Wednesday, July 21, 2010

FAMILY: My grandfather Sterling

*DETAILS FROM MY BROTHER TIM--ADDED 3-7-2013 (the original account came from my mother): Tim, born five years after the boating accident which took our grandfather's life, was an adult when Dr. I.A. Richards came from England to speak again at the University of Wisconsin--just as he had in 1931 the day before the tragedy. (Surely that day must have been very much on Dr. Richards' mind at the time. It may have been his first trip back since then.)

Tim went to hear him speak. During the Q&A, according to Tim, "I stood up and demanded, 'What happened in that canoe?' I wasn't thinking [about the effect that would have on Richards]. He was taken aback, shaken. He said, 'We'll talk about it afterwards.'"

They did, for about 15 minutes. Tim told him Dr. Leonard was his grandfather. He asked Dr. Richards about that day so many years before. Dr. Richards said a sudden squall came up, the boat capsized, dumping both of them out. Neither one of them could swim. They clung to the canoe, chatting confidently despite the cold weather and water, expecting to be rescued anytime because Sterling knew there were lifeguards on shore assigned to watch the lake for signs of boaters and swimmers in distress.

As it turned out, the lifeguards had gone inside when the weather turned cold and stormy! [Note: That was inexcusable under any circumstances, but for one of their own beloved professors to be suffering for hours out in that storm and to drown because of their negligence was a public scandal afterwards.]

Dr. R. said he saw Sterling lose his grip and start to sink and he instinctively dived down, reaching for him. His hand brushed Sterling's bald head. Dr. R. told Tim, "For a long time I was haunted with bad dreams, dreaming that Sterling was trying to come up and that my hand brushing across his head kept him from being able to."

Dr. R. told Tim he and Sterling had had a productive afternoon together and he believed if Dr. Leonard had survived, they would have "revolutionized English teaching." Tim says Dr. R. seemed more concerned about him (Tim) than the past events and "he reassured me my grandfather was a very important person." END OF TIM'S ADDITION (See end of post for addition from my other brother 3-9-13)

This photo of my grandfather Sterling A. Leonard, who became a professor at the University of Wisconsin, is just here to remind you that you will have no control over what pictures of you or information about you might be made public after your death. You might want to destroy the embarrassing ones now.

     My grandfather Sterling Andrus Leonard (Mum's father) was born in National City, California, down by the Mexican border, on April 23, 1888. (Actually his birth certificate says "4-23-18888.") If his parents, Cyreno and Eva (later known as Nana) had not divorced and moved back to the mid-west, my children might have been fourth-generation Californians, which is rare for white people.
     Sterling married Minnetta Sammis Leonard, the one whose Uncle John wrote Trust and Obey. Minnetta (long before she became DiggieDee) was an educator who tested and wrote up reviews of new toys for children, shipped to her by their manufacturers. She wrote two books, The Home Educator and Best Toys for Children and Their Selection. Mum said she never wanted for toys to play with in childhood; her mother's evaluation of many of them was based on whether Barbara liked them and how they stood up to her playing with them.
     Sterling had a PhD in philosophy from Columbia and was a very popular English teacher at her high school (and at the University of Wisconsin) and he told her she would have to work twice as hard for an "A" in his class as anyone else, so they wouldn't think he was playing favorites. He also had the only musical talent in our family; he played a violin in a string quartet which performed in their home.
      He wrote books--wrote some, co-wrote some and edited some. He wrote books like English Composition as a Social Problem, Essential Principles of Teaching Reading and Literature, The Doctrine of Correctness in English Usage, and What Irritates Linguists. He compiled The Atlantic Book of Modern Plays and Poems of the War and of the Peace. He co-edited four volumes of Real Life Stories for children and three volumes of Junior Literature.
     (I tried to summarize my grandfather's views of English usage here but I think I got it all wrong so I am replacing what I wrote with a summary just sent me by David Beard, an expert on Sterling's views. See * below.)

