological assumptions of the periodical critics. But later, as they read the fiction together, Tanner said that they came to realize the rich density of understanding they had already accumulated as a group.

In my own experience, Smith was a patient graduate director who encouraged independence, even though it was a time when we were obliged to discuss seriously whether a dissertation on pre-Jeffersonian agrarianism might conceivably be passed by an English department (and to decide that it would not). The best I can say is that he left one alone to get the quirks out of one's system; but, when asked, he always gave candid help and worked through drafts quietly and efficiently. On one of my manuscripts, he noted "the deadening effect of allowing your discourse to verge on 'And another ant brought another grain of wheat.' " That made me wince, then laugh, then revise.

All this has been a long foreground to the Texan Henry Smith becoming Henry Nash Smith as he emerged onto the national scene in 1950 by establishing emphatically the power and originality of his mind with the publication of Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth. The book had a prolonged gestation like a European doctoral thesis, crowning a career rather than, as in America, initiating one. Smith had been slowly formulating his ideas and doing the punishing research necessary for a project of this magnitude, contributing in the process four chapters on Southern and Western subjects to the Literary History of the United States in 1948. The essential questions that Virgin Land addressed were: How did nineteenth-century Americans view the huge blankness of the West, and in turn, how did their imaginative conceptions affect their behavior? What hypnotizes and draws men into action, especially under the rude conditions of a frontier? Smith had already observed the power of misconceptions in the more limited area of the Southwest. Now he elected to think about that great dim North American continent stretching out beyond the Alleghenies. As the continent was explored, inhabited, and cultivated, various images of it developed. First, there were those conceptions that drew people to and beyond the frontier, and then those generated by encounters with the territory itself. Smith's originality was in seeing that these diverse ways of identifying both the land and the particular kinds of people operating on it were products of the imagination, and that even when they were incontestably at odds with the reality of the scene, they still often functioned effectively.

If some of Smith's sources were from literature now considered classic, notably that by James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, he drew much more upon the revelatory evidence of popular writing. The early quasi-fictional lives of Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and Kit Carson yielded in the sixties to Erastus Beadle's series of dime novels, closely followed by the theatrical flamboyance of Buffalo Bill Cody. But visions of the West were hardly confined to imaginative literature. They also appeared in the writings of travelers, scientists, traders, and politicians, none of whom could see without preconceptions. The coalescence of their views of the far territories proved to be compelling determinants on practical matters, such as legislation, as well as on the behavior of the populace.

Smith's patient harvest of diverse testimonies indicated what insights were available when one ignored, as it were, the limits of any specifically defined academic discipline. In the opening pages of one chapter of Virgin Land, the sources for Smith's argument are successively: Toqueville's Democracy in America; an essay by Whitman; Lewis Evans's Geographical, Historical, Political, Philosophical Essay (1775); Jonathan Carver's Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America in the Years 1766, 1767, and 1768; Nathaniel Ames's Astronomical Diary; a poem by Freneau; a letter and an essay by Franklin; an article from the William and Mary Quarterly and one from Agricultural History; and George Logan's Letters, Addressed to the Yeomanry of the United States (1791). Each source constitutes a part of the extremely intricate mosaic that Smith was assembling. One never feels that their function is to crush the reader with authority, but rather to enlighten by means of establishing unexpected conjunctions of evidence.

As he worked with his materials, Smith gradually decided that the central ideas of the American West coalesced under three headings that were historically sequential but subject to much overlapping and contradiction. Initially, the continent was regarded as no more than a "passage to India," a practical means of gaining access to the rich Oriental trade. But crossing the continent required the services of various experts in wilderness ways, such as guides and hunters. In tribute to Cooper's great creation, Smith designated them "sons of Leatherstocking." Finally, as the West began to be domesticated by farmers, it acquired a powerful imaginative identity as "the garden of the world."

Smith shows how each of these governing symbols originated, then spread throughout discourses of different kinds, as well as how certain important implications developed out of them. As the various embodiments of the frontiersman proved to be especially influential, Smith traces his character and its various incarnations from Daniel Boone through Cooper's mythmaking and into the "objectified mass dream" of the popular romances (printed on the new rapid rotary steam presses and therefore appropriately known as "steam literature"). Smith follows the evolution of the Western hero until the early 1870s, at which point the cowboy (first known as a "herder") begins to emerge. In an analysis that remains noteworthy even today, he also considers the heroines of the dime novels, to whom the frontiersman's skills were transferred, producing Hurricane Nell, Wild Edna, and Calamity Jane. Smith only suggests the subsequent extensions of the self-reliant frontiersman into the private detective, although in reconsidering Virgin Land he cited appreciatively the work of John G. Cawelti, who demonstrated the persistence of this kind of hero in such related genres as the spy thriller and science fiction.

