Text: John Elwood (?), “In Memoriam: Emmett L. Avery,” Poe Newsletter­, December 1970, vol. III, no. 2, 3:40


[page 40, column 2:]

In Memoriam: Emmett L. Avery

The first issue of Poe Newsletter was dedicated to Professor Emmett L. Avery, then in his last year of service to the Department of English at Washington State University, not only to honor a retiring scholar and colleague, but to acknowledge the man without whose encouragement and sponsorship Poe Newsletter might never have become a reality. On December 15, 1970, Professor Avery died, and now we wish again to acknowledge our debt to this man and to his devotion to scholarship and teaching.

Emmett Avery managed, whenever he could, to avoid what was to him the unpleasant task of reading reviews of his own books; he would, one must believe, be happy to be spared reading a review of his life. But the fact is that it was a good life, and those of us who knew him take pleasure in remembering it. It will be enough here, however, to say that he was born in Martinsville, Indiana; earned his Bachelor’s degree at Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana, and his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago; and, after thirty-three years at Washington State University, retired — to go on to teach for two years at the University of Washington, and then at Eastern Washington State College, where he spent his last year. It was at Franklin that he met Mary Williamson, who was to become his wife, and it was at Chicago that he came upon the pleasures of studying the London stage. The four major points which were to compass the life of Emmett Avery were Mary, their daughter Charlotte, his study of the London stage, and the Department of English at Washington State University.

It would be nonsense to suggest, however, that all in life delighted Emmett Avery. Some men are fools, and Professor Avery suffered from the ability to see who they were. He succumbed no more than did Jonathan Swift to optimistic views about the nature and future of mankind; yet, again like Swift, he found that he liked well enough those people with whom he was associated. Certainly he had no faith in any theory of progress; nevertheless he committed his extraordinary energies to literature and to the improvement of his profession and his department.

No project devoted to literature or its criticism failed to get his support. No “little magazine” came to his attention that he did not buy and read, and we have already mentioned his vigorous support of Poe Newsletter. It should be noted that he was chairman of the Department of English only in the last four of his years at Washington State University, but those were the years in which that department made its most evident progress.

His years as a scholar were so productive that a listing of his works takes on a quantitative emphasis that disguises the quality. A man who could turn, with no observable moments of transition, from typing long comments on student papers to typing the results of his research, Emmett Avery wasted less time than any man we have ever known. Whether he was engaged in the preparation of that monumental survey of the eighteenth-century English theater, The London Stage, or his book Congreve’s Plays on the Eighteenth-Century Stage, or in writing about the Great Storm of 1703, he approached his work with an enthusiasm in which there was no hint of the mechanical.

Though he is missed as a professional, his work makes the cliché true — he will live on in his scholarship. But it is as the wry and humorous man who rapped out letters to his friends (he never lost touch) without losing a beat in his work, and as the good guest and storyteller that he occupies our thoughts. Emmett Avery’s colleagues all have their favorite anecdotes about the man, some illustrating his extraordinary interest in his undergraduate students ’ themes and some illustrating his remarkable energy. These stories and the many examples of his wit which are now current will probably pass into the kind of academic legend that eventually distorts the histories of men, turning them into jolly elves or unwrinkled paragons. But we who were lucky enough to have been friends of that complex and pleasant man know that Emmett Avery wouldn ’t care one whit how his legend developed, or if it did.


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[S:0 - PSDR, 1970]