     In mid-May, 1931, my mother Barbara was very busy with and excited about her upcoming high school graduation, which was to be right after her 16th birthday. She was scarcely aware that a man named I.A. Richards, 38, was coming all the way to Madison from Cambridge University to hear more of her father's theories of English usage. Sterling arranged for Dr. Richards to speak at the University Thursday evening and the next afternoon go canoeing with him on Lake Mendota.
     A wind came up, the canoe capsized, no one on shore heard their shouts and after two hours' clinging to the hull, Sterling lost his grip in the cold water and sank. Dr. Richards grabbed for him but there was nothing to grab; Sterling was bald.
     Barbara was home alone when the police showed up at her door and stunned her with the news that her father had drowned. Her mother Minnetta never got over the fact that she had had no presentiment that Sterling was in trouble; she had thought the two of them were so close, she would have known.
     Sterling was an atheist. I have often wondered whether those two hours in frigid water changed that.
     When Richards was rescued, he had hypothermia and was nearly inarticulate with shock. He somehow felt responsible for his mentor's death. Still, he went on to become a famous educator and share his and Sterling's ideas on the New Rhetoric with the world.*
      My grandfather's death was the lead story in both The (Madison, WI) Capital Times ("Prof.. S.A. Leonard is Drowned") and the Chicago Daily Tribune ("BOAT UPSETS; EDUCATOR DIES"). The failure of lifeguards on shore to see the overturned canoe and save the two professors became a local scandal, resulting in an investigation. My grandfather's body was recovered after 46 days.
     My brothers and I never met Sterling but he left his middle name for Ted (Theodore Andrus Reynolds). I always thought if I'd had a second son I would have named him Jonathan Sterling. Since I didn't, the name is still available, in case anyone else in the family ever needs one. 

*Assistant Professor of Writing Studies at the College of Liberal Arts, UM-Duluth, Dr. Beard is writing a paper, I. A. Richards: The Meaning of the New Rhetoric and chapter 2 will be American influence on Richards and the New Rhetoric. This chapter "explores an influence on Richards that is ignored by other scholars: his relationship with American composition scholar Sterling Leonard. Most research effaces the impact of Americans on Richards’ work, focusing instead on the influence of British figures (Leavis, Empson, Eliot, Ogden, and Lewis). Americans are understood as having been influenced by Richards. In fact, Richards read Leonard’s monograph on usage in 18th century rhetorics shortly before delivering his lectures on The Philosophy of Rhetoric. Uncovering Leonard’s influence is an important first step in exploring the impact of American thinkers on the central figure of the New Rhetoric."

Here is Dr. Beard's summary of Leonard's views:
Sterling Leonard's position on usage was among the complex in the 20th century; it's why it's still so powerful, historically, today.  His work is divisible into two parts:  historical and a survey of  contemporary work.
     He was a bit of a conservative.  He saw how the rules for usage changed over time, and he admitted it was piecemeal.  I wouldn't say he was against it, but like any English teacher who suddenly realizes that rules aren't really rules;  they  are suggestions codified by time and by institutions of higher learning, he was unsettled.
     So, in the work that was published posthumously, he set out to survey what real English teachers do.  And he found that real English teachers were worse than history -- they marked as errors things that were simply "out of fashion" or ungraceful -- but still grammatically correct.  He was especially brutal about issues of diction -- just because a teacher would prefer the word "depot" to "station" when describing where a train stops does not make "station" wrong.
     I like to think of Leonard not as someone with a defined opinion (he may have had one, but it's not what I emphasize), but instead as the first person to think that grammar, style and mechanics (under the broad term "usage") was worthy of systematic study at all.  Rather than accept rules of grammar, style and mechanics as given from nature or god or the way the brain works, he saw them as historically and socially situated and so an important object of study.

Also see: "Sterling Leonard was the foremost investigator into usage in the first half of the 20th century Everything rhetoricians think they know about usage (including Richards' thoughts on the topic) derive from Leonard, who did both historical and contemporary linguistic research."

From my brother Ted Reynolds, 3-9-2013:  I have a little bit to add about Grandfather Sterling, as I remember Diggeedee (Minetta) telling me one of the last times I saw her.
As I remember (important caveat) she said that one of Sterling's central linguistic points was that languages change, and that grammar should not be viewed as laying down what the language should be, or what was correct or incorrect, but rather like a snapshot of how it actually is used at a given time (or among a given population, perhaps.)  She pointed out specifically that he said the "rules" of not splitting an infinitive, of not ending a sentence with a preposition, or of differentiating between "who" and "whom" were attempts to codify what had once been used naturally, but that these had ceased to be common usage; that the living language as used should take precedence over what had once been considered proper but was no longer the actual usage of people in general; and that English professors were inflicting unnecessary agony on generations of school children by their arbitrary insistence on outdated usages.  (Though Minetta did not use the word "anal", I could tell she wanted to.)  He was hoping to help change this through his writings and teachings.