If the frontiersman dominated the imaginative frontier, his identity required definition; but, when one was advanced, problems arose at once. What was the essence of the role he played? Was he a representative of civilized values, bringing the light of rationality into a savage gloom? Or was he a child of nature, withdrawing from the legalisms and artificialities of urban civilization to pursue an elemental existence of bracing immediacy? Each conception of the frontiersman had its own imaginative limitations. The standard-bearer for a Christian empire could become sufficiently civilized and pious as to lose the force of his independence, while in the anarchistic conditions of the wilderness the new Adam had the potential of lapsing into brutish criminality.

Since the conventions of antebellum American literature were hardly prepared to accommodate a harsh realism--it would take the experience of a murderous Civil War to achieve that--various adaptations of the frontiersman had to be made, particularly in respect to love, marriage, and domesticity. Sensing that too much taming would forfeit the primal energy of the character, writers normally just decided to keep the frontiersman-hero apart from women. But the necessary mingling of the frontiersman with other members of society generated conflicts of class. Even fictional conventions required that only certain people could consort intimately with others, so that, however morally noble Natty Bumppo might be, his background excluded him from certain social relationships. Dialect, too, became an index of self, and for Smith in particular, the significance of one's speech patterns became central, for his next major work would concern Mark Twain's championship of the vernacular, with all the triumphs, but also strains and limitations, connected with such an advocacy.

As the frontier moved westward, leaving behind land now available to be worked, the political imagination of Americans began to develop an abstract conception of its inhabitants that went back at least as far as Crevecoeur and Jefferson--that of the yeoman farmer, the freeholder whose job and pleasure it was to cultivate this earthly paradise. (The South, whose system was built on much larger agricultural units, worked by slaves, concurrently developed an alternative myth of the plantation pastoral.) On the whole, even if he appeared regularly in political rhetoric, the sturdy yeoman resisted translation into fiction, for he lacked the adventurousness associated with the men of the frontier.

The territory that the yeoman inhabited came to have an equivalent myth--that of a garden, an agrarian paradise of fertile soil, blessed with a balanced outpouring of sun and rain. Such images appeared regularly in legislative speeches, even though the reality was quite different. As Americans moved West, they encountered not Eden but treeless prairies and a succession of agricultural blights: tornadoes, dust storms, drought, and locusts. At the same time, as huge land grants were made to the railways, then transferred into the hands of speculators, Eastern capital began to invest in Western land, perverting the idea of an agrarian utopia, even as the technology of steam-driven tractors and threshing machines threatened the existence of independent freeholds. Yet, the myth of a garden cultivated by small freeholders persisted, and persists even into contemporary farm crises, where businessmen farmers with land and equipment capitalized to several million dollars are still idealized as simple husbandmen .

Smith proposed that the myth of the garden had several other large-scale consequences, among them a characteristic American isolationism, encouraged by the conception of self- sufficiency available in the protected heartland. Also, the argument that the existence of large areas of fertile land served the United States as a safety valve seemed to him dubious even for the nineteenth century. That myth, he thought, simply masked conditions of unemployment and labor strife. The governing powers of mercantile trade and industrial technology profited by the sustained assumption that, if things were unsatisfactory, then one could always move westward, for there were invariably immigrants and conservative stay-at-homes who would take over the abandoned jobs on industry's terms.

Virgin Land contains much more than this summary has covered, but perhaps I have suggested the provocative nature of its insights, achieved by a patient survey of statistics, historical accounts, political speeches, and popular fiction. As the United States assumed its role of international power and prominence, Smith offered a complex interpretation of the capaciousness, depth, and illusion of its early years. Still, the book has had its critics, Smith among them. They have focused especially on his use of what were seemingly his central organizing terms, myth and symbol. It is clear that Smith never intended these terms to be much more than mechanisms to enable him to organize a great deal of imaginative material in which he found certain shared assumptions and dynamics--what he called "recurrent images and constellations of images." On the other hand, he later came to believe that, in Virgin Land, he had too readily accepted the nineteenth-century view that saw the American Indians at "a stage of evolution far inferior to that of the European settlers," and that, with the help of revisionist historians and young agitators who identified themselves with the Native Americans, he now saw that the cost of domesticating the continent had been "a prolonged act of genocide."

