Background, education, and academic career
Sherman was born to New Englanders John and Ada Martha (Pratt) Sherman on 1 October 1881 in Anita, Iowa. The family later relocated to Rolfe, Iowa and finally, in 1887, to Los Angeles, California. Despite moving to this more healthful climate, Sherman’s father, a druggist and lover of music and poetry, died when Sherman was just eleven. The family subsequently returned to New England.
Sherman entered Williams College in 1900 where he won prizes in Latin, French, and German, and became editor of the “Williams Literary Monthly.” He graduated with a Ph.D. in 1906 after writing his thesis on the 17th-century dramatist John Ford.
Upon graduation, Sherman became an instructor at Northwestern University for one year before moving to the University of Illinois (U of I). In 1908 he was offered a position of the staff of The Nation, to which he was a frequent contributor, but declined when U of I made him an associate professor. He became a full professor in 1911 and permanent chairman of the U of I English Department in 1914 where he built the department into one of the strongest in the Midwest. He was a natural teacher, noted for his sound scholarship, especially on the works of Matthew Arnold, and for his passion for the living values of literature.
In April 1924, Sherman became editor of “Books,” the literary supplement to the New York Herald Tribune, which became under his editorship the leading American critical journal of the day.
With the entry of the United States into the Great War, Sherman expressed what some deemed a chauvinistic patriotism in an address before the National Council of Teachers of English on 1 December 1917, denouncing both the philosophy of Nietzsche and his American apologist, Henry Louis Mencken. This began a decade long, erudite, and witty feud between these literary titans. The next salvo from Sherman was an article in the October 1920 issue of Bookman, “Is There Anything to be Said for Literary Traditions?” where he attacked literary modernism broadside. Interpreting the challenge to conventional morals by younger literary figures as moral relativism, Sherman defended traditional values, nationalism, and even Puritanism, a popular scapegoat of the time. As the decade of the 1920s unfolded, however, many argue that Sherman moved perceptibly to the left, eventually embracing modernism and confessing that he had erred in trying to make men good instead of happy.
In 1906 Sherman married Ruth Bartlet Mears, daughter of a chemistry professor at Williams, with whom he had a son. Sherman died of a heart attack while vacationing after his canoe was overturned in Lake Michigan.
- Introduction to an edition of John Ford (dramatist)’s “'Tis Pity She's a Whore” / “The Broken Heart.” Boston, London, D.C. Heath & Co., 1915
- "Matthew Arnold: How to Know Him,” 1917.
- "On Contemporary Literature," New York, Holt, 1917.
- "Americans,” New York, C. Scribner’s sons, 1922.
- "The Genius of America,” New York, London, C. Scribner’s sons, 1923.
- "Points of View,” New York, Scribner’s, 1924.
- "Joyous things: or, Forty and upwards: an essay," New York: Hampden Hills Press, 1925.
- "Critical Woodcuts," illustrated with portraits engraved on wood by Bertrand Zadig, New York, London, C. Scribner’s Sons, 1926.
- “Stuart Pratt Sherman” in Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, N.Y.C., 1936, article by Earnest Southerland Bates.
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Stuart P. Sherman