Because of Smith's centrality for the American Studies movement, theoretical issues continued to dog him. The movement, begun at Harvard in the thirties, came to prominence after the Second World War. In part, it involved a yearning to move intellectual investigations beyond the strict boundaries of disciplines as conventionally defined, to find a way of studying the interactions of consciousness and society. It was a time when departments of English were dominated by an older generation of philologists and belletrists, with the young Turks of the New Criticism on the rise. History was regarded as invested by a fallacious scientific objectivity, whereas literary studies were becoming committed to the autonomy of the text, quite outside biography and history. At the same time, with the United States prominent on the world scene, there was an increasing national self-consciousness, a greater concern for locating an American identity. As it happened, this search for identity soon became an international preoccupation, with the result that the American Studies movement became as important abroad as it was in the United States. (In fact, Bernard Fay had assumed the chair of American Civilization at the College de France as early as 1932.) The U.S. government assisted this activity by encouraging European and Asian nations to make a gesture toward reducing their war debts by acquiring libraries of American books and by sponsoring visiting lecturers from the United States.

Meanwhile, the American Studies movement itself underwent paroxysms of self-definition. Had it a methodology? If not, could it develop one? Henry Smith continued to resist technical intricacies. In the opening pages of Virgin Land, he had finessed the problem of myth and symbol by defining them as "larger or smaller units of the same kind of thing, namely an intellectual construction that fuses concept and emotion into an image." In a later article, he defined American Studies with similar deceptive simplicity. It was the study of "American culture, past and present, as a whole." As for "culture," it was "the way in which subjective experience is organized."

Such language was hardly adequate at the theoretical level, but even Bruce Kuklick, the most severe critic of Smith's philosophic underpinnings, concluded that, although "humanist scholarship in American Studies illustrates a set of classic errors... I realize that philosophical criticism is much easier to do than constructive empirical research." Smith's goal was invariably humanistic. He sought access to those meanings that were larger than those available in historical data or aesthetic evaluation alone. Others, like his colleague at Harvard and Minnesota, Leo Marx, openly defended an "unscientific method" for American Studies, claiming, justifiably, I think, that it tried not to be capricious or impressionistic but believed that significant relationships were not susceptible to quantification and that discursive meanings were not all that was available in a culture.

American Studies, then, tried to prove its value in practice, not theory. Forces deeper than theoretical precision were in operation. Over the next generation, they produced a number of illuminating studies of Americans' relationship to the continent they occupied, among them R.W.B. Lewis's The American Adam (1955), which concerned the myth of America offering the individual a fresh beginning, one emancipated from the chains of history; Leo Marx's consideration of classic American writers reacting to the onset of industrial technology, The Machine in the Garden (1964), and Richard Slotkin's location of a sanctified destructiveness in American life in Regeneration Through Violence: The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860 (1973). The American Studies movement expanded rapidly. Most of the activity, however, was devoted, not toward the larger unifying themes of culture itself, but rather toward more narrowly defined areas, such as education, labor and folklore. The movement soon produced a journal, American Quarterly, followed later by others edited in Canada, Great Britain, and Scandinavia. It is notable that Smith was rarely a central participant in these organized activities. We never discussed the matter directly, but my sense was that he was made uneasy by such exuberant national self- preoccupation. I do know that, when he moved in 1953 from Minnesota to the University of California, he hardly participated in its American Studies activities, which at any rate never developed beyond a one-year undergraduate honors' course.

At the same time that Henry Nash Smith joined Berkeley's English department, he was invited to assume the editorship of the Mark Twain papers. His selection now seems inevitable. It determined the course of Smith's work for the next twenty years. For a time in his role as editor, Smith had many administrative decisions and legal negotiations to carry out. He was not enamored of such work, but he could never resist a serious call from society. He believed in the community of scholars, and when he felt it was his responsibility to do so, he served. Once at the airport on a Christmas afternoon, I was grousing to him about the obligation of leaving on a holiday for the Modern Language Association meeting. Henry heard me out for a while, then, looking straight at me, he said, "It's what we do." After a moment, to temper that disconcertingly sober observation, he smiled and added: "Don't you know the cows have to be milked on Sundays too?"

Once the Twain papers had been organized, Smith accepted the chairmanship of the department, serving from 1957 through 1960. In 1968-69, he was president of the MLA, and in 1973, the year before he retired, he agreed to chair an arduous year-long study of the future of Berkeley's English department. All of these activities seriously dissipated his energies, although I don't suppose he would have conceded the legitimacy of the implications of that proposition.

In 1957, Smith brought out Mark Twain of the Enterprise, a selection of Virginia City journalism, helpfully placed in its historical context. Three years later, the Mark Twain-Howells Letters, 1872-1910 appeared in two volumes co-edited with William Gibson and so scrupulously annotated and indexed that even today the collection remains the most detailed and reliable compilation of information about many of the people and dates in Clemens's life-quite aside from affording the intrinsic interest of listening to the two Midwestern writers exchange ideas with one another over nearly forty years. Finally, in 1962, Smith published his own thoughts on Clemens's career in Mark Twain: The Development of a Writer.

The focus of Smith's consideration here was on Mark Twain's discovery of the power and uses of the vernacular, a term Smith expanded to mean not diction alone but a whole set of attitudes and values, constituting a new, sometimes skeptical, sometimes appreciative perspective on the world. Twain's increasing awareness of those gifts that first brought him to prominence constituted a version of the problem Smith had addressed years before in Dallas: the regionalist's task of` achieving authenticity through a consciousness of the actualities of his environment. For Twain, the task meant establishing his identity in relation to what Smith called "the Matter of Hannibal"--that is, "by working out a continuity between his adult life in Hartford and his remote childhood in the small town on the west bank of [the Mississippi] thirty years in the past." Smith showed how Twain intuitively, not programmatically, worked his way past the popular spread-eagle oratory and brag as well as the genteel tradition that dominated polite literature in order to create in Huckleberry Finn a middle style largely free of dialect, of idiosyncratic color, and of`"eloquence," yet with an eloquence all its own.

Because Mark Twain entered a period of severe ideological trauma in the 1890's, his later works served Smith's argument less well. Accordingly, Smith took the opportunity to readdress one of them in a series of lectures that appeared in 1964 as Mark Twain's Fable of Progress: Political and Economic Ideas in "A Connecticut Yankee". Here, he explored the implications of the protagonist, Hank Morgan, being at once a capitalist and a vernacular hero. The consequence was that what had started as a good-natured burlesque of Arthurian England ended in the nightmarish carnage of the book's conclusion.

Smith's last book, Democracy and the Novel: Popular Resistance to Classic American Writers, appeared in 1978 following his retirement. Its chapters are somewhat awkwardly linked essays, which in themselves are often perceptive, however roughly they cohere. In them, Smith reversed his long preoccupation with popular culture in order to understand the tensions that the major novelists felt as they contested the commonly held assumptions of their nation. Various problems of audience, of moral standards, and of inhibiting conventions are considered against a background of genteel sentimentalism.

During Henry Smith's long involvement with Mark Twain, much of his energy was directed toward trying to steer a rational course through the extended turmoil that began at Berkeley with the Free Speech movement, then escalated nationally to encompass, over the better part of the next ten years, protests against academic establishments, the United States involvement in Vietnam and its Cambodian aftermath, and various Third World strikes and confrontations. It was a period of extreme tension and, inevitably, of regular demands for redefinitions of purpose and priorities in the university. As president of the MLA in 1969, Smith faced the problems head-on.

He gave his presidential address an ironic title drawn from a Bob Dylan song: "Something Is Happening, But You Don't Know What It Is, Do You, Mr. Jones?" He acknowledged that his term as president had been "distinctly uncomfortable," but he accepted the challenges of the militants as offered in good faith. On behalf of the profoundly establishmentarian Modern Language Association, he tried systematically to sort through the various charges of its rebellious members to determine those for which concrete action was already underway, those that he thought deserved immediate attention, and those that required further discussion to clarify the ends in mind.

One issue Smith identified as of the greatest importance for consideration was the claim that, because "objective" scholarship, criticism, and teaching failed to question the existing social and economic orders, they therefore represented nothing more than an immoral neutrality. Smith regarded it as salutary to re-examine the aims and methods of scholarship; at the same time, he believed that the challengers incurred the obligation of proposing alternatives, which themselves would be susceptible to scrutiny and debate. There is a self-conscious tone throughout the address, a hint that Smith felt that even the act of making an annual address might be outdated, and that there were disagreements, misunderstandings, and agendas that went far beyond his own commitment to rational discourse. The "inglorious liberalism" that he represented supposed, he said, that "all political activity involves some degree of guilt. Absolute purity is unattainable; but to fail of perfection is not necessarily to accept total corruption." Provocation was useful, he reiterated doggedly, whenever it obliged scholars to explain why their work merited attention.

The speech is to me a moving document, for it represents Henry Smith still exemplifying those principles to which he had adhered all his life, but adapting them to the contemporary situation. Whatever his reservations about the passionate tumult swirling around him, he tried to turn its energies to the positive ends of re-examining self and its institutions. He himself had always been willing to acknowledge his own insufficiencies, anxieties, and weaknesses. So there was something ironically painful for anyone who knew his stands against administrative and legislative interference with the intellectual life in Dallas, in Austin, in Seattle, and in Berkeley to find him now leading--and threatened with being identified as the tool of--an establishment organization that was under attack. But Henry understood the whims as well as the reasons of history and long before had learned to endure their fitful onslaughts. At the conclusion of his address, he opened the floor to questions.